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Bill's Blog

Bill McLeod is our branch Patron with years of hunting and shooting experience, including representing some of the biggest firearms manufacturers in the business.  During his career he has come across almost every kind of problem a shooter can have.  In the series of posts below he offers some insights, comments and advice to shooters and hunters.

Thanks Bill.

  • 01/03/2022 10:43 AM | Bob McMillan (Administrator)

    It's on the deck. You’ve been successful. After congratulating yourself and unloading your rifle, take a good spell to enjoy the moment. The next priority is to decide how much of the carcass you will retrieve. This may vary between the whole animal or nothing depending on circumstances. If it’s a reasonable distance to your car or quad, you may decide on taking the whole carcass. Normally I would start by “ringing the deer”. Use your knife to cut around the anus and rectum as far into the pelvic girdle as possible without puncturing anything messy. Then  start your gutting cut at the sternum taking a cut through the skin first,  then carefully slice the abdominal wall till the inner cavity is reached. At this stage face the cutting edge of the knife outwards , place the edge between two fingers and gently slide the blade cutting the wall using your fingers to prevent the blade piercing the gut bag. Work your cut from the sternum to the anus.

    Then I will position the carcass so gravity helps dropping the gut bag out. I will remove all the insides, reach down to grab the rectum as close to the anus as you can to minimise droppings contaminating the cavity. I then like to cut around the diaphragm to give access to the heart and lungs. Make a cut from the brisket to the throat to free the windpipe. Cut this free then remove the heart and lungs. Cut through the neck at the atlas axis joint to remove the head.

    At this stage I like to prop the gutted carcass open for a while to help with heat dissipation. Pop it on your mates back and struggle back to the vehicle. Cooling the meat as quickly as you can is vital.

    I never carried out this procedure while I was working. I only carried back to camp the amount of venison we needed as camp meat. There was no point in carrying skin or bone anywhere. While I was working in the Kaimais my cobber Steve said let’s go to Stewart Island and try meat hunting. I looked at his robust build, looked at my skinny frame, and said “ I’m a racehorse, not a packhorse, you go for it. “ When we next caught up we compared how much we’d earned. I had earned the same as he had; and I just had to carry tails. 

    For camp supply meat I would position the deer on its side then lift up a hind leg. Make your cut in the groin area working toward the hip joint. A bit of careful cutting will free up this joint then slice along the pelvis to the tail. This will free up a whole back leg. Poke a hole through the hamstring then hang the leg in a tree. Do the same to the other leg. Now with the carcass belly down, slice through the skin right up the backbone and peel the skin away from the back steaks. Slice the steak along the spine then slice the muscle away from the spine and ribs. I would normally take both steaks. Depending on the location of the kill and the likelihood of being able to return to the site which wasn’t very often I would either hang the steaks on a tree or string them from my belt and continue hunting. This enabled the meat to cool. The plan was if we ran out of backsteak at camp we would return to the last leg for meat. I don’t recall ever having to go back for leg meat.

    I’ve used variations on this theme depending on circumstances. I don’t like carrying bones and skin, you can’t eat them. A reasonable way to carry both hind legs out is to cut each leg through the hip joints but leave a band of skin from across the back to keep them in one package. You can drape them over your shoulders to carry them out. I would normally prefer to skin out the legs, separate the bone out and carry them in a day pack. In this circumstance I like to place the butchered legs and steaks into the coolest spot I can find for as long as I can before carrying them out. The modern fly proof meatbags are invaluable for keeping flies off the meat. We used pepper liberally sprinkled on the cut surfaces but even then the flies could blow the meat making it inedible. A lock blade pocket knife can make all the cuts you need in the bush , I used an 80mm long EKA most of the time. Just keep it sharp, don’t cut bone and cut skin from the inside out. 

    Venison was our main protein supply while we were working so I’ve eaten a lot of it. About two out of ten deer tasted really good and I wondered why I disliked venison so much. About two out of the ten were edible but the remainder were awful. I politely decline now when someone offers me venison. I found that fat young stags were the best eating, the best venny I’ve ever had was from a couple of fat spikers I shot in Blackbridge Road , Silverdale. They were better than some beef.

