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footsore
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Halloween Hunt
Nov 16th, 2021 at 6:32am
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Halloween had just passed and the swarms of miniature ghosts and witches had released their terrible grip on Christchurch for another year. Before the trick or treaters took over Halloween it was a time when early Christians remembered the dead and prior to that a pagan harvest celebration. Well I figured what better way to honour both my pagan and Christian forbearers than to make a pilgrimage with a view to harvesting some venison, plus I had a supply of left over lollies from October 31st to help fuel the trek.

A fresh dusting of snow on the tops demonstrated that winter hadn’t completely relented, but that notwithstanding there were plenty spring indicators too - even the most minor side streams were running cold and clear with snow-melt, forest birds had paired up, robins were incessantly chirping to announce their claimed territory and bellbirds chased one another from branch to branch, out on the flats bobbing lines of paradise ducklings were lead by their parents away from my approach. The fresh spring grass though was the sign I was most interested in, this is what was going to draw my quarry from the forest.

I had a pleasant but uneventful walk to my first night’s destination. The valley boasts several huts connected by a good tramping track. This trail of course provides great access, but also raises safety concerns when shooting. My plan was to hunt some flats just above where the river drops into a tight gorge. These flats are on the opposite side of the river to the tramping track, which at this point siddles the slopes high above the river until zig zagging down to a hut on the valley floor about a K upriver.

The track winds through the heavily forested gorge before emerging on to open country. Here amongst the tussock I had a great vantage point. I sat, taking in the scene below and honed my plan for the evening. The flat is about 300m long and half-moon shaped. It’s dissected by a shallow side creek that was flanked by emerald green grasses that seemed to just glow -what hungry deer could possibly ignore this, I think to myself. The main rocky riverbed was dotted with a numerous pairs of geese. Nervy and noisy, waterfowl have the potential to blow the stalk of the stealthiest of hunters, so I took careful note of their locations.

A plan sorted, I left the track and began the descent to the valley floor. Predictably, a pair of sharp-eyed geese spied my movements and started honking for all they were worth. It was only mid-afternoon so I wouldn’t be hunting in earnest for hours yet, but to reduce the disturbance of the area I backtracked to the forest and continued the descent in the cover of the beech. After a few minutes the honking became more sporadic and eventually stopped.

I gained the valley floor just where the river entered the gorge. There was clearly no camping to be had downstream with the river narrowing to a swift cascade roaring down between steep bluffs. There was plenty of good camping upriver on the flats, but that was the feed zone I intended to hunt. No, the only real choice was to camp amidst the small, but thick stand of matagouri at the gorge end of the flats and this didn’t look like a particularly comfy option. It took a fair bit of pruning before I manged to open up a section that was just big enough to accommodate my tarp. Then I had to carefully remove all the thorn studded twigs that covered the ground -most of which I located by kneeling on.

As I set about making camp a previously unseen pair of Canada Geese started honking in alarm. They were just 20m away – damn!!! Pausing halfway through hanging my tarp, I contemplated abandoning the flat and moving to another spot up valley. It made sense with my noisy neighbours watching and reacting to my every move. The only reason I decided to stick with the plan was….well cos it just seemed too much effort to pack up and move on and I just couldn’t be buggered. Then to add to the hopelessness of my hunt, the wind picked up and swirled with frequent gusts blasting my stench both up across the flats and into the forested slopes backing it. Oh well, this is just the first night of three, tomorrow I’ll head on upriver and into that side creek that I had my eye on.

After getting the tarp up and arranging my bed I took my cooking gear down to the water edge. The geese were steadfastly holding their ground, I guess they were tending eggs rather than goslings. They watched me intensely but had ceased their honking. This was a huge relief, but I remained anxious that they’d start up again.

Tea over, I decided to make an early move to go and stake out the flats. Collecting my rifle, bino’s and with a few essentials in my pack I made a solid trek of 8 meters (or about four matagouri bushes) from my tarp. As I anticipated, this bold move got the Canada’s honking in alarm again, but I reasoned that doing this now, about 2 hrs before dusk, would give the pair time to again accept my presence and quieten down well before the golden hour.

And, thank Christ, that is just what happened. After 10 minutes the shouting was all over and the gander just stood by his nesting mate giving me the evil eye. After another 20 minutes or so he was relaxed enough to start grazing, albeit with one eye fixed on me.

