Leather and Lace

Bugger – in my haste to get amongst the wild things, and the places they frequent, I’d left home without my leather hunting belt. Attached to it are a knife in its sheath and a small canvas pouch with a PLB, spare ammo and, most importantly, my ‘piggin string.’

For me with my dicky knee it’s often easier to pull an animal downhill than to carry it. My piggin’ string – with a handle at one end, loop on the other and a swivel in the middle – ensures the retrieval process is relatively easy.

Bugger again – yesterday I hosted a gaggle of women and drove them places – beforehand I’d stripped my ute clean of Kim-clutter. Now the important things box sits forgotten at home. In it is my spare knife and sheath, and my spare ‘piggin string’, loo paper and many other ‘essentials.’

Loath to forgo my afternoon hunt I scrounge through my ute and discover my ‘emergency knife.’ A racy red, and razor sharp, wee dagger hidden deep within my glovebox. Perfect. I shove it in my trouser pocket, sling my Tikka .223 over my shoulder and walk into the wilderness.

Officially it’s summer, but up here in the high country the memo has yet to be received. It is cool, drizzling, and misty. Of a breeze there is little, a lick this way or that occasionally, an aimless waft affected by contours and temperature.

The vegetation and spider webs are adorned like liquid tiaras. The new blackberry growth is lush and bright lime green. The soft leaves, highly palatable and nutritious, attractjng every cloven hooved animal going.

I intend to ditch the Just a Pig Hunter label today. I am a competent stalker too.

Plan A is to utilise the conditions – neutral breeze, soft ground and an abundance of feed – to stalk the tiny clearings littering the forest between the track and the hill. It is intense, close quarters hunting with rifle scope wound to minimum magnification and all senses on high alert.

In an area where I am regularly outwitted by extremely wary fallow, I slowly stealth along rows of pines. The layer of fallen needles, softened by the rain, meaning my footfalls are completely silent. There is sign aplenty. Baubles of pig shit, oblong goat pellets, big soft red stag droppings and fallow beds. A rabbit scuttles from under my feet. I am in the zone and loving it.

A dozing pig sees me before I see her. I was close enough to smell her musky odour, and knew she was just here somewhere but she had the advantage of lying still while I was on the move. She jumped to her feet, growling as alarmed pigs do, then trotted off with many a backwards glance. An older model sow with hips and ribs protruding, she is safe from my bullet.

On through the many clearings, vegetation dripping wet and tendrils of steam rising slowly. The various turds so fresh they’re shiny and the various prints on the muddy trails still well-defined despite the rain. If this isn’t a stalker’s heaven, I don’t know what is – in harmony with Nature and being part of the predator-prey equation.

Then, across Table Eleven, our eyes meet. We acknowledge each other’s existence without a blink. He is so caught out, he has a leaf protruding from his lips. He has not yet heard me, cannot smell me, his eyes are yet to bulge in alarm and in that moment, before he registers the danger I represent, I quickly lift the rifle and find his shoulder in the scope.

At the shot he bounds off, fleeing as if untouched. I stand stock still and listen as he dashes from clearing to cover. Heavy cover. Up, up and away.

Did I miss? At that short range – are you kidding me?!

So many trails through the soft wet grass. So many prints on the trails. So much blackberry and gorse. It is a maze.

Eventually, relieved, I find a splatter of lung blood. I did not miss.

I track like Sherlock. Up and up, sometimes on hands and knees, sometimes tangled or hog-tied by unforgiving blackberry vines. Dead gorse is in my hair, down my neck, down my cleavage and in my bra. Not many predators wear a bra!

Beneath a mat of barbed vines, I lay eyes on him a second time. He does not blink this time either. The half-chewed leaf has gone, as has all his life blood. He looks handsome in his summer coat and colourcoordinated velvet – a sleek, smooth and beautiful little creature. I feel a deep sense of regret. I wish now I had missed, or he had outwitted me as usual.

Getting out of here is no fun. I leave the buck’s insides in to ensure he’s not contaminated with debris then drag, curse and reverse butt-first downhill till we emerge back at the clearings. The buck has remained sleek, and smooth, but I now resemble a woolly mammoth, with sticks and pricks all over and grey hair a’ tangle.

Time now to blood the wee dagger, and to consider the drag across the flat to the forest track. This going butt-first in reverse caper is not on, and my knee is beyond carrying any excess baggage. The answer is at my feet. Or, more specifically, on my feet. Criss-crossed and looped around my boot is a long and strong lace – a pink lace – because this predator not only wears a bra – she also wears pink.

I return from my afternoon ‘wilderness experience’ in a right old mess. My pulling arm now feels a metre longer than its offsider. The gorse prickles have gravitated from the back of my neck to my knickers and the chasm within. I am saturated and dishevelled – hurting but happy – and satisfied in a way only a fellow bush stalker will understand.

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