  • 01/03/2022 10:40 AM | Bob McMillan (Administrator)

    I joined the North Auckland branch of NZDeerstalkers Association as a youngster. Enjoyed the range shooting at Coatsville, the meetings in the Riverhead hall, and the party hunts. Then the breakthrough. The club was invited to do wallaby control work on Kawau island. A group of about eight shooters would travel by charter boat from Sandspit to Bon Accord harbour for the weekend. The wallabies, mainly parma or dama, would be found in sparse undergrowth under the high manuka and kanuka canopy. Hunting them was by sneaking quietly through the bush or sometimes along bulldozed tracks. Shotguns only were permitted, we found shot size 2 or 3 was most effective. Most shots were around 25 to 30 yards, 40 yards was becoming really marginal. I found it was worthwhile carrying a fly camp over to the east coast where there were more open clearings among the tea tree. We only hunted in daylight hours.

    I got a job as foreman for the Hauraki Gulf Maritime Board on Motutapu Island. Did some live trapping of wallabies for an exporter of live wallabies. He wasn’t allowed on the island so the board asked me to do the live capture.  Then he would pick them up on his boat. Also had to shoot them on Motutapu, mainly used my 222. Then had to do some covert “lawnmower” control shooting on Mansion house lawn. Spotlight and 22. Had a real lesson on safe backgrounds one night. Got thoroughly familiar with the grounds during my normal day job so had fields of fire sorted for night shooting. Shot one toward the end of a significant hedge. Then thought I wonder. Went around the other side of the hedge to where the islands phone building was located. Searched the wall facing the hedge and found the 22 bullet lodged in one of the weather boards at about ankle height. It had gone through the wallaby, through the hedge and buried flush with the surface of the board. It’s probably still there.

    Saw a heap of dama wallabies at Lake Okataina while staying there for Department training courses but, while it was permissible, I had no great desire to shoot any. 

    Arnold, Terry, Max and I formed a team and entered the Great Easter Bunny hunt at Alexandra. Had a great time, met some really nice locals, and shot a lot of rabbits. Terry’s nephew arranged permission to hunt on a property at Hakataramea for wallabies on the way home. What a blast. We lined up in the approved wallaby drive line and started walking through the tussock. Most of the drivers had rifles which I thought a bit odd but the locals didn’t bat an eye. A few wallabies fled in front of the line followed by a few bullets. No casualties. One came bouncing out in front of me and headed directly away from me. There was no one in front of me so I took a shot. Bowled it in mid bounce. Talk about delighted. The 223 bolt gun worked fine. There were not too many more in that particular drive so the local organizer assigned a couple of us to snipe a long gully. Got some then the real fun started. Found a patch of matagouri with a heap of wallabies in it. A driver or two worked their way down one ridge which forced some animals to bolt out near the bottom. I stationed myself to cover the escape route but not endanger the drivers. It was running shooting at its best. Not every shot connected of course but a good number did and the results were spectacular. A brilliant afternoon.

    The next try was on our way back from thar hunting near Mount Cook. Andy, Ian and I had been very successful on the thar so we drove to Burkes Pass, then over the Hakataramea Pass to an area of DoC land near the top of the Hakataramea. Crossed the river then hunted near the boundary of the station. Saw a number of wallabies bouncing around in front of us. I was lagging well behind when l got my first chance. Standing in thick matagouri with no chance of a rest with the wallaby crouching under the scrub near a little watercourse about 150 yards away. All you can do is try your best. The shot looked good so I went for a look. Delighted to find the wallaby. The next chance I got was at a wallaby bouncing down a spur. Didn’t even look like hitting it. The 270 magnum wasn’t as user friendly as the 223 for this kind of work. I separated from Andy and Ian and got several more chances. The animals were all at long ranges but standing still. Because of the thick scrub I had to take most shots from the standing position so full concentration was necessary to get hits but Bennetts are a pretty large wallaby.  Each hit was a real achievement. Re-joined Andy and Ian. We were making our way out when a wallaby bounced out in front of us. We watched it as it scooted across the next gully face. We saw it stop in the little track it was using. Ian said he would give it a go. At a significant distance and from the standing unsupported position with his 708. At the shot the wallaby disappeared. Ian said he thought he’d got it. He was so convinced he went to check. It was a long way for him to scramble over to it. We could see the happiness on his face when he held it up. Mission accomplished.

