Barney Ahlefeld has tales of adventure
Overheard: there is a global adventurer in our midst
It pays to be nosy – at the next teller window, an unusual-looking, bearded man wearing a very cool cowboy hat and his well-worn work uniform was showing his teller photos on a cell phone screen and the words “New Zealand” and “red stag” could be (over)heard.
Turns out to have been well worth a confession of eavesdropping to meet Barney Ahlefeld, who has recently returned from just the latest adventure of his lifetime. He was instantly open to sharing the tale of how he and his hunting buddies spent a great deal of time and considerable expense to travel more than 8,000 miles to go hunting on New Zealand’s South Island, Te Waipounamu.
It was a story best told over a beer at Ed Walker’s Drive-In in Fort Smith, where it was quickly easy to see that Barney is a beloved “regular.” One of the waitresses stopped by to show off a necklace, a tiny jade figure Barney had brought her back as a souvenir from New Zealand.
Barney started where all good stories of adventure start – at the beginning.
“How it all came to be was from sitting in elk camp with my buddies, in Colorado, two years ago ..."
“Some of us are in our 70s,” he said. “We need people to pitch the tent and haul wood. We tried some younger guys. We kicked some out and kept some,” he joked. His companions include a cabinet craftsman, a bar & grill owner and Barney’s brother-in-law, Fred Meyers.
“He and I have been hunting together since our teens,” Barney added. The older guys are in pretty good shape, health-wise, he said. “We decided as long as we got it, let’s go,” he explained. “Let’s do something.”
They surely did. Considering the high standards the buddies have for their own ‘band of brothers,’ they went in person to choose their adventure at Las Vegas’ annual Safari Club International convention, known as “the ultimate hunters’ market.” Representatives of guided hunting destinations from all over the world are there to talk to hunters and book trips.
While picking their trip, it didn’t hurt that Barney won at a roulette table and got the chance to splurge on that very fine, triple beaver hat which happens to have his name inside the hatband.
Barney and the guys took a shine to Gus Bisset of New Zealand Trophy Hunting, Ltd. Bisset and his guides lead hunters on an enormous ranch in the Hunter Hills of the South Island and are licensed to hunt further on public lands throughout New Zealand.
Leading up to the trip, the American hunters corresponded by email with their guides to get ready for the trip.
“These people treated us like down home folks,” Barney explained. “They were so kind. I was at home with them.”
Four-footed game is abundant there, Barney said, especially the big red deer and fallow deer, some as large or larger than the American elk and mule deer. Red deer were introduced from 1851-1926 by British naturalists. They thrived into numbers so great that more than a million were killed for bounty offered by the government between 1931 and 1975. Fallow deer, a little smaller than red deer, have also prospered there into plentiful wild populations.
As Barney spun his yarn of their day-by-day experiences in that strange, wild land, his stories and expressions showed his relish and appreciation for not only the hunting but for every meal he tasted, each person he met and every creature he saw.
“We saw so many great, beautiful animals,” he said, “and I ate green-lipped mussels and drank New Zealand wines.”
On the first day after the hunting party arrived at their lodge near Queenstown, guides drove them into the mountainous terrain to just see all the wildlife.
“We spent the whole day looking. We saw more than 80 red stags and fallow deer. I decided I want to try for a fallow deer,” he said. Hunters pay in advance the fees (by weight) the government and hunting outfitters charge for each animal killed. Nearly everyone in Barney’s party found they wanted to go ahead and up their budget a little (or a lot) in the field. But it is clear that his memories and sense of wonder at their adventure is a greater trophy than any taxidermy he may have to hang on a wall.
Doug Simpson (“Sweetie” is his camp nickname according to Barney) wrote an email describing his friend’s personality.
“Here is a typical story about Barney. After our hunt, the guide Gus took us to Wanaka, NZ. This is a place he grew up and a beautiful lush area near a lake where they filmed portions of The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings. We ended up at this place called the Lake Bar situated on the lake in downtown Wanaka, a very small town. Barney would go outside and smoke his pipe, and just talk to people walking by,” Simpson wrote.
“The next day after some more sightseeing and shopping, we ended up at the Lake Bar again. It was raining and Barney decided to venture outside and smoke his pipe at some tables with umbrellas. I joined him, and as we were talking, it amazed me how many locals who walked by greeted Barney by name. He hadn't been in town 24 hours and some of the local Kiwis already knew him. The point is that Barney is so unique, friendly and approachable and that he makes such an impression on people that they can't help but remember him.”
It was an adventure of a lifetime, Barney said. But he has also raced motorcycles in the Baja 500 and Baja 1000 and hunted in the Yukon Territory, Wyoming, Utah and Idaho. He has fished “all over” Alaska. Although he teases his employer of 38 years, Graphics Packaging, about retiring, he’s still working and vows “I’m not done with the world.” He and his buddies plan to fish the Amazon river and hunt in South Africa in 2016.
“Who is a hunter who doesn’t dream of going to Africa?” he said.
It will be another adventure we hope to tell here when he returns.
Story by Lynn Wasson
Photos courtesy of Fred Meyers
This article appears in the June 2015 issue of Entertainment Fort Smith Magazine.