Slow cookin’ for wild sheep

With exams getting closer, I had to make the most of my limited free time before it was all hands on deck with revision and what better way to do that than with a hunt. Rumours about a population of wild sheep a three-hour drive away reached me so, as the clock hit 4:00 am, I was on the road.   

Upon arrival, thick fog coated the area. I could hear the faint sounds of sheep in the paddocks around me, only adding to my excitement. Unfortunately, I had to leave them as I don’t think the farmer would have appreciated his sheep getting shot.   

Once on public land, I crept quietly through the grassy clearings, anticipating a deer or sheep at any moment. Fresh deer signs covered the area. A puff of wind brought the stench of a stag towards me—I was close. The eerie silence was finally broken as an animal crashed off into the bushes right beside me; I couldn’t get eyes on it but assumed it was the stag.  I was gutted to have spooked it but now I knew there were animals close and I had to focus more.

Thick wool for the bullet to punch through

I eventually made it through the clearings and took a sharp turn, heading up a spur into the bush. I was expecting dense bush so was surprised when it was completely open under the canopy. I had always heard about the damage that deer do to the native bush but that’s nothing compared to what I saw. The sheep had eaten absolutely everything and anything that they could, wiping out almost all new growth. Fortunately for me, the damage they had done provided me with perfect stalking conditions, so I kept weaving my way over rocks and roots, careful to not make a sound. 

By late morning I was yet to see an animal. There was an abundance of sheep sign, so I parked up at the base of an old tree and waited. I was in tune with my surroundings; I saw every movement and heard every sound. Patiently I watched, waiting for something to make a mistake. As the clock ticked on, the sun slowly broke through the native, scattering rays of light across the forest floor, providing some muchneeded warmth for me—and the birds, as suddenly there was an eruption of noise. Tuis danced from branch to branch around me, kereru raced between the trees and a plethora of other native species showed themselves.  

Amongst the commotion, a familiar noise from that morning caught my attention. I cautiously turned in the direction of the sound and spied movement between the trees. A white figure meandered through the only thick part of the whole forest, blocking me from getting a good look. I was hoping for a young ram as I knew the ewes would most likely have lambs, and, thankfully, that’s exactly what stepped out. Even though I was targeting sheep, there was something weird about seeing one that was not in a paddock.   

I settled my nerves with some controlled breathing and then steadied for the shot. The ram, unaware of my position approached rapidly towards me. At seven metres, I knew that was close enough and let out sheep noise. He stopped in his tracks, rookie mistake. My .223 projectile punched through the thick ‘dreaded’ wool, straight into the heart.   

The ram bolted, leaving behind a trail of dark red blood on the dry ground. I took a moment to calm down and prepare to track it. After about ten metres of blood, I found him. Dead as a dodo. A young ram in prime condition, full of fat and beautiful-looking meat.

I took as much as I could and descended back to the track. On the walk down I observed more sheep and took notes on their location, and behaviour to expand my knowledge and skill set. I could only describe them as bulldozers as they ate whatever was under their nose at an alarming rate. It felt good to do some conservation and take out one of these pests, and it will feel even better when he’s in the slow cooker.

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