November 15th, first day of the hunting season. We had a stretch of pretty bad weather the previous few days, consisting of rain and typhoon like wind. Come the morning of the 15th everything had cleared up and it was humid and hot.
I got up just before dawn, gave the dogs a quick walk and then packed them into the jeep. I'd already gotten everything ready the night before, so we were off. As we drove south the horizon lit up in a beautiful red, and with the warm breeze blowing through the window it was all perfect. On the way down I saw several cars packed with hunters, all out of towners, and no one with any dogs. Most likely they were all meeting up for some group hunting.
Hunting with guns in Japan is allowed from sun up till sun down, to the minute actually. We arrived at our spot right on time, and just after I pulled over, a Pointer came bounding down the road. The locals were already out and about, and in the first 30 minutes I ran into 3 other hunters. All were after pheasant and yamadori. I regretfully told them that I haven't seen a bird in the area all year, and sure enough none of them found any. Apparently the bird numbers have dropped as the boar numbers have soared. Not sure if there's a connection there.
After we tucked Baron into his crate, Haru and I were off. 12 gauge strapped to my back, Garmin GPS in hand and decked out in hunter orange, this was one day I was not going in the mountains looking like anything other than a fluorescent don't shoot me sign. Haru looked like a serious hunting dog with her new GPS collar. The Garmin Astro 220 I had ordered arrived 2 days earlier, and after tweaking the maps a bit I was pretty impressed and a bit anxious to give it a spin.
Haru and I have been working pretty well together recently, and have gotten pretty lucky about finding boar. Or at least getting close. Around 5 minutes in, she found our first of the day in a marsh to our left. It was probably getting its last bit of eating in before heading to bed. Haru was around 30 meters ahead of me and did her usual 'point' before getting all excited. I think my performance last time we saw pigs rubbed off on her, because this time she went charging down after it. All I saw of the pig was its rear end disappearing into the bush. I called Haru off, as she was probably not going to have much luck stopping a pig on the run like that.
We trudged on another 2 km to where I figured the pigs would be sleeping. The closer we got the more fresh pig signs we saw. Having the GPS was great, I could see exactly where Haru was every time she disappeared to check out something. We came to the top of the southeast facing ridge where the tracks were headed and I thought the pigs would be bedded down, but nothing. I marked the spot on the GPS for next time, and we started down the ridge. Around 50 meters down I saw Haru freeze to my right. A few seconds passed before she went charging in.
I counted 4 large pigs coming out of the nest. They didn't seem to be in much of a hurry, and one of them wheeled toward Haru and charged. She dodged it and came running back toward me. The boar saw me and charged. He got to within 5 meters before I fired. He rolled once, wheeled around, and took off downhill. I had hit him, but probably not anywhere it counted. First shot I'd fired at a moving target since last season. I went to go after him, but Haru wanted nothing of it. Stupid me, I'd gun broken Haru when I first got her, but hadn't taken her to the shooting range in around 4 months. She was uphill behind me, around 30 meters back, and didn't want to come down.
In typical Nihonken fashion, she decided she was going back to the car. I wanted to look for the boar, as I hate to leave wounded animals out there, but as I looked at the GPS I could see Haru back tracking. She does this sometimes when she decides it's time to go home, and I'm always amazed at her sense of direction. We'd done a U loop to get up to the boar nest, so I figured I could head downhill and look for the boar, and cut off Haru at the bottom of the ridge before she got back to the car. It's hard to find animals in extremely dense forests like we have here in Chiba, and I wasn't having any luck, but I could see Haru making her way back to the jeep.
I was just getting to the bottom of the ridge, when I saw Haru start heading back to the boar nest. It wasn't very pleasant realizing I had to claw my way back up there, but another chance to look for the boar. All in all we looked for him for a good hour and a half, but his trail disappeared after a while. We went back to the car and let Baron out for a meal and a bit of play. I used the chance to gun break Baron a bit. The first shot he perked up and looked around, but then when right back to playing through the second. Doesn't seem we'll have a problem there. Haru was fine okay with it, but for the rest of the day she'd look at me funny when I'd take the gun off my back.
