A day climbing around the Canterbury high country two weeks before my planned 5 day tahr hunting trip had me slightly concerned… my hill fitness is nothing on what it used to be when I was hunting every weekend. Although I am working on the farm, I have found myself in the habit of having a cold beer come evening and relaxing out in front of the TV or computer screen which has done nothing good for my stamina clambering around mountain goat terrain.
Spraying gorse and cutting up firewood for the next year’s winter had me about buggered when I finished up for the day, all I wanted was a cold Speights and a relaxing evening, but that wasn’t going to get me up amongst the Tahr in the near future.
I wandered through the house and pulled the keys out for the gun cabinet. Izzy, our family pet fox terrier heard the clatter of the keys and before I knew it she was at my side. Izzy knows she isn’t allowed on the carpet, but she also knows what the clatter of the gun cabinet keys means and she did not want to miss out on any sort of an opportunity!
I selected the Ruger 10-22 for my evening stroll. Early spring, the grass is still short, but green and the new growth is sweet. The bunnies also haven’t quite got their act together with breeding, so every bunny shot early spring counts for many later on in the summer.
Loading up the magazine I thought of the route I was going to take for the evening. When I was at boarding school I used to go out every night I was home, and I had different circuits worked out, all with favourite bunny locations.
With a quick explanation to Ma of where I was off to, I laced my boots and headed for the High Hill with Izzy never further than a foot from my side the entire time. The circuit I’d picked for the evening was one I hadn’t done since last summer, so I didn’t quite know what to expect in the way of evening bunnies, but I was pretty sure I’d cotton onto something.
The first grunt up the hill over open ground is always off putting when choosing the High Hill route, but once you’re up and over the top there is a continuous pine edge that seems to harvest bunnies, especially on the gorse and blackberry points. As I crested the high hill I saw two Hares sprint off over the ridge. I sat to calm Izzy who’d also spotted them before quietly heading in the direction they’d gone. An excited Izzy always wanted to stay 10 feet ahead of me, but soon as I picked up a stick she was right back in her spot a foot from my side without even a word spoken, she knows the rules. Lifting my head over the ridge I spotted a hare standing on its back legs. It knew there was trouble looming but hadn’t the foggiest idea what was up. I slowly crawled forward and took up position to take a shot. He was about 50 yards away, so I opted for a chest shot to be certain to claim my first opportunity of the evening.
“Crack”, went the 22, which was followed by a solid thump of a good hit from the 40 grain powerpoint projectile. As so often happens when chest shooting a hare, it up and ran a big semi-circle ending up in the pine plantations before falling. I heard it kicking, but sent a very keen Izzy down just to be certain it wasn’t going anywhere.
The hare was dead but Izzy was giving it a good chewing until I picked it up by a back leg. I discarded it into a blackberry bush. For some reason none of the dogs, not Izzy or any of the farm dogs seem to like hare, they prefer rabbit so at this early point in my walk I wasn’t going to carry a large hare the rest of my circuit.
Picking my way back out into the paddock I had walked all of 10 steps when Izzy broke from my side and gave a dead gorse bush a fair bit of attention. I stood watching, the 22 at the ready as there was something in that bush! Izzy leapt into it, and with a burst of brown a leveret burst out and ran off. I followed it through the scope and touched off a shot the moment it hesitated which dropped it on the spot. Izzy had another, so within the first few hundred yards of the walk along the bush edge we had 3 hares with only two shots fired!
We travelled half a kilometre further before we found a rabbit to stalk, it was sitting out in the open but not far from cover enjoying a grazing opportunity in the last rays of the days sun. It hadn’t spotted us, or if it had it didn’t seem to be too concerned, so at about a distance of 40 yards I took a careful aim at its head and squeezed off a shot. I saw the bullet hit the ground in front of its nose, close enough to make it leave town quick smart but not secure it.
