'I'm really not suited to working in the office... Being on the battlefield is much more comfortable for me.' Claude, who echoed such a sentiment, was currently blazing through the wide plains on his mount. The view of the endless Albator Plains brought his mood to cloud nine.
A few smoke signals could be seen rising up in the distance. Myjack, who was at the forefront, raised his palm, and the rest riding behind him slowed their pace. They were one of the groups of the scout tent Thundercrash sent out. They should've come back to report something.
As expected, the four horsemen in the distance pulled on their reins and dismounted. They came to Myjack while escorting their horses. Myjack asked them a couple questions before he took the bearded leader to Claude.
"General, this is Staff-Sergeant Linkmart from Line 1301 Scout Clan of Thundercrash Folk. I have news from Lieutenant-Colonel Berklin. We have discovered the bulls' migratory routes and are currently scouting near the bull herd. We have yet to discover any traces of the enemy," the soldier reported loudly after a salute.
The migration of a million bulls was by no means a covert event, but Albator Plains stretched almost endlessly and the bulls didn't necessarily use the same routes each year. Oftentimes, their route would shift for fresher sources of water and grazing grounds. As such, the herd had to first be located on the plains before any hunting could begin.
Those who've never seen a herd of a million bulls before couldn't possibly imagine the true scale of the migration. Looking from on far, it only seemed like a dark, cloudy mass moving across the plains. Whatever green they crossed were turned into a rust-red, muddy mess.
"General, we can't get any closer," Linkmart said as he led the way. He was born in the colonies and had been picked to transfer into Thundercrash from one of the colonial corps and also had years of bull-hunting experience.
"It's safe 500 metres away from the herd. Beyond that is where the other predators hunt. Entering without preparation would only prompt attack from them. Not to mention, a hundred metres away from the bulls are where they are most alert. The moment the bulls take you for an enemy, a few of them would charge at you until they drive you to a safe distance. General, our horses can't take the charges of these bulls. Sometimes, their short-distance sprints can be much faster than a war horse's gallop," he explained.
Claude reasoned it should be mostly true. He had seen a few famous carnivorous beasts on Nubissia, among them included pack-like long-tooth lions, agile and combat-adept Nubissian manticores, floral-patterned hunting leopards, savage red-hair wolves and the like. Almost all of the carnivores so far discovered to be on Nubissia appeared in range of the bull herd, ready to strike at any moment. But most often, they would get into a fight with a minor herd of bulls and their cries and shrieks reverberated nonstop.
"Staff-Sergeant Linkmart, can you tell us how you hunted those bulls?" Claude asked.
"Of course, General." Linkmart pointed excitedly at the herd not far ahead. "If we hunt bulls, we can't do it at the front of the herd as the bulls there are the most fearsome and aggressive. They are akin to the vanguard of our troops who are in charge of paving the way. Anyone that blocks them will easily be mowed down by the frenzied bulls. They don't care how strong the enemy is and will only charge at them single mindedly until they're crushed to bits.
"Similarly, the front flanks are also a bad choice. Attacking them there will cause the bulls to break into a frenzied pursuit. They won't stop no matter what. I heard some old bull hunters say that a troupe of nobles had come to Nubissia on a trip and wanted to join the hunt when they heard about it. They avoided the frontmost part and instead tried to flank the bulls.
"Initially, they managed to hunt ten plus bulls without a hitch, but they got too close to the bulls without realising it. The bulls from the rear were closing in on them and eventually surrounded them from all sides. Now that they had the bulls' attention, they were pursued nonstop. Eventually, they were trapped amidst tens of thousands of bulls and when their mounts were finally unable to run any more, the noble's troupe with some 30 attendants were all trampled into mud by the bulls.
"Usually, the better spot to hunt the bulls would be the rear flanks. But we must first chase the carnivores away from that area. Make them know that those parts are human territory and we'd have a much easier time getting kills. However, most of the bulls located near the rear are sickly or old. They aren't worth too much to bull hunters and their meat doesn't taste that good either. Usually, they're turned into jerky and sold that way.
"Even if we're hunting near the rear, we still have to pay attention to the carnivores. There have been instances when the hunters weren't able to maintain dominance over their hunting territory and got attacked by the other predators. The slightest mistake could cause harm to the rest of the crew. So, basically, hunters would give up on hunting during the evenings and retreat to a camp a kilometre away with their catch and prepare to defend against predator attacks there. Only on the next day would they consider retaking some of the hunting territory from the predators.
"If we can form a hunting unit of a hundred plus people, the ideal part to hunt would be near the tail end of the bull herd. Most of the bulls there are older and weak ones who can't keep up with the front, but you'll also find some fit ones from time to time such as young adults that just started living alone. Those are the best prey for bull hunters.
"One good thing about hunting near the rear is we wouldn't have to fear retaliation. However, we do have to pay attention to the barely mature bulls that might attack from time to time. They're usually really aggressive and don't care about how many you have or whether you're a hunter or beast. Once triggered, those bulls will give you hell until they die.
"And the one thing to pay the most attention to at the tail end are the wolf packs. Whether they be red-hair wolves or grassland wolves, they are the most troublesome things hunters have to face. The wolves are large in number and also remember grudges. Every time a bull migration occurs, those wolves would form into large packs and tail the bull herd from the rear. On one hand, they would be hunting bulls like normal. On the other, they'll rob other carnivores of their prey. Sometimes, even the fiercest manticores have to give up on their game and leave.
