In a time when hunting continues hitting the media in such a negative way, I keep hearing time and again from the antis that to hunt, to take an animal’s life, is a matter of choice, and a bad choice at that.
I contemplate this as a watch the glamour girls and the personalities be torn apart for posing with the animals they have harvested. Without a doubt the antis just do not get it, no, more to the point they weren’t born with it. It is far from a matter of choice, you are either born with the hunter instinct or you’re not, there is no choice in this. I was born with the hunting instinct, I recognise it for what it is and I will apologise to no-one for having it nor will I make excuses for following my instincts to provide for my family. I’m a hunter and proud of it.
Hunting was in my life before I took my first breath of air. My father’s natural instinct to hunt arrived in the way of hound hunting when my parents were expecting me to make an appearance in the world. He came from a family of non-hunters, but soon found the need to hunt and followed that desire.
When my dad broke all the rules of this predominantly male activity and took his wife and kids hunting I found myself as keen as any of the boys. I just had to get old enough for it to be my turn to carry a gun and provide for the team’s families. I didn’t know, at the time, I was an exception to the rule, a pre-teen girl wanting to hunt. It was unheard of and I certainly felt the wrath of non-hunting females for it. However my hunter’s instinct was far greater than the negativity and I continued to hunt.
As soon as I reached 12 I badgered Dad to take me to get my junior permit. Not so hard in those days; down to the police station and answer a few questions to prove you know gun safety and ‘Here you go young lady you can now carry a gun’.
It took three long years of carrying that gun until I finally got my chance. In the days when I was learning there was neither the technology nor the deer numbers of today to allow me to achieve this goal any faster. I was raised a hound hunter, learnt to chase foxhounds in pursuit of sambar all over the Alpine National Park, before it was park. There were no tracking collars, GPS or UHF radios. It was good old fashioned bush craft that brought you success. Without the aid of technology you learnt to read the hunt, know the paths the deer would travel and anticipate their next move. When the hounds would go out of hearing you knew where they were going because you had learnt the hard way from the last time you lost them for a week.
Deer numbers were so few in those days that we got excited if we saw fresh marks, pretty sad really when you think if you don’t see six deer in a weekend today you would consider it a poor weekend. I think these are all contributing factors to my development as a hunter and a teacher of hunting. I still use my instincts over technology to hunt.
The first animal I ever harvested was a sambar spiker and his image in the bail-up is still imprinted on my mind all these years later. It was a day that saw the hounds escape out of the hunting zone and head for another river system. As back-stop I had to pursue with my hunting mate. We ran for miles, catching sounds of hounds in pursuit only as they crossed the next ridge. Eventually we came to a point where we knew they would turn back as the climb was too steep and the pressure from the hounds too strong, the deer would head to bail. When the descent began we knew we were in the wrong spot so started running back. As we got closer the hounds, in full bail, were letting us know they were waiting. I came over the rise and could see the deer backed into a bank watching the hounds that were standing back keeping him at bail. He looked straight at me as I peered down the open sights. One well-placed spine shot and I had graduated from a seeker to a hunter.
My dad was a good hounds man and a great teacher of youth. He had the patience to take the time to teach us and that is quite possibly the reason my brothers and I have the knowledge we do. Going hound hunting every weekend during the cooler months was like a family holiday for my brothers and me. How lucky were we to get to pack the car Friday night and drive to the bush? As soon as camp was set up we were out of there. Our parents never worried that we wouldn’t find our way back because they knew our bush skills would guide us. My older brother and his mates were my best friends; there were simply no hunting girls my age at the time for me to associate with and call my mates. So I grew up wanting to be accepted as one of ‘them’, not necessarily one of the boys, but one of the hunters – a hard, often hurtful task for a teenage girl when it was frowned on for females to hunt.
Being let roam the mountains taught me to follow the forest’s natural paths, read the lay of the land and get up close and personal with nature in a way that many people only dream of achieving. That was until responsibility to my academic education took me away from the mountains. Then I became a mother and found myself in the position of whether to give my children the opportunity to learn about hunting or wait until they asked to learn. My choice in the end was to teach them but not force them to pursue it. I believed that the hunter instinct would be in them and if they wanted to use the knowledge I gave them to harvest game, they would and if they didn’t … well it didn’t matter.
