Babes In The Woods
By Peter Hughes
Like me, most hunters are familiar with the feelings they experience when they are stalking through the bush and spy that wonderful trophy. The mere sight sets the heart racing, the emotions leap, and somewhere deep in the recesses, the brain goes into calculating how best to take the trophy. What direction is the wind coming from? Has he spotted me already? What equipment do I drop before I begin the stalk? Is my rifle calibre up to it? Do I chamber a round now or do I wait til I close in? Can I get closer or do I shoot from here? And so the questions buzz and set the actions toward success.
Many times I have given over to that ancient cocktail of chemicals that whir around the body when a magnificent fully developed animal is harvested - a mature stag, a well fed meaty hind, a thirty six inch billy, or better yet, a big smelly boar with sharpened, mean ivory extending from its lips. It is this primitive deep seated emotion I’m sure that encourages us to return to the field time and time again. Hunters love to hunt the big stuff, and experience all that comes with it. But what about the little ones? What about the new-borns and the less mature animals that we encounter in our hunts? Those little babes pose more of a dilemma than the mature adults – and yet, it’s those same little blighters that develop into the majestic beings that we dream about when we are not hunting. Ah, there’s the rub!
So … I have been fortunate enough to have been granted access to a great hunting block, with a river frontage and a network of tanks and dams. I know that permission has been given on the basis that I have agreed to thin out the pig and deer population. Both species are ‘declared’ and form a comprehensive part of the property’s Pest Management Plan. The lucerne is being raided, the fresh irrigation is being dug up and the erosion around the small creeks and streams is ever increasing. The deer are holding their own and are growing in such numbers that they are in direct competition with market cattle that are just not fattening due to the drought conditions. “No worries mate, I will help get everything under control; yep, I understand. The only good pig is a dead pig.”
And then, miles away from the homestead and the critical eye of the manager, I meet the little group – the sow has just dropped her litter of six in the shadow of a fallen eucalypt. The birth event is so fresh the gunk is still wet on the ground and clinging to the little ones. Mum has been smart enough to hightail it into the rubber vine offering no clear shot, but there on the ground before me, unprotected, newly delivered, lie the pigs that I promised to destroy. Tiny helpless pigs, but pigs nonetheless – pigs that will grow into fence destroyers, crop raiders, diggers, ploughers and potential spreaders of disease, and breeders of even more pigs! What to do?
Having internalised and vindicated my actions regarding the piglet dilemma, I move on with the hunt. There is a hind ahead that has broken cover from the base of a short drop-off, and she rushes away madly to the safety of the tree line. Halfway up the steep incline I spot the hidden fawn, no bigger than my cupped hands. I know that the fleeing mother won’t return until all is safe. Beneath my hunter’s gaze I inspect in wonder the small Disney-like creature that confuses my emotions. The small babe that will soon develop into a competing grazer of cattle and horse. My conservative modern brain now has to fight a fight that is not matched to the same decision processes when taking a mature trophy or meat animal. There is no great upwelling of serotonins now, no fuzzy warm brain chemicals being delivered. The hunter, loyal partner of the landholder, stakeholder in the Pest Management Plan, must now make a decision. What to do with the small bundle of tan and white spots? What would you do?
Like me, I suspect most hunters exhilarate in the feelings they experience when they are stalking through the scrub and spy the magnificent trophy; I also know there are sportsmen, women and junior hunters who have difficulty reconciling the hunter, conservationist and pest controller within themselves. I must confess, there are many times that I have driven through the property gate, on my way home to the suburbs, feeling a little bit compromised knowing that I have not fulfilled my role as pest controller as completely as I could have. Oh, I have shot the little chaps – but only with my camera.