I have not posted for a few weeks. In that time I have done a plenty of hunting, but no shots have been fired! A couple of days ago, I got back from an extended hunt on a large cattle property in the gulf country. Not much short of 1.5 million acres, with two big rivers and plenty of wetlands, it is prime country. Pete and I made our first trip there, to hunt wild dogs and any feral pigs that crossed our path.
The owners have been conducting a relentless, but winning campaign, on the pigs and dogs for a few decades now. The property used to be renowned for the numbers of feral pigs, but those days are gone; the numbers are now greatly reduced and under control. The wetlands only showed minor pig damage and hosted an enormous wealth of birdlife – great to see.
The owner had warned me before the trip that he was just completing a major baiting exercise and that there had already been a noticeable drop in pig and dog numbers. We decided to go anyway, as we had wanted to explore this place for years and we figured that the cunning old dogs would avoid the baits and still be there.
We were well set up for camping but the owner suggested we make use of their mustering camps. These outstations are situated on billabongs or flowing rivers, with well-designed huts featured bed frames, kitchens, showers, flush toilets and laundry. The two main muster camps are about fifty kilometres apart as the crow flies (it is a big property).
The tracks were in fine shape, recently graded and with a thin coating of fine dust – ideal for showing animal tracks. In our time there we explored about 400 kilometres of the tracks in Pete’s 4WD buggy. We did try short-cutting along the broad, sandy river beds. That worked pretty well, but we struck a few soft patches that made us glad the buggy was equipped with a winch.
There were a few wily old dogs still lurking about. Being the wise to the world, they mostly just crossed the dusty roads when they needed to and avoided walking along the tracks. We tried a variety of tricks to catch them out but none of those worked.
You have to laugh. I got home on Saturday evening. Sunday morning, I had calls from two separate close-by farmers. One had had a cow killed by dogs that night and several others bitten after being chased through a barbed wire fence. The other farmer had extensive pig workings appearing overnight. This morning I did a pre-dawn stake-out over the dead cow, sitting against a tree on the steep spur leading down to the flats.
As first light came, I called a few times. A small group of cows, with a few calves at heel were about sixty metres below me. A couple of the cows were clearly agitated and milling about while staring in my direction. I figured they were still nervous after the wild dog attack and feeling uneasy at my presence.
One of the cows tossed her head a few times and trotted up closer to me. Close behind me, I heard a faint rustle in the grass. Slowly, I turned my head and strained my eyes to the side. A dog-sized red animal was only a few metres behind me. While I was still wondering what I could do about that, it called, “maw!” A newborn calf on tottery legs called to its mother. The situation was actually a bit dangerous for me.
I had inadvertently put myself between an agitated cow and its new calf, born earlier in the night. The cow trotted closer. Luckily the calf moved forward to meet her, and they returned down the slope to the rest of the cattle. I had to chuckle, despite the little surge of adrenaline. I sat there a bit longer, enjoying a beautiful sunrise before heading home for breakfast.
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