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Sky Rats and Shriek-Ducks

Caleb and Isaac arrived on time and we started the pilgrimage to the neighbour’s property we had been given permission to shoot for closing weekend. The morning was still and warm and the shrieks and honks of paradise ducks echoed off the landscape. I had nick-named them shriek-ducks recently as large mobs flew over the house while I was sleeping off night shifts – so I was pretty keen to reduce the numbers! We set up in two hides against a stand of tall poplars, surrounded by a flock of decoys, and absolutely in awe as dawn revealed the numbers of ducks coming in. Teeva the dog was looking skyward and whining, and things looked promising. My job today was to train and handle her and quickly dispatch any wounded birds.

“I’m kind of amazed that Cathy let us shoot in her paddock of bulls, actually.” I commented, as Friesian bulls milled around us. We were positioned in a harvested maize crop and the fallen grain had been attracting large flocks of birds. It was amazing to finally work Teeva on a substrate where she actually was an appropriate colour to blend in!

“Into it boys!” The shotguns came up and the first pari ducks hit the deck. Most of the ducks flew high over head on the clear morning and didn’t afford a shot. James and I kept giggling as Caleb used the mallard call to attract parries. Many flew over but settled in the paddock further away, so Caleb and Isaac decided to take a walk to stir them up a bit. As they disappeared behind some distant pines we heard a series of shots and some cheering. James and I were surprised when they returned with hares, not ducks, but they were the biggest hares I had ever seen!

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Our initial set-up – in the wrong person’s paddock!

After a few of hours of intermittent shooting, the other neighbours pulled up over the fence to shift their dry cows.

“Don’t shoot! She called, and we reassured her. “Sorry to interrupt your morning!”

We went over to speak with them, as over 100 paradise ducks suddenly came in low and swirled around the hides. We cursed inwardly, unable to shoot with the farmers nearby, but soon became more focused on the conversation…. as it dawned on us that we were in completely the wrong area. We were actually on THEIR property, in the middle of THEIR bulls, with a dog and three shotguns. It was a pretty awkward situation, and they gave us directions to the maize crop we were supposed to be in – as well as telling us we were welcome to stay where we were. We were very lucky they didn’t mind as they were well within their rights to tell us to piss off, and worse! We offered profuse apologies and it sounds like it will be made up for over some pints at the local tavern.

We decided that perhaps we should move to where we had actually planned to be, so packed up and set up against a stand of swampy willow saplings. It was a great spot with good traffic, and the hides were much better camouflaged. Only the dog wasn’t! Fortunately though, she was calm. Last year was her first opening morning and she whined continuously, remained hyper alert and was actually rather exhausting. She did perform very well though, and had very little practice since then. This time she curled up or lay down until the shotguns were lifted – a drastic improvement. The only thing she messed up on was when James took a walk to stir things up down the paddock, and she watched intently as he disappeared behind the pine trees. Some parries decoyed in and one was brought down – but as I let her go she took off after James instead of retrieving the duck! She was not letting that shotgun out of her sight! Not a major issue though as she found James and lead him safely back to the hides to shoot more ducks for her.

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James and Teeva have reached an understanding

Through out the afternoon we had small groups of parries coming in – some escaped and some did not. At times we even had pigeons coming in to join our decoy flock! I had the .22 on hand so any birds that were still alive when Teeva delivered them to me were quickly and humanely dispatched with a bullet to the head at point blank. I honestly think this should be a mandatory part of duck shooting. Teeva did an outstanding job, retrieving all day with enthusiasm – bringing in parries, pigeons and even the 3 unlucky pukekos the guys hunted. On breasting them out only three breasts had damage from the dog.

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The homemade backpack came in very handy as we gave Teeva a few kg of ammo to carry

The end of the day brought a surprise – very few parries coming in but plenty of mallards. We were not sited near a body of water for them to land on, so the likelihood of getting one was slim. Right on dark however, a duck flew in low and a very well delivered shot brought it cleanly down. The guys felt it was the icing on the cake after a really good day, also netting 26 pari ducks, 3 pukeko, 3 hares, and 8 pigeons.

