A disappointing night, but it’s all about getting out there with your mates!

Hare for one night only

Pulling down a familiar driveway at 8pm with an hour of daylight left, I looked across at the milking shed and farm and was reminded of how much of myself I had invested in this place; I could still see the fences and gateways I had helped build standing tall and proud. Mark was there to meet me at the gate with a big smile, and an even bigger handshake. “Good to see you mate” he said, grinning wildly. “Likewise” I replied, returning both the grin and the handshake in equal measure.

The next hour was spent catching up on all the news from around the district, cow prices, the Fonterra payout, and all things farming. It felt great to be back home, on the farm and talking dairying! Before too long, the magical hour on 9pm was upon us, and we headed down to the implement shed to sort out our gear for tonight’s mission.

We had another mate of Mark’s who had been spotlighting with us before joining us tonight. Safety is paramount spotlighting, and I felt pretty safe in the knowledge that everyone knew what the pack drill was when it came to utes, shotguns and spotlights. More handshakes and grins all round and we set off at 9.30pm in search of a few hares to chase.

Because of the flat nature of the terrain, hares tend to be the predominant animal we go after with the spotlight. There are a few rabbits on some of the hilly portions of the farm, but most of the time it’s the hare which we’re after. Always a challenge with its long looping stride, amazing acceleration and the ability to sustain that pace for a considerable period of time, the humble hare is held in high regard by us. It certainly makes for some hair-raising (excuse the pun!) rides through the paddocks trying to get within shotgun range of one. For all these attributes though, Mother Nature has played a cruel trick on the hare – it has no clotting agents in its blood. So while a minor scratch may heal itself in time, a major wound will see it painfully bleed to death. For an animal of such intrigue and challenge it hardly seems fair.

The night started slowly, with quite a bit of driving for not much reward. Strange really, because usually we could go out and get 20-30 animals without too many problems. Perhaps the full moon may have had something to do with it?

Cruising along, Mark mumbled something about a hare in his Mum’s house paddock that needed seeing to. A short trip into the paddock found us with a hare staring into the spotlight from 25m away. Fumbling with the loading mechanism and safety catch on an unfamiliar weapon, I called to Greg “I’m out” and let him take the shot. A well placed load of #4’s finally saw us on the board, and not without some inconsiderable effort too!

Further visits to other paddocks that had yielded in the past drew blanks. Still, that’s hunting for you though and you can’t win them all. Just as we were about to leave the paddock, the call went out from Greg, “Possumpossumpossum. Inthetreesinthetrees”. Greg had spotted the erstwhile intruder in the pines at the end of the paddock after Mark had shone the spotlight over them. Whilst protected here in Australia, possums are just about NZ’s public enemy number one when it comes to ecological damage, causing millions and millions of damage to its ecosystem through vegetation destruction and habitat losses to native animals. Added to which is the fact that possum fur is worth $120/kg, helping to pay for the night’s shooting – so you can see why Greg was getting a bit excited!

Unfortunately though, the possum had decided we were bad news, and had disappeared into the thick foliage and no amount of searching with the spotlight could persuade him to show himself. A little dejected, we left the paddock empty handed in what was becoming a familiar occurrence tonight.

A few more hares and a rabbit were added to the tally throught the night, all with the distinguishing feature of not wanting to sit still in the spotlight. On previous expeditions to the property, we were usually able to drive up with 30-40m away from the animals before they would bolt. The property hadn’t been hunted for 12 months prior to tonight, so just why the animals weren’t hanging around was a mystery. Their inability to sit still often made for some bumpy trips through the paddocks at speeds in excess of 60kph (with guns unloaded of course!) in an attempt to get within spotlight range. Spot and shoot with a .22 or .22 centrefire is not an option due to the flat nature of the terrain and the possibility of the projectile hitting stock. A 12 gauge shotgun with a 36gm load of #3 or #4 shot is the gun of choice. We find this a good compromise between knockdown power and safety.

Having worked our way through the farm, we found ourselves with a couple of paddocks to go before calling it a night. Both of these paddocks had yielded for us in the past, and we were hoping they would again so we could finish the night off on a high note. No sooner had we gone through the gateway than a hare appeared in the spotlight halfway down the paddock. A short chase ensued, and a hail of number 4’s (several actually!) from the both of us saw the hare being dispatched with a fine running shot from Greg at a distance of 40m. It’s the quick and the dead spotlighting with these guys – there’s no such thing as ‘your turn to shoot’. If you ain’t quick enough, the hare’s dead before long before you have time to be comfortable. The old adage “when there’s lead in the air there’s hope” definitely still rings true!

Pulling up at the cowshed at 1am, we reflected on our fortunes this evening – or lack thereof. Five hares and a rabbit wasn’t a spectacular effort for a night’s work by any means, but it’s not all about the numbers. Most of it is about getting out there and doing it, and spending time with your mates. I had the guys pose (grudgingly I might add) for the obligatory trophy shot, and then with a wink and a wave and some forlorn promises to keep in touch, I was off. Half of my Kiwi sojourn hunting mission was accomplished. Now all that remained was to get me a large game animal.

Fortunately I still had a week left.




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