Of all the reasons to visit New Zealand, killing a red stag wasn't on my list. But that's what got me to the Southern Hemisphere.
My brother Kevin has been an outdoorsman for most of his 47 years and wanted to bag a trophy deer with Shane Quinn's Alpine Hunting Adventures on the North Island. All I needed was an excuse to see that part of the world, so I asked him if I could tag along as a nonhunting guest.
"But you don't like dead animals," Kevin said over the phone from his home in Colorado.
"Yes, but I eat them," I replied.
My brother said he was compelled to hunt a red stag, a close relative of elk, because "they have the largest antlers, in relation to body size, in the world." He had also wanted to hunt and fish in New Zealand for more than two decades and said the trip was a retirement gift to himself after serving 20 years in the Army National Guard.
Though he was set on getting a red stag, he could have hunted other species of deer on Quinn's 5,000-acre farm: sika, which are found in the wild on Maryland's Eastern Shore; fallow; sambar; and rusa. Other targets roaming the land are boar, goat, Arapawa sheep, wapiti (elk), opossum, ducks and rabbits. Alpine Hunting also offers trout fishing at the headwaters of the Rangitikei River.
If that isn't enough, Quinn has a partnership with a lodge owner on the South Island, in Hari Hari, where hunters can go after tahr -- a relative of mountain goats and mountain antelope -- and chamois, a goatlike animal native to Europe.
Oh, the possibilities.
The only thing I shoot with is a camera, so I had another vacation in mind: shopping, exploring nature, relaxing.
My brother likes to tease that I'm an activist for PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals), which I'm not, and I like to joke that he's a card-carrying member of the NRA (National Rifle Association) -- I don't know if he is or not. I do support the ethical treatment of animals, and people too. My dogs came from a humane society, and most of my charitable donations go to animal and nature groups. I'm not a vegetarian, but my DNA excludes a hunter's gene.
For hunters, though, there is a certain beauty to the hunt that apparently only they can see. And the most committed hunters are willing to travel to pursue their sport.
Of the 13 million U.S. hunters age 16 and older in 2001, about 3 percent took a hunting vacation outside the country, according to Mark Damian Duda, executive director of Responsive Management -- a Harrisonburg, Va., survey research firm specializing in natural resource and recreation issues. And a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service survey in 2001 found that about 16 percent of U.S. hunters traveled outside their state of residence to hunt, Duda said.
Kevin hunts for sport, but he also put a lot of venison, fowl and seafood on the dinner table while we were growing up in southwestern Pennsylvania and for his four children. If going halfway around the world to kill a red stag is what makes my brother happy, that's good enough for me.
My vision of beauty, however, was seeing the Southern Cross for the first time. I used to play the Crosby, Stills and Nash song Southern Cross on a jukebox in the mid-1980s, and, to me, finally seeing the constellation was worth the distance traveled. The Southern Cross is mainly visible in the Southern Hemisphere, but it can also be viewed north of the equator if you're south of about latitude 25 degrees.
In addition to our disparate reasons for traveling to New Zealand, Kevin and I ended up far apart on how much the trip cost. We both paid $1,025 for our round-trip airfare from Los Angeles to Auckland and $195 round-trip from Auckland to Palmerston North, which has the closest airport to Alpine Hunting. Though my lodge bill totaled $750 for six days as a nonhunting guest, Kevin ended up paying $12,500. Of that cost, the biggest charge was the upgrade in the trophy fee based on the score of the deer's antlers -- adding $9,000 to the cost of the $3,500 basic hunt. He also gave a tip to his personal hunting guide, which customarily ranges from 10 percent to 15 percent.
Most of the leftover meat from kills is processed at a plant in New Plymouth, New Zealand, and sold to restaurants on the North Island, Quinn said. But all of the venison served at the lodge is processed there. "We keep most of the really good meat here to eat ourselves," he said.
Alpine Hunting will mail venison to hunters, but my brother didn't choose that option. "We can ship the meat worldwide, but we have to send it to be processed first," said Quinn, 43, who bears a resemblance to the actor-comedian Robin Williams. "It's got to get the FDA stamp or whatever [if shipped to the United States]. An American stamp becomes very costly and time-consuming. Some clients want to do that and will pay."