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The team with some of their birds
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Ruahine Rumble

The alarm going off at 2am didn’t thrill me, but to be honest I was already awake. That’s what night shifts do to you. Adding an extra tablespoon of espresso grind to my plunger had me off to a faux-alert and shaky start.

The gravel road wound through the bush, illuminating the occasional possum and briefly, a mob of three deer. That was a good sign. James and I were heading to a hut in the Ruahines with Eli the hound, in the hope of getting close to a roaring stag. It was still very early in the roar, as my non-hunting colleague booked the prime dates up well in advance, so we weren’t sure how much luck we would have. It was great to be getting out in the fresh air anyway. Great that is, until we got out of the car in the rain, at 4am. Fighting off the desire to sleep, we trudged in the dark through shin-deep mud, down hill. Eli had his pack on too – loaded up with his food and gear, then a bunch of our food too. Admittedly I packed his bag with 3.5 kg of the more dense and heavy items to try to slow the perky little bugger down!  I had made the pack the day before from his harness and some Hunting and Fishing toiletries bags so it was a bit of a risk trying it out on a trip. He coped very well once he lost the hangdog look, and it sat very nicely on his back. Within half an hour the battery for my head torch gave up and I made a mental note to pack spares next time.

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Eli wearing his blaze blue “scarf” and backpack I made the day before

A particularly steep bit of hill was challenging due to the rifle scabbard protruding below my pack and occasionally propelling me forward. Nothing wakes you up faster than nearly flying face first down a mud-covered near-vertical slope in the dark!  After several near-misses involving said scabbard and a few muttered swear words, we reached an area overlooking a gigantic slip in perfect time, first light. After several minutes of glassing a spiker, hind and fawn, and a separate hind were seen. The novelty of seeing deer in the wild never wears thin, and we considered taking a meat animal.

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A hind feeding on the slip

 

A few minutes on I was very glad we decided not to – we reached the stream and the level was up. The water was the colour of black tea but we could still see the bottom and although the flow was a bit faster than I was comfortable with, James lead a discussion on a plan of attack that gave me confidence.

It certainly was challenging. And I was more scared than I let on, initially. However as we went on my confidence increased too and I began to lead the way. That was until I fell in after an awkward “dance” on slippery rocks and cursed the fact that i hadn’t (for the first time ever) remembered a waterproof dry-bag for my clothes and sleeping bag…. I made a mental note to add it to my list of must-haves for each trip.

There were a couple of crossings over swift but deep water where I was worried about Eli, and we put a leash around his neck for safety and obviously took his backpack off. He is not a very strong swimmer – the same dog that was put on a rock 10m from shore in lake Taupo and screamed like a hyena until all the sunbathers on the beach left… true story. But today he listened perfectly despite his fear, and when told to get in the water he trusted us as we hauled him through the current.

The worst bits were actually where we skirted through the riverflats through the trees rather than the river bed. Every time my pack hit a branch, a tree-load of water was deposited down my back. Branches would hit my face. Crap would get stuck between my pack and the back of my neck. Sticks would get in my hair. My pack would be stuck between trees… it was very frustrating and a lot of branches were broken in order to vent a building rage, under the guise of ‘trail maintenance for the return trip.’ We were very pleased to see the hut after a slow trek, and set up camp. Happily, all my kit was miraculously dry despite my dunking. From the deck we could hear a few stags moaning in the distance, but nothing was really getting going yet. It is tradition to have a “gourmet” dinner on the first night, and beef burgers were exactly the right fit.

