Tuesday, 24 January 2012

The Hornet Project

As promised, the first installment of The Hornet Project starts now.

For a long time now I've been considering adding a .22 Hornet to the stable. Not too noisy - not as noisy - and much better performance than a rimfire, more than doubling my effective hunting range with the .22 Magnum. When I say "considering a .22 Hornet", I mean that I really want a .218 Bee or something similarly compact and somewhat uncommon; I'm also partial to any of the Ackley Improved versions of the Hornet and it will be fun deciding. Something I could reload for and have a bit of fun with would be perfect; it can't be just any rifle though. 

Three months old

55 minutes ago this blog turn three months old.  In three short months I've discovered that a young family and a busy job make writing quite difficult to squeeze into my day!

To my three members - thank you for your support!  And to those who have subscribed to email updates of new posts, I hope you're enjoying the occasional update - there's plenty more to come in 2012.  I'm currently working on a number of important projects both for myself and for readers of this blog. These should be online and active in the coming weeks.  At this stage, the plan for new content goes something like this - 
  • The Hornet Project;
  • Beer o'clock with DaggaBoy;
  • Hunting Africa's Big Game;
  • Return to Nitro Express;
  • C.A.R. Safari; and
  • Taxidermy 101
I won't go into the exact content of these categories, but as you can guess it's all about the hunt. Stay tuned to the hunting adventures of an ordinary bloke; I hope you enjoy the exciting times ahead!

Tuesday, 10 January 2012

Turning our deer into "meat"

So we’ve got our deer in the meat house and after two cold mountain nights we’re ready to turn our deer into “meat”!

I knocked off the neck the day the animal was shot as it was heavily bruised and was only going to spoil the shoulders; the dingoes will get that one. I keep it pretty simple when I process my venison. Break the carcass in half at the sixth rib –

To butcher the forequarters and loin -
  1. take off the shoulders;
  2. shanks are sawn off at the joint for stewing and the rest of the shoulder, my favourite cut, is set aside for a slow roast;
  3. the remaining cage is sawn down the middle and trimmed up to give us ribs (for a sticky, finger-lickin’ Saturday night dinner), cutlets sawn from the loin for the pan or the BBQ (the boss’ favourite) and the rest of the brisket is trimmed up for mince, snags or dog meat;
  4. if I had the neck I’d saw it up for the dogs - neck just isn’t my thing!

Saw the rib/brisket from the loin; cutlets taking shape...
Saw the rib from the brisket; the ribs are ready as is, the brisket needs to be trimmed up.

Use a knife then follow through with a band saw to create perfect cutlets...

To butcher the hind quarters and remaining loin:
  1. run the carcass through the saw, straight up the centre of the spine;
  2. saw off the shank above the joint and bag these with the others;
  3. remove the leg roast from each quarter. I sometimes steak the entire leg, but more often than not leave the leg whole for roasting or later mincing for sausages;
  4. separate the rump from the leg depending on whether I need a couple of smaller roasts;
  5. trim off the flank which I generally mince; and
  6. cut up the rest of the loin on the saw to create chops suitable for the pan or BBQ (the front portion will give you loin chops in the shape you expect from your butcher, the rear portion will provide chump chop equivalent cuts).
We usually roast or mince the leg.  Loads of steaks there...

In our temporary lodgings, we don’t do roasts in the summer time; it’s just too hot to run the oven for any length of time. So the legs, flank and all of the trimmings from around the neck and brisket are minced and turned into sausages. At the old place, my butcher’s band saw had a meat grinder on the table that used the worm feed screw to push the mince through a nozzle attachment that received sausage casings. No room here so I use a bench mounted meat grinder that needs muscle and a sausage filling contraption that I have put together from some PVC plumbing pipe; it’s a bit agricultural, but it works!

I tend to make sausages in 5kg batches – that suits the tubs I have and makes the measuring out of herbs and spices much simpler.  A 5kg batch of meat needs to be made up of a blend of venison and fatty pork at a ratio of 2:1. The use pork belly and it needs to be at least half fat to give the sausages enough fat content to cook well and remain moist though cooking.  So 1.65kg pork to 3.35kg of venison; mince all of the meat and mix.

