Upon arrival at Craig's, a glance in the killing shed revealed a deer, 3 pigs and a string of pheasants on the wall; Day 1 looked to have been a hell of a success! I'd arrived last and after getting the gear inside sat down to a drink and catch-up with the boys. Florian and Craig had returned from a successful Thar hunt in the Southern Alps with some nice heads. Mitch regaled us with tales of his duck opening with 'Crazy Lance' that had us in stitches. We talked smack until 11 pm and I was at that stage fit to drop... so the lads all trooped off and I fell asleep in front of the fire, stretched out on the floor with cushions for a mattress.
Jethro was first up and put the kettle on, outside the forecast rain had arrived. Clouds hugged the hills and mist rolled down the valleys and the drain drizzled in and on. I enjoy hunting pheasants in the rain; they tend to either be in the open or tucked up somewhere very dry; there's no in-between. We ate, got wet weather gear on and set off. With 9 guns we'd need a bit of organisation; I'd go with Mick and Andy and dogs Heidi and Keira and hunt the true right edge of the river. Mitch, Brad and Jethro would push the other side. our party waited for our opposite bank companions to walk to the bridge and come back down to meet us and then we moved slowly ahead with the dogs pushing the cover. The first birds broke well ahead of us but as we approached their hang-out, another broke. He was up and away from us all but I had the safe line to shoot and promptly missed! Florian plucked some feathers with his shot but the bird sailed away. The guys spent some time searching for the bird and as they did so Keira nudged another bird for Andy which he hit as it crossed the river before landing in a paddock on the far side and running. Keira crossed the river and seemed to hit the scent but quickly lost it.
Andy walked back around to the bridge and looped around while the rest of the party continued downstream. The next bird flew my way and was an easy shot - first pheasant of the season! The next bird that was pushed Mitch called as my bird and I got him with a long crosser [which I only realised later; Mitch had fired also but had missed]. The birds were holding well and we were only seeing cock birds; had they pushed the hens out? Next up came my big 'DOH!' moment. A bird ran well ahead of us and took to the paddock from the bank. He ran and looked to fly so I stepped back; he then ran ahead to my right so I turned hard right and walked and he stopped... then turned and ran to the only cover which was a stunted tree in the paddock. Clumps of longer grass afforded him some cover and he ducked in. I chuckled at my sheep dog act and walked quietly over to within 5m before kicking an irrigation pod to get him into the air. BOOM! BOOM! ... not a feather flew from the bird... an easy going away at an angle shot.... I did a little frustration boogie, then had a giggle. Andy returned and I hung back as I'd had enough shots.
|Hendrik, a man with style|
We arrived at a kale paddock, the scene of the majority of the previous day's carnage apparently; and we spread out and began to push through the soggy cover. Keira pushed a bird up between Andy and I put him down slightly before Andy's shot. Another bird was taken further down the paddock. We moved slowly to cover the last 5m of cover and a bird got up which Andy took smoothly.
That proved to be a nice melanistic cock bird. The crop extended onto a peninsula, although at that point it seemed to have been ravaged by cattle or simply not taken so was patchy. The group moved through and Keira hit a scent, moved across the line and bumped 2 cocks which took to the air and dropped as the guys on the right flank took them down.
That signaled the end of the morning's hunt... the rain still fell so we looked like bedraggled rats as we wandered back to the vehicles. Lunch was well received, cheeses, rolls, salami, coffee.. then we were out to the shed to clean our kills. 3 pigs and 35 odd pheasants were dealt to in quick time and the meat put on ice.
Then a good solid energy-returning lunch and a change of clothes. Hendrik, Mick & Mitch had to leave at that point so it was a smaller party that set out in the afternoon. We'd cover ground untouched over the past day and a half. As we parked near our chosen spot, a bunch of birds popped up out of a bowl, and while we waited they made their way to cover, a heavy gorse patch. While Andy and Craig waited, Jethro, Florian and I moved into a gully to cover their escape and soon the guys with dogs [Craig was working his new bitch Sika] pushed through. Birds popped out one by one, all hens barring one cock bird which took a hit as he passed down the line. We regathered and split up to cover the ground and soon shots began to pop. I covered a higher plateau but apparently a number of birds were bumped out by Sika, out of my view, as she ran a bit wild. We moved to the southern edge of the farm in a sweeping group but all we could find was hens. Finally Andy gave a signal that a cock bird was spotted in a deep depression. Florian and Jet covered the far end and Andy put Keira down the guts... I get a bit mesmirised watching her work and soon she pushed into a small fern patch and out came Mr. Rooster. He flew my way and I had to let him pass to ensure a safe shot, and I promptly missed him with the first shot before regathering and cleaning him up. My shooting was akin to muppetry, perhaps the fit of the little Merkel after the big waterfowl gun was throwing me. Darkness began to drop and we returned with 4 birds in the bag. We hung the birds and got into dry clothing. Jet made a move home at that point. Andy and I got a big meal of duck sausages, salad and mashed spuds on the go and Craig's brother Mike joined us for dinner. Then we had a call to make.... go out in the wet to find a pig up the hill, or stay in the nice dry warm house. On top of the rain a cold southerly had sprung up, but despite that we decided to take a spot light and go up the hill.