Later that night we were about to sleep when there was a loud scrape then a bump on the deck. As we wondered what on Earth it was, the door flew open, scaring some un-lady-like words out of me. It was 9.30 at night and we were literally about to sleep, but this guy obviously came to the bush to talk about himself, a lot. In the middle of one of his stories about how awesome he was I realised he was cooking with his gas cooker with all the windows shut and decided he was trying to kill us all. He was so busy talking that he didn’t notice me scampering around in my undies letting in some air. After shutting down another one of his stories with a rather pointed “goodnight” and then hand signals to Jimmy to stop replying, he got the hint, started snoring, and then thrashed around in his bunk like a dying fish on land the whole night. I’m really glad he had a good sleep.

Early the next morning we extracted ourselves from the never-ending stories of our rather irritating companion and hit the hills. We were excited to be getting out and exploring. It sounds all magical and wonderful, the idea of walking through the bush and looking for deer. Imagine the mossy forest floor, birds singing gaily in the trees and sparkling spiderwebs well away from face-level, glittering with jewels of dew in the still morning sun. In reality the bit we got stuck in was hell. Being free of a pack I was able to  slither on my belly between supplejack and crawl under branches pushing my rifle in front of me, but for James  it was a frustrating experience. The supplejack snagged his pack like a snare, and I had to free him multiple times while he counted under his breath. He was getting rightly pissed off with the whole situation. I wasn’t having a great time finding all the spiderwebs with my face and feeling them stretch tight across my lips and eyelids. It seemed my cheeks were taking the brunt of the branches and my face felt like it had been slapped several times. I was grateful to have been wearing gardening gloves to protect the sparkly thing adorning my finger, as they made it much easier to rip the bushlawyer off my clothes and out of my skin without sacrificing the integrity of my  seal skin gloves. The added benefits were that my fingers didn’t end up like velcro, no nails were broken, and I maintained sensory ability while not having over-heated hands in the warm weather.  James was whacked several times with Ongaonga and complained as the bush lawyer bit into his skin and then tore its way out.

Finally we found a marked track and the going was so much better. It was amazing to be able to walk upright and it was incredible how an orange triangle lifted our spirits so considerably. The track took us up near the tops until the bush opened up, so we left it and began hunting. Eli put us onto some fresh sign and things were looking good, but as we got higher the wind picked up and swirled strongly in all directions. With the increase in altitude and an abrupt change in the weather, it was suddenly very cold. We had a bite to eat and considered the wind, before deciding it was pretty pointless to carry on. Following the track down sure did make things a whole lot easier, and we reached the bottom in record time, happily finding the hut vacated.

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Smiles as we reached open bush!

We had no sooner entered the hut when there was a rumble outside.

“What was that?”

“Ummm, a rock rolling in the river?”

It came again, this time unmistakable. The sky boiled as gray clouds tumbled and darkened the sky and thunder pounded the heavens from all directions. An absolute downpour started while thunder rumbled and crashed continuously; interrupted only by lightning. It was the most impressive storm I had ever seen/heard, and totally unexpected. Hoping the hut had some kind of earthing system, I made a mental note to check more than one weather forecast next time.  Within a very short time the stream across from the hut (our only source of water) turned brown, and I put the clean metal bucket from by the fireplace out to catch rain water for drinking.

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Eli didn’t mind the prolonged stay

After a solid night of rain, the bucket was full, and the stream was a raging chocolate torrent. There was no way we were getting out through that.  Eli didn’t mind and snuggled into the nearest sleeping bag. He kept overheating my legs and being shaken out of the bottom of my bag. We were stuck in the hut, unable to even hunt behind the hut because we were basically sandwiched between the flooded river and an ongaonga thicket. That stuff will kill basically anything that gets stung enough times – even horses have died after blundering into it. I embarked on reading the biggest book in the hut (which some nasty person tore the middle pages out of – who does that??) and James attacked the substantial pile of hunting magazines. To make it worse the book was about absolutely nothing. We somehow managed to pass most of the day until it was time to make a call on what to do. At 2.30pm the river check left only one option – stay an extra (unplanned) night. This lead to an emotional rollercoaster for me between optimism, despair, worry for my animals at home, and boredom combined with tiredness. So mostly negative. Contact with friends via a wavering one-bar of cell phone reception, a hot meal, taking stock of our remaining food, as well as a hug or two brought me round, and I managed a good sleep. The rain had stopped around 2pm and we were hopeful for a fine night to get the river down. 17498703_1695616727145308_6971307622705111986_n

