You would expect numbers to be important to someone with more than 30 years’ experience in the finance industry, but when it comes to hunting, David McNabb isn’t so worried about the count at the end of the trip, he’s hooked on the experience.
David brings a wealth of experience to his role as secretary for the Australian Deer Association. A member since 2013, David stalked across to deer later in life than most hunters.
He followed a familiar trajectory to most — small game and pests to start, dreaming of deer in Australia, tahr in New Zealand and big game in Africa as a boy — coming across gundogs in the ‘90s.
“Gundogs took me down a different path and I’ve invested a lot of time training and working gun dogs and game bird hunting,” he said.
“The circle back to deer hunting started again in earnest in 2013 and it continues to be a steep learning curve.”
From 2013 David’s involvement with the association has been in several different capacities.
As a member he began working closely with executive officer Barry Howlett and chair David Voss in a professional capacity thanks to his role at the time as Field & Game Australia chief executive in 2014.
“In 2017 I was delighted when Barry (Howlett) joined me for the duck season opening program between the Kerang and Boort area of Victoria,” he said.
“He experienced a week of intense activity (with no time for hunting) which is the culmination of months of work that starts in September or October of the previous year."
David’s relationship with ADA paved the way for his appointment as secretary in 2019.
“ADA has always impressed me for the focus, professionalism, incredible volunteers, and long term, strategic focus,” David said.
“I enjoy working closely with the team and the branch committees and members.
“The downside in any of these types of roles is we all have a finite amount of time we can commit, and in my experience that usually means less hunting.”
From David’s experience to be successful the association should complement its focus on its strategic objectives, with local voices on local issues who are supported and complemented by the national resources and experience we have available.
“I’m a huge advocate for the work of our branch committees and the volunteers who make possible our fantastic initiatives in hunter education, deer management, advocacy and others,” he said.
Unfortunately, he doesn’t spend nearly enough time as he’d like interacting with members and other hunters, accentuated during the first nation-wide COVID-19 lockdown.
“I found I speak every day to someone involved in some capacity with hunting,” he said.
“There were lots of phone calls to plan hunts in readiness for the easing of restrictions, and of course (once we were allowed out) the trips with keen hunters.
“I’ve also had the privilege of forging fantastic friendships with people heading up hunting organisations in a number of other countries.
“We share ideas with each other as we have similar opportunities, issues and challenges; it’s just local conditions in different parts of the world influence different priorities.”
Like most hunters, David is amazed at the diversity of the hunting crowd and the people he meets.
“Hunting is an amazing way for people from all walks of life to meet and form incredible relationships, all based on a common interest of time in the bush and hunting. It doesn’t matter where you grew up, what sports you played, whether you have a trade or a degree, live in the city or the country,” he said.
“I’ve learned so much from the people I meet and I’m continuing to learn with every conversation around the campfire.
“We are very comfortable sitting around the campfire with other hunters, talking about what we do and enjoying time in the hush.
“Today we have an imperative to turn away from the campfire and spend more time talking to family, friends and others in our community about conservation and hunting.”
The secretary is a firm believer in the benefits of game management being a larger part of conservation conversation.
He said people who did not like or know about hunting found it hard to understand the link between conservation and hunting.
“It’s counter-intuitive at first, but if you consider there is no one with a greater interest in the long-term viability of a species than those who choose to hunt,” David said.
“We all know hunters who are incredible bush men and women and dedicated, self-taught naturalists.
“It’s not just about the animal, and we know how motivated people will work on conservation initiatives.
“And we know government agencies have competing priorities for an ever-shrinking funding pool.
“It makes sense when we hunt sustainably, to motivate those hunters to provide a willing pool of resource, who can also improve habitat, remove pests and all the other essential conservation activities.”
David defines sustainable hunting as the act of harvesting any natural resource in a way that has no detrimental impacts on the long-term viability of the species.
“We have advantages compared to say North America or Europe, with a relatively small population covering a vast landscape and without the hunting pressure of more populated countries,” he said.
But the question remains how to define what is sustainable in Australia.
Australia doesn’t have the wildlife monitoring and game management seen overseas.
It also doesn’t have the hunting pressure or natural predation found elsewhere.
The ADA would always like to see more investment in wildlife research and game management in Australia.
“I’ve learned the importance of having a cyclical approach to management with three key stages — good strategies, robust management, and effective monitoring,” David said.
“This approach allows management actions to be adjusted, and strategies to be reviewed and refined, on the basis of facts and data.
“Hunting is not necessarily additive to the natural mortality that occurs in wildlife populations.
“Today we face the perception issue which brings about the need to maintain our social licence to do what we do, hunt — which is part of the complexity which arises whenever you combine wildlife and firearms.
“This is especially true with an increasingly urbanised population, who are largely several generations removed from the realities of sourcing their own food.
“We have an interesting intersection of food movements and we shouldn’t understate how important this is — hunters out there harvesting wild game and foragers gathering seasonal produce, veganism, and "foodies".”
The secretary believes in the power of venison diplomacy, and its ability to inform foodies and families of the benefits of wild game as a source of protein.
“We’re continuing to work with chefs and restaurateurs to promote these benefits, and with government to ease the onerous restrictions on processing wild game,” he said.
“It’s slow going, and we’re making progress. I’m hugely passionate about this opportunity.”
Like all hunters in Australia this year, David felt the pain of the lockdown. But the secretary said this only encouraged him to embrace post-lockdown hunting more fervently.
“I spent the (duck season) opening on a wetland with a decoy spread and my dog, on Friday afternoon I was out with a good mate and our dogs hunting stubble quail, and I spent Sunday walking with a rifle checking out some new country for deer signs,” he said.
“While no critters were taken home, it just doesn’t get much better.”