– Masterclass – A Wild Apprenticeship

Take a mental journey, imagine standing on a shaded log overlooking grasslands, the wind steady, yet cool. Tiny black ants smother your feet but there’s no reason to react, it’s a form of connection. A healthy addiction has hold, one fuelled by passion where hidden skills rise from within.

Distant sounds murmor from a South Easterly direction……. it’s known sound travels further with the wind and the dull machinery rumble was coming from a town 30km away. The sound’s direction backs your observation matching the insects flying on the low pressure side of shrubs, also by air across skin and clouds through the sky.

The brain recognises the pattern and relaxes, nothing is out of ordinary with the wind; the general air flow constant across the greater region, animals working calmly with what’s given to them this day.

The high pressure weather system above works its way east across Australia creating the conditions in which animals must accept. The wind unlikely to change direction today, yet would ease a little by late afternoon.
Animals would know this as they’re adept to detecting patterns, they go with the flow of nature, not against!

Eyes glance right as a skink steps out of the shade to chase another from its territory. Things are moving today.

A flock of birds stick low, flying rapidly west followed by another heading the same direction indicating the small rain cell over the hills is about to wet the earth along with increased winds. They avoid it where possible.

Thoughts flash back home wondering if the house windows are shut, then as quick as that thought arrived the brain refocused on present moment. You’re not home, at work or wondering about life, this is 100% presence and awareness of surroundings well knowing of self and comfortable with the workings of the film equipment leaning against the log. Getting distracted or sidetracked would kill the afternoon’s film attempt stalking wild pigs. The mind has to zone out of city thoughts and zone into immediate surroundings and stay there otherwise you’re like a disconnected wire hanging loose.

At this point the mind is simply dialing in to the baseline rhythm of the environment, a bit like rocking up to a pub and feeling out the vibe. Tense, calm, free or retractive?

I’d already picked up the animals were moving and the atmosphere sharing energy. Today was a day things would happen, no static neutral pause, the place was in second gear and rolling.

Before retreating from that log instinct kicked in, the brain automatically processing information collected through senses comparing it to hundreds and thousands of walked kilometres and memories of years gone by resulting in a visualisation of where to look for these animals and why they would be there.

Instinct guided me away taking a right turn and not left bypassing several known hotspots because simply these were the wrong conditions for animals to visit those areas. They simply wouldn’t go there as air flow and air density would cause problems, it would generate high risk. There’s a lot more going on in an environment than we often care to notice, because it’s deep and near on a science but makes perfect sense when explained.

The biggest contributors to the Masterclass way of life is a high-level understanding of the target animal and the environment which it lives overlaying controlling environmental variations but at the same time firing this knowledge through our own brain, using self-awareness to stay alert and in control.

These phrases help my game work well.

Know Your Animal
Know Your Environment
Know Your Equipment
Know Your Self

This all sounds simple, and it is, yet knowing your animal is broken down to the second. Knowing their needs and reasons for every move makes finding them easy. Only easy if the thousands of hours groundwork is done to be at this level. This takes people decades and even then can still fall far short of a second by second, minute by minute understanding.

Given several kilometres had to be walked hotfooting helped reach the zone quickly; fading light the enemy for filmmaking.
Along the way signs of singular large pigs appeared in soft sand and in particular tracks from smaller pigs. This was ideal.
Some of the biggest challenges in shooting raw footage is being busted through sight, sound, scent, or secondary alarms by other animals, or through directing inner energy too heavily, something that took me decades to accept.

A detour was needed ahead to keep my scent from the noses of cattle scattered in front. These cattle would run for safety if spooked and protection for them would mean running straight through the intended film zone. That disturbance would kill the chances so these cattle had to remain out of the equation. They were feeding away from the target zone, it was critical to let that continue.

The coolest part of a Masterclass lifestyle is morphing into kill mode, needing to be flawless in every aspect in order to obtain the ultimate result. Excuses are bullshit cover-ups for mistakes. Mistakes I’d made years ago, suffered the emotional burn then learnt to not accept anything less than perfection in an environment that set that standard.
Because without that attitude we will make more mistakes and today one mistake would cost the chance to film an impressive adult boar. One chance, one minute, one success story.

