Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Day II - Epic Pheasants

Ok it would be fair to say that despite stuffing in earplugs, it had been one of those nights where the nocturnal noises created by Tony & Matt in particular kept me awake. It wouldn’t be fair to blame them for waking me; that was caused by a fierce headache and thirst created by the heat in the hut… and maybe a beer or two. I got up and sculled a drink, ventured outside and then back to the bunk, only to listen to the lads snoring away for a couple of hours. I folded up my blanket and stuffed my head under it and that seemed to work because I awoke at 6 when Richard came in to collect any keen deer hunters. I dragged my butt out of bed and got ready and soon we were away on a couple of quads in the darkness. Soon we’d traversed much of the central farm area before ditching the bikes and making our way quietly down onto a point above a wide paddock.

As the sun rose we were able to glass 3 deer about 600m away, a tad too far for the .222. So we moved quietly down to close the gap when Richard spotted another 2 deer 150m away. We were behind some scrub so found a gap and Tony settled down behind the rifle. As he went to close the bolt the deer went from feeding to full speed in a way that only a deer can. I thought that our wind had wafted down into the gulley and spooked it but who knows? Back at the hut Matt and Chewie had breakfast on the go, so after a hearty meal of bacon, eggs, venison and hash browns we got saddled up to chase birds again.
Dog bus, good for the fatties (labs)

The first spot we hunted was another large rush filled paddock, studded with t tree thickets. We moved across in line abreast and soon Ted pushed a cock bird that crossed in front on me beautifully. Naturally I was fiddling with my camera at the time and got neither a gunshot nor camera shot!

Show me better pheasant territory - you can't

As the bird curled around to my left both Richard and Matt swung and fired – it was a good long shot from Matt that downed him. We continued when suddenly a deer burst from a thicket in front of me... once again I had to regain my composure. Having worked the paddock we returned to the quads and headed up onto a new part of the farm. As we travelled we saw a cock bird enter a hedgerow so stopped to figure out a plan. As we did another 4 cocks ran into the hedge from the opposite side... was this the hedgerow of pheasant dreams? Chewie, Richard and Matt would head up one side with Tony and I on the other and a couple of dogs in the hedge. Tony, Nera and I moved up the windward edge of the hedge. When we hit the spot where we’d seen the first bird run in, Nera’s nose hit the ground and Zulu who was in the hedge drove forward. We’d expected a bird to bust but 4 sprang, 2 out our side, one out the other and one back over behind us with the wind up his bum. Tony and I dropped a bird each, Richard got one and the last escaped.

Nera nabs my bird

50m on and another huge flurry – this time 4 cocks and a hen burst. I pulled on a bird, thought Tony would choose the same one so moved onto another which I only clipped; Tony smashed his bird. Hearing the clatter of wings in thick toi toi as 5 birds hit the air is not something I’ll forget in a hurry! We got back to the quads and tied our birds, took a couple of photos and waited for Chewie to arrive with Ted.

The next spot was a dried raupo choked pond area. Again as we arrived the boys saw a cock run into thick cover. Chewie and I moved to the bottom edge, Tony and Richard covered the top and Matt pushed Zulu and Ted into the cover. Soon a bird burst from the cover and Matt took a shot from behind the trees – the bird was gaining height and speed and came out over us about 25 m up. Chewie and I swung, fired and the bird dropped at Chewie’s feet. Beautiful. We moved on through the cover bumping no more birds, arriving at the harbour’s edge. What a stunning spot; I never thought a pheasant portrait beside the seaside would eventuate.

Back to the quads to move on to another treed hedgerow; this time with only sparse cover so less potential. Matt and Richard went to the bottom while Tony, Chewie, their dogs and I moved down. I saw a pheasant run ahead of us and called to Chewie but the bird burst at long range giving him two difficult shots. The bird sailed downhill along the trees in the hedge and disappeared from our view, then a shot rang out. As we walked down to the bottom of the hedge Tony pushed 2 brown quail but let them be as they were the only quail we’d seen. We met up with Matt and Richard and Richard had bagged the pheasant as it came over them. Next up would be our final destination for the day as we needed to pack up and go in the early afternoon to meet other engagements. The area in question was a fenced off swamp section studded with t tree, thick raupo and with a steep face on the right hand edge. It literally screamed pheasant. Matt worked the high bank while the rest of us dived in. My line seemed to be the boggiest, thickest and crappiest and I made heavy and noisy going. Half way through a bird burst towards Matt and he took it with his second shot. Down in my sweaty swampy hell I was thrashing through raupo bog towards a thicket of t tree when Matt called that Teal was getting birdy and a cock bird hit the air quartering away behind me. I managed to spin and take him, and plodded over to pick up a good fat bird just as the hound pack arrived to compete for the retrieve. We worked the rest of the patch out, pushing a couple more birds without result, climbed out of the bog and that signalled the end of our hunt.

