I have to admit to feeling a bit hung-over as I rolled out of bed. The guys were awake and after a few ibuprofen and coffees the day began to look up for me. We'd have a good pack of hounds to work over again, with Mitch having Brutus and Ruby, Mick running Heidi, Craig and Max and the Tony/Nera combo rounding out the mix. I guess I'm lucky to be able to hunt with these guys and their dogs; without them we'd never turn over so many birds and I miss having a dog, it's been a long time without now. We ate a solid breakfast and then headed out. At the get out point the dogs were released with the usual doggy mix of running around, pissing and burning off excited energy before being whistled in. We headed up the track and then split into 2 parties, Mick, Craig and their hounds heading one way while Mitch, Tony and I moved to cover a scrubby escarpment that would take us around to a bush edge and then down into the paddock above the swamp.
Almost immediately shots came from the other party. On our side a cock flushed out of reach, and then a couple of hens moved. Eventually Tony and I headed down through the bush while Mitch pushed up and over the escarpment. At this stage I'd not seen a bird, rather Tony had told me what he'd seen when our paths converged. While Mitch took a path directly around the swamp and up and over the hills directly ahead, Tony and I moved around the bush edge and up to our stop off point atop a high hill overlooking a pond area. We watched Mitch, Bru & Ruby work the area beautifully and when Bru locked up we had a grandstand view of Ruby pushing out a hen bird which presented nicely. Awesome work and awesome to watch. Now we were ready to tackle the "100 acre" - a huge area of grazing land, scrub and manuka that birds always hold in.
Being at the very back of the farm, it's less visited than other parts of the farm. We'd move through our part, then enter a cavern through a bluff and emerge in a neck leading to a large clearing where we'd meet with Mick & Craig. I love this part of the farm, as you need to enter the head of a valley then move down through prime pheasant country to reach the bottom. I've never actually shot a bird in there but they are always present. The biggest issue is that in entering the top of the valley you are in plain sight, and the pheasants can see you coming... this time was no different and a cock busted 200m ahead of us. Mitch worked the left hand margin, Tony went down the guts and I kicked around the manuka on the right. A bird erupted in the small creek at the bottom of the gully and Tony tracked then smacked him, a lovely wild bird.
After the retrieve we moved around the corner and down into the cavern. At the other end the dogs got all birdy but pushed nothing out as we moved over swampy ground and then in the clearing ahead we could see Mick and Craig sitting in the sun with their dogs. Looked like a damn good idea to me so while Mitch worked his dogs up and around, Tony and i went over to compare notes with the guys, have a drink and a quick snack. Mitch caught us up and we snapped a few shots, talked sh1t (really? how much smack can a group of guys talk in a weekend? - lots!) and then Craig got us motivated to get on our feet.
The next valley is scrub filled, with monuments of broken rock and small escarpments, and full of sun - a real little pheasant haven. Mick, Mitch and I opted to work it through while Craig and Tony moved up to the ridge line. Soon Heidi pushed a bird and Mick's shots rang out, bur Mr. Rooster had got the jump. We continued through and again the Mick & Heidi crew pushed a bird, again the shots rang out but this time as the bird roared up and out we could see something wasn't right with him; the wings beat fast but more erratically as he tried to clear the ridge and then he just stopped in mid air at least 100m past where he was shot. Cheers rang out - we would loved to have got that on film. Heidi moved up to retrieve the bird and then we searched a bit to find the bull track through the bush to get out of the valley. Emerging on the other side we found ourselves in a small grotto in the sun and it sure as heck looked birdy... then we heard a bird erupt from the ridge 100m ahead of us - Tony & Craig's dogs must have pushed it - Mick saw the bird first and called to itch and I that it was coming. He was as fine as any driven bird as I've seen, fast and high and in the blink of an eye we'd let 5 shots go (it sounded more like 2). The bird sailed past us leaving feathers drifting down like small snowflakes. We had to back track through the bull track, emerging back into the broken rock valley where the lads set the dogs to work to find where the bird had landed. After 10 minutes Ruby was going mental up in the bush, then Bru went completely quiet, a sure sign that he was locked up on a bird. Ruby charged in and all hell broke loose with cackling and wing beats. We could see the dogs charging through the bush and then Bru emerged holding the tailless cock bird. Mitch killed him and we began to lay claims; I knew I'd hit him, so did Mitch, and with dog involvement I was happy with my quarter share of a literally massively heavy bird. For Tony and I the hunt was over as we needed to be getting away; and with 4 birds bagged for the morning's effort we were pretty pleased, especially as the still warm conditions made for difficult hunting. as if a dramatic finale was required, when we got back to the cars no less than 6 cocks and a hen launched from the outcrop above the cars, sailing away out of range and free from harm across the paddocks. Did I say free from harm? Just because Tony and I had to leave didn't mean the rest of the boys wouldn't be hunting that afternoon....
Thanks lads, ripper weekend.