On ya bike!

What has two legs, two arms, two eyes, two rifles and two wheels? Don Caswell does…

Sometimes my projects take a while to see the light of day. This one had been in the back of my mind for about 30 years, so it was about time that I did something. Like all good projects, I did not rush into it but decided to start with a proof-of-concept.

That meant spending a modest amount of money and time to test how well the vision met the basic goals. If that worked out, then I would spend more time and money on achieving the full project dream.

The trigger for finally starting was the intention to spend more time hunting wild dogs on large, mostly flat western properties. The past decade I have been hunting the steep ridges and gullies of tropical North Queensland. That area was hunted either on foot or from an ATV. These vehicles are great for moving about, looking for game. However, the noise of the motor alarms any wary game within a kilometre. I can see the electrically-powered ATVs gaining enormous popularity once the vehicle weight and price continue to reduce, along with lithium-ion technology developments (check out the Polaris Ranger EV review in issue 76).

For hunting in the west, what I wanted was a relatively low-priced, lightweight vehicle capable of travelling between one- and three-times walking speed. I also wanted an unhindered 360-degree view as I travelled silently along grazing property tracks, looking for undisturbed game and pests. One solution was the new e-bikes.

These are robust mountain-style bicycles with light but powerful lithium-ion batteries to provide mechanical assistance to the pedalling effort. The e-bikes enable much greater distances to be ridden compared to conventional bicycles, along with easier travel uphill and through soft country. Given the price of e-bikes, and the need for two of them (for my wife as well), I was anxious not to hurry in and commit a substantial amount on what was an unproven idea.

A starting point was to go on Gumtree and source a reasonable second-hand mountain bike. That was accomplished in no time, and I soon had a gent’s mountain bike complete with the bonus of necessary luggage rack and pannier carriers front and back. The bike was in good nick, having been recently serviced and fitted with new tyres.

The owner pointed out that the higher gears were a little worn from use. That did not worry me at all. I expected to spend most of my time in the lower gears anyway. The bike cost me $150, which I thought was a good price. In hindsight, I made one mistake and should have gone for a lady’s bike instead of a gent’s, for reasons that will soon become obvious.

I intended travelling light, much as I do when walking, so the challenge was how to accomplish that on a bicycle. First and foremost was working out how to carry my rifle on the bike. I planned to be wearing my hunting backpack and that would not allow cross-slinging the rifle across my back.

Now that I had the bike, I could see that my imagined solution to carrying the rifle was not going to work. I would have to rig a scabbard to the rear wheel pannier frame. Additionally, the scabbard would need to suit either of my two rifles. That required a snug fit for my bolt-action Sauer XT 101 with its large Swarovski scope. My single-shot Merkel K3, a smaller rifle with a Leupold scope, has a much more compact shape.

Ideally, a quick-detachable leather scabbard for each rifle made sense. However, I was reluctant to spend a couple of hundred dollars on something that might not prove useful. I dug out some remnant pieces of plywood, rubber padding and paint and soon had a temporary rifle scabbard ready to fit.

It would have to be mounted in a near-vertical configuration on the rear frame. But, before doing that, I needed to consider two other bits of kit that also needed to be carried in that area. The next vital piece of gear was my Primos Trigger Stick shooting tripod. It would have to be set up in a way that allowed it to be slid out of its carrier for instant use.

Additionally, I wanted to be able to use it off the bike as well, without removing it from its carrier. That required it to be in a near upright position as well. Before proceeding to fitting the rifle and tripod, I had to consider my third essential item – my Nikon D500 camera and its telephoto lens. I wanted a padded box to transport the camera and that would have to fit between the rifle and the tripod.

Using a few cable-ties, I temporarily rigged up my rifle scabbard and a length of PVC pipe that held the Primos Trigger Stick snuggly. It suddenly became apparent that the necessity to mount the rifle and tripod vertically behind me would prevent me swinging my leg over the bicycle. In hindsight, I realised that a lady’s step-through frame would have been ideal for my purpose. Anyway, that was a minor annoyance and not a showstopper.

In my yard at home, the bike and its cargo seemed to function nicely, as I intended, albeit mounting and dismounting the bike was a bit awkward. I had not ridden a bike in 50 years, so the first 100m was a bit wobbly, but I never fell off and soon it all came back to me. The seat was a lot harder than I remembered as a kid and pedalling about the yard used muscles that I had forgotten I owned. Over the space of a couple of weeks, I did more and more laps of the yard and soon I felt ready for putting the hunting bike to the test.

Next, a field trial was required. We were due to go camping and needed to replenish our venison supply, so there was a golden opportunity. I bought a bike carrier from Repco and also an accessory plate from Main Roads to hang on that, given the bike rack would mask the vehicle number plate. Our campsite, an old favourite on private property, was river-flats country, ideal for biking. Plus, there were chital deer, a few feral pigs and occasional wild dogs. The owners were happy for us to camp close to the river and hunt some of their feral animals. We chucked the kayaks up on the roof rack as well. Between times we would indulge in some paddling on the river, photographing and fishing.

The opening morning, we put the bikes to the test at first light. That involved a leisurely ride along the farm track, keeping an eye open for deer and any other game and checking the dust for fresh tracks. It was easy to peddle along at two to three times the speed of walking. We looked about as we rode, but also stopped every couple of hundred metres to glass the country around us.

There were numerous close encounters with birds and game. I can only say that riding about on a mountain bike proved to be an outstanding success. The travelling was physically easy, and the only noise was the slight crunching sound made by the tyres on the dirt track. Best of all, it did prove highly effective at finding undisturbed game.

However, a major problem arose in the form of the prolific burrs of Western Queensland. In no time my supply of patches, and my patience, had been exhausted. I had expected and prepared for a few punctures, but nothing like the volume I encountered. On returning home, I investigated options for puncture-proof tyres. Solid rubber tyres can be had for bikes. However, my local bike shop recommended a protective sleeve that fits between the tube and the tyre. The cost of that would be about $100 for the pair of wheels on a standard bike.

In the short time we were puncture-free, we proved the worth of bikes in quietly covering dirt tracks at a good speed and approaching game undetected. There are some more tests ahead, chasing wild dogs, but from what I have experienced, I am confident I am on the right track.

Time will tell, but a clear next step will be e-bikes, with suitably puncture-proofed tyres. Also, I will commission a couple of QD leather scabbards for each rifle. That is something to think about going forward.

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