9 birds for the morning was an epic result and we were a darn happy crew as we wandered back to the quads. I have to mention here that the little Merkel was a joy to carry; at one stage I hefted Matt’s gun and it’s a good thing he’s built like a gorilla because that’s a lump to haul around all day. Really stoked with the gun. Back at the hut we had a couple of beers, cleaned up and prepared for our journey out. Sitting in the sun after a couple of awesome days regaling shots missed and hit, ragging each other.. hell life’s too good some times. The fun outside of the hunt is what I appreciate about these guys. We convoyed out in trucks and quads with no dramas at all, even the swamp track (which was cut up to hell by now) was cleared with ease. At the top shed we got everyone’s gear sorted, quads cleaned and stowed and then hit the road. Sweet. Thanks lads, those couple of days will live with me for a long time.

And just for Matt & Zulu -this is how I felt also that evening.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Day 1: Tranquillity so close to home

The cock pheasant that only just avoided the roof of my truck had followed up a mallard drake that had tried to kamikaze me not 10 minutes earlier (the drake was following his hen mate into a roadside swamp; the cock pheasant was just doing what they do). The plan was to meet the boys at the appointed spot, and then travel in convoy to our destination, unload the trucks and quads, saddle up and head in to the hut that’d be our base for the weekend. We were there through the generosity of the hut’s guardian, and the land owner. Such generosity is becoming a rare commodity these days, and my god what generosity it was. We were even on time; setting off on Saturday morning certainly offers a more relaxed start to the weekend than a Friday night dash. The day was stunning, passing showers and full on sunshine, it felt more like spring than winter. We arrived at the drop off, got the quads sorted and decided to take 3 trucks in also. The vista that unfolded as we wended our way towards the hut was stunning, this was a very special place to be, a second generation of family hut in an idyllic setting.

We took some time to absorb the surrounds, have a coffee and settle in before Matt and Richard headed off to collect another quad. This gave Chewie, Tony and I the opportunity to hunt a bush face dropping down to a rush filled paddock while the guys were away. I want up the bank to hunt the top and we’d gone 5 minutes when a cock bird flushed and the boys fired simultaneously; bird down!

Soon I bumped a hen bird and at the end of the paddock a couple of birds broke. This was insane; wild birds were everywhere. We pushed on and moved into a bush gully. While Chewie and Tony walked over the top I moved around a t tree covered hill and almost filled my pants when 2 deer broke 20m in front of me. I was a tad rattled as I reached the summit onto a grassy face; so much so that when 2 cock birds broke I was caught off guard and only managed a hurried and futile shot through the tree tops. We wandered back to the hut; if that was the potential of the property I was amped to see more of it! We arrived back to find Matt and Richard had returned, so made plans for the rest of the day. We’d take quads to cover the ground between bird holding territory quickly and we’d thoroughly quarter every inch of the ground with the dogs. We neared a gully leading into a swamp area; while Matt and I entered the bottom of the gully, the other boys would work down. We set off and almost immediately Teal hit a scent; I was closest and when the bird exploded out I had to let him clear some trees before dropping him. We never found that bird; despite all 5 dogs working the dense crap he’d fallen into he eluded us all. I suppose with the wet conditions underfoot and the thick scrub and raupo, he’d managed to get low and run as only a pheasant can.

I was a bit disappointed, as I really hate losing any bird – let alone a pheasant. We carried on, hunting wide valleys, deep gullys and sunny faces that screamed pheasant. As Tony, Chewie and I climbed one massive face, a bird broke out high and wide and dropped at Matt’s shot.

