The dark side of jungle dogs

Don Caswell

Wild dogs are never easy. That is especially so for the black jungle dogs of Far North Queensland. These wary predators emerge from their lairs in dense tropical forest to raid bordering farmland. Rarely seen in daylight, they are truly ninja dogs of the dark humid night. Mostly, sometimes completely, black in colour, they are similar in appearance to Doberman dogs. Slipping in and out of the great national park foliage, they vanish as soon as they enter the curtained gloom of the rainforest.

The only opportunity to hunt them is by ambush as they transit to or from their home in the jungle, or by calling them out. Either way, hunting these dogs is a twilight exercise. Trail cameras are most useful in determining how many, what type and when these wild canines are passing through. There is one particular farm close to where I live that I hunt regularly with success. This beef cattle property is bordered on three sides by jungle wilderness. Not only does it suffer significant attacks on cattle and calves, but it also provides a conduit for the wild dogs to attack neighbouring farms that are further away from the jungle.

On this particular farm, a finger of rainforest protrudes well into the property, in the form of a thickly vegetated creek. The creek loops between steep spurs and ridges that provide a vantage point for shots at wild dogs using the gully as a highway. I drive to the location in the dark of pre-dawn. The last couple of kilometres I drive slowly with the vehicle lights off. The wheel marks of the farm access track are quite visible in the lush green grass despite the dark of night. After parking the vehicle, I kit-up and consider the wind which varies with the season. Another consideration is how thick the grass is. During the dry, it is cropped to a lawn-like state by the cattle. However, as the wet season kicks in, the grass grows rapidly and when it is chest deep my hunting season is over. In grass that deep, you would have trouble spotting a rhinoceros let alone wild dogs.

If the grass is reasonably short, most times the prevailing breeze requires me to hike a kilometre or so, up and around to gain the ridge top. I time this walk so that first light is just seeping in. I carry a hiking staff whose main role is for prodding ahead of me in the hope it will induce any taipans or brown snakes to move away rather than bite me. As I progress, I keep a good lookout all about me. This has paid dividends a few times when I have spotted dogs and put a shot away. It does require discipline to avoid the temptation provided by feral pigs that I regularly see. One morning, sneaking in with high confidence based on recent trail camera photos, a mob of eight large hogs ambled across in front of me, not 50m away. With a twitching trigger finger, I remember thinking to myself that there had better be a wild dog awaiting me or I would be sorely grieved. Luckily, that day at least, there was a wild dog and my discipline was rewarded. Occasionally, if I figure no dogs are likely to appear, I have shot the odd boar to top up the carrion pile.

My first ambush point on this route is an old fence post right on the highest part of the ridge. The edge of the jungle in the creek below is 300m away. I spend some time there, glassing carefully, looking for any sign of wild dogs. At this spot, I refrain from any calling as it is exposed and I intend sneaking down the spur to go closer. A series of old fence posts, devoid of wire, runs down the spur. My preferred spot is about halfway down the steep slope. Depending on the grass height, I either sit with my back to the post or slide down the slope another 10m for better vision. Sitting still in the pasture has proved to be just as effective as using shrubs or old logs for shelter. Once I am comfortable, I have a good look about and then start calling.

Mostly, wild dogs will come from either left or right, tracking along the creek. However, on other occasions, they have just popped out of the jungle, or come trotting down the slope from above and behind me. My other option, depending on the wind and grass, is a more direct approach in along the creek. If there are no kills on the creek floodplain, I slowly make my way up to the spur. Sometimes if there is a dead beast lying in the grass, I use the breeze to my advantage. In doing that I have shot a number of wild dogs that were feeding on the carcass. The thick green grass and light breeze mask the sound of my passage. I have shot a few dogs at about 30m distance using this technique.

I know my ranges well, having used my Leupold range finder on many earlier hunts to determine the distance to prominent logs and rocks that mark my 300m arc of fire. I do not need to check the range once any dogs cross that invisible boundary line. My longest successful shot at this location was getting out to about 300m. It was an afternoon hunt and I had been sitting on the ridge for an hour before the sunset. The sun had been gone some 15minutes and the dusk was rapidly descending on the valley. I was slowly packing my kit when I became aware of a black speck out on the pastured hill, about 700m away. A quick look through my binoculars showed a large black dog staring in my direction. I was sitting in a big tuft of grass and he was off to my left. I figured he had seen me but not realised I was a human hunter. I carefully brought my hands up to my mouth and gave a long dog wail. The dog jumped up and came trotting towards me.

When he disappeared behind some bushes, I used that opportunity to change position. I made myself comfortable, chambered a round in my .257 Weatherby Magnum, and trained the rifle on the creek crossing that was about 250m from me. I expected him to wade the creek and emerge onto the flat on my side to give me a shot. However, after a careful approach to the creek, the dog refused to cross. The light was rapidly fading. My big Swarovski scope, with its illuminated centre dot, gave me a great advantage in the lowlight conditions, but even that would not last long. As the dog trotted back and forth along the creek I decided to try another howl to see if he would stop. It was too far in uncertain light to try a running shot.

At my call, the dog squatted to mark his territory with a scat. My 110-grain Nosler AccuBond slipped through a gap in the trees and killed him instantly. He was a big old boy too, with a greying muzzle. I recognised him from trail camera photos over the preceding year. Flicking through my diary, I reckon I am successful in shooting a dog about one in 10 hunts. That means, for each wild dog I shoot, I walk about 30 kilometres. In those terms, I reckon I well and truly earn every jungle dog I take.

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