The Apex Predator in action on the Scottish hill with UK pro-stalker of the year Chris Dalton.
Well strange times indeed for everyone in the world including our staff and Fieldmasters contributors.
Napier MD Steve Rowe was supposed to be visiting Napier’s offices in NZ and working there for a few weeks back in March then just a few hours before departure the world and the rules changed, no one is going anywhere. Usually Steve manages to catch up with Jim Jackson and Bob Spain on these trips and was due to meet Gibbo in Australia on the way home too. But as we all know lockdown everywhere has prevented that, it was planned that we would record the outings planned in NZ and Australia for this Fieldmasters post. But to the rescue Jim has kindly recounted the last visit and although there is no photograph to attach, ( for reasons you will read) he has recalled that moment from his vivid and somewhat strange memory, by pen and paper, I hope you enjoy this read, we are all living off memories of past hunts for the moment.
So , having St Eve Rowe back over from the UK for another visit , a day goat culling was called for . Being super hot and dry most forestry blocks were out of bounds due to fire risk . After much wheedling , pleading and outright grovelling to the then forestry manager of the pulp mill a permit was gained for the goat infested Waipatiki block on the way to the popular surfing beach . Great ! Guaranteed goats , can’t miss. What could go wrong?
Having followed the sound of bleating through dense pine on steep terrain for quite a while and no clear shot we decided to head for “goat gully”, this is a very deep ravine too steep to plant pine and so full of dense grass and weeds and a favourite grazing spot for the smelly target critters. Getting there means driving the trusty HiLux to the start of about a kilometre of forestry access road and walking quietly to the end before descending through pine forest to the edge of the gully itself with a panoramic view of any goats unfortunate enough to be munching on all the nice green stuff. Halfway down we could hear much bleating coming up from below .Great , can’t miss much slaughter will be done. Steve has the trusty old sport converted Lee Enfield so lines up on a very large nanny and starts shooting .Down goes the nanny, the biggest Billy we’ve seen in years gets two of the last three rounds as we only have the five shot mag, my first oversight -meant to bring the ten . Never mind , still plenty of targets whizzing about all over the place so Steve sticks his hand out for five more. He then sees me standing there wearing a sick grin and patting all my pockets in the manner of the smoker who is about to ask for a match. Second and biggest oversight – ammo box still in HiLux over a kilometre away!
Sent back in disgrace amid much mumbling about useless bloody amateurs etc , etc I trudge all the way back and stuff my pockets full of rounds . Getting to the end of the access road and starting down through the trees , I smell goats .I hear goats ! As I get near the edge of the trees I am treated to the sight of Steve parked on his bum next to a stump right on the lip of the ravine peering through his binoculars trying to spot more goats . He is completely unaware that he is totally surrounded by a herd of about two dozen curious goats all staring at him with the lead billy looking at him round a stump not more than fifteen feet away. He has the rifle , I have the ammo and all the goats are between the two of us. I went “Er….Steve” illogically trying to ‘shout quietly’ and got the expected reaction of panic from the goats and frustration from Steve who could only point the gun at point blank range and shout “bang” at them . Despite a frantic reload , no more goats were shot in the gully that day and I had to buy the beer!
One day , possibly, I will hear the end of this .Only wish I’d had the camera with me . It was (ahem) still in the HiLux.
I haven’t got the most glamorous job to do though it is essential.
I would love to be one of those hunters you see pictures of with a big stag with huge sets of antlers. But no, my job in the community is much less exciting and somewhat mundane. I am a Profession Roo Shooter.
Kangaroo (Roo) numbers in my part of Western Australia have boomed since European settlement. This is because we clear the bush, improved the pasture and put in watering points for our stock. The roos loved these improvement to a point where they become so numerous that they eat all the feed for the stock and become inbred. Don’t believe what you read about roos becoming endangered, this is far from the truth.
Generally my culling is done at night under spotlight as roos become more nocturnal with culling pressure. An evening out culling starts at night fall, then we spend a few hours culling an area. Taking anywhere from a dozen to 35 in an evening. They are all tidied up for presentation to a chiller. They are processed for either human consumption, pet food or canine baits. None are wasted.
