Wednesday, 14 December 2011

The first hunt that wasn't

Best made plans don’t always come off.  So the other day I was pondering the weeks ahead:

“…it is with more than a little anticipation that I start preparing for quite a few trips over the next month, from the central tablelands of NSW to the burning plains of southwest Queensland and then the gorges of the northern tablelands – I’m excited about the adventure and the hunting and sharing my stories on the DaggaBoy blog; so let the good times roll…”

Trip one was supposed to be chasing rabbits and foxes out on the central tablelands with Lulwut.  Well… one of the little ones broke her ankle on the weekend – a small fall playing with friends – and a weekend away turned into an unexpected drama.  Trip cancelled.

The boss was busy on my Tuesday off and the best thing I could think to do was load the girls into the Toyota along with breakfast and a packed lunch - a day at the farm!

Our drive was a bit rough - fog, rain and a couple of trucks. We got there just before dawn and cruised around with the light for an hour before dawn. Breakfast by the shearing shed (out of the wind) then we shot a few tin cans and sighted in a mate’s Hornet – more on the Hornet later – though it did put down a couple of very neat 3-shot groups across the bonnet of the Hilux; one a tidy 0.295" at 100 yards.

We did manage to call a couple of foxes and spotted a few bunnies skipping along in the gullies but we hung out together and put the hunting on the back burner for the day. Maybe when the cast is off we can go for a wander in the hills together?  6 weeks and counting.

Friday, 9 December 2011

Let the good times roll!

It’s been a hell year at our house in 2011.  I’d go as far as saying it’s been a hell two years.  Mind you, the 2010 and 2011 calendar years had a hard act to follow – they were coming on the back of the totally awesome 2009!

The juxtapositions between then and now are so distinct that I sometimes struggle to comprehend what life can become even when you’re doing everything right.  This hunter’s life has had two vastly different chapters in the last few years. In 2009 my world was a perfect place…

Our eldest child was not yet up to independent movement, she was a beautifully chubby little girl with whom we’d developed some primal communication, mostly to do with her appetite and the state of her nappy.  She was a kind of oversized paperweight; we carried her everywhere, put her down somewhere convenient then picker her up on the way through.  Our youngest was still in her mother’s womb – she was hardly any trouble at all. Of course I can’t state enough what a joy the birth of our second daughter was for us in January 2010.  Regardless of the stress and drama that has been a constant wingman these past two years, my two little girls make every day a good day.

Our personal debt was at an all time low.  We were owners of our domain. We could be as extravagant as we pleased. We had dreams of moving the family to a nice house in a nice suburb – a big trophy room – not too far from the office where I seem to spend an increasing amount of my time.

We were happy to be so fortunate with our lot in life.  Life wasn’t perfect; we had estranged family, loads of work to do, difficult colleagues and stupid vandals to deal with, but on the whole, I’d rate it a 9/10.  That’s good scoring. 

And in the shadows of T.R.’s 1909 sojourn, we had planned the safari to end all safaris.  Lots of important load development took place and with that came a “genuine need” to test full power Cape Buffalo medicine on lots of pigs! And there were lots of pigs.

On the back of all of this preparation came seven magical weeks on the Dark Continent.  Ten days hunting North West, tend days hunting Limpopo, ten days stalking the Mopani Woodlands of the Matetsi and a couple of weeks adventuring in Namibia.  How can you top that?  You just can’t.


Fast forward to today and things have changed…

Our two princesses are warring factions of a confused Mediterranean and Great British ancestry.  Angry young ladies at times – they climb furniture like monkeys and taunt each other with the toys we don’t have two of and they consider any food as a potential projectile. They always seem to want the thing you offered them just after it’s no longer available.

The word debt is taboo.  I’ve dropped it from my vocabulary all together; I plain don’t like it. In 2010, we sold our castle and made a handsome profit that we invested in a parcel of land so deep in bushland and so city-central that it was nothing short of a miracle!

As 2011 draws to a close, the development saga continues as we live in the second of what may become a string of asbestos-clad 1950’s rentals while we wait for other people to decide what we can and can’t do.  All of this while on the precipice of what will be the largest financial hole I’ve ever had the bad sense to drop us into…

Following a bout of bad health for three of our four-strong team, we have endured endless trips to doctors and specialists and extended visits to the hospital.  Not fun at all.