  • 29/01/2022 5:08 PM | Bob McMillan (Administrator)

    As kids we were taught to carry our hunting rifles in a state of semi readiness. All photos of hunters showed them carrying their rifle in two hands, at waist level and pointing firmly forward. We were exhorted never to rely on our safety catch, use a half open bolt. I followed these dictates for the most part until I started doing a lot of hunting.

    I found that carrying a rifle in two hands at waist level was feasible only for relatively short periods of time. Muscles need changes of position for comfort. Hanging a heavy rifle from both your arms was very uncomfortable after a while. I decided that the most comfortable place to carry a rifle for long periods was slung over your shoulder. I guiltily carried my rifle for some time until it became the natural place for the rifle and then I stopped feeling guilty. The next problem was using the half open bolt. Close the bolt on a cartridge but leave the handle in what’s now called the half bolt position, most of the way up. I left a trail of live ammo around the Urewera country. Bushes would leap out and snag the bolt handle and yank it open. Got so sick of that nonsense. What to do? I reasoned that when I was pheasant hunting I would carry my SKB Royal Light with the safety catch engaged waiting for my English Setter to find me a rooster. If it was fine in that situation, why not when deer hunting. I guiltily carried my rifle like that until  it felt so natural that I gave up feeling guilty.

    So for most of my hunting I now carry my rifle slung on my right shoulder with a cartridge in the chamber and the safety catch engaged. Muzzle pointed straight up. I use my right hand to trap the sling or the stock against my body. I can always feel where the rifle is pointing. When I see a deer,  I slowly move my left hand across the front of my body to grasp the forend, ease the sling off my shoulder and grasp the pistol grip in my right hand as I raise the rifle to my shoulder. I will release the safety as the butt nears my shoulder. All this is accomplished without excessive movement,  especially movement not shielded by your body. As this movement is now so natural, I almost never hold my rifle out in front of me while searching for a deer.  

    There are circumstances where I will change this carry method. I like to keep full control of my rifle at all times. If I have to use two hands to overcome some obstacle, a steep cliff, a river crossing, a slippery face, I will stop, remove the cartridge from the chamber, push it into the magazine, close the bolt and sling the rifle across my back. I can then use both hands to accomplish the task. I keep the sling tensioned to where the rifle is firmly jammed when slung across my back so it doesn’t flop around and then it is the correct distance from my shoulder when hunting carrying from my right shoulder.

    I must state that I use this method because I almost invariably hunt by myself. If I am with another hunter, I am never going to shoot a deer. He can have the deer. There is always only one hunter. It’s like game fishing, it’s your turn in the chair. Anyone following the hunter should never have a cartridge in the chamber. It’s fine to have them in the magazine. If, as the hunter you hear the cycling of a bolt behind you, never hunt with that person again. For some hunting I even prefer not to carry a rifle. Particularly when tahr hunting, I’ve found that one rifle between two hunters is plenty, anything to lighten the load. When hunting with my nephews, they carry the rifles. Sometimes they have insisted that I shoot one so I have used their rifles. Works fine.

    I won’t quibble if a hunter wants to use his half bolt system, if he’s happy with it, more power to him. Or even the bloke who won’t put a cartridge in the chamber till the deer is right in front of him. I’m happy as long as he understands the cardinal rule. Never point any gun, loaded or otherwise at me or anyone else.

  • 11/01/2022 10:13 AM | Bob McMillan (Administrator)

    Now you are all set to go for a hunt, you’ve got the hot spots marked on your GPS, you’ve got some feed faces and head guts to check and you’ve got your eyeballs adjusted so they can see deer. That leaves one really important factor to consider.

    Wind direction.

    Often while I was hunting, I would think that the wind was deliberately trying to sneak up behind me and blow toward the most promising area I had seen all morning. There was no such Machiavellian plot. It is just a characteristic of wind in mountain terrain. Broken country will create varying wind directions and strengths. Try climbing into an exposed saddle after having a tail wind for a while and then have the prevailing wind attempting to blow you clean off the mountain. 