Measure out the following herbs and spices:
  • 3 tablespoons black pepper
  • 3 tablespoons sea salt
  • 3 tablespoons onion powder
  • 1 tablespoon brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon garlic powder
  • 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1 teaspoon allspice
  • 1 teaspoon mustard powder
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
  • 1 teaspoon sage

    Mix these spices well into 550ml of ice-cold water and then pour the wet spice mix into the minced meat and mix thoroughly by hand. 

    This is my basic spice mix and makes a pretty good snag that everyone enjoys. For a hotter sausage I add more cayenne pepper, chilli and galangal powder to taste; the chilli can be fresh or dried. You can drop off the last five items on this list if they’re not to your taste. Replace the water with cider and add some sultanas and fennel seed?  Or mix through small cubes of frozen blue cheese and raisins? The possibilities are endless!

    Once the mince is seasoned, I run the lot through the meat grinder again to make sure it’s all well incorporated. We feed the sausage casings onto the nozzle of our filler and then as one person pushes the meat through, the other releases the casing effectively controlling the tension in the sausage skins.   

    You don’t want a tight skin at this stage as the sausage will need to be pinched and twisted off into links.

    Quite a bit of work goes into processing the meat, but if done with care the whole family will enjoy the spoils of the hunt.  There’s nothing better than when the kids cheer ‘cause we’re having venison for dinner!


    Monday, 9 January 2012

    The hunt for venison

    The alarm hardly made its second offensive squeal before I turned the nasty thing off.  I donned my khakis and strapped on the Scarpas.  My Steiners hung tightly against my chest on the Crooked Horn Outfitters bino bra and I strapped a bag around my waist carrying the bare necessities for the morning hunt – a couple of knives and a steel, half a litre of water, a couple of meat hooks and a length of rope.  As they say, the times they are a changin’ – so there was a bit of technology in there as well: a compact Canon camera, Garmin GPS, and for a venison hunt on this block, my Leupold RX-IV rangefinder.

    I grabbed a fistful of .300 Weatherby Magnum rounds, slapped on my wife’s cap and headed out the door and down the stony track towards the mountain.  I thumbed three of the big shells into the magazine and closed the bolt on an empty chamber. As always, I had a round in my left and right short pockets and one in my hand ready for action - this one would float from hand to breast pocket to back pocket.  That's the extra shiny one.

    Couple of cookies from the batch I made with the girls yesterday went down quite nicely as I crossed the flat before I hit the first slope which climbed very quickly towards the ridge. I glassed the open faces and the boundary fence adjoining thick bush land where the deer tend to hang out.  The boundary fence is dog proof as years ago when they ran merinos the dingoes played havoc with the sheep. There are a few holes the deer have made in the fence to get at the sweet pasture on this side of the fence; the other side is pretty rough country and there is very little grazing to be had.

    I followed the boundary - keeping 200 to 400 yards off the fence in case I caught deer moving through.  It was hard going, steep up or steep down.  Very few of the ridges were working for me this morning as the wind was blowing my scent in all the wrong directions.  So I got a bit of relief as I skirted the occasional saddle, but mostly had to grit my teeth and work the slopes.

    Having just bummed down some very loose stones into a deep gully, a movement on a plateau above me and to the northeast caught my eye; through the Steiners I counted six stags and three does. I watched them feed away from me so I raced behind them as fast as my legs would carry me to see if I could get the drop on ‘em. In my haste to get up the hill, I didn’t notice the deer double-back and bed down in a thick patch of bracken on my side! No doubt they watched me grunt and struggle before quietly standing and prancing away when I was 50 yards below them. Today I was a meat hunter and there was no way I would be taking a shot at a moving animal, and I was specifically after a spiker – no does or mature stags - and there were no spikers with this lot.

     This herd of fallow were feeding quietly and bedded down in a patch of bracken.