In 2011, there are even more pigs than before.  Swarms of swine roam my favourite hunting grounds and I’ll have my third opportunity to get amongst them in the coming days.  Genuine whack ‘em and stack ‘em affairs.  My feral pigs reach out and touch someone program has achieved efficiencies of 1.4 bullets per pig – that’s streets ahead of the chopper shooters.  If only I had wings.

I had a few very cold hunts this winter with limited success.  Clay Pope, all the way from Texas got fogged out. Sup3rf1uid got blown over and snap frozen while Lulwut enjoyed some success. Best results were had when my three-year-old and I headed out together with the light.

No safari in 2011, though plans have been hatched and commitments made for the ultimate in old-world big game hunting available to the modern nimrod.  More on that later.

So as the year draws to a close, I hope that the tribe is happy and healthy in 2012.  We’re working towards getting the bureaucracy to limit their meddling and let us get on with our lives. Hopefully the office front will tone down a notch as an improved team helps us to grow and improve.

And with Christmas looming and our annual shutdown almost upon us, it is with more than a little anticipation that I start preparing for quite a few trips over the next month, from the central tablelands of NSW to the burning plains of southwest Queensland and then the gorges of the northern tablelands – I’m excited about the adventure and the hunting and sharing my stories on the DaggaBoy blog; so let the good times roll in the run up to 2012!

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

The perfect pig rifle

I was part of a discussion yesterday about the "perfect pig rifle". Lots of opinions. Lots of personal anecdotes. Having hunted pigs in varied habitats across NSW and QLD over the past 20 years, I've formed a bit of an opinion on the topic. 
I don't mind a bit of fiberglass, bit of Kevlar or carbon fiber and I'm quite partial to stainless steel, but fundamentally I'm a bit of a traditionalist. So if it were 1995, I would flatly state that the Browning BAR chambered in .308 Winchester with a low power scope is the perfect pig rifle. I've hunted with one of these chambered in .30/06 and it was a great rifle in the field. A tad heavy when it's 40º C plus in southwest QLD and you're leggin' it across the baked earth, but fire power, fast follow up and more than acceptable accuracy were a fair compromise.

As we can't be trusted with a self-loading rifle, the long-winded version follows…

As far as calibre is concerned, I'd go with the .308 Winchester. Old reliable should be chambered in a lightweight bolt action with a flush fitting magazine and low-power variable scope and a sling. That's it. In 1993, I settled on the Winchester Model 70 Featherweight with Leupold 1.5-5x20mm optics; the perfect rifle for all-round pig hunting in Australia. Why?

We hunted north QLD for a week some time ago and smashed a heap of big pigs. It was a fair contest. We were often standing side by side shooting at the same pigs at the same range in the same habitat. We had a guide and after the second day all three of us agreed that the .243 Winchester was lacking authority on anything that wasn't hit almost perfectly broadside. 

Under the same circumstances, the .308 was whacking pigs quartering away and towards the guns, standing broadside and straight going-away shots as well as climbing embankments or coming out of billabongs. Regardless of body size, distance or which way the boar was heading, the .308 only left one in need of a coup de grâce from 50-odd hogs. 

Both rifles were being fed Nosler bullets - the .308 with 150 grainers made the .243 with 90 grain pills look silly every time. So the .308 gets you into the right range of projectile weights. You could use a .223 or a .270 with success, people do it every day - but my experience with the .308 does not leave me wanting.

I occasionally use my .300 Weatherby or .450 Ackley on pigs. The Weatherby allows me to take long shots across floodplains that I wouldn't have the confidence to take with the .308; very handy when paddocks turn to lakes and getting a bit closer requires a swim! The .450 is perfect for that budget safari experience a day's drive from home with unsurpassed pointability and tremendous bang-factor; loads of fun. 

But the magnum length action on these two rifles definitely slows you down when you get onto a mob of pigs.  Kick a pig out of bed and by the time you skip over the gal burr and sidestep the turpentine you're lucky if you have one second to get a shot off. If there's a couple more than one pig you need to be twice as fast! In lignum, water and sucking mud make the opportunities even more challenging. So the short action is another tick for the .308 Winchester. 