 

The next morning was fine, and as soon as it was light I checked the river, to find it well down and pretty clear. Better than when we had first come in!! We packed our stuff, tidied the hut and headed upstream. The going was much easier this time (possibly due to the trail maintenance from a few days earlier!) and we made great time. When we reached the track i learned that it is not ok to tickle someone’s naked bum as they are hopping on one foot on the side of the river trying to get into dry pants….

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The water levels dropped right down

We’d heard a few moans on our way in but from the tops we could hear some pretty good roars starting up. It was hard to know if you were hearing a stag or a person at times though. Being a Friday now we knew there would be a fair few people heading in, so the rifle was packed away and we had high vis on us on the trail. Last year James had been in an area very close to where a young man was shot on a track, so that was always in the back of our minds. Eli at one point winded and indicated very seriously. There must have been something there because he started a very quiet whine to signal the urgency. I took a peek but couldn’t see anything; I’ve learned from experience though that the dog is far more likely to be right than I am! We saw a few people as we were heading out, two lots heading in and a single guy without a pack who motored past us after giving Eli a rough pat on the head.

A four hour slog up hill to reach the car seemed to take forever as I tripped over hidden stumps, went to my knees in mud and was battered by the leatherwoods. Still, there’s nothing quite like the sight of the vehicle after a trip like that, and sometimes I wonder if that joy is what keeps me going back into the bush. That and the wonderful feeling of a hot shower!

 

 

A Pitbull Retriever

There’s nothing quite like having a dog at your side, and as I drove home I spied an opportunity to do some training with mine. The rabbit that played chicken with me every day on the road was on the side of the stream with its buddy, and although I had a .22 in the car, I didn’t have my number one hunting dog.
Returning on foot, we crept quietly up the road, as the rabbits frolicked on the other side of the stream. Eli the dog was a bit fresh and so I asked him to stay while I sneaked in closer. Using the bridge pillar to steady the rifle I followed one rabbit as it hopped along, however it ran out of sight. Its companion wasn’t so lucky, and a shot to the chest knocked it down. My dog had surprisingly stayed put, and he was sent over to find the rabbit and retrieve it. The funny thing is he had never retrieved a rabbit before, but the commands “pick it up” and “bring it here” are used frequently for all manner of items so I figured he would get it. He took a little while to find it, probably because there was a lot of scent in the area, then sniffed it for a few seconds, and after several attempts to get it “just right” he lay it at my feet. He was very keen on licking it and was rewarded for the retrieve but was told “leave it now” so that he didn’t get the idea to start munching.

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Bringing the first bunny from the stream bed

Following the boundary between the paddock and trees / scrub, we came across another bunny sitting in the open. They hadn’t had a lot of hunting pressure so there were good numbers and they didn’t tend to run away when they saw me. A standing shot hit the mark, but the rabbit bolted for cover. I thought that one was a lost cause really, as I told Eli to “go take a look”  in the blackberry and waist high grass under the trees. I was absolutely thrilled when he returned very quickly with a rabbit in his mouth, still alive. The shot had hit a little far back. A karate chop to the back of the head killed the rabbit quickly and a very good little dog had some praise.

Keeping Eli at heel as we sneaked down the gravel track, a hare was spied in the distance in the new barley crop. Being about 80m away, it was too far with subsonic .22 ammo, and it meant crossing the paddocks in the open. I told Eli to stay and crouched low for the stalk. Once the gap was closed to around 50m I tried sitting to eye up the shot. It was still a bit far so I very slowly crept another 10m before attempting a prone shot. It wasn’t a good shot, but the wounded hare was not able to go anywhere, so I sent Eli in to get it which he duly did. It was quickly finished off and with four in the bag we resumed our walk.