    I worked across to the next ridge and got busted by a big-bodied stag in velvet.  He had a lot of length to the beams but the palms and points where not yet developed. I watched him race over the electric fence and continued on.  Glassing the boundary, I caught yet another mature stag sunning himself a few hundred yards away.  I watched him until he turned and moved slowly into the timber.  Down the next slope I had my first opportunity for the morning. On the opposite face was a deer with head down feeding with its rump towards me.  I dropped into a little wash away to get into a better shooting position and came up exactly where I needed to be. Nothing. The deer was gone.

    There’s a big hole in the fence and a “deer highway” that leads to a tiny green flat that tends to stay damp and grows the sweetest grass that the deer find rather irresistible. It’s almost guaranteed that when all else fail, green gully will provide!  Sneaky as I may be, there was nothing waiting for me when I pushed the muzzle of the Weatherby ahead of me and peaked over the rise.  Bugger. 

     The deer super-highway leads to...

     ...the little green flat at the bottom of this slope in the shade of a couple of gums.

    It was almost 9:00am and I thought I might make the loop back to the sheering shed, passing through one last stand of timber that’s been known to harbor the odd fallow.  I was making my way up a long steep face when a young menil spiker stepped out of the bush below me.  In one movement, I dropped to the ground, pulled down the bipods and cycled a round into the chamber – then I waited. If the animal stepped back into the timber he was gone, but travel up or down the gully between us and he would be out in the open at either end before he could put enough distance between us to be safe…

    The deer chose up the slope and raced towards the fence line. I had the rangefinder on the fence line – 195 yards – the 180-grain Woodleigh Protected Point would be 2½ inches high at that range.  As the young stag hit the fence line he paused to consider his leap and quickly glanced back at what had disturbed him – young and inexperienced. I was rock solid behind the .300 and the young stag looked beautiful in the Leupold VX-L 4.5-14x56mm. Holding low on his neck, I squeezed the shot off calmly and the deer slumped to the ground.  Job done.  

    I casually made my way up the hill and sat with the deer for a moment.  It was an overcast morning, a fine mist of rain was coming through from time to time and the March Flies and Horse Flies were terribly annoying. A quick swig out of the bottle, a few photos and I set to work bleeding the deer, gutting the animal and hanging him in a tree.  The hanging was quite an effort; I really need to do something about these arms of mine!  I pulled down a pile of eucalyptus branches and buried the deer to keep the flies off.  It was a fair walk back to the cottage and I would come back later with the Toyota to collect the deer.

    With all my gear packed away, I headed of down the slope. After a couple of hundred yards I spied another spiker feeding in the tree line ahead of me. Through my binoculars, the chocolate-coloured animal was obviously unaware that I was above him.

    For the second time, I dropped to the ground and pushed another big case into the chamber. We had plenty of plans for the venison so I wasn’t going to pass up the opportunity to take a second animal.  I ranged this deer at 289 yards – the bullet would be just shy of 4 inches low at this distance.  I snuggled up to the Weatherby, got comfortable and slowed my breathing.

    I have shot hundreds of rabbits like this with my .220 Swift and rather enjoy the challenge of shooting accurately at this range.  The Swift is a mild recoiling cartridge and in my heavy Remington, you can watch the impact on a rabbit as the Sierra 52gr HPBT match bullet connects.

    As I lay there on the slope, feet pointing up hill, the rifle felt slightly awkward in front of me.  The butt was very low on my shoulder and I was using my left hand to move the butt and get the elevation right. Without realizing it at the time, I was about to fire my .300 Weatherby Magnum and allow it to free recoil with barely any contact against my shoulder.  This would prove to be a problem.

    The deer raised his head and I applied some weight to the trigger.  I was holding level with the top of his skull. I rolled the turret-mounted focus to confirm that there were no trees in the bullet's path as he was 30 yards inside the bush line.  All clear. Squeeze… Boom!

    “F#@%n idiot,” I muttered as the scope smashed solidly into the bridge of my nose, slipping sideways and splitting my face open just under my right eye. The headache was instant and I could feel the warm blood on my face and taste it as it ran into my mouth. I left it alone as I my hands weren’t terribly clean. 

    Again, I got my gear together and raced down towards the deer. The bullet had entered at the base of the skull, slightly to the right from the rear and exited below the left eye.  It was a perfect shot.

