Napier Fieldmaster Bob Spain recounts his last Tahr Hunt in New Zealand’s South Island.

Bob Spain

Tahr were first introduced into NZ by their government in 1904,  a gift from the Duke of Bedford of just 13 animals from his herd at Woburn abbey. 

They are now considered a major pest and are actively culled by hunters and

DOC Cullers.     Sounds familiar? remember he gave us the Reeves Muntjac in the UK!!!  

It’s a world away from most UK hunters both in distance and endeavour, a tough animal in a tough terrain hunted by tough hunters.  Fantastic to read, Thanks so much Bob

Steve Rowe   MD   Napier of London

JUNE 2020  Covid Compliant TAHR HUNT

After missing out on our usual Wapiti block in April 2020 due to strict covid 19 lockdowns we finally moved to Level 2 in JUNE.

So a Tahr hunting trip on DOC (Dept. of Conservation ) land was quickly planned and we headed for the South Island . A quick phone call to James Scott from Alpine Helicopters got a fast reply back  and it was all go.

 We had Baker Creek lower block on 13th JUNE for the week, most of the booking had been arranged, including ferries North to South Islands, we only had two days to travel down to the West Coast of the South Island, but at least 4 of us were going!!  

SATURDAY the 13th was a great day, fine and clear.   The chopper could only carry two of us plus gear at a time so two trips were made. Ben and I were in the first trip and encouragingly as we flew in Tahr were seen from Helicopter which was a great sign & after landing at camp and unloading Ben and Myself.  It was immediately in the air again to bring in Pete and Greg.

More animals were sighted on that flight too, and by the time they arrived we had a great camp site almost set up.  Plenty of room under a canopy of trees and all four our four tents, one to be used for cook tent.

After getting all set up it was time for are quick look around.

We took in an inflatable rubber boat to get across the main Landsborough river.  Pete and I went down and blew up the boat & with a long rope stretched from one side of river to the other we were able to pull ourselves back and forth and it worked great.

Over the far side of the river there were a lot of animal signs, so we got out binoculars and had a good glass.  We soon picked up a few Tahr quite a long way off, but was good to see, things looked promising.

We were all back in camp just on dark, while we were checking out the far bank Ben and Greg had gone up stream and had also seen game. So things were looking good for the week ahead.

SUNDAY DAY ONE   Our first full day, Greg and Ben went across the river by boat to hunt down stream for the day while I followed up Baker Creek to the tops, Pete headed downstream on the camp side of the next creek down intending to follow me up to the tops.

 It took me about three hours of hard climbing and hunting, glassing on the way & seeing animals but all too far away.

Reaching the open tops about an hour later & after a bite to eat and drink I was just quietly sitting glassing when a big bull Tahr walked out on a slip.

I looked  at him for a while, checking how good he was, a big long mane and good horns, but getting out the range finder to see just how far away he was, four hundred yds!    My rifle is a 7mm rem mag,  with  Leopold scope it has yd lines calibration so  I knew the second line down was  good for 350 to 400 yds.

 So with a good rest I prepared and as he turned side on I fired, down he went.

Then It took me about a good half hour to get to him , &  yes he was a good old bull, so a few photos followed by the skinning job.   A good bull skin with head on weights about 90 pounds which is a big heavy load over steep and tricky terrain.

Back at the camp, I arrived just on dark, Pete was already there but had no luck, although he did  Video  some Tahr, one of which was good bull.  But it was way too far for a shot and even more difficult to extract it if he had.

Greg and Ben arrived after dark having had a good day & seen Tahr not shot.  So with my Bull we did end the first day with one in the camp.

MONDAY

Weather had turned to heavy rain so it was a camp morning for us all, by lunch time it started to look better so Greg Ben and Pete took off for a hunt while I stayed in camp and salted my skin.

I also cleaned up the head, Pete went over the river from the camp by our ferry boat & hunted up stream to tops.   He ran into a lot of animals and took some photos to see the good bulls, but again way too far for a clean shot.

But he had a good look around the country, & found a good spot for Tahr.

Ben and Greg hunted along the river Camp side but only spotted small animals, so after a couple of hours headed back to camp.

Pete finally made it back to camp after dark and we all had good meal, and were ready for early bed.

TUESDAY  We woke to heavy rain and some snow so it looked like another morning in camp, a good decision as it happens  as by mid-morning we were engulfed in fog too.  Quickly though the weather improved.

Ben moved up directly behind the camp to tops & GREG headed off downstream for a bit to move up there too. PETE went up Baker Creek to a waterfall and saw Tahr high up on the tops as the fog cleared.

