Issue 16 October 2020

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A Break in the Drought

Mark van den Boogaart on the trail of some pigs.

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Shooting|July 2020

It’s Friday afternoon and I’m heading west towards one of my favourite properties for a weekend of hunting pigs and goats. Along for the ride is my eldest son Elias. At 7 years, he’s still a little on the young side to be lugging around a .308 Win, though with each trip he is learning a little more and has the beginnings of a fine young hunter.

It’s also his first time to the property, and with the February rains loosening the grip of the drought, he will experience grassed paddocks and flowing creeks, something I’ve never known on this particular block.

We’ve been driving into the sun for a while and as it finally drops below the far horizon, we hit the dirt.

Up ahead is the property boundary, and as we swing onto the house driveway the signs of good rain are everywhere. We get out and meet our hosts Debbie and Jim, and I introduce Elias, who has lost his voice and confidence. It’s then off to bed for him, a beer with our hosts for me, and of course a discussion about the coming weekend.

The next morning, we are up and out not long after 6am. Being February, it’s still hot, while the humidity speaks of more rain. Rain is good, as with every downpour the dams get a little deeper, the creeks run a little longer and the ground absorbs a little more moisture, all to better cope with the inevitable return of the dry.

Another benefit of the rain is that it has revitalised parts of the property that for years have held no game, so we have a big day ahead of us. In one such part of the property that only six months ago was barren and devoid of life we spot a mob of goats lazing on the rocky face of a now green covered hill.

The trouble is they are far too close to a boundary line, so we decide to try and get around them. If it works, we’ll have a clear shot, if not, we will push them further onto our hunting ground. The outcome is the latter, with the goats spotting us on approach and moving away from the boundary.

We catch them up about an hour later on another rocky outcrop. Again, we have to circle around however this time the cover is much better, and leading my son we make our approach. We get within 30 metres, so close that it’s hard to spot a single good meat animal amongst them all.

Watching, a Nanny moves a little too far beyond the others, and popping up I shoot quickly, dropping the goat on the spot. The bark of the shorter barrelled .308 Win reverberates around the rocky outcrops causing the rest of the goats to start moving.

Heading straight towards our position I bring my son in close and we just watch them spill past. As it is with little boys, with the goats just about on top of us he decides to show his teeth and give out a loud growl, startling both me, and the goats who pick up the pace so as to avoid the angry little troll.

Nothing much is free in this country and the rain has brought in flies. Masses, millions, billions of them are everywhere and are already swarming the downed goat. With everything done we load it up and get moving towards the cold room.

With a fine meat goat on ice, we decide it’s time to focus on the pigs. Over the next few hours we spot plenty, however most are undersized boars, sows with suckers, or sows ready to drop.

It turns out to be a long day and with sun low in the West, and my son asleep on the back seat we find a spotted boar with some potential. While not fully matured, the boar is fat and moving well, so in other words a good eater. With that, I let our host Jim know that come tomorrow that particular spotted boar won’t see the day out if I see him again.

It’s perfect pig country, with feed, water and shaded cover. It’s also tough to hunt...

Right on dust we check a very boggy area at the base of a series of gulleys. It’s a natural low point and covered in long green grass broken up by a series of shallow washouts carved out of the ground by the heavy rain. It’s perfect pig country, with feed, water and shaded cover. It’s also tough to hunt as the pigs invariably stay hidden in the washouts before breaking cover at the last moment.

Even after a quick scan we realise there are plenty of pigs about. Even better, the fresh prints and droppings suggest larger animals, so we decide on stalking the area on Sunday.

Back at home base, it’s a quiet evening around the outdoor fire with the heat, humidity and excitement all taking a toll on my son, who is in bed and fast sleep not long after dinner.

Sunday starts much the same way and we are on the move not long after dawn. It will also be a short day, so we head straight towards the pigs.

Elias and I quietly get set up in a well used blind. Overlooking the creek system, it’s a great ambush point with the water restricting crossing points.

In the blind the flies are keeping us company, so we try our best to sit still and wait. Soon enough we notice a long line of pigs moving through the grass. As they cross, we momentarily lose sight of them in the long, green grass before they reappear and begin searching for food.

The pigs are led by very large sows, however amongst the mob is a few boars, including the young Spottie. We decide to take him and spend the next 15 minutes waiting for a safe shot. Finally moving away from the rest, I fire and neck the boar, causing it to drop on the spot. Our host Jim turns up a little later and the two of us, with a little help from my son, get him loaded up for transportation so that he can join the Goat in the cold room.

A little while later we head towards the second location. Stopping about 500 metres away we begin walking along the banks of a water filled creek. The chance of bumping a pig along is very real, so I’m up front and ready to shoot. After about 20 minutes of slow stalking the clearing is now just up ahead so we move slightly away from the water line to gain a better view of the area.

Stopping under cover and just behind a large fallen tree we begin glassing the area and right in front of us amongst the long grass is a good mob of pigs.

We are in a really good position for glassing so we take our time to study our quarry. There are lot of pigs, though mostly sows. Watching, there are a couple of very aggressive older sows pushing the others around and hogging the fresh diggings. One in particular is held up right next to an old tree stump and biting any other pig foolish enough to get too close.

I decide to move a little closer, then realise the pigs are a lot closer than I first realised. At 15 metres away is a washout, and it’s holding a lot of pigs with plenty of alert black ears visible whenever I stand up to move.

I really need to get a little closer to open up a shooting lane, so I begin a low, slow crawl. Before setting off Jim suggests he will go wide and meet me at a stump between our present location and the pig filled washout while I instruct Elias to stay behind the log and not to remove the camo netting from his face.

With plenty of good luck going my way, I manage not to disturb the nearby pigs and make it to an old tree stump. While waiting for Jim I’m almost discovered by one very nosey sow, so I decide I really have to get on with it.

As any hunter knows, the pain of missing is visceral, and as my mind starts racing, I notice that in fact the Sow is hit...

Lining up on largest sow amongst the lot I fire; and watch her move off. As any hunter knows, the pain of missing is visceral, and as my mind starts racing, I notice that in fact the Sow is hit, but is somehow still moving with a smashed left foreleg. Having already cycled the action, I stand up and fire again. This time I clearly see the hit and watch the still standing sow turn to face me. It’s now most certainly danger time, so I fire an insurance shot and watch the sow flop, and then roll over.

While it only looks seconds, it didn’t feel that way and I realise my heart is racing and the sweat is pouring out in the morning heat. After a few minutes things start to return to normal speed and I begin to drag the sow out to the nearest track for loading up, and you guessed it, transport to the cold room.

With two pigs down and a big drive home ahead of us we head back to the lodge to pack up our gear, get everything on ice and load up the ute. While an uneventful drive home, it’s punctuated with plenty of questions about pig hunting, and a promise we will be back again soon.

Published by Vintage Guns Ltd on (modified )

Shooting|July 2020

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