    With blood running into my eyes and mouth I wasn’t quite in the mood to field dress the animal.  I knocked off his back legs and hung them in a tree.  I cut out the back straps and took off both shoulders and tied these to a couple of meat hooks I could carry easily for the quick race back to the cottage.

    Thankfully the missus and the girls were driving up to the shearing shed for a run with the dogs and they saved me the last 1½ kilometre trek back to the cottage.  It was great to take a couple of deer under fair chase, wild and free and on foot.  We loaded them into the Toyota and hung them in the meat house for a couple of days ready for processing.

    Thursday, 5 January 2012

    The third hunt that wasn’t; the second hunt

    I’d heard the news about the rains up north; all those northern rivers drain to my little hog-hunting haven.  I spent a few days in denial, consciously skipping the news, avoiding my daily visit to the Bureau of Meteorology website – pretending that not knowing would make a difference to the situation – and worst of all, not ringing my good friends Bill and Nora for fear of the bad news.

    Bill and Nora have been running a very good operation these past few years and had transformed what was an overstocked moonscape into a lush and profitable block.  The pig hunting has been great since the first rains in 2007 and with flood after flood the pigs had plenty of time to cement their place in this part of the world.  My October visit was a very successful hunt with one morning’s hunt producing over twenty hogs in a couple of hours’ walking along the bottom edge of a thriving lignum paddock.

    So a couple of days before Christmas I gave them a ring and got Nora on the line. Nora loves to chat and we talked about the missus and the kids and the council and the house and the price of stock and the lack of bargains.

     Wet weather makes the last 400 kilometres of dirt driving impossible.

      “Before I go Nora, I was planning to head up in the first week of January with a mate, how’s the place holding up with all the rain and the rivers breaking their banks?” I asked cautiously.

      “Well we just got through last night as we drove home from Dubbo to stock up for Christmas and New Year. The Toyota only just made it through at the causeway and my-oh-my it was a slippery drive. We had three inches last week and we’ve had an inch twice this week and the flood has come under the fence down at the creek.  We’ve got seven new lakes and Bill reckons by Christmas Eve they’ll all join and we’ll have one big flood.”

      “Doesn’t sound good for you guys,” I stated, meanwhile the mental cogs turning as to the merits of driving 16 hours to wade through an un-huntable flood; that’s if we could actually get to the property.  Same time last year they were inaccessible by road for three months! “I’ll give you a call straight after New Year’s and we can decide whether it’s best to call off our visit; sounds very likely.”

      “I reckon so.  Have a nice Chrissy Dagga.  Hoo-roo.”

     The dusty scrub is transformed into "Kakadu" with the arrival of the floods.


    With hunt three all but cancelled, I made alternate plans for hunt two.  What was meant to be a leisurely couple of days with the family in the New England region of New South Wales was quickly re-jigged to a weeklong affair in southeast Queensland on a block where I had some decent deer-hunting opportunities. With a bit of effort, filling the freezer with venison was not out of the question. The property is a mix of steep, heavily timbered slopes and gullies - home to the deer, and lush green rolling hills - home to fat cattle and irresistible to the deer.

    The wife and I packed the Hilux the night before and in the morning we downed a quick breakfast before strapping in our two girls and hitting the road for the daylong drive. We were staying in a very comfortable cottage on the property and the plan was to have a “foodie week” – cooking up a storm for everyone and making time for a few solid hunts.

    That first night we had a quick dinner and after tucking the girls in, I headed out with the cocky Harry, his son Roger and son-in-law Tom who was visiting from London.

    We climbed into the old Nissan with Harry behind the wheel. Roger and London Tom were sharing the .222 Remington and I was working the light.  We cruised the paddocks for a couple of hours and the boys collected the meat we needed for Beryl to get everything together for our New Year’s Eve shashlik. I declined a shot under lights, as I was quite keen on a serious hunt the following morning. We hung the carcasses in the meat house and cleaned up our gear.

    I got everything ready for the morning hunt and checked the girls before I hit the sack. The alarm was set for 4:45am...