Taylah had never picked up a fishing rod or a hunting rifle before we met, but it didn’t take her long to realise a fair part of my life revolved around these two items. And it also didn’t take long to notice most of my cooking contained some element of game meat, fish or home-grown farm produce. In the end I think it was curiosity that compelled her to give it a try. Or maybe it was the fact that I spent so much of my spare time hunting and fishing that if she didn’t start coming along then we probably wouldn’t end up spending much time together.
Naturally, fishing came first, mostly for Murray Cod in the rivers around home. It was easy enough and even a fishless day spent canoeing the riveror walking the gorges was good fun. Taylah got the hang of it pretty quick and the days when sheoutfishedme started to add up. Naturally hunting was the next step, but not one I really wanted to push her into. It can be a bit of ashock to the system to someone who hasn’t really been exposed to it before, especially someone who is quite fond of animals.
I would definitely say I am a big animal person. Doesn’t matter if it’s livestock, pets or wildlife. I likethem all and they never cease to interest me. And with that comes respect for them. I’m happy to say most hunters I know, or at least the ones I hunt with, are fairly similar. Taylah was the same, and from our weekends at the farm I could see she had a lot of compassion for animals. I think that’s a good attribute for any hunter. Bit by bit I tried to show her why I hunt, and why it’s such a great way to enjoy the bush and the many other benefits that come with it.
Like many Aussie hunters, Taylah’s first hunting experience was an afternoon on the rabbits with a battered Lithgow .22 in hand. We were back at the farm for a weekend and with a spare afternoon I suggested heading out for a shot and she decided to tag along. To be honest, rabbit hunting is still probably one of my favourite waysto spend an afternoon, even when I’m surrounded by hills full of deer. Give me a late summerevening when the shadows are just starting to lengthenafter a long hot day. Rabbits are popping up everywhere as it cools offand are easily spotted in the sheep paddocks where the grass thathas been cropped short. The going is easy and there is plenty of action. The bottom line, rabbit hunting is just plain fun! We ended that first hunt with a half-dozen rabbits apiece and there havebeen countless afternoons like it since.And plenty of rabbit pies too.
Often one of the biggest hurdlesin teaching a new hunter is showing them how to handle firearms and how to shootaccurately. I got lucky. Taylah had a good solid grounding in the basics from Army Reserves and the step up to sporting rifles was easy. Immediately she proved herself a crack shot with the old Lithgow and no rabbit was safe. Even further down the track when she took to using heavy centrefires like my .30-06 the noise and recoil never seemed to bother her.
By now we were hunting rabbits together fairly regularly and I asked if she wanted to tag along on a deer or pig hunt sometime? Yes, sure thing. Not long after we got the chance for Taylah’sfirst pig hunt.
We were up north for a week-long Cape York fishing trip with my good mate Steve and his family. We had a ball, living on a houseboat and spending the days catching barra, mangrove jacks, fingermark, queenfishand a plethora of reef species. This was my first trip to the Cape in the last seven years that wasn’t strictly pig hunting, and when we found ourselves with a day up our sleeve before we had to fly back to Sydney. I couldn’t help myself. Taylah and I borrowed Steve’s Hilux and .30-06, and with a topomap and a few directions we headed out of town for a half-day of hunting.
It was a classic October Cape York pig hunting scenario - find waterand start walking. We found ourselves on a rainforest-clad creekwinding its way through thehot, dry scrub.The dry season was nearing its end and the creek was drying up, with waterholes only found every few hundred metres. Pig sign was plentiful in the cool, damp sand around the waterholes but the day wore on and we racked up the kilometres without putting up a single pig. The scenery made up for the lack of action though, and every time we stopped for a break we would be treated to a chorus of bird calls. Palm cockatoos and blue-wing kookaburras flitted through the deep green cover of the wild figs that lined the creek, their roots reaching deep into the sand for water we couldn’t see.
It was getting hot now, and with the sun high in the sky we made the decision to turn back. I picked a bee-line route for the car that would take us out wide from the creek, shortening the distance. We set off and shortly after leaving the creek we picked up a dusty cattle pad leading out into the seemingly dry, empty country. Around here pads usually lead to water so we followed and shortly after were rewarded with a glimpse of paperbarkin the distance and a small muddy lagoon. Sneaking up quietly I immediately spotted a pig asleepunder a tree on theopposite side of the water, and closer inspection through the binosrevealed a mob about twenty strong all bedded up under the melaleucas.