An accurate rifle is essential as under the national code of Humane Shooting of Kangaroos all animals must be head shot. As you can see by the numbers of animals taken in an evening, barrels require cleaning regularly. Steve from Napier’s of London put me on the right track in this regard when he visited once and he has a great video on his web page. I use Ultra Clean for patches, these have a rough side and a fluffy side. They are great. Generally I just use Napier Gun Cleaner down the bore but every now and again when giving a good doing over use bore solvent. Just follow Steve’s video and you can’t go wrong. Napier products are top quality. That VP90 stuff is excellent.
Kangaroos are culled under strict Government controlled guide lines and permits. All animals taken are recorded for weight, sex and location. These figures are used to monitor numbers taken and allocate future cull numbers as required.
As I started, not glamorous but essential to keep numbers under control for the benefit of the community and the agricultural sector. One day I might get to hunt a big stag.
Napier are delighted that one of our Field Masters has been awarded UK Pro Stalker of the year for the second year running . UK Pro Stalker of the year is selected from Public nominations and votes with the winner revealed at an awards ceremony at the NEC – the announcements were made on the Saturday night of The British Shooting Show in Birmingham. Chris has worked with Napier for a number of years on Product testing and we are delighted to have him at the ‘ Sharp ‘ end of testing our innovative products in the field.
The Western Rock Lobster off our Western Australian coast can grow up to 5 kilograms though most harvested would usually only average 750 grams. They are a member of the spiny lobster family and taste fantastic. Though the large portion of the available catch is taken commercially, us amateur fishers have ample opportunity to catch our own. For $50 you can add the rock lobster catch permit to your annual fishing license. Amateurs catch them by either using lobster pots or diving. Divers can only use a snare or catch by hand.
As a young fella I chased these on a regular basis. We would go down the beach and swim out to the inshore reefs only few hundred meters from the shore and free dive to catch our quarry. Using, in them day a simple gidgee to prise the young lobsters from under the reefy ledges. During late spring and again later summer the younger lobster come into these onshore reefs to moult their shells and we would take great advantage of this. This was the christening for me on an annual pursuit of these much sort after delicacies. In these early days my mother, though cautious of me diving, loved me even more with every mouthful.
Western Rock Lobsters are a real delicacy. They are exported worldwide to supply the restaurants from China, USA and Europe. It is Western Australia’s biggest export fishery. Western Australia’s Western Rock Lobster Fishery has received international acknowledgement as one of the best managed and most sustainable in the world.
As time has gone by we have improved our method of catching and invested in diving gear. This has increased our chances of catching our share. On a couple of occasions this year, when the weather gods shine we have had the opportunity to chase a few. These day a lot of our diving is done in the 20 to 35 meters range to increase our chances and sizes of our target.
I hope you enjoyed this article as much as we enjoyed our feeds.
As we are thinking about a few days off in front of the log burner and eating too many mince pies, I find myself working up an appetite on the hills above Aberfeldy in the second week of December chasing hinds about as we work on the cull and at the same time filming for The Shooting Show. One of my most valued bits of kit here is the Napier Apex predator. Now I accept that its quite tricky fitting a Hind with larder weight of around 65 kilo into the opened out predator ! However, neatly contained inside is all the kit that I need – conveniently wrapped around my waist . I do not have to think, have I got this or the other, it’s just there . In and amongst the drag rope, bone saw, tracking harness disposal gloves etc is another essential item in the hill, the apex air glow wind checker. With a red hind able to smell me at around 2 miles in certain conditions, even more with the old spice or brut ! ( I will likely be getting re supplied on the 25 th) and now I am really showing my age; it’s fairly important I know which way I am blowing or else I am wasting my time up here. Zosia is clearly not impressed either with my chosen perfume !
Have a good one !
Napier Field Master
The art and charm of deerstalking has frequently been describe by more able pens than mine and at this time of year as highland glens echo to the call of our largest wild mammals, I thought it may be a worth moment to look at the reasoning behind which stag to take and what drives the selection process.
The deer world has always fallen into two camps with very distinct differences of opinion as to what is required. For one, the whole essence of deer control/stalking pivots around the protection of crops or habitats or they are in pursuit of a vision of a changed Scotland in which the Red stags has a greatly diminished role.