I crossed the river in our little boat and hiked down to a big flat area, I sat there for couple of hours, glassing to see Thar come down quite low and eventually only about a hundred yards from me, but  they were all small animals , &  I was waiting for a decent beast so I stayed there patiently till  just on dark before heading back to camp.

 GREG was back but had no luck, and he had  got himself very wet and cold, and that’s quite miserable, but good drop of wine soon fixed him up.

But still no sign of BEN  and  by now it was dark,  we always carry two way radios so gave him a call at 19:00  to discover he was ok,  he had shot a good bull and had a good load on board that makes for a slow trip back.

Its a good job he had very good head lamp, and  he makes it out in the snow and rain quite exhausted with a 12inch bull and good skin.

WEDNESDAY woke to a  bright sky  with light frost and it was very cold, we had breakfast and all set off for a day’s hunt, we all went different ways &  I went back up Baker Creek,  Pete & Greg went  across the river again. Greg stayed the  camp side  and he came with me to Baker Creek where we parted and he headed down-stream to some water sheds then up into open bush.

I moved up creek for about hour then cut up into some bush ,it was very open some signs of animals here and there then just as  as I was getting to the tops  I spooked couple of animals, as the  wind  was all over place.

I got to a good look out spot, so had a good glass about and after about an hour picked up a mob of Tahr but way in the distance.

.

Then I got the midday call from all the boys to say they were on to Tahr, but nothing shot yet.

I gave it another hour then headed off back down through the bush, hunting as I went, I got  down about half hour from the Main river and just broke out of the bush to look across Baker Creek .

Standing there looking at me was a big bull Tahr,  we both were face to face looking at each other for a few seconds but by the time I got set for a shot he disappeared!!!   bugger but that’s hunting.

I got out the range finder to  discover  he was only  fifty yards from me, I sat there till dark but he did not show himself again.       SO Back to camp.

Pete and Ben were already there and  Greg came in about half hour later,  he was the only one to score one young bull that day, a good skin, which  he wanted for a floor rug so very happy.

We all had good tea then off to bed.

THURSDAY Yes our last full day hunting, rain and strong winds, bloody cold too with  ice and snow in the air, we were  all  feeling very brave so we stayed in bed.

I eventually got up and served the boys breakfast in bed, the weather looked better about lunch time so all put on wet weather gear and  went for our final jaunt. Ben and I went across river, Pete and Greg up in the bush behind the camp.  I edged down river to a big flat area for glassing & sat in a good spot out of the worst weather, Tahr seemed to be on the move, I saw about fifteen animals but  just one good, big looking one, it was hard to get good look at his horns as  the range was about three hundred yards.

Ben came down to meet me and he checked out the Tahr and it was decided that I should shoot him, but by that time he was getting further away up hill,  time was getting on and  not far off dark so we called it a day and left him to get bigger.   If I had known then that the DOC were going to shoot all the Tahr from  helicopters  only to just leave them, maybe I would have taken that shot,  I  hope he still lives.

Back to boat and across the river, It did a great job transporting us safely so it was deflated and carefully packed up for extraction by the helicopter at 10am in the morning.

FRIDAY all packed up, gear pulled down, tents stowed and had good final clean up, nothing left behind.  Chopper arrived on time and with two trips we were back on our way home.  Looking forward to being reunited with my new Labrador Pup, Judy.   Great Memories and looking forward to the next trip. 

Bob Spain

A view to a kill

Niall Rowantree

(Will public perception be the end of us all?)

For many keen deerstalkers the months of April and May see the start of the Roe deer stalking season and for professional deer stalkers, brings in clients from Europe and other parts of the world.  This is the start of our annual deer harvest. 

I do not think it is necessary when talking about public perceptions to overly rehearse the arguments about keeping deer in balance with the range of desired habitats, preventing their conflict with agriculture and woodland and removing them from areas where they present a risk to the public as most hunters understand these points.  The fact that deer provide an absolutely sustainable food source that is high in essential oils and vitamins and provides a healthy uncontaminated meat should further secure their place in our landscape and our role as hunters.

Unfortunately, I feel that we have recently seen a development in anti-hunting tactics which seems to drive at separating the activity heavily banded around, especially by the media, as ‘trophy hunting’ from hunting as a form of culling activity.  Any well managed population will produce sufficient surplus males to allow a marketable cull which can economically secure the wellbeing of the population and harvesting genetically inferior or aged males passed their breeding age is entirely ethical and sustainable. 

