“We don’t appreciate what we have until it’s gone. Freedom is like that. It’s like air. When you have it you don’t notice it” – Russia’s first President, Boris Yeltsin.
The recent restrictions around the COVID-19 pandemic gave many of us in the Western World our first real taste of what it feels like to have our fundamental freedoms seriously curtailed – for most, but for outdoorspeople in particular it proved to be a bitter pill to swallow.
Hunters, by our very nature, have an accelerated craving for open spaces and solitude. In the grand scheme of things the inconvenience of not being allowed to go out and hunt for a couple of months is relatively minor, compare it to some of the sacrifices of the generations which preceded us and it’s piddling, but, man, does it change your perspective?
For many of us here in Australia the 2020 hog deer season, the fallow rut and the red deer roar all happened without us. Living in Gippsland I was fortunate enough to be able to get out into the field pretty much as soon as the restrictions in Victoria eased somewhat in late May.
With a bit of effort (getting out of bed at 3am as camping was still not allowed) I was able to get up into the Alps to hunt over hounds in the 360,000ha of country that ADA worked so hard to regain access to. The simple pleasures of time with old friends and good hounds in spectacular country was capped off with a re-stock of the venison supply. The next day I swapped the mountains for the coast and joined a different pair of old campaigners for a very enjoyable day hunting ducks in the Gippsland Lakes. Crouching in my coastal hide, watching the sun set over the mountains that I had been hunting sambar in the previous day really made me appreciate our great freedom and our great access to wild places more than I ever have done.
Whilst we haven’t been moving around the country much, we have still been quite busy. In recent months, in addition to our strong advocacy for hunter access as COVID-19 restrictions have eased, we have also been involved in issues around the management of wild deer in Tasmania, the future of peak firearms organisations in New South Wales, an inquiry into ecosystem decline in Victoria and we have commissioned a major report into the feasibility of public land hunting in Queensland which is currently going through a review process before it informs our ongoing advocacy efforts in that State.
At an Association level we are fortunate that COVID-19 has not (to date) had a significant impact on our operations. We ran a promotion for new members in Tasmania as a part of “AgFest in the Cloud” which delivered unprecedented growth in that State – over and above that, normal membership continues to grow strongly as more people join us and more people renew their memberships. We know that we can always do better (the future of deer management and hunting depends on it) but it is a pleasing sign that we are heading in the right direction.
We have also become involved in some exciting, hunter focussed, deer research initiatives over the past couple of months. ADA members are already out in the field doing some work on these and there will be more detail in Australian Deer as they progress.
The COVID-19 restrictions have been most pronounced at a branch and special interest group level. Branch functions, the lifeblood of ADA for so many members, have been rendered impossible. As I write this it is really pleasing to see branch events starting to be planned again and that critical social element of our Association springing back to life. A huge thank you to all of our branch leaders who have gone out of their way to keep members engaged and informed in what has been a difficult time for many.