South Africa is in the midst of a strict Lock Down, because of the Covid 19 Virus pandemic. We, on Melsetter, are more fortunate than many urban dwellers, as the terms of the Lock Down confine us to our Home, all 3200 hectares of it!
Far preferable to being confined to a small apartment. We are able to ride bicycles, to walk, to exercise our dogs who range freely through the grasses, that are now at knee height after the good rains that fell between the beginning of December, and the end of April 2020 – 302mms in total.
As always there is a But. The spectre of Climate Change looms. The rain seems now to have cut off, and there seems little prospect of rain until next spring – which hasn’t materialized over the last four years. Yesterday, I broke the Lock Down, and drove down the Macasserfontein Road, a gravel road which runs along and parallel to our Eastern Boundary fence. Loaded into the back of my bakkie were some wooden droppers, wire and pliers just in case I was apprehended by the Police or Army Personel patrolling the roads. My ruse was to tell them that I was busy doing fencing repairs, patently necessary and essential along the Boundary fence. My real purpose was to see whether I could hunt a fallow deer, to provide much needed rations to our small labour force – two men, their wives and families, to whom Melsetter is also home.
As I drove, I scanned the veld on my left for any sign of Deer. There they were! A group of 8 or 10, including what looked like a pretty good Stag with reasonable antlers, the remainder being his harem, young and fertile does, ideal for the larder. Instinct took over, fence building mode leapt into the back seat, and I gently sped up - to look, for all the world, as well as the deer- just like a passing vehicle about its normal travel. At that stage, I didn’t have a plan; I just wanted to crest the small rise ahead of me, so that my vehicle would disappear from the Deers’ view. Over the rise I went, foot off the accelerator, and rolled quietly to a halt. Just over the crest there is an old borrow-pit. Our northern boundary fence between Melsetter and our northern neighbour runs along the edge of the borrow-pit, and then up the flank of Mount Melsetter.
My plan began to evolve. I fired up the motor, and turned in to the edge of the borrow-pit and parked just off the Macasserfontein Road – out of view of any deer, provided they had not been disturbed by my passing. 30 metres in front of me was a corner, formed by our eastern boundary fence meeting the fence along the edge of the borrow-pit. As quietly as I could, taking my rifle, leather ammunition slide with eight 150 grain cartridges, binocs and range finder with me, I climbed out of my vehicle. My rifle is a beauty. A 7X57, custom built on a Deutsche Waffen-und MunitionsFabriken Oberndorf action. It is stocked in handsomely grained Turkish Walnut, with an elegantly shaped cheek piece, buffalo horn fore-end and pistol grip cap. But I digress! Back to the evolving plan. There was no wind to speak of. I crept along the boundary fence on the Melsetter side. As I gradually dropped down into dead ground, I kept a wary eye to my left, but the deer were nowhere in sight. As I reached the bottom, about 15 metres ahead of me, was a fence, which I knew divided the camp in which I had seen the deer, from the neighbouring camp deeper into Mount Melsetter. If I could only get onto that fence line and work my way along it, to where it met the dense Acacia Karoo bush line, I could use that cover to work my way around to emerge on the edge, more or less where I calculated the deer to be.I strode purposely forward onto the fence line.
Enter fickle Fate! As I carefully worked my way along the fence, I suddenly caught sight of some movement. I froze in mid stride, and slowly raising my binoculars , scanned the long grass on the fence line. There it was again. As my eyes focused, an antler swam into view. Standing dead still, I continued to watch. A young stag, with smallish antlers stepped fully into view, no more than 80 metres away. He was oblivious to my presence, grazing unconcernedly, alone. Now, my dilemma. Do I abandon my initial plan, and take the young stag, risking the shot startling the other group of deer? The fates were against the young stag, and I decided to take a chance. Take the young stag, and then continue with my initial plan; who knows, with luck, I might be able to take one of that handsome stag’s harem! I carefully mounted my rifle over my trigger bipod, and picked the young stag up in my ‘scope. He came straight towards me, now at 70 metres, chest on. I flicked the safe off, squeezed the trigger, and heard the thump of the hit. He leapt into the air, and dashed away, only to collapse and disappear in the long grass. Marking the dust, I walked up to him, touched his eye with the rifle barrel, but he was gone. Never knew what hit him.
I left him there, and continued down the fence line into the dense Acacia Karoo bush . Slowly I worked my way towards where I thought the deer might be. It was the flick of an ear that gave them away! Quietly I set up my trigger stick Bipod, standing in the shadow of a large Acacia Karoo thorn tree. The flies around me were terrible – in my eyes, around my nose. I ‘scoped the deer over the Bipod, wanting to select one of the does. But they were restive, and skittish, and would not settle. Clearly my first shot had unsettled them. Angrily, I waved the flies away. It was my white hand that caught a patch of sun through the branches that sent the deer off, and they dashed away. Fate had intervened yet again – on the Deers’ side!
©Mike Ferrar Pictures by Robert Southey.