CAPE BOARS - Against the Odds
By Sam Garro, Author and photographer
Published in "Big Game Australia" - March 2011
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IT WAS EARLY NOVEMBER and really late in the year to be chasing boars in Cape York.
The oppressive heat and the prospect of monsoonal rains arriving early were two good reasons not to go, but visiting Strathburn Station, a 600,000 acre property reopening after three years with excellent pig numbers, was just too much to resist. Pig fever had set in badly.
Whilst I had hunted pigs in the Territory in the cooler months with success, I was looking forward to hunting them under the hotter conditions of the Cape, when most of the water holes and catchment areas would be dry, with pig numbers and birdlife concentrated on and around the remaining permanent billabongs and waterways. Some of the best pig hunting is done during this period as they can be also found resting under trees, overhanging creek beds, or any shady spot where they can derive some respite from the searing sun.
A return email confirmed my booking for early December, Strathburn's last for the year. The flight from Melbourne to Cairns and the 4WD hire all fell into place as the morning of departure soon rolled around and by mid afternoon found myself well into the seven-hour drive to Strathburn via the Cape York Peninsula Development Road. If I hadn't enough to contend with, the day before l had begun to feel out-of-sorts but it was too late to change things and comforted myself with the thought "nothing a week stalking pigs in The Cape won't fix".
I arrived at the homestead just as the red sun was sinking behind the tall gums to be warmly welcomed Alisdair, my guide and companion for the stay.
All the windows and doors to the homestead were opened to allow the occasional gust of cool breeze to filter through the place, after having withstood 40 degree plus temperatures during the day. We chatted a while on general subjects over a couple of cold ones which were welcomed after the long drive, had dinner and discussed the all-important hunting strategy for the following day before hitting the sack. Whilst I had done the hard yards to get there and should have been relaxed and excited, that night I began to feel worse, rather sick in the guts, but again dismissed it hoping a good night's rest would set things right.
At 5am, Alisdair was up preparing a hearty breakfast of bacon and eggs with toast, before we headed out to check a few prominent water holes and later in the day visit a lagoon frequented by pigs and supporting an abundance of birdlife. As the first rays of the sun filtered through the distant trees, the clearing and airstrip adjacent to the homestead lit up, bringing with it the promise of some excellent hunting ahead. However, I hadn't improved much overnight so decided to take it easy for a couple of hours. I felt rather unwell to say the least.
Alisdair politely emphasized there was no pressure, we had the days to ourselves and as the client/guest, I hunted as and when I felt like it. It wasn't something anyone could control. Fortunately, by mid morning I felt better and keen to get onto the pigs.
With the gear loaded into the troop carrier, we were soon bouncing along one of the many dirt tracks that traversed the property to our first destination.
The country was pretty dry longing for the rains that would promote the green growth to sustain livestock and wildlife alike. The pig numbers however were particularly high around the permanent waterholes.
Nearing 300 metres to the first waterhole, the motor was turned off and the 4WD allowed to come to a rolling stop. We alighted from the vehicle leaving the doors slightly ajar to avoid making any sharp sound that would carry in the still morning air and possibly alarm a nearby pig or pigs. For a minute or two, Alisdair scanned the scrubby areas surrounding the waterhole through his binoculars for any movement. Satisfied there were no pigs in the open, he tossed some fine dust in the air to determine wind direction before I began the quiet stalk with the 6mm Rem. Schultz & Larsen. A blanket of dry, large leaves littering the ground and an erratically swirling breeze however made the approach difficult. Sure enough, at 80 metres a mature sow emerged from behind the dam wall, trotting to my right and rear. She obviously had picked up our scent. Alisdair who was further back saw it first and drew my attention to its departure with a sharp short whistle. As the intention was to hunt tusky boars only, I held back, hoping a good boar was still in the vicinity.
Slowly continuing the stalk, another medium sow trotted out in the same direction as the first, trailed by a family of twelve running at full pelt. Leading the pack of mainly sows and half grown young, was a mature, water soaked boar as its bristled hair glistened in the sun. The crosshair of the Leupold scope followed its fast moving body behind a line of trees as I desperately tried to pick my mark for a clear shot. Finally the 6mm sounded as it ran past a narrow gap in the trees close on 100 metres. The off hand shot resulted in a hit to the jaw from too much lead but fortunately. He pulled up momentarily, allowing for a follow-up shot to the vitals. The well placed 87gn Speer S/P just behind the shoulder delivered the knock down blow. From its size and appearance I was hopeful of a reasonable set of tusks but the young boar sported only small pegs. Just the same, it provided adrenalin pumping excitement and a great start to the day.
The next waterhole, except for a pair of lone black ducks, was devoid of any pigs, although these remaining isolated reservoirs of water can be visited by pigs at any time during the day. Waiting in the cover would produce results but as there were other promising areas on the vast property to visit, we moved on.
A few kilometres on, two Brahman cows standing on the side of a low lying dam with a partly eroded metre high wall, detected our distant approach but didn't seem unduly disturbed under the now warming sun. However with any animal or animals, one can never be complacent or sure what it will or will not do. Swinging around to our left and hopeful of a sighting, we continued our stalk against the slight gusting wind. At 130 metres, the cattle suddenly spooked... trotting away to nearby trees. Their departure in turn alerted a wallowing boar, and it took flight from the right side of the dam at medium pace. A lead shot appeared successful, only to see it quickly recover on all fours and take off again. Before it could pick up momentum, a more deliberate shot to the chest saw it slump to the ground for good.
