The last three weeks have been hectic. I had to complete and write-up a number of reviews for the SSAA magazine. I also got in several extended camping-hunting trips. Between times, when at home, I was doing dawn and dusk hunts for wild dogs. Last week, I was successful and did bushwhack a wild dog. It was well after sunset and getting dark when I shot him. Only the excellent light-gathering of the Swarovski z6i scope and its illuminated centre dot made the shot possible. It was too dark for any photos.
Yesterday afternoon I got back from a 5-day deer hunt. My wife and I camped on the very edge of a delightful wetland, right beside a favourite stony ridge where we have taken many deer over the years. Some frosty mornings did not deter us from first light hikes up the rocky slopes to the stony ridge plateau. We missed a few opportunities until we came to terms with the deers’ heightened wariness. In the days before our arrival, the owner and a few friends had conducted a cull of the growing deer numbers. The survivors were on their toes!
The cold dissipated fast as the sun rose. By the time we had stalked the kilometre of ridgeline, over a couple of hours, it was getting pretty warm and we were shedding our jackets by the time we were trekking back to camp. We enjoyed just relaxing in our basic, simple camp, watching and photographing the many birds present before us. Late afternoon we stalked the river banks and other ridges.
After three days we had only a few fleeting glimpses of distant and nervous deer. We lifted our game and were able to very carefully approach a small group of deer on a stony spur off the main ridge. We ever so carefully crept down a parallel spur, looking for a gap in the intervening scrubby trees to place a shot. The breeze was in our favour, and we had been painfully slow and quiet in negotiating our way down the sharp spur top that was a mass of loose surface stones.
Suddenly, through the screen of masking scrub, the deer called in alarm and looked in our direction, but not directly at us. We froze and I whispered a few expletives that made Kathy give me a disapproving look. With a clatter of hooves on the rubbly rock, the deer disappeared over the edge of their spur, to our right.
To my left, on the steep, grass-covered slope of our spur, I caught a flick of movement. It was repeated, closer now. The tips of some red ears were glimpsed, making haste up the slope of the spur, through a screen of scrubby, stunted trees. A large wild dog was loping up the side of the spur, intent on following the deer. There was a narrow field of fire down the top of the sharp spur top. It would need some quick shooting.
I tracked the hints of movement as the dog approached the crest. He broke into the opening, a mere 20 metres from me, without slowing. I swung the rifle and kept the centre dot on his shoulder, and pulled the trigger. The 257 Weatherby Magnum roared in the rocky valley. There was a big cloud of red dust. A termite nest saved his life. He passed behind the half metre thick, concrete-solid mound of cemented mud just as I fired. There was an impressive hole blown in the termite mound – but no dead dog!
The edges of the wetland showed tracks and rootings of wild pigs. One morning a solid boar came ambling along the edge of the water and passed within 30 metres of camp. I had the rifle beside me, in case he came and caused trouble in camp, but it was a camera in my hands. I did not want to possibly alarm the resident deer by shooting a pig. Besides, Kathy was still berating me for shooting at the wild dog that ruined our stalk.
The farm manager called in for a chat and suggested we change to first light hunting of the river edge, as he had been seeing deer in numbers there the last few mornings. We drove over to the river mid-afternoon, to do a little fishing and just enjoy the shady cool of the banks. Just off the track, out in the deep, dry grass and weeds, in the blazing heat of mid-afternoon a deer poked its head up as we drove past. We all deserve an easy one now and then.
By Kathy’s fitness-tracking watch, we had stalked 15 kilometres of steep and stony ridges and spurs in the previous few days. The doe was in great shape, with a thick layer of fat. I carefully edged the car in through the deep grass, up alongside the deer so I could work in the shade and off the back of the vehicle.
The next morning, we drove slowly along the riverside track. I was intently looking to my right, across the couple of hundred meters of paddock between the track and the river. Kathy was busy taking photos of the sun rising through the mist on a crisp morning. “Stop!” she commanded, “there’s a stag on my side.” Faintly, through the mist, with a sunrise behind him was a Chital stag.
I slipped out of the car and snuck over to a roadside tree. He was about 150 metres away. I dialled up the magnification of the scope and took a steady lean off the tree. The 257 Weatherby broke the dawn silence, and the stag toppled. He was big of body, and like the doe the day before was in prime condition and encased in fat. Once more we brought the car in to him for shade and easy butchering.
Yesterday morning we broke camp and then drove to the farmhouse to collect our load of prime venison from the chiller room there. It was mid-morning as we left and headed for home. A few hundred metres from the house a mob of twenty deer ran in front of the car. I had to brake to avoid hitting a couple of them. Kathy and I both laughed. After all the effort, stalking and exploring over the last 5 days, we had very nearly run a couple over!