Flush­ing pheas­ant at Dunkeld

Trevor Stow takes us to the river flats at the foot of the Grampians near Dunkeld for a test of skill and stamina in pur­suit of pheas­ant, and while it isn’t the cheap­est bird hunt­ing around, he reck­ons the ex­pe­ri­ence is worth it.

Field and Game - - FLUSHING PHEASANT -

For the past few years a small group of us have taken out a week­end book­ing at Vic­to­ria Range Re­serve to shoot pheas­ants.

Rob Wal­ton runs the range on a 32 ha prop­erty at Dunkeld in South West Vic­to­ria at the foothills of the Grampians.

The range is a mix of ter­rain: some of the river flats are lightly tim­bered but pre­dom­i­nately it is grass and tus­socks, to­gether with na­tive bush with bracken fern grow­ing un­der the canopy of trees.

These two dis­tinct ar­eas pro­vide a con­trast of hunt­ing ter­rain, from the open grass­land to hunt­ing be­tween the sticks.

Fol­low­ing a 600 km drive, we ar­rive at the range mid-af­ter­noon on Fri­day. The range has a well-ap­pointed hut erected on the prop­erty that is avail­able free of charge for the hunters to stay in. The hut is well set up with bunk beds that sleep four adults. It also has a We­ber bar­be­cue, Honda gen­er­a­tor, TV, run­ning water and a big pot belly heater. There are six in our group so we bring two swags, which sit snugly un­der the shel­ter of the ve­randa. This ar­range­ment is ac­tu­ally a bonus for the ve­randa dwellers, who are shielded from the snoring.

The hut is an easy walk­ing dis­tance to the hunt­ing area.

Fol­low­ing a hearty break­fast we as­sem­ble at 8.30 am, ready for a 9 am start. Ear­lier in the morn­ing Rob put out the birds. Due to the weather con­di­tions, which are windy and cold, most of the birds are placed in the tus­socks and long grass on the river flats. Rob picks us up in his ute, which has seat­ing for six in the tray on the rear of the ve­hi­cle.

We elected to bring our own dogs for this hunt. Rob has a pair of ger­man short­haired point­ers (GSP) at his

>> dis­posal, how­ever, Arthur owns a young GSP, Skye, that knows its way around a pad­dock and I own a very good two-yearold labrador, Ge­orgie.

The plan is for Rob to use his dog to as­sist ours later in the day if they are get­ting tired.

The morn­ing com­mences with a hunt along the banks of the creek. We as­sem­ble the hunters in a line and move forward with Skye and Ge­orgie quar­ter­ing in front of the line. It is tough go­ing for the dogs as the tus­socks and grass are well above their heads. Work­ing into the wind, Skye soon lo­cates a hen, which flushes ahead of the dog and away from the shoot­ers. A quick shot by Jeff sees the bird es­cape past a cou­ple of trees and fly to­wards the nearby bush. She will have to wait un­til later in the day when we hunt that area.

Shortly after, Ge­orgie flushes a pretty cock bird. Neil is right on to him and af­fects a clean kill. The dog marks the bird in the tus­socks and soon re­turns with our prize. We con­tinue work­ing this sec­tion of tus­socks with­out fur­ther suc­cess so, at the end of the sec­tion, we take a well-earned break.

The dogs need plenty of water work­ing this heavy cover and ap­pre­ci­ate a short rest, but not as much as this bunch of 60 to 80-year-old hunters. It also gives us a chance to re­view our tac­tics and per­haps re­fine our ap­proach to the next stage of the hunt.

One thing we no­ticed was that the birds were not sit­ting tight when ap­proached by the guns and the dogs. We wit­nessed them run­ning through the tus­socks ahead of the dogs and they moved quite quickly. The GSP was point­ing birds but then mov­ing forward and point­ing re­peat­edly. With the labrador, she was fol­low­ing the scent trail and usu­ally found and flushed the birds quite quickly. The re­sult of this was that we needed to be on top of the dogs, par­tic­u­larly the labrador, or the birds would be out of range when flushed.

After our break we hunt fur­ther along the creek, in the heavy tus­socks. When we reach the end of the prop­erty, we move in a southerly direction and hunt back in a par­al­lel line to our pre­vi­ous drive. These two drives bag us an­other five birds. An­other break and then off again, and so the morn­ing con­tin­ues un­til we com­plete this sec­tion of the river flats. It is now noon and a good time to re­turn to the hut for lunch and a cuppa with 16 birds to hand.

