Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Mist, not rain

By Thursday, I'd called a pheasant hunt. Heading to our group's Facebook Page, I'd asked if anyone else was interested and only Mick had shown an inkling of desire - subject to the weather. Based on the forecast I called "a 100% chance of rain" ..."but only after lunchtime". I spoke to Craig's brother Mike (Craig's away with his family in Germany) and told him I'd be down Saturday morning.

Not sure if I've said as much (actually I am, and I have), but this season I've struggled a wee bit to put roosters in front of me. Hens? No problem. No-no birds. A bit like only seeing teal when you're ducking.

As we drove South, I wasn't worried about the slow traffic I encountered. It was misty and I hoped that the cloud would burn off for a couple of reasons, first so the pheasants would get out and be active and second, so that scenting conditions would be better than if the air were cool and heavy. Exiting the forest at the farm end of the valley revealed sunshine, sure some cloud wafted around on the steady Northeast light breeze, but I coulen't have asked for a better start weather wise.

At the cowshed I popped in and saw Mike to ask if there were any areas he didn't want me in "nah , mate, help yourself" was the reply. I let Layla out of the truck for a rest stop while I got ready and was fiddling with stuff when out of the corner of my eye I saw her go hot. The slight breeze was playing over the scrub belt to our left and coming in. I had to whistle a loud stop command to halt her - she wanted in there badly. Jacket on, camera over shoulder, gun out of bag and loaded. I slipped under the hot wire and with Layla at heel, sort of, we headed up. I motioned her in to the gorse while I looped around the top, thinking any pheasant that broke would head over and downwind. The dog muscled in and worked the scrub hard before heading to the far end where I met her. Nose down she headed up to the right to the brow ahead of us and the with a clatter of wings hen pheasants, a group of 10 or 11, burst out. The only cock that flew did so from a good 50m away. The birds without exception headed for the next large patch of gorse 250m away.

I turned us around. One hundred and eighty degrees. If we were lucky later in the day, we may just cross paths with Mr Rooster where the group had flown to, but I had another plan in mind, to cover some areas not as heavily hunted. We moved on, covering a couple of likely spots. Several weeks ago, Layla had moved a rooster in a nice gorse patch that neither Craig nor I could draw a bead on because the black dog was in close pursuit of the bird. So when she got hot near the same gorse patch I moved uphill to cover any exit routes. Layla moved around the gorse and drove in and the cock burst out trying for speed and height. A comfortable shot. Layla brought a weighty brightly burnished bird to hand. Good start, 15 minutes in, bird in the bag.

Look Left! Look Right! How 'bout looking at the camera, dog?
A light drizzle came in, more Barely a veil of moisture rather than rain. None the less I put my rain jacket on, hoping to not get drenched while also hoping to not get too hot in it.

We covered the rest of the brush in the gully and the dog showed real interest from time to time, maybe birds here earlier had moved on at the shot? I was still in the zone that gets a bit of attention from the crew so moved with pace while we covered likely spots. Up and over the hill, into the next valley. Ok, here we could slow down. In the past I'd moved birds here. We worked the basin and surrounds hard and again Layla heated up, circling some low brush hard - the hare that burst out was lucky. I wasn't hunting ground game today. Up the hill. Steep. Puff puff. Rain stopped. Off with jacket. Wet anyway. Sweat build up. At the brow and under some totara trees, Laya's nose hit the ground. We'd stayed quiet but the bird had moved on. I lifted Layla over a fence and motioned her to sit. We were at the head of a gully that last time had held a veritable covey of birds, mostly hens with one wily rooster. Wind in face. I stayed uphill of the belt of gorse and sent Layla in. She was birdy as hell and hit a big scent. The rooster when he went gave me only a glimpse at the top of his trajectory and my snap shot took him. I heard his body fall into the scrub well downhill and so did Layla who appeared to have marked it well. She was gone long enough for me to decide to follow her and I'd barely travelled 20m when she rounded the corner with a gleaming and quite dead rooster in her mouth. Photos taken, he went into the back of the game vest. Wicked.

This valley is a good 750m long and heavily gorsed. Layla was in her element. She was on a scent and it weaved this way and that. We moved along, she at a good clip and me trying to keep up. My GPS would later show a max speed of 10kph, a half jog speed. The dog exited the scrub and headed to a fence... she's not good with fences so she stopped. I crossed and gave her a boost over. Now on a bank over a track above a steep wooded valley stretching left and right, I was weighing up my options... Layla, ears back charged down the bank, across the track, and plunged into the thicket below. With a huge cackle the pheasant launched out and over the valley at tree height, my snap shot catching him flush... the sound of him hitting below took several seconds in coming. Layla charged down but I thought I'd need to go to the head of the valley, enter and then backtrack to below my shooting point. I marked an obvious tree as a landmark on the other side of the gully and was about to head off when I heard the dog returning.... with bird in mouth! Super work, that was a tough mark for even an experienced dog!

Stopped time 1 hr? I don't remember stopping... :)

90 minutes of hunting. 3 cocks flushed, 3 duly taken. A limit, loving it. I had brought along some sandwiches in anticipation of a long day, so we sat and shared a bite before having a photo shoot. I surveyed our situation. The fastest way out was by taking my intended route anyway. With gun slung over my shoulder, I wandered into a sheltered ti tree belt. The sign in here was incredible so it was not at all surprising that a cock bird cackled away out of sight.

On the road as we exited the hill country, the day brightened markedly. Pity Mick hadn't come out for a hunt, it had been mist, not rain, anyhow.

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