Doggone It!

Yesterday was a big day, an enduro of the hunting kind. Today has not long dawned but my fuel gauge is already empty, it’s sitting unwaveringly on E – E for all physical reserves already Expended.

The dogs have no regard for my physical or mental state, out here in the backcountry I have just walked them onto fresh pig sign, and they are both intent on locating a leading scent trail amongst the freshly gouged dirt and the scattered dew drops and crushed grass.

Neither Chop nor Nugget give a backwards glance as they lope over the nearest ridge and vanish from sight. They know I am as loyal to them as they are to me, we have an unspoken pact, which is rarely broken.

Soon I see Chop contouring across a distant face, he is tracking at speed. Moments later Nugget appears, following a separate trail. He sights his sire, pauses momentarily to assess body language, then changes tack and finds another gear. Within seconds they become a pack of two. Within minutes hundreds of metres are accrued.

On one hand I am filled with pride and excitement – “that’s my boys, look at ‘em go.” On the other hand, I’m filled with dread – especially when the tracker is telling me that the pair are at 1200 metres and still going strong.

If the dog’s potential find was in easy country, and getting there a lolloping lark, I’d be full of hallelujahs and yeah boys. It’s not. It’s steep and ugly and it gets progressively steeper and uglier.

If they should find now, I’ll be full of fecks and yeah nahs.

Way away, 1370 metres away, in the nightmare of bluffs and sub-alpine toughscrub I hear Nugget issue two barks.

In an instant Chop follows up with a flurry of his deepest and most ferocious dog versions of, “stop right there and put your hands up.”

Then it’s on. Both for the two dogs way the hell over there, and for their human now hurriedly on their way to way the hell over there.

Nugget, he of few words, is standing shoulder to shoulder with his Pa and singing his finest song. Chop, 10 years of active hill time under his belt, has done this hundreds of times before. Between them they make the hills reverberate with their barks and a staunch old boar stand his ground, albeit reluctantly.

My fuel gauge stutters at first but as adrenalin glands dump their precious cargo and the bail settles to a steady and consistent far – distant echo, it scales mighty heights and I head into the steep and ugly with gas to burn.

A kilometre and half is a long way in steep and ugly but I make good time, incredulous Nugget is bailing so well. He has a very limited vocabulary and lately the quota of barks has been limited to five or less.

So today I get there, and Nuggets greets me with a, what took you so long, kind of welcome. Chop bails on, steadfast as always.

I’d expected to find their quarry backed in under a rock outcrop but it’s the other way about. The dogs have their backs to the wall and the boar is secreted in scrub and free to turn and run if he should dare to expose his wrinkled scrotum to his foe.

My rifle scope is full of debris and scattered dew drops and here in the tight confines the light is poor and the obstacles many. Time and again I try to identify the boar’s forehead amidst trees and leaves and to centre cross hairs there, but it’s not to be. Instead, I visually note a particularly bright green shoot immediately in front of the boar’s eye and send my bullet there.

When the death throes dwindle and the dogs release their grip, when the boar’s life-blood flows into the leaf-litter and the panting of human and canine cease to labour, I take stock of my situation. Adrenalin has abandoned ship. Lactic acid has taken its place. The fuel tank is emptied, the reserve tank is too. I am done.

There is no way I can retrieve the old boar from his den here in the ‘Never Never.’ No way I can drag or carry him home with me. The dogs accept his heart as just reward and I endeavour to capture the moment with the camera. I take the boar’s jaw as a memento of the day Nugget found his voice and I slowly clamber from this place

The jaw is not huge, the tusks are not exceptional, but I will treasure them and the memory they represent. At home I leave my gory memento on the porch intending to boil it and make it presentable on the morrow.

Coming morning though, I discover the neighbouring farmer’s dog has paid us a visit overnight and made off with the jaw, taken it away to some secret place to gnaw it, clean then bury it. Gone forever are the tusks, which would have had pride of place on the mantle. My in-built fuel gauge rockets up to F within moments, but I can tell you now it’s not F for Full.

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