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 !
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
A few years ago, myself and 2 of my mates, Alan and Duncan were obsessed with catching large U.K. sharks on extreme fly-fishing gear! This situation arose after we had been catching sharks in the Irish sea using conventional tackle. All three of us were very keen fly fisherman, so we mused on the possibility of landing one of these leviathans on the fly. A plan was hatched, and Alan and Duncan started making the necessary leaders, traces and fly’s. Initially we were somewhat under gunned and there was a steep learning curve. Over several trips the tackle and our ability to catch sharks on the fly improved – with one day us nearly boating a 100 blue sharks… But still the mighty Porbeagle shark evaded us!
An Irish Sea Blue Shark – I am glad that I took my Napier Apex Predator Waist sack, although this is really for carrying Roe, I often use it as a handy carry bag at other times, as it converts from a waist bag to a back pack. This was fortunate as it became essential for that long fight and when packed with appropriate padding allowed me to use it as an effective rod butt holster.
So, we then started targeting the months where a porbeagle
was most likely and hoping for good weather, as virtually every second trip we
had planned would need to be cancelled due to adverse seas. So on June 21st,
2014 we were happy at 6am to be motoring on towards the middle of the Irish sea
after a sleepless night at the Stable Inn. Our skipper as usual was Andrew
Alsop and we were on his boat White Water II, operating out of Milford Haven on
the west coast of Wales.
We motored out at a good clip for about two hours into somewhere
in the middle of the Irish Sea, there was some lively banter and talk of big
fish and the opportunities that the day might bring. On the way-out Duncan and
Andrew started preparing the burley – a secret concoction that draws the sharks
in to the boat. I remember being pleased that I was not having to do this
wretched job as although I have pretty good sea legs – my stomach is turned by
that rotten fish smell.
Before long we are fishing and things are going slow for me… a few blues have come to the boat for the other boys but yet again, no Porbeagle
Then suddenly, my line goes tight… and it is like I have hooked a hi-speed locomotive… The skipper gives me a wink and says that he thinks this is the one… a big Porbeagle and I start praying that this fish stays on… No guarantee when shark fishing as another shark can bite through the line, the hook can pull and if the shark rolls far enough up the leader the skin of the shark will cut through the fly line like a hot knife through butter!
For nearly 2 hours, I was engaged in the most grueling sporting challenge of my life. Every time I got some line back the big fish would just take it back again. My arms were burning like they had never burned before and the 14 weight sage rod was bent at 90 degrees. Slowly though, I started getting in more line and the shark would take less line. I was actually winning. Eventually we started to see colour as I finally got the fish to the surface and then got to the fish to the boat. The fight had taken it out of me though – we were at a stalemate, the fish and I – I couldn’t get this enormous Porbeagle close enough that the skipper could grab the leader and boat the fish. Then the big fish decides to make a last gasp attempt at freedom… I have the drag fully locked as I know if this fish spools me now, I don’t have the minerals to get it back in… Something has to give and with a great crack the 14 weight explodes in half! My heart sinks… all that work to lose this fish of a lifetime at the boat. But the fish is still there, stuffed just like me. Then the call goes out to handline the fly line a dangerous thing if the fish decides to make another run. Mercifully, the big fish has succumbed, and the skipper can get to the leader and we get the fish on board. My epic fight is over.
I marvel at the fish, a big porbeagle, some people call the
porbeagle a “Fako” and you can see why. The menacing predatory appearance of
this leviathan make the blue sharks we have been catching up until now look
like Labradors. This magnificent trophy is then measured so we can get a weight
and the obligatory snaps are taken before being released back into the big blue
to ponder what just happened to it.
My arms were destroyed, my rod was destroyed, I just sat
down and contemplated what we had achieved, and I mean we as it had been a team
effort. I caught another blue later that day but my arms were so sore I stopped
fishing as I was literally scared I might catch another big shark and I just
didn’t think I would be able to cope.
We didn’t realise at
the time what we had achieved but as with all fishy tales – the news spread
fairly fast and the next thing you know I am being told that this fish is
probably the biggest shark ever caught on a fly in the whole of Northern Europe
and was featured in the Angling Times. I don’t know if this is still the case
or not, although with improvements in gear I think a bigger fish could be
landed – I for one now fish a 16-weight fly rod for sharks, which is a little
like fishing with a broom stick!
Growing up in south Louisiana I learned quickly
why this state is called the Sportsman’s Paradise. In this area of the state we
have unbelievable waterfowl, whitetail deer and small game hunting, and freshwater,
saltwater and brackish water fishing is outstanding. At a very early age I was
introduced to hunting and fishing by my dad and grandfather.
Many years later my son and daughter began duck hunting prior to their fourth birthdays. My daughter still enjoys hunting and fishing, and we can’t wait to take my two grandsons out into the field. My son and I have been hunting together for nearly twenty-five years, and many of the marvelous memories that we share were only due to the readily available hunting and fishing opportunities.
