It came time for my annual hunting trip to the Awatere Valley in Marlborough. Four of us went, and three returned with the flu. Dogs in total; 2 GSP’s, 2 Vizsla, 1 Brittany, 1 Pointer. The hills up there are steep and rugged, and believe me, I’m no climber.

California quail are mostly found near the little streambeds that trickle through the numerous gullies and narrow valleys. They roost in the manuka, scratch under the matagouri and fern, and like to feed on rosehips.

The dogs had flushed a covey from the face of a hill. Half flew left, half to the right. The guys went left so I took my young bitch and we headed off after the right hand flush. Finding a sheep track I made my way up through the fern and scrub, yelping when I grabbed a bramble or a bramble grabbed me. Gasping and scrambling, I finally came to a rock outcrop I didn’t have the courage to climb over, so I whistled back Chime and worked my way back left, down and around it.

We came out on a ridge overlooking a fern filled gully that ran down the hillside. Chime went on point at the edge of the fern, a quail flushed and I shot and missed. Chime entered the fern and another quail broke cover. It was about then I discovered that I had lost all the shot out of the pocket of my cheap hunting vest somewhere amongst the fern as I climbed up the hillside.

The men arrived on the scene, but they were using 20g and I had my 12g, so it was bad luck for me. As Chime and I headed back to the vehicle we could hear the sound of guns blazing (mutter mumble).

Later, parked at an area that usually has a resident covey, listening for a reply to my quail caller, I heard a stone fall down the slope behind us. Turning, I could see a brown shape up near the ridge, out stepped a spiker deer followed by three others. They walked casually across the slope and disappeared among the rocks and scrub.

Marg and her dogs‘Possum – the versatile breeds in particular get a liking to dispatching them. This is a nuisance because;
a) dog points in bush. Owner tells dog to flush, dog jumps into bush and there is a hell of a commotion as it sets about dealing to a possum.
b) Dog points in bush. Owner thinks for a bit and calls dog to “get out of it”. Dog moves away and bird flushes.

For some reason it is often difficult to read in our dogs that it is a ‘possum, not a bird. Also this often happens up a hillside and before you know it the dog’s shaking the hell out of a possum you didn’t even see it find.

Take the Awatere weekend. Three of us working our dogs across the face of a hill covered in short fern, picking our way along the sheep tracks. The high country Merino sheep are fleet and sure footed as goats. Fred, being independent, is right near the top of the hill (I’m near the bottom, let the men climb) flushing quail down to us and doing a good job of it. After a few minutes I realise he is no longer working across the hill but jumping around a matagouri bush. Suspicion awakens. Whistle, shout, threaten – nope. No dog. Then comes the sound of a possum squealing and a dog squalling (he must be losing his touch) and there he is shaking the hell out of a big smelly possum. This isn’t just a head shake, this is a whole body shake. The possum isn’t going to die easily, so it takes a few breathers and a few more shakes before the last twitch. Then he looks around, and I don’t want the damn thing so head down I set of at a fast clip along my sheep track. Not too long later he shows up hot and puffed, but minus his prize – thank God. Later he does in another. This possum pummelling interrupts my quail shooting and exhausts the dog. Someone told me I should beat him over the head with one! Frankly I don’t relish the thought of a possum coming to life and me ending up wearing it like a Davy Crockett hat.


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