My children became my closet hunting companions from the time my eldest was four months old up until this very day. I spent most of my time hound hunting, even though their father was a stalker, because the hound team helped me out around the camp when I had tired, hungry little people to look after. It’s an interesting process watching your children learn about their environment. How quick their motor skills develop due to roaming the unpaved landscape. Their sense of hearing heightened as they listen for hounds but hear the wonga pigeon some gullies away instead. Their sense of direction develops quickly so they can find their way around the untracked forest and back to camp or the car. They gain a firm understanding of the animals as they track them around and discovered the food they live on and the places they rest. Their bush senses become heightened so early that to carry a gun is just a formality, they can find and understand the animals in their landscape so well they are completely at one with nature.
It is awesome to have these young adults so competent while out hunting, but it is no easy task, as a parent, to get them there. When they are little they get cold and whingey and bored easy. They can’t walk far, they are noisy and forever starving! It takes extreme patience and craftiness to get them thinking about nature and how beautiful she is instead of their own discomfort.
Then there is gun safety. From the time they could stand on two feet and take shaky steps my children have had gun safety drilled into them. It is so important that they know beyond any doubt that there is no coming back from a mistake made with a sambar rifle. After years of constant reminders about gun safety it becomes so natural to them they do not even realise they are doing it. Bolts open, barrels always pointed in a safe direction, proper care of their gun. All important habits they need to adopt to stay safe.
Some of the highlights of my hunting life have been while hunting with my children, something I am sure my father has felt with me. It starts off with many questions ‘What mark is this Mum? Where is this deer going Mum? How long will the hounds be Mum? How much further Mum? Can I have some food Mum? Can you carry me Mum?’
Then they get a little older and can walk longer distances, and you let them lead. Nobody learns anything by following all of the time. They learn to follow games trails, contour, cross rivers, track sign, but most importantly they learn to look around them. By letting them lead you allow them to see more than the heels of your boots and the trees. The look on their face when they recognise their first deer looking back at them from amongst the trees will stay in your memory forever.
I guess for me the most memorable time was watching the transition take place from seeker to hunter when they finally harvest their first deer. Years of effort culminate into one of the most special times you will share with your hunting child. All of the years you spend teaching them come to this pivotal point. It is a moment in time that pays you back in full for your teaching efforts.
It doesn’t matter how much you teach your child they either have the instinct or they don’t. I have one out of my four children who absolutely doesn’t. In fact she is so close to being an ‘anti’ I wondered where she had come from for a long time. The first time I had to deal with hysterical screaming and ‘the poor things’ was probably quite funny to someone watching but I was at a loss as to what to do with her. Through this child I realised that you were either born with the instinct or you were not, it was not a choice you were given. She has helped me understand the hysterics of the ‘antis’ and I have helped her not be so hysterical about hunting. We have an understanding now and I hope she can share this with other non-hunters in the future. Yes, she eats venison, she was reared on it, and she completely understands that animals die to provide that meat. However she could never take that life herself or even be involved in the process in any way. Maybe if non-hunters and hunters were forced to spend time together like I have been with my child we would all understand each other a little better?
Today, I would consider that my hunting life is good, I’m lucky. I hunt more on my own today than I ever have in my whole life, and this took some getting used to, especially after 20 years of teaching kids. But I do this by choice not because I have to. There is nothing better than lying on the side of a gully and watching the deer roam about their habitat. The forest noises lull me into a relaxation that returns my lost equilibrium and allows me to be at one with nature.
I can hunt at any time with my dad, brothers or kids. I go stalking with my dad, son and daughter, but it is hound hunting I do when I go with my brothers. I have an entire hound crew that are my ‘family’ and we all have the most fun when hunting. They are like-minded people who love our hounds and consider there is no greater joy than hearing them voice their pursuit around the mountain valleys.
I do not worry if I am the best hunter; I am as good as I need to be to satisfy myself. I can achieve one shot kills and that is how I measure my greatness, in how humane I can be. I do not need to prove anything to anybody simply because I wish to hunt, I hunt in spite of others opinions. I do not need to prove I am very much a girl, or that I can achieve the same results hunting as any male because gender equality is not an issue for me. I choose to be neither hound hunter nor a stalker, I am simply a hunter. I do not make excuses for being a hunter for I need no excuse.