Monday, June 25, 2018

A quiet walk

Layla had slowed a bit. The morning session had taken an edge off her youthful oompf, but as she hit bird scent there was no doubting her energy levels as her body language changed completely.

The dog and I had set out together post lunch, walking to our hunting point. With the M. bovis outbreak, our vehicles are now quarantined to the house area, and we'd cleaned our boots in bleach to ensure that we weren't going to put the farm's cattle at risk in any way. Walking suited me anyhow, as pheasants have great ears and I prefer a silent approach. My plan was to hunt the river bank to the back of the farm and get in a few hours to see if I could add a couple of roosters to the morning's bag. Earlier, Craig, Mick and I had hunted the farm centre with Axel, Jock and Layla in tow - or I should say, leading us. Our early flurry had been productive with Craig taking two early birds and Mick and I one each. We'd then swept a few gullys before circling around and working down towards the river before retiring for lunch with a nice bag.

Morning bird

As per the previous week's hunt, I bumped hen after hen. These things happen, but this year I seem to be a chick magnet! Layla was working her bum off. On one occasion in front of Craig she got super birdy and drove a magnificent cock bird from a gorse thicket. The angle and her close pursuit of the bird made a safe shot impossible for either of us; even so it was a neat bit of work.

After a 15 minute walk we entered the first paddock. The breeze wasn't ideal as it was on the back of my neck. Layla skirted the blackberry and flax fringe above the river while I kept her as close in as I could. The 2 cocks that burst away did so a ways out. The spooky buggers had watched us come in and with a leeward wind Layla hadn't been able to pick them up. We got to their launch point and she was crazy with birdyness. Moving another 50 metres we got to a thick patch of blackberry. The dog pushed in and began to crawl her way through. She exited, ran back down and got stuck in again - this time pushing a hen that rose with a clatter of wings in easy range.

It was some time later and several km further before we hit the next scent on the bush edge. Layla pushed into a ti tree thicket and drove a hen out; she curled back over me and would have presented a challenging shot if she had been a he. Several hundred metres on the dog lit up and drove into the native wood - out sailed yet another hen! We worked our way through likely spots, and arrived at a gorse thicket where the previous hunt I'd snaked a bird. Layla told me she was on a scent and got in. I positioned myself below the thicket - surely the bird would - before I'd even finished my thought "Cackle CACKLE!!" the rooster burst out at the far edge of the gorse and flew away over the nearest hill. I didn't even lay eyes on him. Layla grinned her way back to me. She'd chased the bird out and up the hill and was returning with a smile on her dial. She seems to not mind my foibles.

We sat for a rest and a couple of minutes contemplating the scenery. Its a beautiful part of the world and we're so lucky to be able to share it. There was another reason to take a rest. In the back of my mind I'd been aiming to hunt this part of the farm. Its just plain birdy; scrubby riverbank, with low cover backing into native timber. Re-energised, we got underway. The first cock bird wrong footed me and gave no chance for a shot. We worked through the scrub but it was damp underfoot and didn't seem to be holding. At the point of the peninsula we turned and worked the far side, which whilst drier underfoot wasn't holding either. Strange, this was really good territory. The next hillock has scant eaten out scrub and an overhead canopy - Layla hit a scent and boomed in on a bird but I was well behind and the rooster cackled away into the distance without being shot at. We pushed into a patch of fern and birds began to erupt  - hen after hen jumped and flew. At least half a dozen hens had gone - surely a rooster was in here? Layla pushed in and finally with a beat of wings and a crow a rooster jumped - his trajectory was limited by the kahikatea tree he launched from under so he tried to fly directly upwards and presented an easy shot. Layla brought him in and handed over a fine bird. A quick photo shoot. A drink. A pat for the dog. She lay on the ground rubbing her belly on the wet grass to cool down. Funny, funny little dog. 2 birds down, 1 to go.

Dad I got a mouff full of feathers
We crested the next rise and followed the bush edge down to where it intersected the river. The cock bird that launched from the far riverbank was pretty unlucky that my snap shot undid him. At 35m an ounce of #5 lead isn't a dense load and he was well in flight when I fired, but I saw his head snap back and he fluttered down to earth dead as a doornail. Layla leaped into the river, crossed and picked him up before fording the river back and delivering the gleaming bird to me. He was bigger than our released birds and upon checking him out I found no tags. A fine wild bird, not one of our releases - a real trophy.

Phew, take this damn thing!

With birds tucked away in my vest I slung the gun over my shoulder and noticed that my dodgy knee was sending out signals, little pain spikes with each step. I couldn't have cared less. Layla trotted along beside me, she'd had a big day and had worked like a demon. I decided on a less circuitous road home and took the old bridge. As we got closer to the morning's drop off point I saw Craig on top of a nearby rise and then a bird got up - both he and Mick fired as the cock shot away. 10 minutes later I'd caught them up. They'd hit the rooster and Jock had recovered it from a massive tangle of blackberry. By mutual agreement that had been our last act of the day. Drizzle set in as we headed back to the house, framing what had been a perfect day chasing long tails.

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