Further down the paddock was a rabbit in the open. It was a fairly long way off, and so Eli was asked to stay while I proceeded to try to get within shooting range. I set off, moving slowly and keeping to the blackberry and scrub on the perimeter of the paddock. The rabbit saw me and crouched down, but I was still 60m away; again too far for subsonic .22 rounds! Slowly inching closer, aware of every sound I made and moving only my feet and eyes, the dog stayed on a solid stay 70m or so behind me. Finally at around 40m there was a convenient gap in the blackberry for me to take a seat with a post against my back. The rabbit was crouched but I had a good view of the vital areas and hit cleanly. Eli was sent in and raced to the retrieve, picking the rabbit up firstly by a back leg and then around its middle before bringing it to me.

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This rabbit was retrieved four times by this dog (as practice) and then skinned, Two small indents are the only damage, showing how gentle his mouth is. 

I’ve got permission to hunt and exercise my dogs on a neighbour’s property, so I thought I’d take a quick wander up there since there seemed to be ample daylight left. A couple of sneaky bunnies darted away, but I was pleased that I didn’t have to correct Eli as he didn’t attempt to chase them. A hare ran ahead of us on the track, and I hoped for a shot. We came to the paddock at the top and the hare bolted in front of us, disappearing over a rise. I wasn’t worried, with four down I had already been very successful! Suddenly there was an explosive eruption two metres from us out of the long grass as a cock pheasant clucked with fright before flying out of sight. It really startles you when they do that!! I decided to head home, so we turned back down the track. The long grass made a loud swishing noise to walk through, and so being stealthy wasn’t really an option up there!

Suddenly Eli froze in point, and ahead of us I could see a hare. It wasn’t positioned well for a clean shot, so I left it to run ahead of us. It was good practice for my terrier not to chase tempting prey and I didn’t have to correct him at all.

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Pitbull on full point

All in all I was completely stoked with the performance of my little pitbull on this hunt. He did everything I asked of him, and nothing I didn’t. No rabbit was mauled or shaken, and he even retrieved one I thought was lost. It goes to show that any breed can be taught how to be useful on a hunt, with a foundation of good basic training and a willingness to learn.

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He always has a long face for photos!

Sunday Sika Sneak

“Always remember your balaclava.” The mantra I repeat in my head, usually when I have forgotten it and my face is freezing while I’m on a hillside somewhere. Today was no different; face buried in the collar of my jacket to avoid the playful pokes of my nose-drips in the freezing wind.

Two men, a woman and a pitbull arrived after a sweaty climb at our look-out spot at 5:15am, perfect timing to get first light. Eli the dog was catching some interesting scents from the block over the fence and was feeling energetic but well-behaved. We were hoping to get Isaac a crack at a deer to add to his tally of one so far, and initially it seemed promising as the sun came up and lit up the faces on the hillsides we were watching. By 6am a tide of freezing fog flowed over our hill top and hid animals from view, as well as chilling the sweat on our bodies. It wasn’t fun, but I had to strip down despite being very cold, to replace the damp merino layers with Underarmour. We were all feeling very cold despite our best efforts at hunkering down out of the wind and dressing appropriately. I sacrificed one of my layers for the dog, who was feeling it too and shivering.

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A rare moment of sun, so dog and I try to warm up!

We spotted a few large-bodied animals on a far face, but only for a brief amount of time, before they picked spots to bed down out of sight. Patient glassing for a couple of hours afterwards yielded no further results so a discussion was held about possible actions. The idea was put forward about heading out, and I suggested stalking in on the animals that we knew were likely to be contained in a relatively small area of bush. The guys suggested that I go, and take the dog. There is no way that three people can realistically hope to get that close to an animal, and it was a great opportunity to work Eli.

