As a young deerstalker I remember the name Frank Erceg well. He was then a deer culler and a photo of him, rugged good looks – better than many a movie star – was in the “Weekly News” as he held the antlers of a big red deer stag. What I didn’t know is that in 1965 at just age thirty, Frank and his good friend were killed by the blade of a helicopter.
I was always a bit sceptical of deer cullers and more so commercial hunters whether in helicopters or on foot, who to my mind, prostituted the hunting by sheer greed for money. But somehow Frank was different.
My good friend the late Gordon Roberts who gave up deer culling to become a wildlife photographer and published a fine book “Game Animals of New Zealand” featuring his outstanding deer, tahr and chamois photos, always credited Frank with inspiring and encouraging him to put down the rifle and take up the camera in pursuit of deer, tahr and chamois.
Louise March is Frank’s niece.
“Frank was my uncle, he died when I was a pre-schooler and my one lasting memory is scant and hazy,” she recalls.
Louise grew up knowing very little about Frank yet he always appeared to her as “a handsome, adventurous uncle” who died tragically and suddenly in the Matukituki valley, Wanaka and of course someone she wished she had known.
So driven by curiosity, Louise set about finding more about Frank and spent two decades, delving here and there, coming to dead ends, then suddenly finding another avenue to venture down. Often that involved talking to retired deer cullers who had known Frank Erceg.
A big part of Frank’s hunting life both as a culler, meat hunter and then photographer was in Westland’s Arawhata Valley. Louise also unearthed letters Frank had written to relatives and girl friends detailing his hunts.
Initially Louise had no idea where her research into her uncle’s short life would take her. She even joined the New Zealand Deer Cullers Inc., wrote articles for the organisation’s newsletters, and attended reunions where she picked up more tales of Frank and met face-to-face, people she had spoken to over the phone.
Over the 20 or so years she amassed a wealth of information and old photos. Frank who showed writing skills in magazine and Weekly News” articles, intended to write a hunting book. But at age 30, he was killed.
However his niece has taken up the task of a book and written an absorbing account of her research endeavours, meeting a host of old deer cullers, several of them legendary hunters.
My only criticism is that the cover photo and design does not do the book justice. A far more eye catching cover could have been using photos from within the book.
But it’s a small point to cavil over. The overall result is an intriguing account enhanced by rare images from Frank’s photographic archive and an emotional tribute to one of New Zealand’s hunting legends.