    We were choppering out of the Waterfall hut in the Dobson river after a very successful thar hunt when I realized the pilot was using the wind blasting up the Ben Ohau range to lift us up to the top. We were rocketing up seemingly within touching distance of the rock faces. You could see the tussock being flattened. Got to the summit in record time. The pilot said to me there was a downdraught at the head of Bush Stream, did we want to go down it. I said if he was willing to fly it I was happy to have the ride. What a thrill. We went down the side of the mountain at warp speed. It looked like we were going to crash into the river at the bottom of the face. I was terrified. Then, without any effort the draught shot us out into calm air with plenty of room to spare. It was a real demonstration of how mountain terrain affects wind patterns. 

    Wind should be a consideration when you are planning your hunt. I try to plan to have the predominant wind direction in my favour when I judge that the best opportunity for a shot is likely. Then just accept that you will have tail winds at some time during your hunt. Don’t sweat it, just keep hunting. The wind may just be fluking around a gully or spur and will be favourable soon. The wind in mountainous country is seldom consistent.

    Deer very much rely on their noses to locate danger. And they have a very acute sense of smell. I have seen deer react to my scent hundreds of metres away. If you hunt with the wind from behind you your chances of getting a shot are reduced. 

    Another consideration is time of day. Early morning and late evening are times of greater deer activity so plan to maximize your hunting during these times. However, deer do not evaporate during the day so I consider that all times during the day are most acceptable for hunting. I can’t count how many deer I’ve seen on slips, in clearings, along creek beds and on grass river flats at all times of day.

    In order to give me the best opportunity to get a shot I will plan on hunting all day and try to keep the wind in my favour.

  • 03/12/2021 5:24 PM | Bob McMillan (Administrator)

    So you are rocking through the bush knowing where all the deer tucker is and finding enough marks to make hunting worthwhile, what’s next?

    You’ve got to see them!

    In any area of bush or even grassland there are far more bushes and grass than deer. You need to be able to distinguish deer from all the objects which are not deer. In an open paddock deer are easily seen but in the shadowed bush they are far harder to spot. I think two characteristics stand out as the way to see deer. Shape and movement. Interestingly enough, the more deer you see, even in the paddock in deer farms, the more familiar you get with identifying them. You see the shape of a deer, from the line of a back, the profile of a part of the animal, the length of the neck and the positioning of its head, to the texture of the coat. You will recognise the colour of a deer which does vary depending on season.

    Then I find that the live quality of the animal is visible. You can actually see that an animal is live often by its movement. The bush is full of movement caused by wind and running water. Small movements need checking to see if any other indicators are present. Colour is of lower significance than shape. I vividly recall seeing a sika stag crash off after I’d spooked him. Nothing else to do so I tracked him along the terrace, up a cleft on to the top terrace and then back through heavy bush. Saw a black silhouette in deep shadow the perfect shape of a deer front on. It was black and perfectly stationary. Decided it couldn’t be a stag. Plenty of time for a shot. Then it turned around and gapped it. I couldn’t believe I’d misidentified it.

    There is always movement and noise in the bush. The noise can range from leaves rustling in the breeze to trees falling down and avalanches shaking the valley. While you are cruising along using your eyes to look for shape and movement you also use your ears to locate sources of noise. Virtually all the noise won’t be a deer but you need to check.  Some blokes are obsessed by the noise they make themselves sneaking through the bush. I’ve heard of hunters sneaking around in their socks. I’ve never seen a professional using this technique. I’ve heard the stories, I’ve never seen anyone doing it. One cobber said in one particular place he would take his boots off but that was a very specific circumstance. I have more respect for my feet, they are very necessary to convey me to my next deer.

    Because the bush is a noisy place, I’ve never particularly bothered about being absolutely silent. As long as you can hear clearly what’s going on around you, you will be fine. Some blokes are naturally noisier than others. I took a mate into the Urewera for a hunt, he’d hunted with me in the Maunganuiohau and produced good tallies but hadn’t hunted in thirty years. It was like hunting with a mob of cattle behind me. Seemingly every stick on the ground was broken and every tree he went past got a clonk from the plastic-stocked rifle I had lent him. Giving up hunting terraces I took him up the more open riverbank in the Kurakura. He got the young stag I found. I went on and got another one. His bulldozer approach didn’t stop us being successful. 

    The pace at which you hunt impacts on your ability to observe. It’s very sensible to keep your pace to where you are comfortable that you are checking most of the shape, colour, movement and noise that could be a deer. I found that as my experience increased, I could hunt at a quicker pace and still observe most of the animals. 

