This was sent all the way from Australia by a hunter that will go by Hardxsun. This is a great story about his hunt from earlier this year and I definitely look forward to reading more from him in the future.
In June my mate and I packed the ute and headed to his property in the Southern Highlands for three days of good living. My hunting experience prior to this was rather limited. I had grown up shooting rabbits with my uncle’s .22 (in the hypnotizing beam of a spotlight) and more recently my friend had set me up for a shot at a feral pig with his rifle, but I had missed my opportunity. This time was going to be different – I was coming back with my own brand new rifle (a Weatherby Vanguard chambered in .243W) and a lot more range time under my belt.
As we drove down the highway, I observed the rolling hills in the fading light and tried hard to contain my excitement. I had been watching the weather for the past week and we knew that chances of finding game would be poor – extreme cold, high winds and snow had been forecast. But with a limited schedule (work gets in the way far too much), we had no choice but to press ahead and hope for the best.
We arrived on the property late that night and were greeted by the winds howling through the trees. We both agreed that the best course of action was to hit the bunks and get an early start in the morning, hopefully managing a successful hunt before the wind got up. In the distance we heard plenty of shots – most probably ‘roo shooters. This didn’t bode well for our plans – coming down midweek we had hoped to have the area to ourselves. After loading in, I wriggled all the way down into my Snugpak sleeping bag and prayed hard to the gods of the hunt for two distinct things – one, that the roof of the shack didn’t blow off in the night and two, that it would be still in the morning. Surprisingly, I slept almost the whole way through the night, waking only once to hear the wind still blowing an absolute gale – and in the green light cast by my G-Shock, my heart sank – 0400 and still windy as hell. There was no way this wind was going away but all there was left to do was go back to sleep for another hour, determined to have a hunt come hell or high water.
0500 arrived and we awakened to dress in our multiple layers in front of the gas heater. Stepping outside of the shack, the crisp air just about took my breath away but there was only the slight puff of breeze on my face. With this encouraging sign, we headed off. Our target species was a big feral pig, hopefully with tusks like meat hooks hanging out its jaw. Some of the solitary boars down there grow to the size of a calf and do a lot of damage to the environment – rooting up the paddocks, muddying the dams that stock drink out of and sometimes given the chance, devouring lambs. There was also a big feral dog getting around – apparently the size of a large German shepherd – and we were instructed to shoot on sight, as it was getting quite brazen. There were some goats getting around in the hills as well, but since big pigs and dogs were our target, I left the butchering equipment at the shack and just took my rifle, a knife, belt kit, small bottle of water and a mars bar.
We started out stalking along some gullies where pigs had been spotted in the past. Everywhere we went, large mobs of ‘roos telegraphed our movements, bounding ahead of us through the paddocks, highlighting one of the many challenges of hunting in Australia. We made our way over a hill and down into a gully known as ‘pig alley’ due to its muddy, lush nature and reputation for holding large numbers of pigs. While we saw plenty of fresh sign and were prepared to walk onto pigs at any moment, they never eventuated.
Coming up out of the gully and over the hill, we stopped for a sip of water and to try the fox whistle to see if we couldn’t rouse that big feral dog. We sat for a while, our body temperature slowly dropping and saw no sign of fox nor dog. Munching down a mars bar we decided to press on and check one last lightly wooded hill, as the thoughts of bacon, eggs and hot tea by the camp fire were starting to play on our minds, holding more attraction than frozen toes and numb fingers.
We came up through the scrub and onto the crest of the hill. Seeing nothing but ‘roos we kept going into the trees looking for sign of mountain goats – nothing. Deciding that we had been beaten by the elements, we started heading back. After all, we still had another full day of hunting up our sleeve. We started walking back the way we had come and as we emerged from the trees I heard the bleat of goats and a good mob moseyed out of the scrub ahead, moving from right to left in front of us, approximately 100 metres away. Their heads were down, grazing. My hunting companion had still not seen them so I pulled him up with a low whisper and after a quick conference, deployed my bipod and chambered a round, readying myself to take a shot at one of the larger animals. There were no trophy billies as aerial culling had wiped out large numbers of goats in this area, but there were some respectable horns amongst them. At this stage the wind was moving from right to left across our front, and favoured neither the hunter nor the hunted. I observed the grazing beasts, and one larger goat in the herd with decent horns caught my eye – a pretty animal, black all over with the exception of a white blaze on its forehead. Focussing only on it, I didn’t notice some of the younger animals move closer to us. One of them caught my scent and the effect was instantaneous – moving as one, the mob of goats cantered back towards the safety of the scrub – not knowing exactly what was happening but only sensing that all was not right.
It was now or never. All the hours spent at the range and time spent dry firing with snap caps at home had prepared me for this. There was no time for buck fever and I picked up the large black goat in my sights trotting through the saplings and boulders about 75 metres in front of me. Seeing a clear shot, I centered the crosshairs of my Redfield Revenge on its fore quarters, and squeezed the trigger. The .243 cracked and the goat dropped on the spot. The bullet had struck what was no doubt a mortal blow but the beast was still kicking and bleating so I worked the bolt and didn’t hesitate to place another 90 grain soft point into it’s boiler-room. Forget about ‘one-shot kills’ and all that bullshit – I’d rather live as an ethical hunter knowing that the life I take is done as painlessly as possible. At the end of the day, you have to be able to live with yourself.
Making my rifle safe, we approached the goat. It was a beautiful female, in great condition – goats being one of the few animals that thrive anywhere in Australia. After a few pictures, hand shaking and thanking my friend for his guidance, I decided that it would be criminal to let this animal go to waste and that I wanted to take some meat. I knew it may be somewhat tough, but I was planning to slow cook it – and the thought of a goat curry soon had my mouth watering. Volunteering for the boring job, my mate decided to walk back to the shack and come back in the 4WD with my butchering kit to bag up the meat while I would make a start with what I had. Before he set off, we dragged the goat into the shade where I could begin my work. Being my first ungulate, I didn’t know quite what I was doing but decided to try the ‘gutless method’ of game processing that I had read up on quite a bit. Using my D H Russell Belt Knife (a fine bit of kit), I quickly managed to cleanly remove some of the hide, then the rear legs and back straps. Hacking off a few branches of a gum sapling, I made a clean bed to lay the meat out on a smooth boulder near the butchering site. At this point, the weather being so cold was a blessing, as there were no flies to spoil the meat and the sun had not yet warmed the land.
Being an ethical hunter and environmentally friendly harvester of meat had long been a goal of mine in my struggle towards self sufficiency, and on that windy hillside overlooking the grandeur of the Southern Highlands, I couldn’t feel more connected to the human experience. Having previously only processed rabbits and fish, I wasn’t sure how I would handle the emotional aspects of taking something larger. I felt a certain amount of regret and guilt, but that is assuaged by the knowledge that my quick dispatch was kinder than being torn apart by feral dogs, poisoned, or culled from the air. The most powerful emotion was one from much deeper in the human psyche – something much more basic. I felt connected to nature like I never had before. I was no longer just an observer, but an active participant. Previously I hadn’t been sure if after hunting and harvesting an animal I would leave it behind me as another goal reached and move on to other endeavors. I now knew for sure that this was the way humans should feel all of the time – connected with nature and comforted in the knowledge that from pasture to plate they were responsible for the food sustaining their bodies. I knew then that it was something I would keep coming back for, not for the killing – that is a small (but nonetheless important) part of it – but for the experience of feeling alive.