A mob of young inexperienced pigs would visit the waterhole first because the lack of life learnings hadn’t sculpted their behaviour. Instead of sneaking in early I chose to sit back and let them come in knowing what triggered their awakening to leave their bed and walk to water before moving out to feed. (That’s a science in itself)

Now, let’s ignore the mob pigs for a minute and talk about knowing your animal. Large boars have some years racked up, play it safe and can’t afford mistakes, maybe we read the same book or perhaps simply acknowledging a rule of the wild, ‘one mistake could equal death!’

Success however hinged off both of us making no mistakes today, he needed to be free and comfortable in his travels and myself calm, alert, yet well timed. I’m in kill (serious) mode and acting in a way unlike my city behaviour back home. Here out bush is where skills are applied for reason, the NEED for results.

Breaking down the situation about to unfold hinged off a few things.
The many eyes, ears and noses in the mob needed to pass without detecting my presence yet I had to detect theirs to know they had 100% travelled through before setting foot or scent anywhere near their hoofzone. Staying outside their sensory bubble was essential, yet I needed them inside mine.
Secondly, the biggest of boars would wait for the mob to be ahead of their position as boars would also be using them as protection and an information intelligence source. We were both using them as bait.

Thirdly, the wind from the SE would limit my approach angles and lastly by the time a big boar dropped into view there would be no more than about 10 mins of usable light to film as the sun lowered behind hill tops.
A few advantages existed, one was a nearby fan of sunlight highlighting open grasslands as it shone through a valley. Birds would remain active here as light lasted longer and given nature was in an active mode today the big boar would feel more comfortable knowing birds were communicating in gentle safe talk. He’d be listening as he poked out, so I could not afford to turn off nature’s gentle stereo tune by interrupting birds.
I had to fit in. Fortunately over the years of being amongst it all had learnt to mimic several critical bird sounds, sounds of calm, not alarm calls. Alarm calls would create a STOP in the old boar’s travel.

In life I learnt it’s not always what people say but it’s what they don’t say that has the most meaning! Think about that one.
In a boar’s brain to walk into a quiet paddock on a day it should be talking is a deafening silence that speaks volumes. Silence has a powerful message.

The first sign of the mob was indicated by three crows calling about 600m away, landing on branches above the canopy, pivoting 180 degrees, looking downward, then flying ahead about 20m to another tree following the mob’s movement likely looking for insects disturbed as the pigs ambled along. The first ground level indicator at around 350m were white cattle egrets doing the same, flying to catch up, scrambling along the ground for disturbed meals. Nature was definitely alive today, hasn’t and won’t change until about midnight, I’d be asleep well before then but all things considered this was about knowing your animals, controlling factors, equipment and self.

My weakness wasn’t the camera gear although it was heavy and cumbersome, the weakness would be trying to stay low and maintain awareness, that’s hard to do. The grass was great cover but while moving through vision disconnects.
So be it. Being aware of the weakness is actually a strength, because we then limit the use of that weakness.
The mob was first sighted, then heard as a small boar smacked another out of the way. Social animals, clearly controlled by pecking order. The wind was perfect, my camo blending partially obscured by tea tree branches and shade. Atleast 23 animals moved ahead and time ticked a bit, my inner lit up with excitement as their air scent drifted across my position but that emotion was suppressed because only a calm head would get close to what was coming next.

The plan was to create an intercept from just below cross wind and beat the boar (if he arrived on time) to a known scent marker, a chewed off juvenile paperback tree bitten, tusked and rubbed by visiting boars. One problem, there where two possible pads he could take, 40m apart and the reasons for taking either were split 50/50 in my head. No point stressing over uncertainty!!

It was time to move to the ambush point but two brolgas blocked that path. From hours and hours in the field I’d learnt of their bubble. I call them 70m birds because if entering that space they walk away maintaining 70m distance. These birds have a beautiful trumpet call that meant relaxation for pigs so these birds needed to be left in the equation in their current position. A domino affect could happen, spooking the birds would flush the mob and lead the boars elsewhere.

A low stalk and crawl of about 100m put the stickman frame among protection of paperbark forrest now out of view and safe from the happy trumpeting birds. Hearing them continually calling from a really close position created a smile and goosebumps, I was now well inside nature’s security system and man that is a freaking awesome feeling to be where you’re not supposed to.