    Don’t get disheartened if you spook deer and don’t get a shot. We’ve all bumped deer and seen or heard them crash off. Eventually you will get everything right.

    While hunting the first thing to ask yourself when you spot something is

    “Is that a person?” 

    We can get fixated in trying to identify something as a deer and misidentify what we’ve seen. Hunters who shoot people have identified what they have seen as being a deer . That is because they are checking all characteristics they observe as possibly being a deer and sometimes are mistaken. In their mind they are shooting at a deer or else they wouldn’t have fired. They did identify their target, but they misidentified it.

    Ask yourself first and second

    “Is that a person?” 

    “Is that a person?” 

  • 23/11/2021 7:59 AM | Bob McMillan (Administrator)

    We’ve got to marks the deer leave. Hoof marks and droppings. Some blokes try to complicate the reading of deer sign to minute analysis of the deer's activity when they left the marks. For me it was a bit simpler. Marks indicate that there were deer there and that there is every possibility that they will be there or thereabouts again. The abundance of marks gives a clue to the number of deer in the area. The more marks, the more deer. The fresher the marks, the higher likelihood the deer are closer.  Because marks are so important in establishing chances of encountering animals, finding a method of locating concentrations of marks was important.

    Years ago one of my jobs was timber cruising in the Bruce Bay swamps of South Westland. It was claimed at the time I got the job that I had the lightest body and biggest feet so I wouldn’t sink as far into the swamp as heavier blokes. I learned a lot. In order to establish likely timber volumes in an area, a sampling system was adopted. Run a compass line and at a set distance measure all timber within a circle. Then calculate the volumes based on the samples. A similar approach was used by the Department to determine deer densities in any area. Establish a transect and count the droppings at distances along the transect. I found that I could apply the same principles to identifying areas of concentration of animals, particularly as they were affected by seasonal changes.

    I found that when starting in a new area it was very useful to run some transects as a means of finding concentrations. I don’t mean laboriously drawing lines on maps and religiously following them but thinking, if I hunt between river level and the top of the range including different topography and veg types, I would have a better idea where to concentrate my efforts. All the time looking for marks. The benefit of this approach is that you are less likely to overlook potentially good areas than if you stick to limited traditional patterns of hunting.

    Kit, Mike and I were having a hunt and a catch up in the Waikare, just a four day “weekend”. I saw some marks upriver at the end of the Kakawahine flats on my first evening. I timed my hunts to be thereabouts on the next two nights. Kit came in the last night with a deer on his back. Where did you get that one? Top end of the Kakawahine? Yep.

  • 12/10/2021 6:10 PM | Bob McMillan (Administrator)

    How do you go about actually hunting deer?

    I’ve come to believe it’s a pretty simple process. By following some straightforward guidelines your chances of success will be greater than if you just wander willy-nilly through the bush. You have to hunt where the deer are. You could be the most skilful hunter in the world; you will never get one in the Sylvia Park carpark.

    As I mentioned in an earlier piece, the bloke who puts in  the most work gets the most tails.

    The next thing to keep in mind is that deer need food. Only a small proportion of our native forest has areas of good browse. Most of our forest hunting areas have been significantly modified by browsing animals to where there simply isn’t anything for deer to eat. It was a revelation to me to see the proliferation of palatable species when I first started hunting in the Raukumara. Deer were just getting established in the area I hunted. The deer were huge, twice the size of the Urewera deer, but very few of them.  Another interesting observation for me was the clear delineation in browsed to untouched areas caused by cattle feeding. The browsed areas looked like they had been bombed.

    So, if there is so little tucker in the bush, where is it? Simply, anywhere the light can get into the bush and where there is a source of nutrients. Natural senescence and catastrophic events create gaps in the foliage which encourage new growth. But a more significant influence is that of water. The natural sequence of erosion means weathering rock will break away from parent material and be transported to the sea by water. As the rock weathers, nutrients are released. The significance for the hunter is that there will be slips and creeks in a lot of bushed areas. The slips and creeks allow plenty of light into the bush and release and transport nutrients. These are the areas where the most abundant regenerating growth is found. This accounts for the advice given to new shooters, hunt the creeks and the head guts. 

    Deer will seek the best food sources available to them. The best tucker of the lot is topdressed pasture or crops. Wait till you see the deer pour out of the kanuka onto the topdress on the back paddocks of East Coast stations. The cockies who put in chou in deer country know all about the attraction of crops. 