A bit of firepower doesn't hurt and I've found rifles with three in the magazine lacking for chasing pigs. These days I can stuff five in the magazine of my .308 and one up the spout; six is pretty much perfect, especially when they're contained within the depth of the stock. A flush fitting magazine means you can carry the rifle in one hand when moving quickly across open country or weaving through thick lignum, budda or turpentine. My Model 70 has an internal magazine with a hinged floor plate, but I see the merits of a detachable box - as long as it’s flush fitting.   
I don't get the 10-round mag on the Ruger Scout. Surely Jeff Cooper's vision of the Scout rifle concept - the general-purpose rifle - included the innate ability to be easily carried? 

As Cooper said, “The natural habitat of the general-purpose rifle is the field, the forest, the desert and the mountain - not the shooting shed with its bench rest. To be really useful a rifle must be as short, light and quick to use as is technically compatible with adequate power and useful accuracy. What matters is not what the equipment can do, but rather what it will do in the hands of its operator under field, rather than laboratory, conditions.”

Throw your rifle over a handy field rest with a tacticool magazine hanging down from that natural point of balance and it's a bit difficult for a hunter to make the most out of the rifle under field conditions. And try carrying it...
Most of my pig hunting requires a lot of walking, often at the ready as the abundant cover makes bumping a pig likely no matter where I am.  The ol' Featherweight tips the scales at a dainty 3.062kg (6lbs 12oz). The compact Leupold adds 264 grams - add mounts, sling swivels and broad leather sling and I have a handy rifle with a whippy 22" barrel that comes in at 7lbs 11oz. 

Shaving the weight down makes the carry that much easier and you do a lot more carrying than you do shooting - switching to a sporter after carrying a trimmed down rifle for a while is a drag. To this end, the not-too-long barrel also helps with weight reduction and certainly makes shouldering the popper a non-issue in tight spaces. 

Finally, a low-power variable scope is the go; with the right glass you should be able to line up on a pig at spitting distance. At its lower settings I can see the barrel through the Leupold 1.5-5x20mm. I shoot with both eyes open and I find pigs real quick whether they’re at 2, 20 or 200 metres!

I've been hunting pig with this rig and bringing home the bacon for the past 19 years; from wheat stubble to lignum swamp and flood plains to scrubby sand hills - it gets the job done.

Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Happy days and rhino charges

A mate of mine dropped into the DaggaBoy blog on the weekend and rang me today to ask about the photograph in the header -
   "When did you hunt rhino Dagga?"
Short answer is I didn't! Though that is me with my old Brno ZKK602 lining up on the more motivated of a pair of White Rhinoceros; the old girl is chambered in .450 Ackley Magnum.

I was with my pregnant wife and daughter on a game ranch at Hartbeesfontein in North West Province and amongst other things, we were hunting the beautiful bontebok; perhaps the rarest and most beautiful of the Damilscus genus. I was fortunate enough to roll a massive blesbok, the closest relative of the bontebok, a couple of days earlier after failing to collect one on previous hunts. The old ram was big bodied and carried a heavy set of horns. We hadn't had any luck finding a good bonte ram.

We spent much of the day stalking Mountain Reedbuck in the rocky and scrubby steep country along the western edges of the property. Too smart for us today.  It was getting pretty late in the day so we headed back towards the lodge for dinner. As the Toyota rolled down a dusty track, a nice looking ram sprinted through the bush to our right and my PH and I hopped out of the bakkie and hit the spoor.

Our ram walked cautiously with ears pricked straight up from his long face, made to look longer by the less than impressive horns that sprouted from the pedicel, an upward extension of the skull. 

This pedicel is peculiar to the Damiliscus genus, the blesbok and its close cousin, extinct in the wild, the magnificent bontebok, as well as the related topi, tsessebe, korrigum and the tiang. The Alcelaphus genus that includes the various hartebeest and the beautiful hirola, almost extinct in its native Somalia and Kenya, are the only other species that carry these not-so-impressive, heavily ringed horns that make the head of these antelope look abnormally long.

We caught him moving across a small clearing and I cradled the .300 in the shooting sticks. I waited till he slowed, almost stopped, before I took up the last bit of weight of the trigger. The 180gr Woodleigh Protected Point out of my .300 Weatherby Magnum caught the ram square on the shoulder and he slumped to the ground.   My PH gave me a big man-hug and together we raced over to my most prized antelope to date.