From our perspective it was a lovely shot; Matt’s really enjoying his recently acquired Beretta 687 and shoots brilliantly with it. The day was passing quite fast and as we had a deer hunt planned in the afternoon so decided to hunt another long valley back towards the swamp area. As we walked a fence line I saw a rooster running 400m down in the valley; there were birds everywhere. Tony and I headed to the head of the valley to push it while the other worked the rim. The other guys were at least 100m above us when we set off, but gradually the incline brought us all together as the valley tapered down to a pond area. Soon Chewie was within range and we pushed the bottom of a gully while Matt worked the top. He sprang a bird and took it with ease… and we continued. Around every corner was more beautiful bird territory; and when Tony and I came to a sunny damp basin I wasn’t too surprised when Nera lit up. The birds jumped at 40m and I managed a snap shot to no avail. Soon Matt called from the top of the bank that Teal was getting birdy; and with Chewie, Tony and I covering the escape routes we thought he was covered. The cock sprang and cleared the trees above me like a beautiful driven bird and I swung through and fired. He dropped through the trees and ran down the bank before expiring. Nera picked him and soon I had that comfortable weight in the vest, and all was right with the world.

We rounded a corner and arrived back at the quads, with 4 birds in the bag we all felt it had been a superb day on the birds. I decided to have another look for my lost bird and on the way Tony took a short cut with hilarious results...

Bogged :)

On the way back to the hut I noticed that between the trucks and quads we’d chopped up the track quite a bit, so in the back of my mind I wondered about getting out the next day but parked the thought.

Chewie hangs a bird... Matt photo-bombs

 Back at base we prepared for our evening deer hunt, donning warm clothes (temp of sub 5 degrees was forecast). Showers were falling so it was on with fleece and a raincoat, headlamp, knife packed and rifle strapped on. Richard took a quad, Tony and Chewie manned another and Matt and I were on the third. We headed off in convoy and soon were being setup in strategic locations to scan for deer coming out to eat grass. Matt and were set up overlooking a wide basin and with wind in our faces it seemed a good location. Tony and Richard were to our south and Chewie to our north. We lay on our coats glassing the basin and after 20 minutes a rabbit appeared. It got cold and soon we were being rained on also. My hands began to ice up so I tucked them into my sleeves. After a period of rabbit watching, a rifle boomed out. I thought it was Tony and Richard shooting so said to Matt that I’d like to take a shot at a rabbit … I missed. With that we packed up and flashed our lights to Chewie and he soon joined us and we made our way back towards Richard and Tony who’d seen nothing. Nor had they fired; obviously another hunter nearby had seen and shot at an animal. We got back to base and soon Chewie had dinner on the go, pheasant cassoulet and garlic bread. God it was good. Dessert then a few beers… and then crash, we hit the hay. What a brilliant day.


Sunday, July 6, 2014

SxS day at Tui Ridge

The challenge had been thrown down between shoots; Saturday's shoot at Tui Ridge was to be a side by side day. I've never owned a SxS so put out the call for assistance and Rick let me know that I could borrow one of his guns. He'd also supply some 2 1/2" ammo for the fine old gun, so I was sorted.

Matt and I arrived in good time and after the usual coffees, teas, scones and saying hello we gathered for the peg draw and respective guns and beaters safety and state of play briefings. Then a team photo was taken and we got ready to saddle up.

Rick, Chris, Andrew, Tony, Snuffit, Matt, Ed and Dickie (aka Worzel Gummidge)

Today I'd be privileged to use a Westley Richards; she was tight as a drum and absolutely crisp.

The gun was better than me...
As always, the weather would play a role and today we had gale force westerlies pounding us; I was pretty excited because I felt the birds would hold well and when they did fly they'd be speed demons, and so it proved.

The first drive gave us some insane birds the leapt gained air and then curled away on the strong wind - sporting birds at their finest.

Waiting for birds

The gums held a good number of birds. Most survived!

We took 10 or so birds and straight away I knew we'd be on track for a larger bag than most were picking. Helen's dog Maya scragged a cat along the way; good riddance to another pest.

And so it went, laughs, hits and misses... I had the dubious pleasure of shooting Peg 8 at a drive called The Pen. 17 shots returned 1 bird for me, and I think that's a fair reflection of the height that the birds get.

The day was most enjoyable, the company fantastic and relaxed and we made a good bag in less drives than planned so finished mid afternoon without driving the beaters into the ground.

Thanks to all for a great day; really enjoyed myself.