It’s been over forty years since my mum gave me the ‘Bells of Shannon’ (And my ears are still ringing) for getting my first rifle, a cheap worn-out slug-gun. Over those years as a devoted hunter and outdoorsman I have seen a lot of changes. Here are just a few:
In the good old days, a wife or a girlfriend (and lets pray they never met) knew their place, they made the thermos, packed a few sandwiches and waved goodbyes at the front door and that’s only if they could pull themselves away from a rerun of ‘Prisoner’.
And when you returned from five days, of hunting bliss and male bonding you kissed them at the door while cunningly handing over an enormous pile of dirty washing that smelt like the inside of a Turkish wrestler’s jockstrap.
Later, while enjoying a percolated coffee and a meal that didn’t taste and smell like wood smoke you played the; are you really interested in my hunting trip test. By asking the following questions:
“We shot heaps of hogs” …….”Oh that’s nice dear!” “We took enough food” ……” that’s good luv”. “I fell off the motorbike and a star-picket shot up my arse”. “Oh that’s lovely”
In the late seventies, early eighties, I used to hunt regularly with my good mate, Dave; and if after a long session of spotlighting we felt tired. Dave would pull off the road; and hopefully the crashing sound of timber and the occasional thud of a road sign would wake us up. Back then our hunting-partner ‘Cyclone’ fell asleep that often behind the wheel that after his second roll over we were going to install training wheels on the top of his roof. Nowadays, if you’re a bit knackered, you ‘softies’ throw back a sweet, sickly energy drink like a Red Bull or a V and continue on.
So let’s digress, importantly; in the old days, when men were men and sheep were scared. Hunting was just for the men folk and skirts weren’t allowed. Unless you were ‘Cyclone’ as he had a stunning pair of legs.
Twenty-odd years ago while hunting hogs, rabbits, foxes, feral cats and goats in Northern NSW with Dave and ‘Cyclone’. I’d never even heard of a swag. You just rolled out the old wafer thin K Mart sleeping bag and tried your best to get to sleep before Dave started snoring like a chainsaw. Since we mentioned K Mart, back then you could buy rifles there! (True!!) I bought a 30/30 Winchester lever action in a K Mart Store near Sydney.
Back then, If ever you woke up hungry during the night you just gulped down a handful or two of Fruit Loops or Coco Pops; and usually woke up for breakfast the following morning with a mouth as dry as the bottom of a budgie cage. (That’s really a fib coz usually we didn’t have breakfast). As I can remember heaps of times lying in my K Mart special sleeping bag pretending to be a sleep and not once did one of those lazy buggers give me breakfast in bed.
Nowadays, I have an enormous double swag, a thick comfortable mattress and even a pillow and if Gina and I feel like a late night snack we indulge in some of Cadbury’s finest dark chocolate. And usually Gina wakes up to half a bar the following morning.
We used to live on burnt, greasy, Woolworths snags, wrapped in bread and covered with plenty of tomato sauce and if you were really lucky ‘Cyclone’ didn’t make his famous “you’ve never tasted anything like it” red-hot curried goat for tea. As one small cough the next day could send you rushing back to camp with a worried look on your face and your buttocks tightly clenched.
At the tender age of fifteen months, my first son Matthew got his first taste of hunting, although just the humble bunny; he was hooked and still is.
However, a few years later there was a tragic difference of opinions in the marital home, ‘I thought I was a great bloke, but Matt’s mum couldn’t be convinced’. As a result there needed to be some sudden changes made to make the relationship more workable and harmonious and one of them was a different postcode. Subsequently, Matt’s mum and Matt’s younger brother, Steve moved interstate.
So a couple of months after Matt turned four, I found myself a single parent. (And she was an absolute stunner) With two choices; completely change my lifestyle and limit my time spent hunting or overcome any difficulties in taking a four year old bush. The choice was easy – option two.
In those early years, I packed light as I never knew when Matt’s little legs would pack in and he’d be hoisted on my shoulders for the long often steep walk home. That’s how come ‘Cyclone’ gave me the knick name ‘Shoestring Safari’s’ because all I carried was a rifle, camera and a backpack, which contained a popper and tuna sandwich.
By the time Matt was seven, he was a seasoned veteran and had experienced the rugged terrain near Omeo on horseback after deer, chased feral goats on horseback, trail bike, quad and on foot, taken countless goats, rabbits, feral cats and foxes using my trusty old .308 Browning lever action. They were great times and it was in those early years that I first started writing freelance for this publication. At twelve he had added camel, pigs, donkey, scrub bull, trophy buffalo and wild dog to the tally.
Unfortunately, as my legs have gotten older, skinnier and more bowed (I couldn’t stop a greasy pig in an alleyway) I seem to be carrying more gear. A skinning knife isn’t enough anymore; I have to have this gargantuan sized pig sticker swinging off my belt. I feel like a Gladiator.
In the old days, skirts weren’t allowed hunting, but I must have mellowed (or I could just be under the thumb) as often my wife Gina, daughter Jacqueline and Matt’s girlfriend, Erin will get dressed up, put on the makeup and head out with Matt, Ryan and I.
Over the years I have been very fortunate to have met some great people because of my addiction to being in the great outdoors, not just hunting mates, but many great characters and warm hospitable property owners.
Last month I was introduced and later hunted with ‘The Legend’ (yes) the one and only Ted Mitchell (Thanks Dan & Sandy) and I would firstly like to say don’t believe all the rumours; he’s actually a top bloke. However, unlike Ted I’m not very equipment savvy, so unlike him I won’t be building my own very reliable large calibre rifle or making the said ammo or giving any technical advice. All I will say is when it comes to equipment Gina gives mine the thumbs up!
I’ve been blessed with terrific loving parents (Norm & Peg), a great partner, in Gina, five top kids (Matt, Steve, Ryan, Roy & Jac) and some exceptional long-time hunting mates (Dave, Cyclone, Troy, Bakesy, Big Tone, Dimmi & Phil) with warped senses of humour who share the same love and appreciation of the bush as I do.
So although this article is typical of my light-hearted style, hunting has really been a major influence in my life and hopefully, I can give back some of the laughs, countless good times and special moments it’s given me in the articles I put to paper.
This article was first published in Sporting Shooter, November 2011