“Bugger”, I said to Izzy, I knew I was being way to cocky going for a head shot at that range from a standing position. Rose my young Hunterway was the ultimate loser as I wasn’t going to be taking that bunny home for her. Even though the sun was drifting behind the hills I figured I had to at least have another go at getting my pup a fresh feed, so Izzy and I pushed on toward the creek on the back side of the High Hill.
Strolling down the track a rabbit bounced ahead. I hadn’t seen it, but it had seen me and was off into the thick gorse over the side. I had to growl a command at Izzy to stop her from following; as if she did she would trail bark and give us away to any bunny sitting in the creek bed only 150 yards further down the track. Upon reaching the creek I got quite a surprise to see a pair of quail only 15 yards away, not oblivious to my presence but seemingly not too worried. I sat down and fished out my camera, I’ve never managed to have an opportunity to get a good shot or two of quail. Izzy sat next to me hidden behind a dead gorse bush, only my head sticking high enough above the gorse, my arms soon got tired holding the camera high enough as I happy snapped away. As I watched through the view finder of my camera the male dug a hole and gave himself a dust bath while the female stood guard above him. Joining the female again, the male gave a good shake, becoming a dusty puff ball. Izzy heard the feathers ruffle, and before I even knew she’d moved she had shown herself, and with a fast flutter of wings my quail experience was over. I was a little gutted, but a quick glance at my watch reminded me I had a fair old trip home and I’d spent nearly 15 minutes watching the quail!, I still needed to find a rabbit, so I turned around and headed up the creek towards a dark scrubby gully that always holds a bunny.
Sitting in the half light I was quietly gutted I hadn’t brought my binoculars. I was in the perfect spot, but in the twilight the bunnies are hard to see amongst the rushes and dead gorse bushes. I quietly stalked the open basin ahead, way out in the open-any small animal had to know I was there… just as that thought crossed my mind a bunny bounced ahead. I quickly sat down and took aim, figuring it was about 60 yards away I aimed just a fraction high and let drive, just to miss again! I saw the shot fall just under Mr. Bunny’s chest area, and as he hadn’t reacted like the last bunny I shot at, I got the opportunity to lift the rifle a smidgen more and bag Rose a fresh bit of supper. Happy as pie, I went to get up from my seat, but as I twisted my head movement caught my eye. A hare sat, no more than 5 yards from where Mr. Bunny had taken its last breath, so quick smart I had the crosshair settled just high enough to land a bullet in its chest.
“Pop”, went the 10-22, and I saw the hare fall straight over even before the “thud” of a chest hit came back to me.
“Brilliant”, I said to Izzy. I find working alone a lot of the time with only a dog for company I sometimes end up talking to the mutt like it’s just another mate. Every now and then when the old man is working with me I see an eye brow lift when he hears me explain my thoughts to the dog. They do listen well though, and never do contradict… man’s best friend alright!
Strolling over to my prey I noticed Izzy leap to attention, ears up looking intently ahead. Another rabbit had broken cover, and thanks to Izzy I picked up on its movements. Still standing I followed it with the scope, and as I hoped, just before the scrub edge it stopped.
“Pop, plump”. The rabbit was hit, but not cleanly, and it disappeared into the gorse.
“Off you go”, I said to Izzy, and without a moment’s hesitation she was off to finish what I’d started. Having a foxy is a great thing; they are small enough to get straight into the gorse and blackberry and catch a wounded bunny, even the odd silly one that hasn’t been shot. With a squeal from the bunny, I knew Izzy had caught up with it and put it out of its misery. As bad as it would be going to the chomp of a dog, I think it is much more humane than leaving them wounded to die over the next hour, day or however long it takes.
Collecting the bunny to carry back for Rose, I gave a whistle to Izzy as I quickened the pace back up the dark face of the High Hill homeward bound. Getting in just on dark, I was quietly chuffed I hadn’t wasted the evening sitting on my arse, instead as I always do intend to do… I had done some prep for the upcoming mountain adventure.
Hare sitting out
Bunny sitting in the last few rays of the days sun
Quail, the male shaking out the dust
Roses dinner along side the 10-22
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