Armed with my rifle, a radio, a day pack with the essentials and the trusty brown hound, we set off sidling around the hillside. From the distance it seemed fine – just simply walk around the side of the hill, come down a spur towards a big tree and look over to my left. The reality was of course a bit different: walk for 20 mins with difficulty through wet vegetation, trip over hidden branches and uneven ground, and lose visibility because the trees are a lot bigger when you’re in them instead of having a bird’s eye view. The radio suddenly bleated at me, and the guys told me they had spotted an animal bedded down at the base of a tree where I was heading. Some helpful directions had me dropping down onto a track 20m below me too, and made the going a lot easier for the remainder of the walk.

The deer-pitbull was doing his job beautifully, using his nose, covering the ground, but only going a few metres from me. He usually behaves perfectly – but I still keep a shock collar on him for insurance. My reasoning is that IF he did decide to chase something (as is his instinct, being a terrier), and I had no collar on him, then I would have a very hard job of retraining him. It’s best to let him think it is not an option. The collar was never used on this trip as is normal.

I finally reached the spur I was heading for – time to be very quiet. Thankfully I had ditched my creaking Hunter’s Element boots and upgraded to some Lowas – both comfortable and silent! Sneaking carefully and slowly, parting branches and slipping through the gaps silently, I spotted the deer -70m from me, beneath a tree, happily chewing his cud in the sun. The wind was terrible, on my back with occasional random sideways blasts. I had been pessimistic that he would even be there still! Raising my scope I immediately saw he was a velvet stag with the beginnings of some very wide pedicles and I thought “I shouldn’t shoot this.” I have a velvet head on my mantelpiece and the beam width is nowhere near what I was seeing on this guy. I assessed the shot. He had his back to me so I mainly had rump and head, with a small triangle of neck exposed. Risky. And I had been very naughty and failed to put in the work at the range… Putting my pack on a tree stump as a rest didn’t help too much – a small movement to either side and I would hit his hip or jaw and it would be a disaster. I knew the guys would be able to see me and would be wondering what I was doing so I called on the radio to explain. I had two options: make a noise and get him to stand up and take a shot hopefully broadside, or sneak further downhill and get more parallel with him.

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Sneaking….

Despite feeling that shooting this stag at the very early stages of some very promising-looking antler growth went against my standards, I decided to sneak downhill a bit none-the-less, and see what kind of a shot I could consider. The problem was that the wind was swirling everywhere, and strongly too. At any moment he would smell me and it would be all over. The other problem was that to get down hill I had to cross a clearing – in full view of a deer less than 70m away. This I managed, moving very slowly and carefully, and a perfectly timed distraction meant I crossed the gap while he focused on something straight ahead of him. Eli perfectly obeyed hand signals telling him to sit, and stay, and then to come, but not run. He could smell the deer had been in the area and was indicating well. Unfortunately, I stepped from behind a shrub to see the stag get up quickly and trot into the trees. He was surprisingly large! I had got a bit closer than I should have at 30m or so, and he caught my wind. To be honest I was surprised he stayed as long as he did, and I was still stoked with the encounter. I radioed in to share the news, which had also been caught on camera. As I was speaking I saw him again – he’d sneaked back down the hill and was peeking at me from beneath the trees.

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The moment he flicked smelled me – flicking his tongue out

My only regret about this hunt was not having a camera with me. It was a good feeling not to shoot this stag, and we will hopefully get an opportunity to see him in full velvet later in the Summer, and hopefully catch up with him in the roar. The guys were pleased too, something to aim for and some great footage caught from their bird’s-eye-view almost a kilometer away!

Basic Hygienic Dressing

Jimmy came inside this morning and was so impressed with my workspace that he took photos. Often I’m quite dismayed at the condition of some of the carcasses that people intend to eat, and I bang on about this a lot. Carelessness and lack of knowledge contribute to meat that spoils more rapidly and gives the immune system a bit of extra work to do!

Bacteria come from three main places on a carcass – the environment, the skin / hair, and the gut. You can think of an animal as having a hollow core of bugs, and a wrapping covered in more bugs. The idea is to carefully remove the “core” and unwrap the animal so that the meat is left clean. Unless the animal is sick with a systemic illness, the meat is sterile until it is touched by dirty hands that transfer crap all over it. I’m not a qualified butcher but I do have a very thorough knowledge of meat hygiene.