The UK is not the only country to get caught up in this furore which has the potential to damage rural economies such as Africa where economics play a huge role in the conservation in species.   Undoubtedly, African countries that have a hunting economy alongside tourism economy as part of their tourism economy as a whole, have been enormously successful in protecting and expanding their wildlife.  It brings real income into the hands of people who are face to face with wildlife on a daily basis and the loss of this income would bring huge economic impacts.  Pro hunting countries such as Namibia have been so successful in this.  For example, they have taken the black Rhino from near extinction in the 1960’s to the largest free ranging population in the world.  At the same time, they have achieved success with their Cheetah and Leopard populations and are an example to many.  They have also taken their elephant population from a mere 7,500 in 1995 to over 22,000 to date. 

As a result of their conservation success, they have practically tripled their wildlife numbers in many cases and have focused right in through Government policy on managing human/wildlife conflict.  It seems incredulous to me that western society finds themselves, through social media, in a positon to feel that they can look down their noses at nations that have collaboratively demonstrated a wise use of natural resources.  The success of Namibia has been that it has tailor made its conservation methods and married these with the needs of the people and in doing so, have managed to demonstrate significant strides forward. 

Back at home, however, the activities that we all enjoy have come under the microscope in a way that I have not experienced before in my career.  It will be a challenge to all of us who enjoy the privilege of managing natural resources and providing food for our own table to avoid the interference of individuals seeking to end what you do or push toward legislation that in the long term will threaten the nature that for so long, we have taken for granted and in so doing, destroy the very fabric of our remote communities.

Britain has one of the highest levels of urban dwelling communities of any European country and the urban/rural disconnect, no doubt, plays a huge role in whipping up public opinion to be anti-field sports. 

Many of us have experienced this first hand, particularly those bringing in visiting hunters that shoot Red, Roe and other species and certainly last year, saw an almost incredible outpouring of anger and disbelief following on high profile culling of a feral goat.  This took many of us by surprise particularly as the Scottish Government and its agencies have made it a priority to reduce the impacts of alien non-native (feral) species and to seek their removal by both their policies and actions. 

In our own instance, it has led to multiple death threats along with other lengthy forms of abuse.  Interestingly, though Government spent a lot of time and effort looking into the hunting activities, there was virtually no interest shown in following up any threats.  To set the context, far from being unusual, more than 20,000 red stags are culled every Autumn in Scotland and probably around 200 Billy Goats, one is a native species which has been managed for thousands of years by the Highland people and is a huge supporter of our rural people both economically and socially and the other, the Goat, although designated an alien non-native has certainly been part of the highland scene since the Bronze age.  So we are left asking what is intrinsically different in public perception between a paid government marksman shooting an animal as part of a cull and a blonde American lady shooting an animal as part of a cull. 

Economically, it is quite easy to draw a conclusion, currently Government marksmen operate over large swathes of the public estate culling animals at the tax payers expense for a figure of north of 6 million pound per year in Scotland with limited local benefit with contractors frequently travelling in fairly large distances and shooting large percentages of their cull out of season and at night.  Whereas, visiting hunters staying in local hotels, spend money in local shops and are prepared to pay fairly high figures for animals that they wish to collect and are available due to managed surplices. 

So having rehearsed the economic argument, I feel very quickly that we get to the issue that it is fairly easy to make the need for the case for control be it any wild, native or feral non-native mammal and though there may be perception challenges in the public’s mind, the north American mink and the Goat are equally non-native to our landscapes and require management and control to prevent negative impacts.  So I think it comes down to the perception of the word ‘trophy’.  Having looked at the term ‘trophy’, we can see that the Romans looked at the word as a emblem of success or achievement and in modern times, connected to game, it has taken on a whole new meaning being referred to frequently on the internet as ‘hunting of a wild game animal for human recreation’.  Interesting, the shooting community in the UK has made no effort up to this stage to identify what a trophy is or indeed what it is not, whether it may be a child with his or her first rabbit or a visiting hunter with his dreamed of Scottish stag.  Though undoubtedly to both, the memory is equally important. 

Over the years, I have probably taken thousands of photographs of visiting sportsmen with their Stags, Roe bucks, Hinds and most of these have been kept by the individual as a memento of an occasion that they cherish.  I think the fundamental difference today is the rise of the grip and grin photograph on social media.  It is almost worrying now that people cannot wait even when up the side of a remote Scottish mountain to share their success to the world through social media platforms whether they wish to see it or not and at the risk of being on the receiving end of a storm, I think this is where change is required.  I do not think that we require legislation to highlight what we should or should not share or to penalise outfitters or Estates when perhaps a simple attention to what is acceptable to the wider public or not is used as a barometer.  I think before posting or sharing, remember the words of the poet and bard Robbie Burns, ‘Oh the gift that god should give us to see ourselves as others see us’. 

