THE HUNT

Primal Quest back country outdoor adventure company hunting guide Pete
Pete of Primal Quest
THE HUNT

Two former special forces soldiers are making the transition from war zone to civilian life by using their unique skills to offer a primal experience.

Charles Anderson and Richard Cosgrove
head into the hills with them for 24 hours.
Web: John Harford

Charles Anderson and Richard Cosgrove
head into the hills with them for 24 hours.
Web: John Harford

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Liam of Primal Quest
Liam of Primal Quest weathers the wind

He slung the rifle over his shoulder and exhaled into the evening. Beside him lay a boar, still warm, that I had just killed. The dogs stood nearby, softly growling.

As the light faded and stars began to appear and the temperature sank below zero, his emerging silhouette of camouflage-stained trousers and blood-stained boots might have been from a hillside in a different time and a different place.

With night vision goggles, Liam said, you could see almost four times the number of stars in the sky.

Steve of Primal Quest
Steve of Primal Quest in the hills near Lewis Pass

For the past 15 years if you asked him what he did for a living he would refer to ambiguous nouns like “the unit” or “the regiment".

The secrecy was for good reason, he said. There was always a chance that the enemy could collect intelligence on who he was. It was for that reason, and a mentality drilled into him for more than a decade, which made the image on the hillside all the more extraordinary.

Charles Anderson
Charles Anderson

When Liam was based in Kabul, Afghanistan there was a bar he occasionally frequented where he would mingle with diplomats and soldiers. They had only one rule: “No journos.”

But here he and fellow former special forces soldier Steve were, on the alpine hills of the Lewis Pass, with a journalist and photographer in tow.

Generally they did not “do” questions. They would deflect or ignore when it came to prying about their careers. But there were questions to be asked – these were men at the edge of human physical capability. They were trained in everything from close quarter combat and mountain survival to infiltration by air, land and sea. They had killed people. They had seen friends been killed. They had, quite literally, some of the most compelling war stories you would ever hear. Politics rarely rated a mention and they would not discuss the specifics of operations that either they or other Kiwi soldiers were involved in.

Theirs was a life that most young men I know have, at least to some small degree, fantasised about. Now, Liam and Steve were back from war and back into civilian life, trying to figure out how to keep some of the excitement that drew them to the military in the first place while trying to hold down a job that was increasingly more important: family man.

Taking aim

They also had a question: What does an elite soldier do when he comes home?

They had always been outdoorsmen – they surfed, hunted and flew helicopters. Perhaps people would pay for an experience outside their everyday lives that spoke to some distant rumbling within that longed for adrenalin and a taste of a life never quite lived?

Photographer Richard Cosgrove and I spent 24 hours in the bush with them to help find an answer. The name of their business was Primal Quest.