Events and learning experienced at a young age can have lasting memories and sometimes lay the foundations for a greater purpose or destiny and I recall fondly those days as a child on my grandfather’s farm in Euston, NSW in the 1950s. It was a time when the flame of a kerosene lamp lit a room at night, meals were cooked over a wood stove and a horse and cart were still used to travel into town for supplies. Rural life was one of self-reliance and dependency.
Witnessing firsthand the humane slaughter and processing of farm animals be they chicken, sheep or calves, or the occasional game hunted taught me improvisation, respect for the animals we relied on and greater appreciation of how meat ended up on the table compared to buying trimmed cuts from a butcher or supermarket.
I must admit, and perhaps due to my young mind at the time, I didn’t feel any nervousness but rather accepted the process as a matter of necessity and part of everyday farm life. It helped later in my development when it came to despatching a live chicken bought from Victoria Market destined for the pot, and at another time a sheep gifted to the family by a farmer friend from which I also managed to tan the skin. Those were different times.
As an accomplished hunter and thanks to those early experiences, I’ve since field-dressed all manner of game from quail, ducks and rabbits to goats, pigs and deer, retrieved meat, skinned hides for tanning and caped trophy heads for mounting.
My first firearm, a .177 Gecado air rifle, bought at a time when a licence for such calibre was not required (now compulsory) greatly contributed to my accuracy later as a fully-fledged shooter. And while it would be some years before I qualified for my shooter’s licence, it didn’t stop me pursuing outdoor hunting activities, ferreting with nets for a time in the fern-covered hills an hour out of Melbourne providing a welcomed escape.
On the occasions I was invited to a friend’s cattle property in Gippsland I spent most of my time exploring and setting steel rabbit traps (now illegal) in and around the blackberry bushes with regular success, something the adjoining farmers also appreciated. In later years the same good friend entrusted me with a handful of cartridges and his SxS 12-gauge shotgun, it was my first hunting experience with a real firearm which resulted in five rabbits for the afternoon.
He taught me a valuable lesson I still practise today, to always scan the distant ground or horizon for game. If I saw it first without being detected then I had the advantage and chance to stalk and bag it, he told me. After that I waited impatiently for the next few years to pass so I could apply for my shooter’s licence and acquire my own firearm.
Eventually a Mossberg SB bolt-action 12-gauge shotgun with three-shot magazine became my first affordable gun of choice, not the most desirable shotgun by today’s standard but at the time it was all I wanted. Over the years I bagged copious amounts of rabbits and other small game and with experience, a few more dollars to hand and better appreciation of the various name brand quality shotguns on offer, I bought a Beretta Mod S86S 12-gauge U/O and, for medium game, a Churchill Mauser .243 Win, later replaced by a Schultz & Larsen 6mm. Since retirement a few more rifles have mysteriously joined the collection.
On reflection, there was no single thing which contributed to my development as a hunter but rather an accumulation of experiences and events and most things related to hunting or shooting. Hunters’ stories of outback adventures always caught my attention, certainly some special people along the way who shared their experiences, expertise and knowledge, the lure of the outdoors and strong innate hunting desire being major contributors.
Safari hunting movies and documentaries associated with living off the land were favourites. Wilderness adventurers, indigenous tribes such as Bushmen of the Kalahari Desert, primitive tribes of New Guinea and South America and others were always educational and captivating to watch. Those wildlife documentaries to better understand animal behaviour and mannerisms and primitive tribes to better appreciate their unique and instinctive hunting methods, hand-fashioned hunting implements and bush survival skills, I soaked it up like a sponge.
Africa’s plains game, British Colombia for elks, goats and big-horn sheep, Tajikistan for ibex, New Zealand for chamois and thar, Northern Territory for wild boar, scrub bull and Asiatic water buffalo and other far flung places became destinations I hoped to one day visit. Shooting magazines with informative content on a diverse range of hunting-related matters, interesting articles by everyday shooters and experts and broad product reviews were a regular purchase. Gun shows and expos were also great places to visit and meet like-minded people.
Self-reliance and gear
A hunter’s success is greatly dependent on preparation, planning, self-reliance and equipment carried and I quickly learned the importance of essential gear in the field to accomplish the intended task and avoid disappointment. Depending on the extent and duration of a hunt such items as a sharp field knife, backpack, water bottle, tourniquet with a few bandages, lighter, length of cord, spare ammo, food or snacks, binoculars and GPS will make for a more enjoyable outing.
Vietnam-era khaki clothing and later three-colour auscam apparel, together with 8^ high sturdy hunting boots, became my favoured hunting wear for stalking, modern camouflage clothing and accessories added to the wardrobe since then. As years progressed I favoured feasting in camp on game taken and encouraged others to participate, much to their surprised delights. To further improve my chances in a survival situation I trialled various type of bush tucker and practised bushcraft, the SAS Survival Guide a handy pocketsize reference book.
With experience I learned to read the bush for potential game, always scanning the landscape for what didn’t belong and not ignoring certain hunter instincts. Checking for tell-tale signs such as tree scrapes, partly-eaten shrubs, wallows, rest areas and game trails, indicators of recent or previous game activity. A hunter’s instinct can be attributed to experience, the expectation of where game is likely to be, an acute awareness and skill in the way a hunter reads the signs, a natural or innate ability or a combination of all.
Safari or guided hunts were initially a distant thought with my focus more on pursuing goats and pigs on private property, yet gaining access to such land whether in Victoria or NSW proved difficult. Nothing has changed but when I gained permission I did my best to uphold the owner’s trust by respecting his requirements, showing appreciation for the hunting privilege, keeping in touch in good times and bad and always phoning before setting off. Through this approach I was eventually able to access properties for the desired game and between infrequent interstate trips, the humble rabbit remained a favourite.
While I hunted game for its meat, my hunts in outback western NSW were mainly focused on trophy boars for their ivory and goats for their widespread horns and the adage ‘never say never’ couldn’t be truer. I didn’t end up going abroad for exotic game species due to family and financial commitments but in the pursuing years after my retirement, I managed to book hunts in Arnhem Land for wild boars and buffaloes and later in Cape York for boars. In more recent years I was fortunate to hunt my first red deer in Queensland’s Brisbane Ranges, all treasured experiences of a lifetime with lasting memories and while I didn’t travel abroad I couldn’t be more content.
Hunting the great outdoors is and will always be a liberating experience to be cherished and valued for a multitude of reasons. The making of a hunter is not necessarily about me or any one individual as the experiences and learning in each will be different, but how we in our way evolve and adapt through what motivates us and the things we do to get to where we are or aim to be.
I consider the real worth of a hunter is ultimately in the sharing and passing on of his or her experience and knowledge to others. I’ve tried to do that with young hunters through example and imparting to them a sense of fair play and respect for the game we hunt, property and people and especially the estate owners and farmers who give us permission to hunt their land.