Alternatively, the second camp see them as an iconic resources that can be harvested on an annual basis to secure employment and bring much needed revenue to often remote and rural parts of the country.
When looking at the two selection ideologies it’s important to know which angle you’re coming from and who is influencing the population.
Undoubtedly, the land is the finite resource and getting all pernickety about what deer to take or leave is pointless if the land and animals aren’t in good heart.
No matter what impact protection methods are used or planned for the future, they will fail if the number of deer are not controlled and maintained at a density level which the ground can carry. This density level depends on the feeding potential of the locality not in absolute terms but related to the acceptable levels of impact which can be economically or in some cases emotionally sustained.
However, deer densities not only influence the level of impact, numbers also influence the condition of the deer themselves. In areas where habitats are poor, the damage potential is high and numbers need to be lower whereas when habitats are rich, they can sustain significantly higher densities and this can vary across individual land or estates.
The dangers of overpopulation are manifold from the loss of habitat and high mortality to poor performance, loss of mature males to marauding. However, a well-managed population is an asset and a significant income generator to rural communities which can be credibly demonstrated.
We frequently hear arguments and discussions about how to age deer. At the same time, it is rare that you hear questions such as ‘why?’ and ‘when?’ An accurate estimation of age is important. I feel that it is necessary to put age estimation into it proper perspective particularly in relation to wild deer and their stalking. Undoubtedly, for scientific reasons, be it the investigation of sexual maturity and other characteristics and for those farming deer, this is easily overcome by applying deer tags. However, when talking about wild deer, the consideration is usually which deer to take and which to leave. To achieve this, the stalker needs to be able to determine a shootable beast from a non-shootable beast. They need to be able to age the animal on the hoof at distance using its body and antler recognition for guidance. It is after the stag has been taken that there is a need to confirm the visual estimate of age and whether the decision to cull was correct or not. In this practice, absolute accuracy is not essential. To arrive at a decision the stalker simply needs to establish the age group of the animal whether it is young, mature or old and the quality of the animal whether it is shootable or non-shootable. In essence, it is not unlike activities such as farming cattle or other livestock that land has a carrying capacity and it is essential to remove surplus stock.
The rules of a traditional highland deer forests, stags are seldom taken below 3 years of age unless there are immediate welfare issues. Stags can be considered moving into the mature class from age 4 and onward. Eight points or better with a fair length of antler are spared and watched for signs of better development. Shootable stags from this age group are stags with bare tops, stags with fewer than 8 points and heads that fit comfortable into a triangular profile side on. However, it should be balanced with what is considered the norm for the area for example on Ardnamurchan, 10 pointers is fairly common place but in some parts of the Highlands, 8 pointers are more common. Once stags have passed through this filtering, they make the core group of mature stags and the population moving back into the category of shootable once beyond 8 years of age. At which point, poor development, antler irregularity and loss of condition become a consideration as are good quality heads showing signs of ‘going back’ for at least 2 consecutive years. All stags once they have reached a critical point in their age are better removed than left to die.
A good deer manager will have a detailed knowledge of the deer in his area, he may not have access to the records like his farming colleagues have and to each individual animal’s parentage but he should be able to collect data regarding calving percentages and physical condition scoring. He has to rely on his experience and decide on the quality and value of each animal by the ability to evaluate the animal on the hoof. The more information you gather from observing each beast and herd, the better you will become on making decisions regarding what you cull and what you leave. In essence, even the best animals will reach a point when they will become ‘shootable’ and animals of poor quality are shootable as soon as their inadequacies are spotted.
Classically, the old hands at this game would refer to poor stags with bare tops in the younger age groups as being ‘just a rag’ although anything with tops was seen to be a stags and allowed to go forward. Many highland estates had the tradition that at the end of the season, heads were displayed and neighbouring estates were invited to observed heads taken from the season past which lead to healthy discussion and steadied many a hand when lying in a peat bog from acting in haste and squeezing the trigger on something better left.
