WRITING

Excerpt from The Rise and Fall of a Mountain King. First published in Modern Huntsman 2019. Photography and words by Byron Pace.

When a passion becomes your work, it’s sometimes hard to truly appreciate the pivotal moments in your life’s story. It’s very easy to allow the gravity of their impact to slip by, never really pausing to absorb the enormity of how it changes the people we become, or how it shifts our understanding of the world around us. In the end, the tales of our adventures are all we really have to hold on to.


My camera and pen may have provided a great liberation in experiences, but I have had to teach myself to stop. Stop and clear my mind. Ignore the work. The pictures, the story, the film. Allow myself to breathe. To be at one and connect in a new landscape, with new people and wildlife. When I do, a gaze of appreciation and a familiar grin breaks through. We live in incredible times, and I have so much more of the planet to explore. New Zealand had long been in the cards, and now the trip was upon me.


The buildup to my trip had been a year in the making, although I had yearned for the high peaks and glacial fed rivers brimming with fish since my cousin had emigrated some five years before. As my childhood fishing and hunting companion, he was quick to tell me of the wonders of this distant land. A land abundant with public access for hard-fighting wild trout, monster stags and the alpine pursuit of tahr and chamois. My greatest fear was a desire to trade my home in Scotland for a country which embraced hunting as part of their day-to-day culture. From the outside it seemed a paradise.


By the time we summited the first peak above base camp, the pains of 40 hours of flying, lay overs, and driving cross-country had long dulled in my memory. With half a day left after staking our tents and a rationalization of gear, we pushed upwards for a view of our land. For the next nine days, this was all ours. A long ridge running north to south, situated on the west coast of the South Island of New Zealand – public land for all to enjoy and access as they wished.


Weeks of low pressure had brought relentless stacked weather fronts, battering the west coast; but for now the mountains lay unburdened. A sun-kissed glow cascaded over the snow-clad tops. Along the horizon, each peak lit up in succession with a deep ember burn from the falling sun. The evening had brought but a wisp of a breeze, cooling the final moments of the day. Craggy, broken tops lay silent, with the only sound being a distant drone from the river tumbling far below. Fiery snow sheets rode the mountain crests and hollows, sitting pristine and calm in the wilderness. It appeared lifeless, but it wasn’t. Even on these hostile peaks. You only had to look and be patient.


There he strolled. Bold and majestic, effortlessly traversing the snowy face of a distant top. Like a bear in search of new lands he walked. A guiding instinct and purpose we couldn’t fully know or understand. His long flowing mane skirted the icy surface as he forged a virgin path increasingly further from us. Yet for all the confidence, he was a stranger in this land. He was unwanted and persecuted as such.


Read the full article in Modern Huntsman Volume 2 available here

Excerpt from Scotland, A Land of Freedom. First published in Modern Huntsman 2019. Photography and words by Byron Pace.

As the vivid greens of summer fade to a collage of golden browns and yellows, Scotland enters its most vibrant and enticing time of year. The throws of autumn washing a firm grip over the country by mid to late October. The ripple of turning deciduous flora reverses the spring shift, which flowed from the southern lowlands to the northern highlands. Naked, weather-beaten spindly browns emerge with fresh buds and new life. Snow drops litter the forest floors, and the early blossom of hawthorn offers nectar to emerging pollinators. Now, with winter knocking, it’s the uplands which feel the effect first. The great spectacle of lush pinks and purples, erupting from Scotland’s rolling heather clad hills, have already faded and withered. Wild grasses of the west coast drift to khaki tans, while our native red deer rut falls silent. This passing comes just in time for the last hard push for reserves before the long, dark and wet days ahead. Some of the old warriors won’t see the winter out, depleted from weeks of gathering hinds and holding ground. Their rasping roars of stature and standing reverberate around the mountain hollows for a final time. But that is the way of things. It’s a cycle only interrupted by the hand of man. Many of our seasonal, migratory visitors have already begun to arrive. Waves of pink-foots follow and graylags file in, with the bulk of our foreign woodcock arriving by the full moon in November.


The anticipation of shifting seasons brings what many hunters consider the start of the game season. Although it’s possible to do some form of hunting every day of the year across the United Kingdom, the 12th of August truly marks the beginning. For the all-round hunter, harvest will have brought the abundant resource offered by decoyed wood pigeons. Stalkers will have already enjoyed the heart pounding close encounters of calling roe from late July, but in the uplands, the first marker in any hunter’s diary is the Glorious Twelfth.


Argued to be the king of all game birds, great tradition and management, as well as controversy, surround the red grouse. Producing economical, harvestable surpluses requires considerable manpower and financial input. In the past this high cost has encouraged illegal activities for the protection of these grouse — the illegal persecution of raptors being the most highlighted and debated. It has tarnished an industry which feels the weight of political change in Scotland more than any other.


Much of this management, focused on the production of wild red grouse, occurs across what is considered to be Scotland’s wild spaces. Although, as with much of our planet, there is little which hasn’t been shaped by the will and actions of humans at some point in our past. It is often forgotten that a push for agriculture led to draining much of the uplands, and not grouse shooting. On the contrary, vast projects of peatland restoration and re-wetting are ongoing across many grouse moors today.


Close to where I live, on one estate of around 20,000 acres, there would be a dozen gamekeepers solely focused on grouse and the management of the land for this primary purpose. This includes the rotational burning of heather moorland, to obtain an optimum age structure for breeding grouse. This not only offers nesting, shelter and food to the intended quarry, but many studies show a spectrum of bird and insect species which benefit from this aspect of management. Many of these include IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) red and amber listed species such as curlew, dotterel and golden plover. Their common breeding success can also be attributed to the strict vermin control undertaken, trapping stoats, weasels and corvids, and hunting foxes by various methods. Ground nesting birds are particularly susceptible to these types of predators, and as a result, much of a gamekeeper’s time is taken up with this endeavor.


With wildfires sweeping the country this year, an interesting side note to the activity of rotational burning, or muirburn as it’s known here, is the reduction in natural fuel loads in upland areas. This also creates fire breaks as a result of the patchwork effect of varying age structures.


Gamekeepers are the only group of people in the U.K. undertaking systematic burning, and indeed hold the core specialist skills and equipment for tackling upland fires. After our long, dry and unusually hot summer, the benefits of this valuable public service have never been more pertinent. A service funded entirely by private money.


Every instance of managed grouse moors currently in Scotland are in private ownership. As indeed is the vast majority of land here. Between 11-12% of rural Scotland sits in public hands, with around 2.6% owned by environmental NGOs. Currently 2.2% is run by community land owners, which accounts for 405 hectares (1000 acres). Much of the rest is in private ownership, and includes the associated rights to resources. This basic, top level view of land distribution has been the driving force for much of the political change here. The nationalist agenda wants to see more of this land


Read the full article in Modern Huntsman Volume 2 available here