Hygienic dressing begins when the animal is on the ground and you are about to make the first cuts to gut it. Field dressing on the ground is not ideal, and some contamination is inevitable.  I won’t go into detail here about gutting an animal, but I have a few tips that can be applied to an animal that is taken out whole or in bits.

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Here I’ve freed up the oesphagus and trachea (windpipe) and I’m going to put a cable tie around it.
  • As whacky as it sounds, keep some medium sized cable ties in your kit. The inside of a carcass is likely to become contaminated as an oesophagus or rectum is pulled through the chest or the pelvis respectively. Remember that the whole intestine and stomach is essentially a bag that contains all of the bacteria. If you seal up both ends and then don’t puncture it with a careless knife, it is not going to contaminate the meat.
  • The other organs, such as liver, kidneys, lungs and heart should be pretty clean so I consider these separately from the gut.
  • Expose as little meat as possible by keeping the hide intact. The areas down the neck and between the thighs are inevitably going to suffer some contamination but you can trim this off later.
  • Urine and bile are sterile normally, but still not good to get on the meat so take care not to spill these fluids. The bladder can be a bit tricky so take your time. Where you cut the pizzle a cable tie can be used to prevent leakage.
  • When skinning, every time you touch the hide and then touch exposed meat and leave a dirty / hairy handprint, you are introducing huge numbers of bacteria. Assuming you have the animal at home now – have a clean bucket of warm water with some dish soap in it. Use it to keep your hands and knife clean, and change it regularly.
  • The cleaner you keep the meat now, the easier things are later and the less wastage there is.

When you are actually butchering the meat down into the smaller cuts – try these tips:

  • First, clear a work surface. Trying to wrangle a leg on a cluttered bench is no fun at all! Give it a very good clean with detergent and dry it off. Dressing meat in pools of water is poor practice. Use a clean cloth to wipe, not one that has sat on the bench for a day or two.
  • Use two chopping boards on your nice clean bench. One is going to be “dirty” and one is going to be clean. The set-up I used this morning (pictured below) was dirty board on the left, sink of clean warm water, and the clean board on the right. The clean board should be the biggest one you have. To the far left I had a bucket to hold bones and any contaminated trim.
  • Use the sink of water (or bucket of water) to frequently clean your knife and hands. Empty it frequently, and use running water to clean your chopping board in between each section.

 

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If you are working outside, your work surface can consist of clean chopping boards. When dressing / butchering poultry outside I sweep then hose down the concrete, place my boards, keeping a dedicated board as dirty (putting a wet but feathered bird on it for breasting) and clean (for the meat). I keep the hose handy to clean the dirty board between birds, and have a bucket of water for cleaning my knife and hands.

  • Have a steel handy to keep your knife sharp, and use it frequently. You’ll only need a few passes to clean the edge up, if you need more then it may need working with a stone. I use a Wenger boning knife and it is perfect for me. Find a knife you like, that holds a good edge, and treat it with respect. Don’t just throw it in the sink and wash it with the rest of the cutlery.
  • Put the clean side of the meat down on the board first. For example, the outside of the shoulder is dirtiest (despite your best efforts) and the inside that you freed up from the rib cage is the cleanest. Trim the dirty surface of any hair, dried out meat, grass or dirt. Put any trim straight in your bucket, without lifting it over your meat.
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The outer surface of this shoulder has minimal dirt but still needs a trim. The shank is showing a bit of contamination and will be given to the dogs. The underside is the cleanest surface so that goes down onto the board.