Issue #1: Andy's truck has town tires
Issue #2: The only rifle available was a lever action Browning
Issue number 1 exhibited itself less than a quarter of the way to our get put point, as Andy's truck slid into a small ditch [way better than sliding into the abyss on the other side of the track] and stuck fast. So we'd walk from there. There's something highly refreshing about being out in the rain on a stormy night and we made good time up the hill, soon I was steaming hot from my merino layer under Goretex wet weather gear. As we went, Craig lit up the valleys and bush patches with the spotlight and we saw numerous fallow hinds with fawns on our way. We'd only take scrubby stags if we found them. At the tip paddock we made out a grey grizzled pig by a big rock, so moved uphill to close the gap. Nearing the rock Craig switched on the light and Mr Pig came trotting straight towards us, fast. Andy brought the rifle up but was clearly having trouble with the unfamiliar configuration of the lever action, as the pig drew closer.. soon he was 5m out and Craig hissed 'shoot him NOW' and began to ready his backup plan - he'd brought along his shotgun and buckshot - when BOOM Andy touched off and the pig dropped on the spot.
He was a good fat bugger too, and Craig quickly field dressed him for the carry back. Lacking twine to make a pack of the animal, Andy was forced to carry him by the back legs - the true 'piggy back'. We trudged into the darkness, down hill thankfully, and soon were taking turns at carrying the animal. Finally we arrived at Andy's truck, so we stashed the pig in the back and continued our walk back to the house. Back home we had a beer or 2 and soon Craig began to nod off... I felt the same and hit the hay.
I awoke as the sky lightened and got breakfast on the go; Craig was up and about also but Andy stayed in his bed for a while longer. We ate and then Andy and I set off to retrieve his truck while Craig did some work. With a bit of digging and to-ing and fro-ing I pulled Andy's truck out easily enough, and we got back to base to ready for a morning hunt. The 3 of us set out to cover the farm area closest to the road. The first birds encountered were quail which Craig asked us not to shoot, as the population base is small. We walked for a number of kms during which a melanistic cock bird eluded us, Craig's gun's extractor slipped over the rim of a cartridge which took some fixing, and no other birds were seen. We walked areas that in the past had been kind to us, but perhaps the southerly wind had kept the bird holed up? We made the call to return home, but as we walked a steep muddy track I glanced ahead and 200m away saw 2 cock birds on a rise. At this stage they hadn't seen us, unsurprisingly as they went intent on fighting each other. Around and around they'd circle, heads close to the ground before rearing up and jumping together with claws outstretched and wings beating. It was quite some spectacle!
After a few minutes Craig suggested that we use their state of distraction to close in, hopefully unobserved, but of course with our high viz gear they spotted us quickly, broke off their engagement and one took to the air while the other ran. Andy and i split off to find the runner, while Craig took Max around to the other side of the gully to find the flier. Our mini hunt was interesting; we popped up where we thought the bird had run to but Keira was not interested, so after sweeping back and forth Andy took here back to the fight scene and started from there. He and Keira moved away from me and I slowly followed. The wee girl hit the scent and pushed out the cock from his hiding place, which Andy took with his second barrel. on the board!
We walked around to where Craig was sitting, his hunt for the flier had been unsuccessful. As we wandered down the track though, Max's head popped up and he darted off the track into the scrub. Out clattered the missing cock bird which flew straight down the track and departed stage right with having avoided 3 shots from the boys... being behind them I had the best seat in the house but wasn't doing any ribbing after my misses the day before. Suddenly birds began to take to the air down in the bush - we;d found them, but all eluded us. We saw where a couple had landed so sauntered the several hundred metres over to an old swamp below a heavily wooded rock outcrop. Max bumped a cock bird in front of me which I managed to fold while another burst away far to our left. We retrieved the bird and began our wander back to the cars.
Always a good weekend at the ranch, and this was another ripper.