Robert is a close mate. He is a genuine, hard-working man who is the same age as me and who is part of a group that I call “the Bangor Boys”.
The Bangor Boys are all mature men who centre around a really nice fellow called Russell Hardy. Russell is also my age, holds down a very responsible national fleet management job and he loves SMLEs and conversions of them. He came to shooting, camping and a love of the outdoors through his father Ted, who is a 90-year-old Tobruk Rat, who also served right through the Pacific as a combat engineer and was wounded in battle. Ted still shoots with our club, the Royal Australian Engineers (CMF) Rifle Club, but concedes his age to bench shooting now, rather than three-position service rifle.
Recently, I went away hunting with Robert, Russell and few others (Ted stayed home) and we had an absolute ball. I’d been hunting with Robert a few times over the last few years and he had had poor luck, not bagging foxes coming to the whistle and missing a few opportunities on other game. He learnt a few lessons from these occurrences, but laughed off his misfortune. I’d imagine that his disappointment in himself was intense but he never showed it to us.
Overlaid with his hunting mishaps, Robert had been undergoing several regular bouts of debilitating and expensive chemotherapy subsequent to surgery for bowel cancer. He’s not clear of it yet but his attitude is that he will beat it and he makes every post he can a winner, despite being in almost constant pain. Sitting down on a fox whistling stand means he has to battle to get up, because previous surgery cut through his abdominal wall, making any move like a sit-up impossible.
Notwithstanding these problems, Robert was determined to wring everything he could out of his experiences, having a few drinks at night with his mates and getting up first in the morning and sometimes going out by himself because we were still pumping out zeds.
On the target shooting side of things, Robert, relatively new to service shooting, co-owns an SMLE .303 with his mate Barry, and he fully owns a beautiful Remington CDL in .25-06, purchased on the advice of Nick Harvey. He has not been disappointed with it.
He was most chuffed with it recently as he, amongst all of us five more or less fit middle-agers, was the only one to bag a deer on our last hunt, and the first of the Bangor Boys to do so at all.
Now, I have been loaning my CZ .527 Varminter in .223 to Robert to shoot in non-service classification and scoped sniper matches with the club and watched him perform relatively poorly when undergoing chemo. When he is not being drugged, he improves substantially.
At our last 300m sniper match, I again lent him the CZ and coached him as per normal and observed him pull off a very creditable 91/100, with small, well-centred groups. He was really happy with this, because the wind conditions were very challenging; he then hung around while I got down to shoot.
Now, when I have shot sniper matches with that rifle, I have never been beaten in nearly two years of competition; this time I got down and achieved a position steadier that I ever had previously. I was feeling good about the shoot all the way through, calling all but one of my shots as well within the four-inch bullseye. The mirage was horrible so I could not see where my bullets were landing. Nonetheless, I thought I may do OK.
As it happened, I achieved groups nearly as small as Robert but it was in the wrong place by a vital inch or two in both cases and I garnered an 83/100 and no cigar, or medallion for that matter. I was a bit perplexed, to put it mildly.
Robert’s 91 got him the highest score for the day over all classifications – he was ‘Cock o’ the Walk’ in the old riflemen’s parlance and he took it very modestly, when most people would puff out their chests and preen. At that point, particularly after successfully hunting a fallow deer, Robert had passed a great mental and I’d argue spiritual milestone.
Those who would see hunters and shooters lose their sport because of some misguided green ideology need to see stories like this. Here is a man who is by any definition a good citizen, a devoted family man who just happens to like pursuing our still-legal recreation. It gives him motivation, health benefits, social activity and it provides a degree of self-actualisation (Maslow’s term for fulfilment) that he cannot attain with any other recreation. He does not hurt anyone and he is a lovely bloke to know and spend time with.
And these green idealogues would take away this vital part of his life (and yours) in the pursuit of some nirvana where no animal ever dies from any cause in a situation that we know will never exist. They paint us as a societal evil and by doing so, they are dehumanising all hunters and shooters, and they should be ashamed of themselves for doing so.