 

 

  • Discard any bruised meat, it spoils much more rapidly and isn’t aesthetically pleasant to eat.
  • The shins or shanks are more likely to be the dirtiest bits on the carcass. Somehow you just can’t help but touch them when you are skinning, so I treat the dogs to these. They are lovely slow cooked, but not if they are grossly dirty. Sometimes I’m even quite shocked at how dirty lamb shanks are when prepared by professional home-kill butchers!
  • On the clean board I only put meat that has been trimmed and is ready for vacuum packing. I try to keep things pretty orderly so that I can identify what’s what when I bag it all up. For example, I put the back steaks and eye fillets in one place, the leg steaks in another, and anything that I consider to be casserole meat or for processing at the butchers goes in another.
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    My pile of trimmed meat ready for vacuum packing. Steaks at the front and other meat for casseroling or sausages at the back

    Finally, don’t leave meat sitting around at room temperature for too long. Get it cut up fairly quickly after hanging, and into the fridge or freezer.

This may all sound quite anal, but it’s a much bigger sense of pride bringing meat out of the freezer that isn’t covered in hair and shit, as well as helping to prevent premature spoilage.

A low point

Four weeks ago I had an accident. It’s amazing how one second in time can change everything so much. I remember my face hurtling towards the concrete and putting my arm out in front of me in a last ditch effort to save myself. I remember feeling my elbow joint crumple and recognised that this was going to be a bad break or dislocation. And it was both. Lying on the concrete in the dark and cold, unable to get up, and surrounded by strangers whilst waiting for the ambulance, it came to mind that if this had happened in the bush then at least the wait would be acceptable, at least this would have been doing something worthwhile. After waiting for over an hour I finally lost my dignity as pain and frustration took over. DSC_0063

And so here I am now, ecstatic that yesterday I managed to rotate my wrist to see the palm of my hand for the first time in a month, but unable to unlock my elbow from the 90 degree vice grip of scar tissue. The cast came off a few days ago and I had felt such joy at the prospect of being able to hunt again without the burden of the heavy fibre glass from fingers to shoulder. But I cannot even butter toast or do my hair, let alone hold a rifle. There are stags roaring right now and here I am, celebrating the small victories of movement, wondering if I will be able to shoot again, and trying to avoid my hunting friends as they display on social media the most eagerly awaited time of the year. This isn’t going to be my year, but hopefully I can rehabilitate enough to be back on form for next year.

The Rifle’s Name is Charlene

For the past two years I have had quite a journey of experiences as I have progressed in the world of hunting. Beginning as a gun-shy, goofy and clumsy person bumbling after the lead hunter in the bush, to someone slightly less gun-shy, who can at least walk quietly and hunt on her own. My first ever deer hunt was in 2012 with a good friend and it had me hooked – before that I had never even seen a deer in the wild and tasted venison only once.  In 2013 I followed people around as they hunted, before buying myself a rifle and clumsily shooting a few goats.  2014 saw me have my first miss, an 8-10 point stag in hard antler, and then finally bag my first deer (a fallow). From there I have explored some new ground, taken 3 more reds and a nice sika too. I’m still learning, and I’m still a bit gun shy. I need some further experience so that I take more of the shots that present themselves to me – there are a few lucky deer out there when it wasn’t the right shot. My hunting buddies have been very good to me, passing on their wisdom and not hitting on me (too much). They have supported me and answered my questions, and been proud of me when I have achieved. I am very grateful to all they have shared with me, and look forward to repaying the favour one day (perhaps I will buy that hunting block). I also have to thank my partner of almost three years – he has never complained about me heading off into the bush with other men or forgoing Christmas holidays in order to hunt.

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Hunting isn’t the normal female activity, and I often get asked about my motivations. I have to say that I do like self-sufficiency, and being an animal lover, it is my way of respecting the meat that I eat. It is still a thrill to stalk in close and not shoot, although after a bitter disappointment I learned that I need to invest in a good camera! (I had shot two deer and it wouldn’t even turn on, and all the “close up” shots I had taken of live animals were actually tiny almost invisible specks on the screen). I enjoy giving the animal a sporting chance, and working hard to recover the meat. I don’t eat a lot of meat, but when I do I like to know where it has come from.

In this blog I aim to share adventures, humour, and a few things I learn along the way – all from a female perspective, but hopefully not the one you’re used to. I hope you enjoy my posts!