There is noth­ing like a good hearty lunch, a cup of your favourite brew and a re­lax on a com­fort­able chair to re­vive a weary hunter. The Dunkeld area has re­ceived good rain­fall over the past six months, re­sult­ing in plenty of cover for the birds. It also pro­duced hard go­ing for the hunters and es­pe­cially the dogs, which of­ten had to stand on their back legs to see where the han­dlers were.

Six­teen birds was ac­cept­able for a morn­ing’s work but our re­turn on birds this year was down on pre­vi­ous years. This was mainly due to the heavy cover and, we sus­pect, to the birds being a bit more flighty in the windy con­di­tions after they were put out.

Rob picks us up in the ‘bus’ after lunch and we head back into the river flats. We hunt this sec­tion of flats in a sim­i­lar man­ner to the morn­ing. Neil and I miss a nice cock pheas­ant that flushes a lit­tle fur­ther away from us that we like. We note where it comes down, a few hun­dred me­tres away. Call­ing Ge­orgie, we head over to the area, con­fi­dent we will bag the bird. We hunt the area thor­oughly but can find no trace of it. Pos­si­bly it landed and then ran off be­fore we got there. Ge­orgie has a good nose but she can­not find any scent. There is a small creek nearby and per­haps the bird de­parted down the creek bed.

At the end of this hunt we have an­other six birds bagged so our tally is start­ing to creep up­wards.

It was now mid-af­ter­noon and hav­ing com­pletely cov­ered the river flats, we de­cide to head to the bush. No birds were re­leased in the bush but we did lose the odd one in there and we sus­pect a few re­lo­cated after they were put out or be­fore the shoot be­gan.

The bush is a dif­fer­ent beast: a lot of trees but well-spaced and we can get a good view of the birds and a clear shot most of the time. There is plenty of cover in the form of bracken ferns for the birds. We do two sweeps of this coun­try but only man­age to lo­cate and take two pheas­ants. By the end of the day, we had shot 24 birds from 42 re­leased. The pre­vi­ous year we shot 39 out of 40.

We sus­pect the group who fol­lowed us the fol­low­ing day would have a ball if our birds could be lo­cated to­gether with what they put out. Any­how, good luck to them.

We like the way Rob Wal­ters does busi­ness at Vic­to­ria Range. The fa­cil­i­ties are good, the birds are in great con­di­tion, and the ter­rain gives both the birds and the hunters a fair chance.

At the end of the day a cou­ple of en­ter­pris­ing lo­cals turn up and pluck and clean the birds for the hunters. This is an ad­di­tional cost of $7 per bird but after nine hours of hunt­ing, the last thing we want to do is to pluck a whole lot of pheas­ants. The birds re­turn in pris­tine con­di­tion, in­di­vid­u­ally bagged in plas­tic. We then put them away in our fridge and drink a toast to the hunt.

Pheas­ant shoot­ing is not cheap. For an av­er­age day of, say, six peo­ple and 40 birds, in­clud­ing pluck­ing, think in the vicin­ity of $450 each. How­ever, this stacks up well against other pheas­ant op­er­a­tors. In ad­di­tion, you have the free ac­com­mo­da­tion thrown in for two nights.

Our group likes to do a spe­cial trip once a year. In the past, we have done Cape Bar­ren geese, New Zealand duck open­ing, and sev­eral other lit­tle ad­ven­tures. As a once-a-year treat we find this shoot to be great fun and we now look forward to it each year.

Pheas­ants are a good game bird and a very good ta­ble bird. As they are raised in pens and hand-fed, they are not a ‘gamey’ flesh but rather a white flesh, sim­i­lar to do­mes­tic poul­try. We have found they can be dry when cooked, par­tic­u­larly the breast, but we have tried nu­mer­ous recipes and found one that pro­duces ex­cel­lent re­sults.

It’s hard work for a dog, this hunt­ing. A happy crew fol­low­ing a suc­cess­ful day in the field. L-R; Hardy Fan­drich, Neil Hutchin­son, Rob Wal­ton and Ge­orgie dis­cuss tac­tics dur­ing a break.

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