Darryn Pritchard and his wife Kari embark on their first wild dog hunt and it’s a howling success.
My wife received a call from her father. One of his mates, a local property owner and his family were at their wits' end. They had been losing new calves to wild dogs at an unacceptable rate.
“We sure are interested…very interested”, I heard my wife say. These hunting opportunities don’t always present themselves, so we jumped at the chance.
After contacting the landowners and rearranging our calendar, we had set a date for mid-September. Now, as we had never hunted wild dogs specifically, we went in search of information on the subject and came up short on hunting detail. Those that we spoke to insisted “you can’t hunt dogs, you just come across them by chance”.
The Friday before our weekend hunt, we headed to the range to sight our rifles and got talking with a fellow hunter about our plans. It turns out he was a contract roo shooter in the past and had some experience with dogs.
“You just gotta howl them in”, he said and with that he gave an impromptu demonstration. He explained that they will want to defend their territory and throw caution to the wind as they race toward you, ignoring sights, smells and sounds that would normally have them showing great apprehension. “Might even like to have a shot gun handy if they rush in too close”, he added. “You might feel a bit silly howling at first but no one else is there…. don’t even need to be very good at it….”. Then came another demonstration.
We dropped the kids at the in-laws' place the following morning and headed out to meet our hosts. My father-in-law’s mate and his son quickly showed us around the property, pointing out where dogs have been seen and the half-dozen calf carcases in varying states of decay. We discussed our intentions to stay around into the early evening and return before dawn the next morning, as this was their most active time. With that we were on our own.
Heading back up the long meandering spring fed gully on the northern side of the property, where the majority of the calves had been taken, it became obvious to us how many entry and exit points the dogs had from off-shoot gullies. The twists and turns of the main gully offered cover for a surprise attack as the cattle fed on the only green grass on the property.
After careful deliberation based on our limited knowledge, we settled on a spot to sit, watch and wait, one that offered a clear view to the upper gullies. These gullies allowed passage from the higher tree line. The only con was the setting sun in our eyes that made glassing near impossible. It would soon drop behind the opposite ridge.
While we waited, we confirmed our respective safe shooting angles and the safe access to the 12 gauge between us if required. When the sun was below the ridge, we were good-to-go, it was time to howl.
“No one else is here”, I said to myself. If I couldn’t howl in front of my wife, who could I howl in front of? So off I went. Confidence growing every time.
Glassing the opposing ridge, spurs and gullies for any movement, all we saw was birdlife, incredibly active and so varied. Small birds had us spinning around quickly in our hyper-attentive state. We really weren’t sure where a dog may appear from.
Howl, watch, listen, repeat, and nothing showed. We persevered for an hour and a half then headed back to the vehicle under a rising full moon. Driving back to the in-laws, my confidence had dropped, I was questioning our methods and my howling.
Heading back to the farm in the darkness before dawn the next morning, I felt excited again. We wanted to be in position before daybreak to not miss an opportunity. We drove across the property to the southern boundary, another dog hot spot pointed out to us yesterday.
Parking at the fence line on the top of a ridge, we gathered our gear. With what was left of the full moon light we quietly made our way down a spur towards the valley below. We pulled up and settled in a position that gave us a good view up and down the small valley with a couple of small shrubs for cover and camouflage. As the moon dropped behind the high western ridge, a dark shadow fell across the area. Daylight was only just beginning to break the opposing horizon.
Just then, across the valley and down to the right only a few hundred metres away, a lone dog began to howl. Within seconds a chorus of howls rang out for what seemed like an eternity. I estimated at least half a dozen dogs. The hair on the back of our necks stood up and we could feel the adrenaline rise through our bodies.
When the choir finally stopped, my wife was staring at me with big possum eyes. “Holy s#!t! Now I’m a little bit scared. Don’t you dare start howling until day light breaks enough to see what’s coming.” So, we waited and watched the valley floor below for any movement. We scoped the area to test the available light.
After 15 minutes or so we were satisfied with our visibility. Conditions were in our favour with a gentle breeze at our face, we just needed to draw them out.
I let out a howl to break the silence. Within moments, a reply. It came from higher up the valley, several hundred metres to our left. There was more than one dog. Then immediately the pack returned serve across to our right. We now knew where they were,they were everywhere.
I continued to howl and was given a couple of replies from our left up the valley, then the replies stopped. We scanned the gully up and down, the neighbouring spurs and up toward the ridge behind us. I howled and we waited.
As I looked up behind us my wife called “DOG! Three dogs.”
I spun around to see them silently and at speed appear over a lower spur from the left. Just as we’d had explained to us, they came in with reckless abandonment, they were here to defend their territory.
At the sound of my wife’s voice they pulled up, growling and barking. As we chambered our rounds the two younger looking dogs began to back track. The older, larger dog stood his ground. For my wife he was obscured by a small shrub, but I had a clear view and shot. I positioned the crosshairs on his chest and squeezed the trigger. A 105gn pill from the .243 flipped him off his feet. A centre chest hit that exited through the left rib cage, a few nerve twitches and he was done.
As I moved my attention to the two young dogs, one had run out of sight from where they had appeared. The other had dropped into the valley and down to the right. A spray of dust blew up under its back feet as a shot from my wife’s .223 fell short, and it was out of sight.
We took a moment to check on each other and comprehend what had, so quickly, just happened. We suppressed our adrenaline and were back to it. I tried to call back the young dogs or draw out any others. Only one dog would reply, and its howls grew softer and further away. It moved quickly higher up the other side and off to the right, with the protection of thick cover.
As the first warm rays of the mid-September sun came over the hill, we moved forward to inspect our quarry. It was a reasonably large male dog with healthy teeth and gums. I would
guesstimate over 25kg after comparison to my 20kg dog at home. A quick check with the range finder showed the dogs had pulled up just 28 metres from us. We repositioned and howled some more, but to no avail.
After packing up and reporting our efforts to the landowner, he was delighted with our news. An invitation was quickly extended for a return visit whenever we were able.
After this trip, I can say with confidence that my wife and I can successfully hunt wild dogs. Not bad work for a couple of first timers with a little bit of shared knowledge. You’ve just got to get on their territory and howl them in.