"There have been bull hunters that managed to kill off tens of wolves fighting them for their prey. They ended up surrounded by thousands of wolves during the night and fought for three days and nights. They only managed to hold their camp after suffering heavy losses and killing hundreds of red-hair wolves. In the end, the bull herd left and the wolves retreated, so they had no choice but to head home to recover. The trip ended up making them a loss.
"Now, experienced hunters would give the weaker bulls they hunted to the wolf packs and take the fresher ones for themselves. Only then can the boundaries be drawn properly. In our experience, we have to leave at least one bull for every three we get for the wolves. If we take them all, the wolves will leap for the next bull we hunt."
Everyone surrounding Linkmart listened with keen interest. Myjack asked, "Staff-Sergeant Linkmart, what do you think is most crucial for bull hunting?"
Linkmart gave it some thought before he answered, "A well-defended encampment and enough support staff, I suppose. Hunting the bulls themselves is what hunters do, but after that, we'll need support to transport the bulls for treatment at camp. They'll have to be skinned, drained of blood, have their meat smoked and their horns and leather preserved. All that requires manpower and the profits of the hunt will depend on it.
"Additionally, the sheer number of predators will pose quite a huge threat to us hunters. So, a protected camp can afford us much-needed sleep to recover our energy. Only a third of the hunting unit are actual hunters. The rest are all support staff. We have to find a location a kilometre away from the bulls to set up camp. As for supplies, we source them mostly from the rear and dig trenches for added defence."
Gum suddenly asked, "Are the abandoned campsites we passed by just now camps used for old hunts?"
Linkmart nodded. "That's right. I think the earliest of them had been built ten years ago. But lately, the bulls' migratory routes have been closing in to the east. So these camps become useless after one or two years. Straying too far from the herd can be quite dangerous as well and the corpses would harden to change the texture of the meat."
Claude looked at the skies and asked his men to set up camp. Then, he told Linkmart to bring someone to hunt a few bulls for some fresh food. He wanted to see whether the former bull hunter had gone rusty.
Linkmart called a few other ex-hunters up without hesitation and took three carriages with them to the herd. Claude and Myjack waited atop a hill and looked at them from a telescope from a distance to see how they hunted.
First, Linkmart and his men cried out loudly and caused quite a commotion as they cracked their loud whips, scaring away three floral-patterned leopards. They then stopped their carriages there before LInkmart led the rest even closer to the herd.
They didn't charge into it directly. Instead, Linkmart and the others lined side by side to surround and cut some five bulls away from their herd. They then chased the bulls away with their whips and took them from their herd's zone of attention.
One of the bulls seemed to have a flaring temper and suddenly turned around before ramming into one of the mounts without a care in the world. Thankfully, Linkmart had warned that soldier beforehand. The soldier swerved his horse to the left and avoided collision with that bull.
The bull, having missed its target, stopped abruptly, but it noticed that it was too far away from the pack. It turned to look around in confusion and back at its herd, before stopping to graze.
By then, Linkmart and the rest were already around a hundred metres from the bull herd. They now rode in a different motion with two men sandwiching the bull from both sides to prevent it from turning. Linkmart had his lit musket held out and shot the back of the bull's head.
A loud bang could be heard, followed by a puff of smoke.
Claude could wholly see blood dripping out of the back of the bull's head. The running bull continued forwards for a few more steps before it tumbled and crashed into the ground, its legs still twitching.
Three other bulls suffered the same fate, one of which was shot at the back of the head by Linkmart and collapsed not long after. However, the other two bulls didn't play along that nicely. One jumped wildly after being shot like it had rabies. Fortunately, the other soldier on the side reacted quickly enough and put another bullet into it quick to put it down for good.
The last bull was shot on the right flank and swerved left, forcing the other soldier who hadn't fired yet to turn his horse around and avoid the strike. Then, this bull broke out of their formation and raged on as if it hadn't been injured at all and ran faster and further away.
Linkmart and the rest couldn't deal with that bull. They had fired all the muskets they had once and could only stop to rest. They called the carriages to load the three bulls they got, reloaded and reset their slow matches to defend against the wild beasts staring nearby.
When the carriages arrived, four to five soldiers served as lookouts while the rest moved the heavy bull corpses onto the carriages. Only after that did they head towards the rear.
Having seen the show, Claude now understood how bulls were meant to be hunted. Unlike what he imagined, only by shooting the rear of the bull's head could they be killed in one shot. He initially thought the bulls could be shot from a hundred metres away. It was apparent that if they couldn't target the vitals to put the bulls down quickly enough, they would anger the bulls and risk their retaliation instead.
The three bulls hunted according to Linkmart's methods were probably weaker ones, being around a thousand catties in weight. Stronger bulls usually weighed around 1500 catties. A few years back, a group of hunters lost two to three of their men by hunting a king bull, which was said to weigh more than 2700 catties. It was said to have stood up to two metres in height and was incredibly terrifying.
The bulls they hunted became their dinner. Claude ordered Thundercrash to not hunt any for the next two days as their main goal was to find traces of the enemy. He wondered whether anyone from the voluntary Canasian light-cavalry corps was sent out to continue hunting the migration bull in Albator Plains of Balingana.