Improvisation saves the day

Expect the unexpected when hunting, warns Sam Garro

Despite the pre-planning and preparation put into an outing and making allowances for possible mechanical mishaps along the way, things can still go awry irrespective if your vehicle is new or has a few miles on the speedo. Yet so long as the issue can be satisfactorily dealt with and everyone returns home safely, that’s what’s important as, all things being equal, a return trip can be made another time. A good 18 months had passed since we made arrangements to revisit the sheep property a half day’s drive from Melbourne so the trip came highly anticipated.

The ongoing dry

Although large areas of Queensland and north-eastern NSW finally received significant welcome rain to once more turn the paddocks green and fill the dams, parts of the western and central state where we were heading had yet to receive any decent rainfall. The odd shower was quickly soaked up by the dry earth and insufficient to promote any medium to longer-term growth.

The countryside was in a sorry state with red dust, hardly a blade of grass, dried-up creek beds and shallow dams. The remnant stunted saltbush together with strategically placed grain feeder bins near the dams just about sustained the reduced flocks of sheep though oddly, kangaroos were in greater numbers than previous visits as they bounded across the flat scrub in small groups.

Locating game

While it’s always good to be out appreciating the open spaces and all that nature has to offer, our chances of scoring a few rabbits and the odd pig seemed slim but as always, we remained optimistic as a trip’s not over until it’s over. By mid-afternoon camp was set up and we were soon checking out likely rabbit spots, at the same time keeping a keen eye out for those distant dark shapes with a rounded rump.

The isolated and slightly elevated red soil mounds riddled with rabbit warrens showed signs of activity – evident by the trailing freshly dug soil flicked out of the holes – but during the next three days few rabbits were spotted. They weren’t the only noticeable absentees from the scene, whether just before daybreak, during the day or evening the familiar sights and sounds of galahs, cockatoos, magpies, kookaburras and opportunist crows were eerily missing.

Some success

Late in the afternoon I managed to drop a couple of rabbits sitting just outside the brush at 50m with my .22LR Brno 2 but apart from crossing a mob of emus in late afternoon it was pretty uneventful. Next morning my mate drove the dusty tracks as I opted to open and close the gates from paddock to paddock. After visiting a couple of dams holding minimal water (more of a muddy soup) and driving extensively on the property, we managed to bag a further three bunnies in similar fashion before heading back to camp, hardly a great result for our efforts. This time the Sako A1 222 Rem HB rifle was used to head-shoot them as they were outside the 22LR’s range.

Mechanical dilemma

Back at camp and reaching for my sunglasses on the ute floor I spied a small puddle of green fluid on the mat and initially thought it was liquid from a brake or clutch line but on inspection it turned out to be coolant leaking from the ruptured core in the heater unit under the dash. A moment of panic kicked in before we calmed down to try and resolve the problem. It had been a while but a couple of us remembered we could bypass the heating system by running a length of hose from the motor outlet to inlet through which the water flowed – but we’d need a 5-6” diameter piece of metal pipe and a metre-long hose with slightly wider diameter. We carried all manner of spares including a grinder and cutting disc which later came in handy but not the parts we needed.

The four of us went rummaging around the shearing shed for possible parts and just as we were about to give up on finding anything of use, Greg came up with an old retro-type chair from the kitchen attached to the shed. After some head-scratching he pointed to the legs made of hollow tubing and unbelievably the right diameter – talk about thinking outside the square.

A fuel siphon hose which fitted proved inadequate as hot water from the engine quickly softened the plastic then to our good fortune a length of heavy-duty water hose in a corner of the shed did the trick. The grinder cut the required length of chair tubing and the hose was fitted with no apparent leaks though every few kilometres we stopped to check.

Carry on hunting

The fix enabled us to move around the property though the vehicle was driven at reduced speed to avoid high-pressure build-up in the motor that might rupture the hose. The following day we visited a couple of paddocks which had been lightly flooded a few months back from the adjacent billabong where some green pickings remained – the only place on the entire property – mobs of kangaroos descending on the paddocks in late afternoon to nibble on the short growth.

That evening and the following night just before dark we glassed two separate and unrelated groups of pigs, in the first instance a sow with six half-grown or medium-size all-black young and in the second a black sow with eight black and white spotted suckers. While we pondered how the drought-like conditions sustained them we were nonetheless encouraged to see them and two of the medium pigs were dropped on the run at distance and the rest let go. We also spotlighted at night and managed to take a few more but they just weren’t out and about.

Rabbits in good shape

The dozen or so rabbits we bagged for the trip were in surprisingly fine condition with a layer of fat alongside the kidneys as when grass or green feed is short, rabbits tend to resort to alternatives such as tree bark, roots and various hardy shrubs to survive. In The Rabbit King by Catherine Watson, which describes the days when rabbits were in plaque proportions, some of the best examples which were also exported overseas were harvested from the Nullarbor Plains where they fed on abundant drought-resistant saltbush.

The terrain we were hunting held similar vegetation with stretches of saltbush which likely contributed to their fine condition, so back at camp they were hung in an enclosed homemade game net to cool in the shade overnight before being stowed in the fridge/freezer, a method which has worked well down the years.

Measure of a trip

While the improvised vehicle fix worked on the property, for the long trip home a proper replacement hose was bought at the first garage (I won’t mention the cost). Every trip is different, conditions change with each passing season as does the availability of game and things happen beyond your control, yet to me the measure of a journey lies in appreciating the experience in good company and a safe return home. On a positive note some decent rain fell the day after we left – let’s hope they have a lot more.

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