What can you hunt
This section presents some of the most common species that can be legally hunted in Australia. Most are classified as feral or pest animals and can be hunted any time.
Others are classified as game animals where they are managed as a resource in regulated seasons and bag limits apply. Responsible hunters should be aware of all current licensing and regulations that they need to abide by. The following suggests cartridge type and methods to target specific species.
Rabbits and Hares
When rabbit or hare hunting, most hunters would suggest that the minimum calibre cartridge for rifle hunting would be a .22 rimfire. The .22 rimfire is normally effective up to a range of 100m.
If using a shotgun, the range is reduced to around 50m. The most common shot sizes used for rabbit or hare hunting is between No. 4 and No. 6 where the shot sizes are heavy enough to produce a clean kill at moderate ranges without too much damage to the meat.
If you are shooting for meat, the placement of the shot is important. Head shots are certainly preferable because they don’t damage any of the meat.
The most common method to target rabbits and hares is spotlighting at night. Day time hunting is usually a combination of flushing animals from cover by noise or with dogs or shooting from a distance when they leave their warrens.
Foxes and feral cats
Foxes and feral cats can be taken using the .22 rimfire or .22 Magnum rimfire at ranges out to about 100m. However, most hunters would agree that using a centrefire rifle provides the advantages of a flatter trajectory and a higher projectile energy that enables these animals to be taken at greater ranges. This longer range normally compensates for the cunningness of these particular species. Many hunters believe that the .17 Remington, .22 Hornet and .222, .230 and .22-250 Remington are all ideal cartridges.
Shotguns can also be used to take foxes and cats at closer range. The 12-gauge shotgun with 1.15oz loads of between BB and No. 2 size shot will despatch a fox or feral cat cleanly to ranges around 40m.
Most foxes and cats are hunted using spotlight at night. During the day, the use of a whistle that imitates the sound of a distressed rabbit can attract these animals within gun range. Foxes and cats can also be flushed out with dogs or noise towards a waiting gun line of hunters.
Wild dogs are bigger bodied than foxes and it is suggested that they not be shot with anything smaller than a .222 Remington, except at very close range. The .22-250 Remington and .243 Winchester are widely considered ideal choices for wild dogs by most hunters who target them.
If shooting at close ranges, about 30m, the 12-gauge shotgun loaded with BB or SG shot will also be sufficient to produce a clean kill.
Wild dogs can be hunted using spotlight during the night, but due to their normal cunning behaviour, hunting on foot during the early and late day time hours seems to be the most common method used.
It is suggested that goats should not be shot with anything smaller than a .22-250 and that something having similar muzzle velocity and energy to the .243 Winchester be used. The .243 Winchester has a sufficiently flat trajectory, which allows for accuracy at reasonably far distances if required. ‘Bush’ cartridges such as the .30-30 are sufficient for shooting these species at close ranges.
Most goat hunting involves hunting on foot with rifles. Goats tend to seek water holes at certain times of the day, which make prime areas in which to hide out or walk around.
Feral pigs can be quite dangerous and hunters should ensure that they have adequate means of despatching them quickly. When using a 12-gauge shotgun, you should only consider this approach if you load your shotgun with rifle slugs or buckshot. Lever-action cartridges of .30-30, .44-40 and .44 Magnum from Ruger carbines are effective on feral pigs at close ranges. If a shot is to be taken at a longer range, the .243 Winchester, .25-06 Remington and other similar rifle cartridges are good for taking feral pigs in a humane manner.
Most feral pig hunting involves locating an area where the animals are present on foot, quad bike or other vehicle. Once located, the hunter should endeavour to find a position that allows a safe and accurate shot to be taken. Another common way to hunt pigs is with the assistance of dogs. The dogs will locate and hold the feral pig in an area for the hunter to then quickly despatch.
Buffalo, feral donkeys, horses and camels
Some of these larger species can weigh up to 1 ton and require cartridges significantly larger than those already mentioned. Cartridges such as the .270 Winchester, 7mm Remington Magnum and .30-06 Springfield are commonly used for these large animals. A .300 Winchester Magnum and .375 Holland & Holland Magnum are common for big-game use.
The main method for hunting these larger species is based on locating them either by vehicle or on foot, then positioning yourself for a safe and effective shot.
Different states have different minimum legal calibres which must be used for deer hunting in Australia. To maintain compliance with all the different state regulations, it is suggested that all deer be taken with a calibre no less than .270 anywhere in Australia. Certain smaller species can be taken with a minimum calibre of .240 in Tasmania and a .243 in New South Wales. As an ethical hunter, you should always check with state authorities to ensure that you remain compliant with current regulations.
Deer are usually stalked on foot after coming across tracks or other forms of evidence indicating the presence of a nearby animal. Hunters also use stationary tree platforms where they sit and wait for a deer to approach.
Hunting of ducks and geese during an open season or on destruction permit is done solely with the use of shotguns. The loads used vary depending on the species being shot and the range from which it is shot. Typically, 1.125 to 1.25oz loads of No. 4 shot are used for hunting black duck and No. 6 shot is suggested for smaller species such as teal. Shot type may change depending on the way the bird is targeted. If taking passing birds, shot size would be normally be larger than situations where a hunter is taking birds landing on decoys. The velocity of the load should be as high as possible to give as much energy as possible for shots at maximum range. Guns typically require at least one barrel with a full choke to take ducks adequately at maximum range. All states require the use of lead-alternative shot such as steel or bismuth. Before going bird hunting, it is suggested that you get as much practice as possible using clay targets to ensure you hold the necessary skills to shoot accurately and produce clean kills.
To undertake duck hunting, hunters will need to pass the Waterfowl Identification Test (WIT). Some states make available ‘game reserves’ where duck hunting is allowed on public land. Duck hunting is permitted on private land but is subject to relevant state regulations.
To hunt ducks, hunters normally lay out a pattern of decoys in the water in front of a hide or camouflaged screen which keeps them out of view of incoming flying ducks. Hunters would normally shoot ducks that fly across or land among the decoys that they set. Many duck hunters utilise gundogs to retrieve their birds.
Quails, pigeons and pheasant
These birds are normally taken with a smaller shot size in shotguns of all gauges. The most commonly used cartridge for a 12-gauge shotgun is a 1.125oz load of No. 6 to No. 9 size shot, depending on the game bird. It is important to remember that the smaller the shot size, the less energy will be retained by each pellet in flight. This decreases the effective range at which it can be shot. The choke level is just as important as the shot charge and size when hunting these birds. A tight choke will hold a tighter shot pattern which will maximise the effectiveness of the cartridge.
Hunting for these game birds usually involves walking around a specific hunting area with trained gundogs, which assist to ‘flush’ the birds from cover and then retrieve them after they have been shot.