It’s often said by hunters who also appreciate the outdoors for what it is and all that it offers ‑ bagging the game pursued is a bonus. That sentiment was expressed by past renowned hunters such as Fred Bear, a much-respected American archer who was fulfilled just quietly stalking the forested hills in search of deer and enjoying nature’s calming surroundings.
Other experienced hunters and authors such as Peter Capstick, Robert Ruark and more recently Daniel J. Donarski Jr. in his book 21 Days in Africa eloquently described in detail the pleasurable experiences attached to hunting, the animal and bird sounds, waterways, scenery, sunrises and sunsets and those special moments that arouse the spirits and make it all worthwhile.
Hunting the great outdoors is much more than just the kill or bagging game, even though that’s the aim. The successful veteran hunter, for example, didn’t become accomplished overnight. It takes a preparedness to learn through patience, observation, understanding, perseverance and self-determination.
Half a century on, recalling my own early days out in the field, my hunting skills were far from developed. At the age of 17 I learnt my first lesson from a good friend to look afar for game or distant movement. That morning I ended up with five rabbits and a memorable experience valued to this day.
Ethical hunting also teaches us respect for people, livestock and property, sustainability by taking only enough and leaving some for next time and others, fairness and an appreciation for the privilege to hunt game. These are all qualities and traits reaped through the sport.
Over the years and to avoid disappointment I have learnt to approach a trip with minimal expectation, whether a simple rabbit hunt or a planned wild boar or big game buffalo safari in the Northern Territory. With the best intentions and well-made plans there are forces and conditions outwith our control. Nature itself can intervene through drought, flood and extreme temperatures. Understanding and patience plays a big role in how you handle a hunting trip.
On any trip, the land and wildlife activity and their numbers will vary according to the availability of food and water. In drought conditions wildlife or game, driven by their survival instincts, will move out of the area altogether and it can take months or a few years for certain animals such as feral pigs to return. In nature’s cycle of life, when the rain finally does come wildlife rebounds and flourishes.
A property owner’s pest eradication measures will have an effect on game. With regards to rabbits it can mean a total wipe-out. Lambing season often calls for restricted or no shooting for a period and it’s important the owner’s wishes are respected to maintain an ongoing amicable relationship. On the other hand, there may be lamb losses through fox predation and the hunter’s assistance is welcomed.
At another time, flooding or muddy conditions can prevent property access. Ripping up dirt tracks and leaving deep wheel furrows is not appreciated. Patience is required and the moment will eventually come to make it all worthwhile again. I accept that’s how it is.
A hunting trip can be a rewarding outing even when the odds are stacked against you. On one trek to a NSW property we were beset by a series of unexpected obstacles, yet we had a great time. On the way, a punctured radiator and overheated motor required attention. As we neared the property, a lone mature kangaroo sat stooped foraging by the side of the road facing the bush to our left. Taking a wide birth at a reduced speed we were just about to pass when it unexpectedly turned around and jumped in front of the vehicle. There was damage to the front fender and two side doors were dented.
The following day the vehicle became bogged to the axle in a 15cm shallow, dry mud-encrusted drain barely 60cm wide that we hadn’t noticed in the tall grass. The highlift jack broke. We were forced to trek 15km back to camp in the middle of the night. The next day a 1.5m brown snake entered the tent through a 20 cent-size hole where the zips met while we were out hunting but luckily started exiting on our return. It also rained on and off all around us, save for the campsite itself.
On the plus side we recovered the vehicle the next day with the farmer’s help, continued hunting to score a solid boar, bagged a few ducks and cooked on the spit a small pig that turned out to be succulent and tasty. Despite all the setbacks we remained positive throughout and in the end had a memorable trip, one that has been recounted in conversation with fellow hunters time and time again. What is destined can’t be helped but having a positive attitude does.
Learning and gaining experience
Even after years of hunting, a hunter really never stops learning. Different animal species, especially dangerous game, require a different understanding and approach, such as our tough, heavily-built Asiatic water buffalo of the north, as does tackling different terrain like the steep, loose shale slopes of New Zealand’s mountains in pursuit of chamois or thars, and the use of appropriate firearms and projectiles for the intended game hunted. How to better read the lay of the land to seek out the quarry, animal signs, tracking animal behaviour and more. The learning is ongoing.
Explore your hunting options
When rabbits are plentiful and in the open, a .22LR, shotgun or varmint rifle will do the job. At other times, especially if the area has been heavily hunted, they may remain in their burrows or seek the sanctuary of the bushes or thick growth to emerge infrequently. Kicking the bush to flush them out and using a shotgun may prove more rewarding than perhaps thought.
Again, they may be absent during daylight hours but spotlighting at night could bring results. Take a fox whistle. If there are rabbits or its lambing season you’re likely to encounter foxes. For pigs and goats, ascertain where the dams and other water holdings are situated. Often livestock and feral animals tend to forage in company and frequent the same water source. The examples vary but if you consider the options relevant to your property you may improve your chances of bagging game.
Make a hard copy list of the gear and food provisions you’ll need to take on a trip, including spare parts in the event of a burst radiator hose, tyre puncture or similar scenario. Also take suitable clothing to cope with prevailing weather conditions and if it’s cold include an extra blanket. Good bedding is a must. A tired, weary hunter isn’t going have an enjoyable experience.
Politely ascertain from the farmer or property owner beforehand what game they’ve observed and if there’s a need for vermin control. And don’t forget a little something for the man or woman on the land to show your appreciation.
Your own contribution
You might ask how you can make a difference. Well, just by doing simple tasks such as helping pack and unpack camp gear. You might not be asked but a voluntary gesture is always appreciated. Assist with meals, even if just cutting up vegetables or preparing a simple salad. Through observing others cooking in camp you will pick up pointers and at some stage come up with your own special dish. The more helping hands, the more time for hunting.
Huddled around a campfire with a mug of tea or coffee in hand recounting stories or reminiscing helps also build camaraderie. Bake a damper in a camp oven.
And there are other ideas that make camp life and hunting more pleasurable. My own consisted of an improvised meat spit to cook game over red hot coals, or even a plump chicken from a supermarket. Basted with herbs and infused by the smoke from the burning redgum coals, the rich smoky flavour is a different experience altogether.
Given the opportunity most of us would be out hunting in a heartbeat. Why? Maybe because it’s a part of our deep-rooted DNA, nature calls us or just to be away for an enjoyable experience with mates or friends. Or perhaps for all those reasons.
As a long-time hunter and having taken young hunters under my wing, I regard hunting in the outdoors as a healthy, rewarding and enjoyable outlet for all the reasons mentioned. A place removed from the everyday demands and challenges of life to regain your perspective and recharge the batteries, metaphorically speaking. All I know is that when I return from most hunting trips, whatever the result, it is with a greater sense of appreciation.