400 pheasants may seem a goodly number of birds to put down in one place, but when that place is a large working farm in rough country they are soon swallowed up. When the birds are not fed after release, they become wild very quickly. Hunting at Craig's is best described as rough shooting (to use the pommie country vernacular); we hunt over dogs and flush birds for the guns. The atmosphere is relaxed and the lads all get on like a house on fire. Its pretty special, and a privilege to be involved in a syndicate like this.
I picked up Andy en-route to Craig's, and we made reasonable time arriving in time to catch up with Mick and Craig and to cook a meal of chops, eaten with salad (have I said how much I crave greens after a week of swamp food?) and rolls. A few beers, wines and single malt followed, along with a couple of nips of vodka. I suddenly realised that I was out on my feet so staggered into my sleeping bag. Next thing I knew it was 06.30, and Andy was getting ready for a pig hunt. Leaping energetically from bed..... crawling from my pit with a head like a piece of lead, I figured that the best way to brighten up would to go get some fresh air. Craig looked like death. Andy (the little bstrd) looked like a box of birds. Mick was up and about as well, so Andy (carrying rifle), Craig (carrying bow) and I (carrying a hangover) set off, with Mick bringing up the rear with Axel, a GWP pup in his care. We made good time considering; Craig's like a mountain goat and following him encourages speedy traverse of the ground. Perhaps a km in towards the pig zone, we spotted 3 fallow on a hillside. Craig eyeballed them and called the rear most animal as a spiker; a good cull animal. Andy got set up, just as they began to jog off. They stopped when Craig grunted and Andy made what looked a solid shot. The animal staggered from view over a brow in his mate's wake; however only 2 re-appeared into view. We moved up to locate the animal; being sure to not move in his tracks as Mick would want Axel to make a track and find on the animal. We found the spiker laid out up the hill and Craig began to process him.
Mick soon appeared so we moved out of sight and directed him to the animal's track - soon Axel picked the scent and tracked in on the beast. Good stuff for the young dog.
A bit of a carry home and it was breakfast time. Guy showed up at 9, and it was time to go on the pheasants. The morning's hunting was varied and brilliant; the birds were sporting and cunning and we missed as many as we took. Everyone had a great time, especially working the cover crops where birds were able to double back or leap in front of us. As many got out away from the guns as presented shots, and the whole thing was thoroughly enjoyable. Thanks to the guys with dogs (everyone bar me!) for making it work.
By lunch time we had 10 in the bag, along with a hare and several pukekos. We'd worked kale crops, bush margin, river edge - an outstanding variety of territory. Back at base we sat back, ate smoked marlin, carrot soup, croissants and talked the kind of sh*t that blokes do when they get together. I wasn't sure about an afternoon hunt, but again Andy was the catalyst so we decided to work over an area that in the morning had held a large number of birds that simply got away ahead of us. this time, Guy, Mick, Andy, I, and dogs would enter the bush and move around behind the birds; Craig would confront them and drive them towards us. It took a bit of bashing to get in place; we then spread out to cover the escape routes and shortly after we could hear Craig calling "here they come!" .. and suddenly it was like being in a pheasant drive as birds spewed over the ridge. The guys laid into them and I thought I was out of luck being on the extreme right edge - however a cock bird flew my way and I was able to take him cleanly. The final bird got up, doubled back and then folded as Craig knocked him down. It was a fine finale to the day, except.... on the way to the vehicles more birds were spotted so we set off in vain pursuit.
Finally we were done, drawing the curtain down on another fantastic week of hunting; made all the better for the mates hunted with.
In no particular order I have to thank the boys for a freakin awesome week:
Dazzle the Ocker
Good buggers, the lot of you.