“Look at the light touching the land, isn’t it beautiful? Why would you want to be anywhere else?”
Jeanette Nee shows her love of the outdoors as she pulls up the handbrake on her little Toyota RAV4 for me to capture one last photograph of her Ohauiti farm with the sun setting on the horizon.
The 75-year-old Canadian – who has made Ohauiti home for the last 50 years – usually hunts alone.
Born and raised on Vancouver Island, Canada, she grew up hunting with her father Harry Campbell and three siblings – she’s never put down the gun since.
“Dad introduced us kids to rifles at age 10; for safety because we were on a grain farm, and to kill pests.”
Today she hunts “anything you can put on the table” – duck, pheasant, rabbits, hares, deer, pigs – on her farm and around the Western Bay of Plenty, enjoying the outdoors that hunting game affords.
“We got DNA-tested and apparently I’m 20 per cent Viking and five per cent Native American Indian,” roars Jeanette with laughter.
“My daughter Janelle said: ‘No wonder why you want to hunt Mum and always put game on the table’.”
Jeanette’s family moved to NZ in 1962. “We came over on the Canberra. My parents thought there was going to be a nuclear disaster and worked out NZ was the safest place from the fallout.”
She was 21. “We started off in Parakai then all had to get work; that was when NZ had no employment.”
Her first paid job was a laboratory technician at the Horitiu freezing works “which was very interesting”.
When she took up nursing, nurses were advised to learn skills for self-defence – she met future husband Graeme Nee at judo in 1965. “I was the only women who could throw him so he decided I was an interesting piece of work,” chuckles Jeanette.
They married in 1968 and moved to Graeme’s family farm up Ohauiti Rd. Graeme was dairy farming while Jeanette was nursing; and they had daughter Janelle, who runs the farm with her partner.
Jeanette and Graeme are retired so to speak – but really they never sit still. Graeme does tractor work on the farm to help out, or is bagpiping, while Jeanette spends her time hunting or photographing wildlife and the outdoors.
“I use all the meat – for dog food, cat food, and the good stuff goes on the table.” Plus, mounted on her lounge walls is her most special catches – including a Red stag she shot in the roar of April 2007. “It’s doesn’t have an amazing Douglas score but it was a special time for me.”
Her cat Cheeta is more than 7kg and only eats rabbit. Her rough collie Charlie was her hunting companion but has been retired due to back injuries and old age.
So what’s the knack of duck shooting? “There’s no perfect conditions,” laughs Jeanette, who owns a custom-designed 20 gauge shotgun.
It’s not just about these fancy gadgets, like your duck caller, it’s about understanding where they are, understanding the weather – and the need to not make any noise and be still because they’ve got awesome eyesight these ducks.”
Jeanette keeps a small diary, writing places she spots ducks, rabbits and the like – so she knows where to hunt next and at what time. Her secret weapon is her dive shoes. “They don’t make any noise. And veil camo is a good idea as well as learning to be very still on occasion.”
Jeanette says duck hunting is a culture. “It revolves around a game plan – you’re getting exercise, you’re part of understanding the balance of nature.
“You’re not out there for the moment of killing – you’re hunting as part of a balanced life cycle. If there’s four rabbits you only get one for tea that night.”
“It’s living off the land, pest control – we don’t use poisons here – and conservation.”
Jeannette says Graeme is much better behind a shotgun than her, but it’s not his cup of tea. Daughter Janelle is too busy running the 120-cow farm and working full-time as Tauranga Vets’ practice manager.
Occasionally she takes on a hunting partner, usually a young person to mentor. “Just to boost their confidence and face the challenge of hunting appropriately. Not hunting as a sport but be involved in it so you’re looking after everything and everywhere you hunt.”
She also hunts to provide food for an annual game dinner with neighbours and the rural community up Ohauiti Rd and Rowe roads.
“They put a pig on the spit, Graham plays the bagpipes; we have a few beers down by the stream. It’s a beautiful setting.” Jeanette’s bagging ducks for it now.
Jeanette’s other love is capturing wildlife and the outdoors on film. Ten years ago she took up photography and joined Tauranga Photographic Society.
She’s been mentored by five-time BBC Wildlife Photographer of the Year award-winner Kim Westerskov of Tauranga; and artist Colleen Manning. “Once-a-month on Tuesdays we meet for a show and tell.”
Now she carries a decent camera in her vehicle – covered in camouflage – to snap ducks, rabbits etc mid-air. “I’ve combined it with my hunting.”
Currently she’s trying creative photography “but I’d rather have a bird fly in front of me”. So it’s a battle between gun and camera.
Jeanette is 76 this December. Will she give up hunting soon? “No – it’s all part of the ageing process. If you’ve got something to do it keeps you healthy, fit mentally, and physically.”
“Hunting gives me fresh air, exercise, a mission – you don’t have to shoot anything it’s just getting out there, knowing where they are, and enjoying being on the land.
“When you’re out in the fresh air it’s like a nectar – you feel recharged.”