Distance is always a problem for our pursuits here in Western Australia. Isolation an inconvenience. To help with the control of camels on Cattle Stations on the fringe of the Never Never (arid uninhabited dessert regions) you need to be prepared. Prepared in the sense that you will need to carry all essentials required for the trip, fuel, water, food, communications and emergency supplies. Planning is essential. So after packing extra water and food, first aid kit, satellite phone and 120 litres of extra fuel, off we go. 14 hours later and we arrive at the cattle station and get the run down and good old chat.
Over the next 7 days we will travel around the Cattle Station and adjoining properties to locate and cull all the camels encountered. Camels are very nomadic beasts and travel huge distance to find feed and water water water. Conditions have been very bad in these semi-arid areas with no significant rain events for the previous two years. Things were dry and feed was sparse. The camels have to search far and wide for their survival. All the camels encountered were in a very poor state. Hence needing to come into the Stations from their usual desert habitat to find water. All the Stations have bores and or windmills to water their cattle and the camels invade these watering points in huge numbers. Water is a rare commodity in this environment so the Cattle men can ill afford to be sharing it with these brutes. A large bull camel can consume up to 200 litres of water in one drink. Camels because of their size also do damage to these watering points by breaking pipes, floats and infrastructure causing expensive repairs and putting the cattle at risk of dying from thirst.
Camel meat is a very good to the palate, being similar in texture and flavour to beef. So any of the young culled animals in reasonable conditions had their backstraps removed. The skin on a camel is not that tough, but it is fully impregnated with sand and vegetable matter tangle and entwined in the thick woolly hair so is dynamite on knives. The Apex 46 knife came to the fore. This knife surprised me. Camels are large animals with bulls standing 2 metres tall and weighing 1000 kilograms. The Apex 46 is a weighty sturdy knife but still a size that can be used articulately. I removed the backstraps from numerous animals and only used a steel to touch up between each. Kept its edge, certainly did. A permanent addition to my kit. This here knife is a bloody beauty.
Well what a week. We culled 122 camels. This should keep the Station owners happy though this is an ongoing issue for them. They pray for rain for their cattle but also for the Never Never country so the camel move back out into the desert.
It was Monday 8th of April and I was heading up MAKAHU road to hot springs PUKETITIRI, the weather had set in to heavy rain. I Parked the vehicle in scrub and with a heavy pack crossed a very low MOHAKA river.
No sign of anyone else, I think the weather had put most hunters off but as my old mate John would say “good to travel in bad weather, get to camp and be ready when weather turns good”. A couple of hours later I reached an old bivouac shelter (Improvised camp) which John and I had made years ago. The rain was still coming down hard and the bush was very wet. It was late in the day and I was in pack gear, so I changed into some good dry clothes which made me feel better, then gave my old 1949 BRNO 21 7MM a good dry down and oil up. I used my Napier of London deluxe rifle cleaning kit compete with rod patches oil and best of all a spray can of gun cleaner lubricant for lasting rust protection. Great stuff best things since sliced bread. I had an early night as weather still raining hoping for a better day tomorrow.
The rain had stopped, it was a good clear, fine morning and we had heard a few sika roars during the night. Best of all there was no wind. Filling the thermos and with tea made, a big sandwich and full day bag I put a dry patch through the rifle barrel and I was off.
The bush was very wet but I wasn’t going very far. Being careful not to leave Human sent around I reached one of my good clearings which I have shot good eight pointers off before. Well if you could call it a clearing! It is a great spot for roaring stags.
Open in places with MANUKA and pepper woods thick in places I like to sit in one place sometimes all day let the stags come to you, there had been a few roars close, very close at times. After having a cup of tea and sandwich I sat for about six hours. Then I heard sticks breaking I gave the MANUKA bush close to me a good shake then rubbed a piece of wood up and down it, boy that got him worked up. He let out a roar and came straight for me within 40 meters I could see eight good points and great length so I waited for a good clear shoulder shot and fired. He spun around and took off I knew he would not go far as he was hard hit by the blood trail 20 meters. There he was caught up between two MANUKAS.
And what a surprise when I pulled him out of the bushes, he had fallen on and old sika pile of bones which must have been shot wounded and lost or died of old age.