We got set up and Taylah lined up a bedded pig across the lagoon and took her shot. Dust flew just over the pigs back and the mob erupted from their slumber and scattered. I thought we had blown our opportunity but then a couple of pigsgot disorientated and started coming back around onto the water’sedge. Taylah got ready and as a big sow came trotting through the long grass not twenty metres away; she pulled off a great shot and bagged her first pig.It might not have been a monster boar,but it was well earned, and Iwas probably more excited than Taylah. Although Taylah couldn’t quite understand why my mates and I got so worked up about hunting pigs, she could see the damage they do to the country. Early in the week we had found turtle nests on the beach that had been destroyed by pigs and we had seen acres of fragile freshwater swamps dug up and turned over. We were doing our bit, however small it was.
Back down south my thoughts turned to the next challenge. Now that we had been together for a few years and been on a few smaller hunts togetherI thought it was probably time Taylahjoined me on a serious deer hunt. Ever since we met I had been jabbering on about this sacred time of year that comes around every April. It was called “the rut”.To a non-deer hunter you could understand if they thought it was a bit of an odd obsession. I would try to explain it to Taylah every now and then, but usually I would just take my leave and disappear into the mountains somewhere in Australia or New Zealand for a couple of weeks every April. This year I thought it was time for her to see for herself so we decided to spenda few days camping on my favourite fallow block back home, and havea look for a nice buck for Taylah.
I always love the drive down to the creek and setting up in the same spot where I’ve had so many rut camps and good memories in years gone by. Steve and Ross were there, and every night was spent around the fire talking about hunts past and future, while listening to fallow bucks croaking out in the darkness around camp. For me, this aspect of a trip is one of the main reasons I hunt.
One afternoon Taylah and I set out early to get to a little timbered knoll where I had always found bucks in the past. Deer were everywhere out in the open flats and we passed up a few younger bucks before setting up to wait in a good spot as the sun went down. Deer starting popping up everywhere and soon we had does, fawns and spikers walking past not 20 metres away. We knewa buck had to be in the area and finally, as the sun was setting, a buck starting croaking down in a scrubby gully below us.
It didn’t take long to narrow down the buck’s location to a thick stand of wattle some two hundred metres away, but with light fading fast we had to move quickly. The problem was we were almost completely surrounded by deer and kangaroos, so every step we were in danger of spooking something that would blow the whole stalk. Soon we ran out of cover and the only option was to crawl.
Bit by bit we crawled our way through the groups of deer and kangaroos undetected, and managed to make it to a fallen log nearly 40 metres from the buck's rutting stand. I could only catch glimpses of him as he ran a circuit through the thick wattles rutting hardand chasing two does. He was a good mature buck and one any hunter would be happy to take.
Taylah got set up for the shot and tried to pick her moment as the buck moved in and out of the wattlescroaking his head off. A couple of times he moved out into the open for a spilt second, before turning back into the wattles after a doe. Patience was key here and Taylah showed great restraint not taking a rushed shot. By now we were in the last few seconds of shooting light with the sun long gone, it had to happen now or we would leave it for another day. The buck came out of the wattles once more and I let out the loudest doe call I could. The buck paused for a second looking our way and Taylah took her shot.
Taylah’ first reaction was a breathless “Did I get it?”She did, a clean one shot kill had dropped the buck on the spot.This was followed by a passing moment of excitement and triumph, which slowly changed as Taylah finally knelt down next to the buck captured in its last instant of life. Deer have a certain beauty and grace about them, and Taylah had a profound moment knowing she was responsible for the end of this bucks life. Not so much a feeling of sadness, but one of melancholy thought.
Everyone reacts differently in the moment when they take an animal. But I try and remember it’s just a piece of the puzzle that makes up the whole experience of a hunt. From the nights in camp with good company, the sunrises and sunsets, the bush and the animals seen, all the way through to cooking up a meal of wild venison you harvested yourself. They are all pieces of the puzzle too. And years later when you look at that set of antlers on the wall if it can bring back a few memories like that then I’d say that hunt was a success. Taylah’s hunt for her first buck had it all.
As for future hunts, well I think it’s safe to say we will be doing more together. Although at the same time I can assure youI haven’t created another hunting fanatic. I highly doubt that I’ll come home one dayto find Taylah poring over maps of the Fiordland wapiti blocks, or having blown a month’s pay on a new rifle or Swarovski binoculars. But if hunting is another way to spend time outdoors togetherevery now and then, and she can understand my passion a little bit better, then that’s good enough for me.