Enjoy your Roe buck season, support your local farming community by controlling problem foxes, be ambassadors in what you believe in and work together to secure our future.  

RABBITS GALORE

Bob Spain

Over the past ten to fifteen years, my brother and I have been very lucky to have two good back country farms to shoot on. The farms boast deer and pigs among their bounty, which is a boost to have venison and pork on the menu.

Rabbits however are in very big numbers, there has been no problem in the past to shoot up to eight hundred in a day. That’s a good days shooting. On an average day however, we would shoot about four to five hundred between us. On a lesser day we would shoot between fifty to two hundred each.

The weather has a big part to play, as rabbits, like all animals, you get a night’s rain turning nice and fine come morning, with no wind, rabbits come out of their burrows to get the sun.

During spring time all the young ones are coming out of their holes five to six in groups and having not been shot at before, they are very easy to shoot. It’s possible to pick off the ones far from the burrow, and work back most times shooting the lot.

The rifle I use is a bolt action Brno model one, fitted with a clamp on suppressor.

I like the Remington subsonic 22 ammunition hollow point and also use three ten shot mags as required. Most rabbits are shot at ranges between thirty to eighty yds. Although it’s a bit of a job to load mags when the shooting gets hot.

Sunday 6th September 2020, just a morning shoot with my brother. He dropped me off at the start of the farm and I was to follow up to him to meet at midday. I was in the area the Sunday before, after deer and saw a lot of rabbits so went back.

The weather was not good, with a very strong north westerly wind, when I could get out of the wind my first twenty shots dropped twenty rabbits which I was pleased with. I followed up, shooting in sheltered places which was good. Some of the rabbits were calm and relaxed, sitting down at spots out of the wind I would pick off ten to fifteen at a time.

Most of the rabbits were fully grown, with the young ones not far off.  As I approached the meet up point, I tried to pick up sheltered spots here and there, upon reaching my brother I had shot one hundred and fifty rabbits in total.  I use a counter clicker for tally.

My brothers tally was one hundred and seventy so three twenty shot for the morning

TO BE CONTINUED. . .

Saturday 19th September 2020, Yes off again!

The weather was good, there were plenty of rabbits around until after lunch when the rain set in. My brother and I both went different ways, I followed the bush line where rabbits were coming out of the bush on to the new grass, mostly big ones with some small ones.

Not yet at my destination, however it didn’t take me long to shoot off one hundred rounds.

I stopped for cup of tea and a sandwich, sitting by a cut down tree which gave me a bit of cover. By the time I had drunk the tea and finished the sandwich I had shot sixty rabbits as they popped out on the grass. Down the rabbits went, some good long shots too!

My mate Steve gave me a primo shooting stick, which works very well. Walking up and down hills you get to be a bit out of puff with old age!

Heard my brother shooting so he was in to them.

Time for lunch, yes, I do stop for lunch I got into a good spot again shooting and loading up the ten shot mags as fast as I could go. The spot was on top of a ridge looking down on rabbit burrows as they came out, down went the rabbits.

The rain started to set in so I made my way back to the truck, shooting as I went. By the time I got to the truck it wasn’t long before my brother was back. The tally for the day was five hundred and fifty-six, good part day

TILL NEXT TIME . . .

Tick Survey

Chris Dalton

One of things I have been involved in for the last 18 months is working with Public Health England on a deer serosurveillance study for tick-borne viruses. Essentially I collect deer serum and tick samples from each deer shot and then send those off along with some general information about deer species, general condition / location etc to the team at Porton Down. Whilst the study has thrown up some interesting results the tested deer serum samples that I have submitted, all have tested negative on the tick-borne encephalitis virus (TBEV) and louping ill virus (LIV) antibody test (ELISA); detecting no presence of antibodies against TBEV or LIV, this indicates no evidence of infection of either of these viruses

Again my Apex predator roe sack has been invaluable in carrying amongst all of my normal stalking gear the test kits and associated tubes and paperwork. This roe was actually shot on a hill estate in Perthshire that I manage and had somehow managed to get the wrong side of a 300 hectare fenced and planted woodland creation scheme and so had to be removed.

Chris Dalton

Field master

UK pro stalker of the year 2019& 2020 

Goat Fail…

Napier

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.

Steve

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.

Jum J

Pro Stalker 2019-2020

Napier

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.

Rags, Stags & Bog Tales..

Niall Rowantree

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. 

Camel Cull

Greg Gibson

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.

Sika Roar 2019

Bob Spain

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.

TUESDAY

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

WEDNESDAY

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.

THURSDAY

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

FRIDAY

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.

Bob spain.

DSC Level 2

Chris Dalton

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.

Apex Finders Keepers