The stag I shot had a great head skin, so I had the job of taking the cape off and seeing to the meat. Then it was back to camp in dark.
The head I shot length 33 DOUGLAS SCORE 190
Head found length 31 DOUGLAS SCORE 181
A great day again, fine with no wind so out for hunt again, this time in a different place. A place where a good mate of mine shot his first eight pointer. It was DOUGLAS SCORE 205 and not bad for a first, he got a bit restless with my way of hunting but it worked for him.
After sitting there for the day we did see two good stags one eight and one seven pointer. We managed to get them on film so not all lost and the odd hind which the stags were following.
Had a great day so back to camp, good feed and into bed.
Up early to find a great day again, we went out early in the dark this time as I wanted to check out a small gully which holds a few deer most of the time and always plenty of rut pads, although it is hard to hunt there after the last big storm a couple of years ago. There’s plenty of windfalls so found a good spot to sit.
I heard the odd single call, but it was a bit on the quite side, still you never know, time will tell. We did see the odd hind also a four pointer following them as normal. After sitting there for some time having a cuppa, a deer started to whistle at me. Then I felt a breeze on the back of my neck
I gave it a bit of time but things got worse coming from the north, no good for bush hunting so I got back to camp had an early tea then hit the sack for an early start in the morning home
It had been a good few days in bush and I decided to hunt my way out. No rush, I had all day and took a very slow trip out reaching MOHAKA river, got across safely and back to Trusty old Subaru.
A great few days in the bush.
Most of late July and early August will see me stalking around home in the SW of Scotland however, on this occasion I had Mark booked in who was nearing the end of a naval career in the marines, and for travelling purposes stalking up in Angus suited as he could easily then travel from his base up around Aberdeen. Mark wanted to gain his DSC level 2 and intended to pursue a career in the stalking sector.
That evening saw us moving quietly up the side of a broadleaf strip sandwiched between 2 grass fields . I told Mark to set up on the rifle and watch for movement in the field in front of us, we did not have a fantastic view but could see enough through the gaps in the trees. I always wait a little while for things to settle before starting to call and while we were doing this movement got both of our attention; the fox red hint of a roe in summer cost could clearly be seen moving slowly though the undergrowth. We got glimpses as he made progress across in front of us – I double checked in whispered voice that Mark was ready; and started to give very quiet and gentle ‘ contact ‘ peeps on the Butilo. Initially, the buck stopped and I thought he was going to respond but then totally ignored the call and continued to work across us and away into the undergrowth. Again I waited a few moments, Mark shrugged and made to move but I told him to wait and stay on the sticks. I gave a few calls on the Nordic roe, mimicking the agitation call of a doe that is being pressed –and boy did that do it. Crashing and cracking twigs had the yearling bouncing back towards us to suddenly appearing in front of us about 30 yards away. But not in a position for Mark to shoot, as he was partially obscured by a willow tree with a branch smack over the vitals; another call and he was out again this time 10 yards away staring intently at us. What followed was a stand-off for about 5 minutes with no body daring to move, and then he bobbed quick as flash back into the trees, another call had him back again but this time he came in slightly to our right and made the mistake of offering a very nice broadside shot in a little clearing again only about 20 yards away. He dropped immediately on the spot to the shot, I do hope though he managed to experience the delights of a young lady before he met his end. He had certainly felt the wrath of a bigger buck as we noted the jab marks on his back end when we gathered him up for the gralloch.
Mark went on to complete his DSC 2 as we did witnessed outings for the next 3 days and he shot 4 cull roe so everyone was happy. No matter how many times I call roe, it is still one of them most magical experiences in stalking, not to be overdone but used sparingly and with some though to what you are doing it is an effective tool in the stalking box of tricks. It is particularly rewarding as well if you can achieve this for someone to experience for the first time. Mark went on to stalk and shoot 4 further roe on the trip, this time him leading the stalks and making all the decisions.
This is however where the Napier finders keepers came into play – I had lent Mark my bone saw to open the chest cavity, and after completing the gralloch he had put down in the long grass and we only managed to locate it because of the dayglow pink band on the handle. As I have said before sometimes the simplest things are so very useful – that would have been best part of £50 gone.