We’re not hunting this year on the farm. It’s a Biblical precept to have a fallow year every seven years. Last season we talked about giving the game a break, but we were indecisive. However, 2016 was a very dry year, by January, the farm was as dry as a bone, the veld was poor, and we lost a lot of springbuck. That made the decision easy.
We contacted all our regular clients here and in Europe to tell them that conditions were such that we would not be hunting in the coming season. Having spoken to many of them about the possibility last season, it was not too great a surprise. Perhaps fortunately, this has coincided with the fall in our European market, as a result of the Department of Home Affairs’ disastrous visa requirements. Fortunately too, it is having a great effect on the game. They’re much more relaxed already, having been left entirely to their own devices since last August. Walk and stalk next year should be good!
THE ALLURE OF HORNS
What is it about the allure of horns when hunting? So many hunters pick out the animals with the largest horns when hunting – and not necessarily for trophy size. Biltong and pot hunters do it as well. Yet, as Candy, who commands the commissariat well knows, the juiciest and most tender cuts don’t come off some hoary antelope with big horns! Recently she said to Patch, her eldest boy, that she wanted a nice young fallow deer for the pantry – a penkoppie stag, or a young doe. Off he went, rifle shouldered, radio in his pocket. Some hours later my radio crackled, and Patch came through. “Can you bring the bakkie? I’ve got a deer, on the other side of the windmill in the corner near the boundary and the Macasserfontein Road.” Dutifully I set off, only to find an enormously pleased Patch, with an excellent representative stag, with a rather handsome rack of antlers. Candy was not pleased. “No carpaccio from those old rugstrings, Patch,” she remonstrated. “But Ma, he just stepped out of the bush, head up, antlers back, looking magnificent, no idea I was there. Look at those palms, I couldn’t resist it!” His regal head and handsome rack now gaze out over the books in the farmhouse library.
THE ULTIMATE SURVIVORS
With no hunting on the farm this year, and especially with no trophy hunters, there’s a dearth of game meat for the pantry, the sausage machine, and the biltong drying room. The fallow deer are, I believe, the ultimate survivors among the game species here in the Karoo. I always marvel at their adaptability, equally at home among the oaks, horse chestnut and planes of Windsor Great Park, as among the Acacia karroo ( soetdorings) along the banks of the Great Brak River. During the drought, they were scarce here. No respecters of an ordinary stock fence, they’d moved off to greener pastures, irrigated off the waters from the tunnel coming from the Gariep Dam, much to the chagrin of the irrigation farmers. Come the rains in February, they were soon back to graze the succulent new green growth springing forth in the veld. Now they’re in relative abundance again.
Fallow deer venison is delicious. Whether on the table as a roast, a sirloin grilled to perfection in the Weber, as biltong, or filling out a sausage casing, wet or dry, it’s wonderful fare. And the commissariat has filed more than several requisitions of late! But here’s the dilemma. How to hunt when we’re not hunting? Compromise is the name of the game. There are a few areas on the eastern and southern edge of the farm, relatively far removed from where we do most of our hunting. Through one of these is a walk we frequently do, known as the Circuit, a pleasant six kilometre route heading north, then crossing from the western to the eastern bank of the Great Brak, and circling back to the house. Recently, on impulse, I grabbed my rifle as I set out with Hattie, my young springer by my side, for a bit of late afternoon exercise round the Circuit. Crossing through the river, we entered some fairly thick Acacia karroo, turning south into a gentle little breeze, fresh on my face. As we were about to emerge into »
Hunting for a pantry buck instead of a trophy can also be a fulfilling experience.
» the open, I caught a glimpse of movement below the branches ahead. A little troop of deer went cantering off into the open veld, moving south east. The spaniel was on full alert, tail wagging furiously as she quivered with excitement.
The familiar tingle of the challenge of the chase coursed through me. I know these deer – they love to break away, seemingly to disappear, but circling round to come up behind, and up wind of the threat that disturbed them in the first place. East, and behind me, stretched a swathe of fairly dense Acacia karroo. Clicking my fingers at Hattie, I turned back northwards, moving as fast as I could, slowly drifting eastwards as I went back, towards where I knew the acacia petered out on the edge of open veld again. As we came to the edge, patting Hattie and whispering, “Stay, stay,” I turned south again, into the gentle little breeze, and slowly, quietly we worked down the edge of the bush line. Hattie instinctively stayed with me, her tail a telltale of her excitement, like a flag fluttering in a breeze. In the stalk it is like being “in the zone”. Nothing else intrudes. Every sense is sharpened, looking for movement, listening for the crack of a twig, feeling the breeze and even smelling its scents.
I hoped I had been quick enough, getting behind the deer in their circling behind where they had initially broken cover. You never know. So often they just disappear from the face of the earth, leaving you baffled and disappointed. And more often than not, with a long trudge home! Then I saw them. Just on the edge, grazing unconcernedly about 120 yards away. With the wind gentle in my face, they were blissfully unaware of my presence. Moving back into the cover of the bush, my fingers on Hattie’s neck, we edged closer to get a clearer and unobstructed target. But game seems to have a sixth sense for danger. We made no sound and the wind was in our favour, yet suddenly several heads came up, looking around cautiously. I eased down onto my haunches, and sat motionless with Hattie’s soft neck skin pinched between finger and thumb. After a few moments, I eased the bolt carefully back and forward, wishing the clicks and clunks could be softer. As I slowly stood, the little herd gently moved forward towards the open, alert to an unseen danger, yet uncertain. A good-sized doe stood broadside on, looking back towards me in the darkening bush, with the late afternoon sun glowing above and behind me. Perhaps that’s what tipped the balance against her, as I smoothly shouldered my rifle and took her just behind the shoulder.
It was a brisk walk back, elated and happy. The commissariat will be pleased, I thought. Hattie ranged ahead, flag tail waving. She hadn’t flinched at the shot.
An unplanned hunt. A sudden challenge. Unexpected success. A happy dog and a happy hunter. Simple pleasures!
The stag that Patch shot. A nice ram but not one that’s good for the pantry.
This is the fallow deer doe Mike mentioned in the story. His dog Hattie is posing with their prize. Pantry bucks like this doe can also provide a very enjoyable hunt.