Joseph Harper splits a Rekorderlig with three members of The Hunter’s Club and finds out why their show stylistically slaughters the rest of their outdoor TV competitors.
You notice pretty quickly that The Hunter’s Club doesn’t look like our more familiar hunting and fishing shows. Where shows like Outdoors with Geoff often feel procedural – out we go/bit of banter/catch a thing/talk about gear – The Hunter’s Club is full of cinematic sequences and other artistic flourishes which really set it apart.
The second episode features a comical segment, where they read depressed ramblings from the visitor’s book of the DOC hut they were staying at. Then there’s an extended sequence following a tall man with bloodied ears carrying a large white tail deer around his neck as he tramps through bush and over sand dunes, sweating and swearing. The first episode (which aired last week on Sky Sport) climaxed with a beautiful shot of a Tahr Bull as it moved gingerly high in the Southern Alps. The Tahr trotted a while then stood still. At which point a bullet made its way, quick and clean, through its neck. The animal stumbled forward a while then fell to the ground. It was breathtaking.
The show attempts to present the very feel of hunting as the hunters themselves feel it. Stoic, funny, and, at times, beautiful. The show works toward a kind of myth-making, and sometimes succeeds.
I met up with three members of the Club, Dave Shaw, Tim Barnett, and Andre Alipate, at a bar in Ponsonby. When I arrived, the three men we playing against type, seemingly splitting a bottle of Rekorderlig.
Having watched the occasional episode of New Zealand’s iconic outdoors shows, I found The Hunter’s Club an entirely different experience. One which according to Shaw, the show’s creator, captures more accurately the “feel” of a hunting trip.
“I actually did five years on one of the TV fishing shows. But it really did get a bit paint-by-numbers. We stuck to a template, and that worked. It was easy. The joy to this new show was in finding our voice throughout the series. I think we did by the end of the season.” It’s refreshing to see that The Hunter’s Club actually makes a feature of the outdoors. The show utilises drones, night vision cameras, time-lapse photography and all sorts of cinematic wizardry to create a sense of the scope of their surroundings. “On a fishing show, you’ve got five or ten metres to work in. Where we’d go hunting it’s five or ten square miles. And everywhere we shot. It’s… It’s Lord of the Rings country. It’s hard to make it look bad.”
Still, making this kind of thing can’t be easy. Given the inherently stealthy nature of hunting, a misstep on a twig could ruin a full days work. Combining that with the cumbersome necessities of television production – the two would appear to be strange bedfellows. “I think certain types of hunting lend themselves to filming,” Shaw told me, “sometimes it’d be just too hard. Like on this last trip to Fiordland, the boys yellow-carded me, told me ‘look, you’re just too noisy’.”
“I definitely reckon you improved,” responded Barnett – damning his mate with faint praise much to the delight of the room.
The boys pride themselves on the moral code they have created for themselves on the show. Refusing to make a subpar kill for the sake of the production, for example. The second episode follows Tim Barnett, a diver from Nelson who looks a bit ‘Nordic wild’. All long, scraggly blonde hair and thick hands. If you look him up on Facebook, his profile picture sees him sporting a ludicrously mannish beard – the kind birds probably live in. We follow him around Stewart Island as he attempts to snag a “grey ghost” with his bow. We see him set up little watchposts and wait – but ultimately we don’t see a single arrow fired.
“Some people find it hard to grasp what hunting is actually about,” says Barnett. “They think it’s just about going out and killing something. For some people it might be – but for most hunters it’s far from it.”
Andre Alipate chips in, “Real wild hunters like to get in those deep hard to reach bits. The wild. Where it’s… wild. It’s just wild. That’s the stuff.”
Alipate, an engineer who grew up in Tonga, provides a lot of narration. He expressed to me how difficult that was, trying come off as natural in the recording booth as well as on screen. You wouldn’t know it from the final product. He’s an extremely easy screen presence, charming and likable, as are the rest of the core cast. They aimed to show the truth of the situation, which helped create the naturalistic style. The talent (Barnett gives a coy smile when I refer to him using the term) use this to drive the show in a way that doesn’t feel performed. Most of the cast aren’t professional hunters. The show takes the notion of ‘kiwi blokes’ and casts them as real people. Shaw explains, “we also got a property developer. One guy’s got a building company. A guy who works at the council. Just normal Kiwi people who do normal Kiwi things. Which is what hunting is like in New Zealand.”
“It’s the mateship” he says. “Like these guys are all mates with each other and they’re mic’d up the whole time. So I’ll find these little snippets like, maybe they’re at the top of a hill and they’re f****** tired and they’ll say ‘shit mate, this is a tough grind.’ It’s those little snips that make it I reckon. It’s not a delivered line to camera it’s them saying, ‘F*** mate, I’m screwed, can we push on? Yeah we’ll give it a nudge.’ That’s the real stuff. It’s genuine.”
“We got a good shot of me dropping a rifle,” offers Alipate.
The Hunter’s Club is not without problems, and it isn’t going to be for everyone. The show never feels misogynistic, but it’s undoubtedly a bit of a ‘man-zone’. The men told me one episode features a woman as it’s protagonist (apparently it’s one of the best episodes of the first season) but the core members of the club are all men as are the vast majority of their companions. At times the fundamental brutality of it might be too much for those who have qualms about that kind of thing. After the previously described sequence featuring a bull tahr being shot from a far, we get the shooters marvelling at it’s corpse, yanking the impressive mane and horns and ultimately posing for a photo.
Says Alipate, “The bottom line is that it’s a bloodsport. And you’re going to have to take the life of an animal. But we tried to show that it wasn’t just in vain. We made sure you saw us harvest that meat, the protein, and we ate it. It wasn’t just for nothing.”
And ultimately, the show portrays hunting as something accessible, rather than settling for the core market which will undoubtedly tune in to this kind of thing. Says Alipate, “Some people don’t even know that those kind of places exist in New Zealand! This is about showing them that it’s there.”
The Hunter’s Club airs Mondays 7pm on Sky Sport 2