The trackers and skinners drove over to where we stood with the girls on board; it was grins all 'round. As soon as the bakkie stopped, two mature white rhino came racing out into the clearing. Our skinner Oupa grabbed my Ackley off the rack and passed it down to me as I handed the Weatherby to the PH. One of the beasts stomped and scuffed at the dirt and made short mock charges in our direction.

   "Don't shoot Dagga!" called my PH as we both stood with rifles at the ready.
   "So what needs to happen before I shoot?" I asked.
   "When he knocks me off my feet, then you can shoot."

The stand-off lasted a few tense minutes while we waited for the animals to head back into the bush; then with a huff they were off into the thorny acacia and the only thing they left behind was a cloud of dust. And all the while, the missus was standing behind me - click, click, clicking away!    

We all spent some time with the bontebok and had a good look over the magnificent animal before loading him into the bakkie. Back at the skinning shed, we threw back a few beers while Oupa and Zulu carefully skinned the ram and and prepared the skull for a full-body mount.  Happy days.

Friday, 25 November 2011

The fox and his rabbit

It was a very cold July morning on the NSW central tablelands when the photo of the fox and his rabbit was taken.
I was on a state forest hunt with fellow R-licence holder and good mate Lulwut.  Access to this particular forest requires a short drive along a private road and it was along this road we met this dog fox with a rabbit he'd just collected, and very determined to cross the road.  

Said fox trotted forward and I rolled the Hilux forward to cut him off. The red dog doubled back and attempted to cross the road behind us so I let the Toyota roll back and he stopped somewhat confused.  Hmmm.  He raced forward and I cut him off again, very odd.  Lulwut reached around to the back seat and grabbed my Canon DSLR and I quickly fitted the IS55-250mm lens.

We played the game a bit longer till the fox stopped for a minute, staring straight down the barrel, breathing heavily, but holding firmly onto his prize. Click, click, click…

Thursday, 24 November 2011

Invasive Animal CRC

For those of you who don't know them, the Invasive Animals Cooperative Research Centre is funded by the Commonwealth Government and builds on the strong foundation provided by the Pest Animal Control CRC prior to 2004

"The centre aims to counteract the impact of invasive animals through the development and application of new technologies and by integrating approaches across agencies and jurisdictions.  It is the first time that research, industry, environmental, commercial and government agencies will work together to create and apply solutions for invasive animal threats."

This week, IA CRC have been granted a further $19.7million of funding to continue their research operations into the future. 

The Invasive Animals CRC has also been running a photography competition in recent months for images of feral species that they will incorporate into their 2012 corporate calendar. I quite like the winning entry...

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

The first post

The two crates of precious cargo had arrived on Qantas flight QF064 from my friend Rupert Dedekind's workshop in Pretoria. It had been a drawn out process and in amongst the ream of documents that accompanied the consignment were Australian CITES Import Permits, CITES Export Permits issued in South Africa, province permits confirming that the animal products - horn, bone, tusk and skins - were hunted legally, a Veterinary Certificate stating treatment of the trophies and a manufacturer's declaration confirming:  same. 

With everything in order, Australian Customs and AQIS expedited the clearance and inspection process and I found myself cruising through the city streets with my precious cargo in the ute. The trip from AQIS at Rosebery to my office on the northern beaches was uneventful other than the particularly hot November weather.  I was happy 

And later that week, I found myself crawling around the factory floor with my two daughters, aged 21 months and 3 years and 7 months, smoothing out the skins of a couple of lovely Burchell's Zebra. The girls were loving the crate unpack, it was like Christmas and they oohed and aahed as I carefully laid out each trophy. 

We were all in awe as I unrolled the Hartmann's Mountain Zebra rug shell. The girls squatted around the stallion and as they handled his mane ever so carefully, I realised how lucky I was, at least for now, that my daughters shared my passion for hunting.   

So I've decided to share my love for hunting; the quiet time in the bush, the smell of guns and leather and burnt powder, quiet but determined stalking, the thrill of the chase, harvesting game, meat and trophy field care and preparation, and dealing with meat and trophies at home. For decades now, it has not been merely a sport or a pass time, but very much the single activity that allows me to maintain my equilibrium in a busy and stress-filled city life. 

And I hope to share the hunting lives of like-minded souls, perhaps passionate for different reasons - it'll be fun to have the opportunity to find out. Hope you enjoy reading the DaggaBoy blog; visitors are always welcome.

Happy hunting. Daggaboy.