All skills mental and physical applied today to this point meant nothing because what we do next means most. The pinnacle was yet to come. One crunch of a stick, wrong camera setting, a sneeze, or being seen would end in disaster. As cruel and unforgiving as Johnny Mitchell’s style can be, I’m sorry there is no room for fuck ups. That’s not my inner, it’s Nature’s rule we MUST FOLLOW.
Do it right or die!

You’re playing A Grade games, not smiling in a fantasy land dreamtime……and just like a vivid dream a shape appeared, not one but two, the lead pig looking prime at around 100 kilos yet the one behind was a beast. Like always, we want bigger and better but now the game got harder.

To settle for the 100kg model would would be wise as he’s first in line and wind scent could spook the second while filming, but no the pig behind was a tank and I’d prefer no footage at all today verse a chance of capturing beast mode on HDV.
Light was still good, maybe six or eight minutes left, wind steady at around eight knots and the earlier mob’s scent set like a safety string for these boars to follow. My heart began to pound, yet knowing about self is essential so breathing deepened to keep calm. We can’t think straight without oxygen.

The two pigs were roughly 250m to the SW, the scent stick about 40m to the south from my current location.
That 40m had to be closed fast, yet I had to remain on the northern side, set up a low tripod with clear sight to the pad they followed with enough pan to follow the action.
Head on shots hold power, an arse shot from downwind would be rubbish.

The heart settled, the mind again asking for calm as the first boar stopped out of film range, the larger boar caught up sniffing the smaller one which flickered his ears rapidly signifying submission. The larger pig took lead position and at just 20m from the stick, stopped. The camera recording everything and just like that he looked my way. It amazes me how in tune they are, an animal recognising something wasn’t right even though my concealment was good and wind drift safe. He may have detected emptiness, a void or perhaps knew my patterns from the last encounter, never seeing me yet sensing or questioning presence. Camera rolling, I was frozen, head down, eyes only on LCD to see two incredibly intelligent animals paused. The lead boar didn’t sniff the air wildly, he just stopped quietly and stared.

Years ago that’s where the game would end as those old boars often took a 90 degree turn and walked around the discomfort but I had one cool ace card up the sleeve and just seconds to use it before he balked.

A pheasant call, not just any old bird call but one that calls calmly at this time just before sunset. If I could let this cagey boar know everything was calm over here in the void he’d continue. Choose the wrong bird call or volume and the chance would vanish, he was looking for irregularities.
Under pressure our voice can crack so in a gentle controlled call considering volume and pitch a ‘whoop whoop whoop whoop whoop…’ was sent his way and almost instantly the boar took a step and quietly approached the scent stick.

To be honest both pigs’ steps were now silent, stealth mode. 200+ kilograms of pigs moving like mice! Nature is neat!
Not more than seven metres away filling the screen a torn eared, deep chested pig about 130 kilos rubbed softly on a stick, pawed the dirt with both front feet, then walked off with his companion into the fading light and open marshlands.

I could have screamed with excitement after that connective experience but it was contained, quietly packing down the camera, creeping away quietly then into a long stride for camp. I did not want them KNOWING of my existence for that experience can be engaged again.

That old boar recognised a void of emptiness, perhaps my presence hushed insects during the rush to position and hide. Fortunately I was aware of the power of nothingness, the silence that can kill and for a wild animal already tuned to the meaning of emptiness it was yet another encounter of life changing magnitude.

……forever in debt to the rules of the wild, appreciative of how she functions and what we must know to survive and obtain results on any given day.

To merge with any environment or animal takes immense amounts of time backed by observational skill sets where data is remembered or locked into our subconscious mind. Some data never comes out unless we politely ask inward for answers.

Barra fishing is exactly the same, multiple decades fishing with an open mind, questioning everything found so many cool things about their behaviour, right down to knowing where to be and why, and predicting bites down to micro-seconds, knowing not just what makes them bite but via a multi-layered approach where holding a quality fish in your arms is the direct result of a triple figure combination.

“The more we know the more we can do!”

Johnny Mitchell

Click here to see more about my Masterclass Seminar on Barramundi

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