Last deer season, we missed the last 5
weeks of hunting due to Mississippi River flooding. The 2,600 acres that we
hunt have been under as much as 12 feet of water since January, but we are
hoping to get back on the property by mid-August. Although it sounds bad for
this season, the deer in our area have been well-fed on nearby, higher land
throughout the flood. The nutrient-rich
Mississippi River enables very rapid, healthy growth of the ground cover immediately
after the water recedes.
Over the past five years, our duck lease
suffered tremendously due to an invasion of an exotic species, apple snails. Some
apple snails are as large as a man’s fist and they devastated the aquatic
vegetation. This did not help to hold
the ducks in the area during these seasons, but last year the snails moved on
and vegetation grew back with a vengeance and the property is once again
looking very good for the coming season.
A few days ago, the winds of our first Gulf of Mexico
Hurricane were ripping shingles off our home, and in the middle of the storm,
we rescued a juvenile Mississippi kite that was unable to fly. After nursing the kite back to health, it was
released to rejoin its mother.
Being in the kings club (we have both been king of Mardi Gras) I am attending the Cajun Royal family, well in this case Troy Landry, King of the Swamp, and King Hephaestus at our Local Mardi Gras. Very well disguised. More recognizable in his Swamp People day clothes.
Often the best ideas are the simple ones – but having said that they need to be refined and tested in the field. The Apex airglow is one such product – simple but it has been thought through. The powder comes in a small, convenient sized tube, carried in a pouch which can be worn around the neck and inside the coat jacket. With older systems I would have carried this in a pocket or pouch, requiring much fumbling and searching by which time the buck I have just seen, and wanted to check the wind for has had a good whiff of me and is off .
But now I know exactly where the powder is and hands on is quick. Not rocket science; simple, cleverly though out and it works .
Reflections are a sad thing at times. Especially
when looking back at a great trip away.
I have been invited to many places to help
with the control of Large Feral Herbivores (LFH). These include Camels, Feral
Cattle, Wild Horses, Donkey’s and Asiatic Buffalo and are all introduced into
the Australian environment and thrive on our diverse habitat.
This current job was to initiate some ground shooting on a couple of Cattle Stations in the Upper Gascoyne region of Western Australia, my home State. The LFH that requires culling to reduce numbers are Donkey’s. These pest breed well in these conditions and all animals seen were in good condition. This location is 1500 kilometres from my home base so we took a leisurely couple of days to get to site. Due to the rough terrain the modus operandi is to travel around the 1.5 million acres in our control area on quad bikes. This may not be the most comfortable method of transport, though essential to get into some of the “off the beaten tracks” etc. where our quarry prefer to locate themselves. Our next 8 days was spent on our quads though we did have a couple of rest days to rest the saddle sores.
Not an overly exciting hunting experience
hence classified as a cull. We are bound of course to our ethics and legislation
to use our Agricultural Department guideline for the humane controlling of LFH.
Donkey’s present themselves on most occasions and will even stop and look back
after the initial shots.
The environment here is semi-arid with an
annual rainfall of 215mm and average mean temperature of 32C. So conditions are
dry, dusty, dusty, and dusty. I use a protective cover over my Savage 300WN
while travelling but, and I don’t know if you have ever experienced it, you
cannot keep out that bloody red outback dirt. It gets into everything.
I always travel with a Napier Universal Rifle Pull Through Kit. These take up little room and are easy to use. Keeping your rifles clean in this environment is essential for repeated reliable use. In the evening after a day in the bush, a couple of bore cleans and a wipe down with the VP90 Field Patches and you’re all good to go next day. Those VP90 Field Patches are just the shot in this dusty environment. Cleans but doesn’t leave a thick oily film to attack the dust. Very good.
During our stay we accounted for 76
donkeys. These are recorded in the Stations records for the Department of
Agriculture for future reference and proof that the property owner is keeping
all LFH numbers controlled.
Well back to the grind of everyday vocation
P.S. Just had a call from another Cattle
Station, dry in the interior, camels coming into Station watering points and
causing havoc. Well better start the planning.
As an outfitter , I am stalking or managing deer in one form or another most days, for me kit is not a gimmick, it is an essential tool and has to be good and functional . If it is not I don’t use it or endorse it, simple as that. For many years I used a leather strap for carrying my Roe off the hill, I cannot get on with roe sacks – I find them cumbersome and they interfere with carrying and deploying the rifle. Then the clever folk from Napier came up with the Apex predator – perfect! now we have something that wraps around my waist, has pockets for all my stalking essentials that I take out to the hill and cleverly deploys to a full size roe sack when needed to carry my deer of the hill.
I could go on but suffice to say I have been using an Apex predator now for over 5 years, it is out with me whenever I stalk and is I feel one of the best products on the market for recovering the smaller deer species. I have had 2 roe in it which was admittedly a squeeze, they were yearlings but it easily copes with the largest roe buck. The detachable, inner liner is simple to remove and clean – it comes with two so one can be washed and drying while you fit the spare. The many pockets are well thought out and functional – all of my gralloching kit is in there so I simply leave it in the car, grab it as I head off for my stalk knowing that I have everything with me I need .
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