As we were taking our break, and I was half naked trying to dry my sweat drenched clothes, one of the local hunters came by with his Setter. We talked for a while as Haru and the Setter played around. Turns out the pigs had come down, crossed the valley and headed up the other side. He asked if I'd seen any birds, and again the answer was no.
I decided to try another area, as boar tend to clear out after hearing gun shots. At the next spot we found a lot of fresh boar tracks, so I isolated a ridge where I figured they'd be bedded down, and we were off. As we were clawing our way through a bamboo filled area, I noticed some fresh dog tracks, and soon enough a dog popped up to my left. He loved Haru, and wouldn't leave us, so we kept trudging on. We picked up another hunting dog on the way and I as all the dogs were hunting together, I had my very own pack. They were all 'Ji-inu' which are basically local hunting mixes, but they all tend to have the same look to them. The only thing I was worried about was the fact that there were obviously other hunters in the vicinity, so I started whistling as we trudged along.
I wanted to get out and back to the car. No use in taking chances with other hunters that I don't know around. I reached for my GPS, and it was gone. Somewhere back in the bamboo I had dropped it. So of we went, back tracking and praying that I'd be able to find my new $500 gadget. Miraculously I found it. I was actually pretty shocked when I saw it lying there.
Well the GPS was back in hand, but I still had these other dogs. I decided the hunters were probably at the top of the ridge, so figured I'd return the pups. After a bit of walking around up top, we found them, and they turned out to be a big hunting group. The main guy was a local, and as we talked dogs I discovered he used to hunt with a pack of Kai. They were good dogs, but apparently trying to stop boar with baying dogs was really tough, and a few years back he switched to hunting with Ji-inu. I've been hearing this about Kai a lot recently.
Well we found no pigs in the area, and at the end of the ridge we found out why. A trapper had taken 6 pigs in one box trap that morning. Hence the missing pigs. I moved to another spot for the last round of the day, and Haru ended up finding more pigs/piglets which she got really excited about and chased a fair distance. She wouldn't come back, so I thought she might have caught one of the smaller ones. I got out to where she was, but the pigs were already gone, with little tracks going everywhere. Haru ran around frantically trying to find them for a bit before we headed back toward the car.
During that last round, the GPS sent out a 'low on battery' warning which freaked me out as Haru was off chasing pigs. Funny how quickly I became attached to this gadget. I don't think I'd even want to think about hunting without it now. That's how amazing it is. Anyone out there interested in hunting, or just running your dogs off leash, get a Garmin Astro. Enough said.
We headed through some pretty harsh terrain to get back to the car, and ended up going through an area where I took a pig last year, and some pheasants as well. There were pig tracks and droppings everywhere, but as luck would have it we rustled up some pheasants instead. No use trying to hit them with slugs.
That was it for the hunting. We didn't take anything home, but it was great fun to be out there, and to see how Haru is maturing was amazing. She's still a pup (and all to often I forget that), and as I mailed a friend about the day he gave me an eye opening reminder that I'm putting her into situations that she can't win, and that if I'm not careful she could get turned off to hunting pigs. Really made me think, and I'm trying to plan some more training to get her some good experiences on pigs.
One amusing thing, as I was walking down the road after round 2, a car slowed down and the driver was a jolly old fellow who started talking to me. He was collecting wild mushrooms, and he looked at Haru and asked if I was hunting boar. I said yes, and he said, "Is she that famous dog?" I didn't know what he was talking about, so replied, "No, she's just a Kai." He trailed off after that and I couldn't catch what he was saying, but he said something about the internet and some "tube" at the end, after which he drove off. After thinking about it for a moment, I realized he was talking about Youtube, and Haru's videos. We ran into him again later on in the day, and we had a good chuckle about the odds on him seeing Haru on the net, and then just stumbling across us hunting in the mountains.
All in all a great day, and there was more to everything, but this post is already long enough so I'll save it for later. There are no pics or vid from the day as I was in 'serious' mode. Maybe next time.