I was all set up now, sitting under an arch of matagouri with a great view of the flats. By now the wind had dropped again. Knowing I’d be there a couple of hours I made myself comfortable removing the twigs and rocks under my backside and propping the pack against the trunk of the shrub as a back rest.

The sandflies turned up about then . Not clouds of them, but enough to keep my swatting hand in business. Gloves were doned trousers tucked into my socks and the beanie pulled low over the ears. The only exposed skin, around my nose and cheeks were marinated in repellent. Time slowly passed and the air cooled as the sun dipped below the skyline. Tiny feathery balls of wind dispersed seed would launch from the flats whenever there was an occasional puff of wind. The balls hovered in the air well after the gust subsided and would very slowly drift towards me, giving a regular and reassuring indicator of airflow.

My geese remained quiet, but occasionally other pairs up valley would alarm. That of course would have my bino’s up and searching for what might have triggered the cuffufle. I hoped to discover a deer was the cause, but was also concerned that someone from the hut might have chosen to explore the river flats. I never found any obvious reason for any of the honking and figured they must have been territorial disputes with a goose perhaps grazing a little too close to a neighbours nest.

And so the evening slowly ticked by, listening to geese, sweeping the flats with my binos, swatting sandflies and making minor adjustments in my sitting position to relieve a leg or my backside when they started to lose their feeling. The light began to fade quicker, the colour draining from the landscape shade by shade …and there still wasn’t a hint of an animal. Although I feel the early occupation of my hide was a good call, after 2 hrs sitting in a cramped position surrounded by sharp thorns and fighting off the sandflies I was ready to pull the pin. But I figured, given that I’d put up with the wait this long then I could stick it out until the light was unshootable -its gotta be only another 15 minutes …30 minutes tops.

I made a visual sweep of the flats again just with my naked eyes – nothing moving, nothing deerlike, nothing out of place it all looked exactly the same as it had all evening….except…as I finished the sweep there was a prominent bush, grey and dense, on the grassy strip of the lower slope behind the flats. I hadn’t noticed that shrub before…surely I’d recall that… it really does stick out…maybe the changing light has somehow made it more obvious. I was just starting to lift the bino’s to my eyes when a deer trotted past the bush…. and then the ‘bush’ lifted its head and watched his buddy go by. Then a third animal appeared and started feeding. It’s funny how shocked I was by the sudden appearance of these animals -after all I’d just spent 2 hrs anticipating them and actively looking for them.

The binoculars were forgotten and instead I picked up the rifle. The trio feed and slowly made their way further away from me out onto the slope, but they were still only 100-120 m away. I waited until I was offered a good target …one of the trio turned broadside and settled to feed in the spot for a while. I saw his head sported pedicles but no antler growth and he wasn’t huge. A spiker I figured - perfect.

The thump of the impact came straight back to me immediately after the shot. He kept his feet though and while his two mates scarpered he walked 30 m further out to the flats…wobbled and collapsed.

I left him a few minutes before walking up. He started kicking out and continued to do so when I reached him, but he was well dead. Once into the butchery I discovered he wasn’t a ‘he’ !! His belly sported a set of teats and there was no pizzle. I checked his head again -yes there were the pedicles. She was a hind with pedicles… I’d heard of such things, even fully antlered hinds, but never met one before. Maybe this was her Halloween get up. In the spirit of the season I continued my bloody task, slashing and slicing by torch light like a depraved zombie. I was very glad that I’d stuck out the wait despite growing despondency and boredom. Last light really is the time to be out... even if it’s the witching hour.
  
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SF91
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Re: Halloween Hunt
Reply #1 - Nov 16th, 2021 at 10:02am
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Shame not too many visiting this forum these days - that's a great story  Smiley

  
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footsore
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Re: Halloween Hunt
Reply #2 - Nov 16th, 2021 at 3:51pm
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Cheers SF

Yeah its been a bit quite around here lately....just you and me with a couple of tumbleweeds rolling down the street. Sad
  
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SF91
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Re: Halloween Hunt
Reply #3 - Nov 16th, 2021 at 5:46pm
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Still a few reading mate - good to see  Smiley
  
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