    Modifying the lure of high quality feed is the instinct, particularly in hinds, to remain in a distinct home range. You will find skinny hinds in areas some distance from good feed. It is fair to say, though, that higher numbers of deer will be found in areas of good food. 

    Another viable hunting method is ” hunt the hot spots”. These are often clearings. A lot of them are man made, sometimes by fire, some by logging, and some by previous habitation. Once you have found them they will usually keep producing well. As a working hunter I could not rely on just hotspots for a good tally. I know hunters who have bought cars by just hunting hotspots. 

    One thing that doesn’t change is that deer leave marks. They cannot fly. They have to defecate. If there are no marks, there are no deer. 

    I will have to leave some other aspects of hunting till next epistle but will say again the successful hunter knows the botany, hydrology, and geology of his area and puts the work in.

  • 14/09/2021 11:11 AM | Bob McMillan (Administrator)

    A lot of my shooting has been with rifles and shotguns with noticeable recoil. I used to think that a lot of practice would strengthen my shoulder which would make the recoil more manageable. This did not happen. Instead I found that, after many years, my shoulder became painful after relatively short exposure to recoil that I once had been able to endure. For a long time my favourite sport was clay target shooting. I enjoyed a number of successes in competition in trap, skeet, and sporting clays. I loved seeing the clays smashing. Eventually, I found that I could not complete two rounds of skeet without flinching and my shoulder would ache for a week. I reluctantly gave up clay target shooting. I even changed from my trusty Beretta 686 20 gauge to a 410 Remington pump for duck shooting. It worked fine but you needed to be on your game. My tolerance for rifle recoil also diminished. Falling off my grandson’s  skateboard and landing on that shoulder probably didn’t help. Thank goodness for cortisone.

    Rolly’s article describing his work to assemble a rifle of significantly reduced recoil was music to my ears. My efforts to achieve the same result were slightly different. I have a number of rifles that have proved very effective in the field and I wanted to continue using them. I could tolerate a couple of shots at a time but that was all. I found that the recoil of a 243 was about all I could handle. So a solution to the problem was to try to handload my ammo for my bigger rifles down to 243 levels. Some anecdotal data was available on the internet but this was of the nature of “it worked so it must be OK”. I have examined rifles which have been destroyed while using handloads so the casual approach of “ it will be right” did not cut it for me. 

    Fortunately, I found a published source of information by a reputable powder distributor, Hodgdons, which gave tested recipes for low recoil reloads. Even better, they specified ADI powder which was readily available to me. The document is entitled Hodgdons H4895 REDUCED RIFLE LOADS for Youth Hunting, Informal Target and Plinking. I have used this data to load 270 Winchester, 270 Winchester Short Magnum, 7mm-08 Remington, 30-30 Winchester, 308 Winchester, 30-06, and 300 Winchester Short Magnum ammunition. The results were excellent without exception. I could load my favourite Short Magnum Sakos to where they did not hurt me. I find that in the smaller cases, such as 308 or 7-08, I get excellent results with 80% loads. The bullets I used in these loads were normally Speer Hollow Point Varmint  bullets, they seem to shoot well in all my rifles, but I have had equally good results with lighter weight Nosler Ballistic Tips, Hornady SSTs, and Sierras. I did find that annealing the cases noticeably reduced the sooty deposits on the case neck indicating that the annealing was resulting in better obturation.

    One question is “OK they don’t hurt while practicing but how do they work on animals”? I admit that I was a little apprehensive when I had the first chance to use them on animals despite my confidence in using low powered hunting rifles such as the 222 on deer and pigs. I need not have worried, they worked fine. Toughest animal I’ve shot so far was a big boar with the light bullet, light load 30-06. The Nosler Ballistic Tip worked fine on this and several other animals. Good shot placement is important, I won’t try Texas heart shots on big animals. For range shooting I am confident competing at the hundred and the two hundred metre distances, the shooter is the limiting factor, not the ammo. I can still enjoy using my bigger guns without pain.

