My buddy Peter phoned and asked me to pay a visit to one of his hunting spots. He had just received an urgent call from a farmer which he could not respond to. The farmer had asked for help after a night raid by wild dogs on his breeding cows and new calves.
I knew the farm from a visit with Peter when we assessed the best approach for chasing wild dogs there. The property is situated in the big, U-shaped bend of a flowing tropical river on the Atherton Tablelands of Far North Queensland. The area is in the wet tropics and the terrain is one of rolling hills and deep valleys cloaked in dense national park rainforests, interspaced with lush green dairy and beef pastures.
The rainforests terminate on the farm boundaries as a solid wall of green. These rainforests are a haven to wild dogs and feral pigs. The wild dogs are mostly of the black, jungle variety, looking much like small dobermans. About 20 per cent of the wild dogs are the more familiar red colour. The genetics are not pure dingo but have a good dash of domestic dog in them from interbreeding with farm and hunting dogs. There are many packs of wild dogs throughout the area. The fast-flowing jungle streams, bumping and burbling their way over constant sets of rapids and waterfalls, provide effective territorial boundaries for the different packs.
The behaviour of the groupings varies considerably. A few kilometres, as the crow flies, across the river from the farm in question, there is a dairy farm where I often hunt pigs. The wild dog bunch on that place feed on the afterbirth of the breeding cows and the milk-fed calf poo, as all dogs do, but rarely harass or attack the stock on that particular farm. I don’t actively hunt the dogs there because they are not causing any problems.
I called my hunting buddy’s contact and had a chat about what had occurred. The farmer suffered regularly from wild dogs attacking his cattle and calves and lost a significant number each year. He had moved his breeders into the house paddock, close to his home, where he could keep an eye on them. The dogs had attacked just on first light, causing panic and injury to the stock. I promised that I would attend at daybreak in the morning.
When I pulled into the cattle yards, it was still quite dark. But that was good timing. I quietly became kitted up for the hunt. There was still not enough light to shoot but another 10 minutes would fix that. Unusually, I was not carrying any of my predator calls on this hunt. The nature of the terrain, and the wild dog packs there, lent itself to howling them in for a shot. If I did not see any wild dogs, that is what I intended to do.
The breeder paddock started on just the other side of the yards and ran up a long spur for several hundred metres before joining the main ridge. The farmer had said his cattle had all been chased into the top corner. They were crammed in there together and too frightened to move away. I took care to open the gate without making a sound. A well-used cattle-cum-ATV track headed up the spur. The surface was squishy from overnight drizzle and a liberal splattering of cow poo. To my left, the steep slope of the spur side ran up to the crest line. To my right, was a deep gully, with many large black boulders surrounded by short-cropped, green grass.
I had not walked 100m when I looked to my right and saw the shape of a dog among the black boulders. He was a solid black specimen and was on alert and watching me intently, about 100m away in the gully below the track. I plonked myself down in the squishy mud and cow poo on the edge of the track. The dog was close to thick bordering jungle and began to run for that cover. Chambering a round, I gave a howl as he reached the fence and was about to disappear into the deep grass on the edge of the jungle.
Luckily, he stopped briefly for a look back and I immediately shot him through the heart. As he flopped into the grass, his black bitch bolted past him and disappeared into the jungle. I sat quietly for about 10 minutes. Then I gave a low call and was pleased to hear the bitch respond from a few hundred metres away in the jungle. After such an encounter, if the hunter remains still and in position, there is a reasonable chance of calling in the other dog as well. After another 10 minutes or so, we had exchanged a few howls but she was clearly reluctant to come closer to where she had just been frightened.
I climbed down the steep and slippery gully side to check the dog. He had obviously been in a big fight with another dog in the last day or so and the evidence suggested he had come second in that contest. He had numerous deep bite wounds and many patches of torn skin. After a few photos, I hung him by the rear leg from the fence where the farmer could see him and collect the carcass for disposal.
A few more calls drew a response from the bitch, but she seemed to be moving away through the riverside jungle. My location was on one side of the U-bend in the river. The sides of the U had thick jungle and steep slopes into the river. However, nearly a kilometre away, in the bottom of the U, the ground was flatter and the jungle had been cleared almost to the water’s edge. If the bitch kept going there was a chance she would expose herself in attempting to continue along the river. It would be a good spot to push ahead of her and then try to howl her up.
That meant a fast climb up the steep slippery slope to the ridgeline, about 200m further on. From there was a gentler slope back down to the river on the other side of the ridge. That plan was executed well and I found a good spot for an ambush and settled in. For about an hour I called now and then but, even though she called back and came closer, it was clear she was reluctant to leave the dense jungle cover.
Then it sounded like she was retracing her path to where I had shot the male, so I hiked back up to the top of the hill. From a little grove of trees on the peak, there was a good view down to the dead male, about 200m away. To my left, only 50m away, the jungle ran up and over the hill as well. I figured I might take a shot at her down near the dead male, or maybe she would pop out of the jungle close by.
After a brief rest to regain my composure and grab some breath back, I started calling from the grove of trees on the summit. The bitch responded a few times and seemed to be moving closer each time. However, she suddenly stopped responding and all went quiet. I waited a few minutes, fearing the wind on the exposed ridgeline might have given her my scent. Then, down on the fence, not far from the dead dog, I saw a tiny movement. I took it initially to be a small brown bird, a pipit, that is in the habit of flying along fence lines to perch here and there.
However, a brief look through my stalking binoculars revealed fleeting glimpses of a red dog’s ears above the grass. I howled again and was pleased to see his ears prick up before he started to lope up the fence line that climbed the spur from the gully. It looked like he was taking the easiest path that would put him to the track that led up to the crest, and me. Sure enough, he popped out on the track, maybe 150m away and stopped to look in my direction. I was well secreted behind the trees and, given his response to the first howl, I reckoned he would come straight to me with a little more encouragement. I gave another low howl and he instantly began loping up the track, straight towards me.
I halted him with a “Hey!” when he was about 30m away. He looked about, obviously a bit puzzled by that and the absence of the dog whose howl he thought he had heard. A 60-grain Nosler Partition instantly ended his calf-killing career. He was in fine shape and had no signs of recent battle scars. I could only presume he had heard the howling between me and the bitch and deduced that the rival black dog had returned. I would say he was intent on giving the black dog another flogging. That desire had dulled his normal level of caution and led to his demise. My howling was the trigger that brought him rushing in.