Hunting Story: Practice Session+
Australian Steve Bullock describes a fortuitous practice session that bagged two canine calf killers
When I’m not out hunting, I quite enjoy the peace of the countryside where I can go and shoot targets to keep my edge. So, as I recently had a day off work mid-week I decided to head out to the 1000-acre cattle property where I do most of my hunting and practice.
From the homestead it would be a slow 5km off road drive to my firing line. Arriving at 9am, I headed up a hill where I would place a metal gong for some longer range work at 550-yards. From this vantage point I was able to sit for a moment and take in the surrounding beauty of the local countryside. This is my ‘happy place’ and also one of my favourite hunting spots, where I shoot wild dogs and I have taken a few from here over the years.
As I know you Brits are dog lovers, as I am too; let me clarify something! Our wild dogs are probably the apex predator and though good at keeping down pests, are also partial to sheep and cattle; especially young ones. So livestock farmers are happy for them to be controlled, much as coyotes are in North America!
Driving off the hill, I passed the dried up carcass of a cow lying in a gully. She appeared to have died in calving a few weeks ago. I’d been out to check for any dog activity a few times since discovering her but for some reason they had pretty much left this free meal alone. The calf had been scavenged completely, apart from some small bones and patches of skin; there was little indication it had even existed
I don’t believe it!
I decided that I would carry on to where I would set up for my short-range target and load testing. This area was a natural amphitheatre and the valley was flat all round for about 200 metres, with the rising hills providing a natural backstop!
Ear protection on and a quick scan for cattle or unexpected visitors and I started shooting. I had been shooting for around 20 minutes and also walking to and from my 100 yard target. As my 7mm was getting too hot, I changed to my Remington 700 in .243. I was extending the bipod legs when I looked up and my heart started racing, right in front of me where were two wild dogs sniffing at my target. I couldn’t believe it after all the noise I’d been making! They were totally oblivious to my presence and probably on the lookout for an easy meal.
Unfortunately for them my .243 was loaded with my tried and tested, 75-grain Sierra hollow point load and I wasn’t going to miss an opportunity like this! I picked up the rifle and rolled back onto my stomach. My heart was pounding in my ears and I could feel the adrenaline coursing through my body now. The dogs were slipping in and out behind my target, the larger of the two turned out to be a big male, very red in colour. A glance through the scope confirmed that he was a dingo cross and still unaware that his possible demise was seconds away!
The second was a bitch and darker, probably a German shepherd cross, in good condition but thin in the waist. Looking at it a short time later I understood better why dogs, so desperate for food for themselves and their pups will often attack full grown cows and easily bring down young calves.
Targets 1 and 2
Red was bigger, moving slower and more deliberately and apart from being the closer of the two, he stayed out in the open more than the Shadow, who disappeared too often behind the security of my target. So he was target 1. I was confident my gun wouldn’t let me down, as it shoots sub-MOA at 100 yards with my proven load, so it was all down to me!
My heart was pounding and the adrenaline flowing making me a little hyperventilated. I only get like this with dogs, as nothing else seems to affect me the way they do, funny that! In this case, Red stopped broadside on facing left at 150 yards, his head raised as he sniffed easily into the wind. I could see the Shadow off to the right, a further 20-30 yards away just inside the view of my scope. But he was all that mattered at this time!
For those first few seconds I watched as my cross hairs stopped several inches above and to the right of where his left leg joined his chest. At this distance, through my Vortex BDC scope, I could see his tongue lolling out of his mouth and he seemed unconcerned. He certainly didn’t know I was only a short distance away with my finger pulling gently on the trigger. Aim small, hit small, right index finger ever so slowly picking up tension, eyes focused on that one small aim point on his red fur-covered chest. Flick the eyes to the right to locate Shadow, and then back to that tiny small spot. Red’s chest rising in the scope, my finger seemingly too hard to apply any further pressure. Suddenly, unexpectedly; a slight push in my shoulder, momentary loss of sight picture, back just in time to see him go down.
A movement to the right as Shadow took off. My eyes darted back to Red in case I had only wounded him, but he lay dead. Eyes back behind the scope searching frantically for Shadow as she fled quickly from the terrible noise and sudden disappearance of her mate. If she had turned in any direction left or right, she may have made it, but she made the fatal mistake and ran straight ahead up the hill. Straight up meant no obstructions to hide her from view and also making her slow down as she negotiated the thick grass that clung to her and dragged her slowly to almost a fast walk.
On the fly
I had no time to range her and a momentary glance told me that she was at least 200 yards away and gaining by the second. The bipods legs were too short and I had no time to adjust them. I raised myself up off the ground and supported the rifle on my elbows. One chance to shoot and the time slipping away so fast. Cheek firmly welded to the butt, eye in line I placed the second hash mark of the BDC on the base of the neck. From any other location she would have been safe and readily skulked away to live another day. However her decision to run uphill resulted in her dark fur standing out clearly in contrast to the yellow grass that almost sheltered her. She moved upwards slowly, the grass bow waving like a ship on a yellow ocean, clearly indicating her direction of travel. All I needed was for her to stop momentarily, long enough for me to make the shot!
Without breaking my position, I shouted ‘boof’ as loud as I could! Half a breath later and she did the unthinkable; stopped, unsure of the source of the sound and maybe a little curious! As she did so I let the second horizontal hash mark down on the cross hairs settle on her neck, the length of her whole body now displayed for me to see. Even if my range calculation was wrong I would hit her somewhere on the spine. I was barely conscious of the report, the sight picture wobbled slightly and I didn’t see the bullet strike. What I didn’t see however, was Shadow move out of the long grass.
Down and out
I could easily see any movement as I stared hard up onto the hill, she was down, that was for sure. There were no howls or whimpers and I remained motionless, watching and waiting for any signs of movement, or worse, only wounded the dog, but nothing. I reloaded and waited another few moments for any signs of life, again nothing. I reached over and grabbed my rangefinder. Red was lying where he had fallen, his red fur shining bright in the rising sun at 150 yards. I scanned the hill opposite and found the last point where I had seen Shadow and pressed the button on the Leica - 260 yards but, a kill isn’t a kill until it’s confirmed. Slowly standing up I had my rifle ready if she happened to rise from the long grass and run.
I walked quickly toward where Red was lying; he was actually further behind my target than I had thought, 50 yards to be exact. The 75-grain hollow point had struck him about 2”high and about 4” behind his left shoulder. A small splash of red on his fur the only indication that he had been shot, the Sierra had exited slightly higher on the other side of his chest.
Reach for the sky
I took my bearings and started towards where I had last seen Shadow. I was wary that if wounded she might know I was coming. The hill became steeper as I approached where I thought she might be. Moving slowly forward, with rifle ready I saw the dark crumpled shape in front of me on its back, two front legs reaching for the sky. I approached carefully, until I could see she was well and truly dead. The bullet had struck on the left side of the neck and had killed her instantly, even before she hit the ground. Elated at two successful shots over unknown distances and two clean kills, a few minutes later as I sat resting on the tailgate of my ‘ute’ sipping my coffee, I smiled to myself and thought, “not too bad”.
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