  • 08/09/2021 7:12 AM | Bob McMillan (Administrator)

    My friend and neighbour, Uncle Gary, who was a seriously competent and experienced operator of equipment in rugged terrain, gave me some excellent advice one day. I fortunately don’t recall the circumstances but I remember the advice. He said the bloke who has never got stuck in his Landrover has never taken it very far. It may have been when he was showing me how to get a tour bus out when it was up to its belly in the Te Paki stream. He started by advising the company to send another bus to collect the driver and passengers so they didn’t learn how he did this. It would be failing him if I revealed his method but it sure worked.

    I think a variation of the same advice could be given to hunters. The bloke who has never missed a deer has not shot at very many.

    The first deer I missed was the first one I ever fired at. Two hinds in the car park where the vehicles stopped near the summit of Mount Tarawera. Couldn’t believe my eyes. Opened fire on them with the 303 with no result. The next one up the Te Kopua stream on the Galatea faces wasn’t so lucky. The next one I recall missing was a stag at Half Mile Bush on the Army Training Ground at Waiouru. I’d got a stag and was carrying it out when another one ran out in front of me in the tussock. No result at the shot. I convinced myself that I couldn’t have missed and the bullets I was using must have been deficient. The clear evidence that they weren’t was on my back but that logic escaped me. I changed bullets. I think that the criticism of some bullets by inexpert experts at the time coloured my thinking. 

    It wasn’t only deer that I missed. Can recall how devastating it was when the first chamois I fired at just gapped it into the monkey scrub. Persil (surname, White) and I had put in a big effort leaving the Lake Brunner carpark before dawn to make the climb onto Mount French. A lot of effort to see the chamois run away. Made up for it a bit later. We got back down the mountain and went to the Taramakau pub in the late afternoon. The publican said we shouldn’t leave our rifles in the car, we should stack them in the corner of the pool room. Several more hunters arrived and did the same. Someone said there was a shag in the river visible out of the pub window. The publican said shoot it. Lindsay picked up his 308, we opened the ranch slider, he took the shot. He missed it. We went back to drinking our beer.

    But there were more deer to be missed. Hunting in the Raukumara with Keith. Climbed up a thickly vegetated ridge trying to close the gap to where a stag was roaring. Suddenly a couple of hinds clattered down the ridge within metres of me. Then a stag appeared just a bit further up the ridge. Made the shot. He crashed down the ridge past me. Quickly went to look and found him looking back at me still on his feet. Made another shot, he collapsed. There was only one bullet hole in him.

    Then there was the time Smithy and I were up the Rough River in the Paparoas. He found a deer very close in the spotlight. Then grabbed me by the elbow and shouted shoot the ……. thing while shaking shit out of my arm. I missed.

    There were times at work. We were working out of Tolaga Bay on goats. One morning I had some easy opportunities and missed clean. Because the shots were not difficult I decided to check the zero. No sign of a bullet hole at my mark in a tree. Again, no sign of a mark. Then looked further up the tree and found the impact. Took a full turn of the adjustment to get a zero. Found out later that one of the ratbag hunters decided to disadvantage me so wound a turn onto my scope. On another occasion I’d returned from a stint of operating bulldozers in West Australia. Keith gave me a job in the King Country working with my old cobbers, Kit and Greg. We were hunting goats on fairly open pasture. After two days of trying I hadn’t hit a thing, so bad that Kit remarked that’s not like you. But it was true, I couldn’t hit anything. If this continued I wasn’t much use as a hunter. What can you do about it? Got my 22 , some targets and a heap of bullets. Seriously knuckled down and concentrated on all the elements of marksmanship I’d learned as a kid. Stable shooting position, proper placement of my rifle to my hands, shoulder and cheek, steady breathing till the time for the shot, clean sight alignment and then the correct trigger squeeze. Practised till I had my confidence back.  At the start of the next day I focussed really hard on getting the correct trigger squeeze and by the afternoon was back on form. It is disconcerting to doubt the skills you have relied on for so long.

    I’ve developed a few theories about this missing problem. We can all miss. We are human, not machines, and can make mistakes. I think the most common problem is getting the trigger release wrong. We all do it. A significant amount of practice can help to minimise the mistakes but they will still occur. The other comment I would make is that anyone can miss, but if you miss twice because your rifle is not properly zeroed, then you are a mug. If you miss any shot, even though it was a poor attempt, then the next shot should be at a target to verify your zero. 

    Uncle Gary had to pull my Rover out of several bog holes, I don’t recall having to unstick him from any.