Just as it dropped, another solid boar wandered out from behind the dam wall into the open. The cross hair followed its shoulder momentarily before I squeezed the trigger.
At first it appeared I had missed altogether as I desperately tried to chamber another round. Then, unexpectedly and as if oblivious to all that had happened, it returned to the dam from where it came to bed down again beside the muddy water. In a crouched position, I managed to stalk behind a lone tree on the bank to within 50 metres. Through the scope, it appeared alert enough but as it raised itself onto its rear and then down again, I sensed it may have been hit but not fatally. Not taking any chances, delivered a head shot for a clean and humane kill. I took time to appreciate the moment, remove the tusks and take some shots. Despite the heat, I was in my element hunting boars in some great country, at the same time feeling fulfilled and satisfied. It couldn't be any better
As it was now close on midday and the temperature nudging the 40 degree mark, we returned to the homestead for lunch. Heat in the month of December can be oppressive with the threat of the heavy rains bogging you in. The cumulous clouds were already building, thankfully mainly dissipating around evening and then building up again the next day. I had my fingers and everything else crossed the rains would hold off.
Strathburn Station had been opened to hunters for a couple of decades before closing its doors in 2007 as the property changed hands, much to my disappointment as I long had been hopeful of visiting one day, particularly after reading so much about it in hunting magazines over the years.
Mid 2010, when searching the internet for boar hunting safaris, I unexpectedly came across Strathburn Station's new website. Under the new ownership, it had reopened it doors to rifle and bow hunters with the prospect of very good pig numbers and a spot of barramundi fishing thrown in the mix, hence my excitement to book.
After lunch, I tried some shuteye but it was no use, the heat and the thought of more pigs kept me awake. Mid afternoon soon rolled around. This time we were headed into the north west, well away from the morning's activities, to a large billabong and neighbouring water holes
A few kilometres before the billabong, Alisdair suggested trying a remote waterhole that often held pigs. On foot he led the way through the sparse tree forest and over several dry sandy creek beds to reach the spot a kilometre in.
As usual, Alisdair scanned the area through his binoculars.
At 150 metres, the waterhole at the base of the dry creek bed appeared devoid of life.
Then he spotted a pig on the edge of the water closest to us but could not determine gender or size. There was no actual body sighting, only the giveaway flickering of an ear. It was only when I peered through the Leupold scope that I made out its resting form on the sandy soil.
Stalking along the creek bed to within 80 metres, I stopped when I noticed its head facing in my direction. Whilst it lay still, I could see the white of its eyes and at that point knew it had spotted me, watching my every movement. Just then, it rose to its feet and started trotting towards the rise in the bank and heavy cover beyond. It was a healthy, solid boar - and one I didn't want to get away - as I subconsciousIy tried to will it back.
With adrenalin pumping and the reflexes kicking in, I took a hurried shot at the departing black mass, only to see it accelerate over the top of the bank and out of sight. Desperately hoping for a second chance, I ran up the bank. As I reached the crest and not really expecting to see a hair of the critter, I was pleasantly surprised to see its dark shape stark amongst the red soil and a bunch of saplings. It had come to a stop, standing side on, at about 120 metres. Thinking it had stopped more out of curiosity than anything else, I quickly steadied for a chest shot before it took off again. The 87gn Speer SIP projectile at 3,000fps did the job, dropping the boar where it stood.
On inspection, I was surprised to find the first shot had completely broken its right foot at the joint. I guess that's why I got a second shot, although even if badly injured, these tough boars can easily continue running for long distances once the adrenalin is pumping. It was much bigger than first thought - with an estimated weight of 85 to 90kg and a respectible set of tusks later measuring 24.5 DP. So far, there had been no easy shots but I was more than pleased with the results.
By now the afternoon was getting on with an hour or so of daylight remaining so we headed to the Paradise billabong for some quick wildlife snaps. On arrival, it was like a large oasis in the middle of a vast dry land. Bird life abounded everywhere from brolgas, spoonbills and cranes to waders, kites and various species of duck, including my favourite, the Burdekin duck. Large numbers of pigs also frequent the billabong but that would be for another day.
With a full day's great hunting and sightseeing coming to a close, we made it back to the homestead just on dark. It was then that I started to feel ill again, only worse this time. After serious consideration, I decided to leave early the next morning for Cairns where I could seek medical attention.
A week later I was at home recovered from a savage viral infection, and you guessed it, I was wishing I was back on Strathburn Station chasing pigs. What can you do? That's life.
In hindsight, I probably tried to push the envelope too far. Whilst the hunt was abruptly cut short - travelling from Melbourne to Cape York and back for just one day's hunting!! - I had no regrets. After all, I accounted for 4 solid boars, saw fabulous wildlife and great country, and took some memorable photos. Best of all, I was in great company, the accommodation was comfortable, the food good and the hunting geared around the hunter. Thanks guys. I'm looking forward to my return trip.
For more information on Strathburn Safaris, email: firstname.lastname@example.org