The wrong kind of lasting memory

15th March 2023|3min

Sean Huntingdon hunts differently compared to three decades ago when he was “was 24 and didn’t have a clue”. Getting lost on a hunting trip with two mates is one that he remembers like it was yesterday. Sean reflects on this trip with us and considers the advances in technology and the power of knowledge that contribute to him never getting lost again.

NZ hunting stories with NZ Mountain Safety Council

It was the early 90s when stubbies and swannies were typical hunting uniform, and Sean and his mates lived for the weekends, sick days and annual leave just to get out hunting.

But it was the hunting trip with two mates in the Horomanga Valley, near Poplar Flats, where Sean learnt the importance of equipment, navigation and knowledge of the hills.

They arrived at the campsite not long before dusk, when Sean decided to do a recce to explore the area.
We just got there, and I was like, ‘okay I’ll go for a walk’. I looked at the map and then left it along with my compass and torch to look after my sleeping bag. I didn't need them because I was only going out for a quick look. Plus, we worked on the theory that if we own a map that's all we needed. It was only to see where the side creeks were and to check the contour lines.”

"All of a sudden I looked up and noticed the cloud and it started to drizzle, and I thought ‘na, that’s all right’.
“I was just going to do a wee loop, but when I got back up on the ridge I thought, actually this isn’t the ridge. Then I walked around to find my ridge to go back to camp but because there were low clouds and drizzle, I couldn’t see much.

“It was April and we lost daylight rapidly, then my sense of direction was gone, I had no idea where I was.

“The next morning, the cloud was still low and I didn’t know where I was, so then I just headed for the creek. In hindsight if I went the other way I would’ve been on the track, but I was 24 and didn’t have a clue.

“I panicked, and I had in my head, because you always got told, that if you don’t know where you are, just head down and find a creek and walk out. I did that, it just took a bloody long time.”

He was only supposed to be gone for an hour or so, but ended up in the bush for two days until he managed to walk out to the road following a creek.

When I got to a place with a phone, I called DOC to find out if anyone was reported missing - my hunting mates looked for me until the afternoon before calling DOC. He knew the area and was waiting until early morning to fly to the area to see if I could be located.”

To add to the severity of the trip, Sean had stepped on a rusty nail at home before heading on the hunting trip. Two days in the bush, walking on uneven terrain and through creeks and streams, his foot was a swollen mess. He spent a night in hospital with mild hypothermia and on a drip.

Now, 32 years later, Sean’s wife asks him how can he remember that trip in such detail.

“I say, ‘it is vivid in my mind, it’s like it happened yesterday’.”

Sean says this trip happened long before cellphones, Personal Locator Beacons and GPS.

Back then he didn’t have as much gear as he does today, “a lot has changed since 1991”. Because the recce  was meant to only be an hour at the most, all he had with him was a bumbag with a knife and bullets, and his rifle while wearing a Swandri and shorts.

“I didn’t even have with me my torch, lighter, or compass, it was all in my sleeping bag.”

Sean Huntingdon

Sean is now a MSC Firearms Safety Instructor, as well as teaching rural pest operations at a tertiary level for the past two decades. The course covers the basics which apply for any hunting trip: firearms safety, basic navigation and survival in the bush, reading a weather forecast and planning.

For any hunting trip nowadays he packs a GPS, Personal Locator Beacon, two lighters, two torches, spare batteries, cellphone, maps, compass, rain jacket, first aid kit, snacks; pretty much everything that you can use to survive on a trip.

He says he packs all that gear partially due to this incident, but partially because he now has access to it.

Pre-trip habits now include printing out the map where he is going and marking the hunting area for his wife to have, just in case. He and his hunting group studies maps and zooms in on Google Earth to get a good indication of the terrain. 

Even after decades in the bush, he always hunts with a mate. Back then Sean says he was a follower, but learning from experience he’s changed that habit.

“It doesn’t matter how long you think you’re going for, take the right gear with you. You want to get out there and have fun, but you always want to come back.”

“I never had another trip like it. I tend to notice where I’m walking now,” he laughs

Seven Roar hunting tips for staying safe

  1. Research the area and have a backup plan
  2. Check the weather and be prepared for it to change
  3. Pack a rain jacket and shelter just in case
  4. Tell a mate your plans before you go
  5. Check in with your mates regularly
  6. Take a map and keep track of your movements
  7. Watch your footing and take your time

Read our stories

Thanks for sharing your experience with us Sean. If you have a hunting story you think is worth sharing, get in touch with us!