  • 06/08/2021 7:01 PM | Bob McMillan (Administrator)

    When we were kids we were taught that open sights were very fast to use, much quicker than a scope, and actually ideal for “bush” shooting. The pundits claimed that scopes were fine for open country and long ranges but iron sights were easier to use in the bush and more durable than scopes. I used open sights for my early deer hunting and they were fine.

    Then I got a good scope and found it to be noticeably superior to the open sights. I used scopes exclusively till I went to work in the Manganuiohau. There I found the frequently wet foliage or,  heaven forbid,  rain or snow, coated the lenses of my scope with water. I had tried several methods of keeping the lenses free of water. Scope caps were next to useless. The best system was to cut a fifty mil wide strip from a car inner tube and stretch it over the lenses like a big rubber band. Even this had its drawbacks. The first time you took it off the scope, water got all over it and, when you reinstalled it, the water trapped inside the band migrated onto the lenses making them blurry. I gave up the scope eventually and installed my backup aperture sight. That cured the water problem, you could just blow the offending moisture off the sight. I didn’t feel at all disadvantaged with that setup in those conditions but I found the low light in the bush made open sights very difficult to see. I found the open sights distinctly slower to use than a scope would have been.

    The other problem with the open sights was it was more difficult to correctly identify your target. A flicker of movement could be a deer or it could be a flicker of movement. I found myself taking extra time in making sure that it was a deer and then more time again to align my sights on the deer's vitals. In other parts of the Urewera I was far more comfortable with a scope.

    The open sights on my 30-30 were fine in open country of the South Island up to the effective range of the combination, about 150 yards.

    The next time I used open sights was while hunting wild cattle on horseback. For continuous carry on a horse any rifle is a real pain. If you sling it over your shoulder it tries to break your back and kidneys, weaving your way through dense scrub is a recipe for disaster, and mounting and dismounting is awkward. The rifle should be in a scabbard. A local horseman, Kingi Neho, showed me his rig copied from the NZ cavalry of the South African war and WW1. The scabbard is tied to a D up near the pommel and straight down to the girth in front of the right knee. A scoped rifle simply doesn’t fit onto your horse when carried this way and I was concerned that there was a possibility of bending the scope which could result in a miss. That was unacceptable when you considered the potential for things to go pear shaped when tackling wild bulls. So back to the trusty Sako aperture which was built rock solid.

    Another consideration was when making your shot you needed to be totally aware of what was going on around your intended target. Dogs or musterers may be where you didn’t expect them, you were on the trigger so you were responsible. The owner of the cattle, Uncle Nuk, was very relieved that I took over shooting duties from him. 

    The question of durability of a scope versus iron sights is an interesting one. The only scope failure I can recall was on my brother-in-law’s rifle while we were hunting in the Kaipo. The early model invariably fogged up so I gave him my rifle and used his one after taking the offending scope off.  Fortunately, the rifle was fitted with the original open sights. We both got a deer that trip. 

      I’ve had the iron sights fail once. I had a job out at North Cape. I tried to avoid carrying a rifle while at work but this time I needed it for another job so I had my 30-30 along. Finished the job so started back for my vehicle.  I had had a report of a cannabis cultivator staying at a derelict dwelling at Tokotoko. I decided to look for any sign of occupation on my way home. As I climbed down a steep kikuyu grass slope I slipped and dropped my rifle. It landed on a rock. Checking it, I noticed that the arm of the Lyman aperture sight had been bent down till it touched the receiver. I was in a bit of a pickle. I don’t like having a rifle when talking to people, I’ve had things get very tense in those situations, but now I had a rifle which may be useless to me. I couldn’t just abandon the rifle.  I was very thankful that there was no one in occupation at the time.

    Open sights certainly have their place but I would far prefer to see hunters using scopes on their rifles because the magnification helps significantly in identifying your target.

    One caveat  here. I hear some people comment that scopes can be used in low light, morning or evening. I have real difficulty accepting this as a virtue. I think that when the light gets low enough for you to need extra assistance in identifying whether something you see is either a person or a deer then it’s time to question your wisdom in taking a shot. While the animal may be plain enough, can you be sure there is no person in the vicinity?  I have come back to camp often enough in the dark or semi dark and know the feeling that I hope no one is out for a last minute shot; everyone should be back in camp by now having their dinner.

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