Photo competitions are a good place to see the best, and the worst of hunting. Some of the hunters out there have amazing photography skills, and obviously cameras far superior to mine. I’m not expert in photography, but what really disappoints me is when photos are taken of an animal that has been shot, but it is either being ridiculed / disrespected, or no care has been taken to position it (especially for a good animal). It’s probably a bit nasty of me to take pictures from an online page of people doing just this and post them here as an example, so instead i will highlight what I don’t like about them.
A beautiful red stag, 11 pointer, with an appealing back-drop of hills funneling down into the focal point of the picture. The colour of the photo suggests early morning light / haze and a poor quality camera, but it could have been a really good photo if there weren’t TWO CLOWNS RIDING ON THE BACK OF THE STAG. Seriously. You’ve just killed this animal, have some respect.
There’s a photo of a kid with a Thar, taken from above. Great that your boy has shot a thar but if he is going to take a head shot then that photo is not competition-worthy, and shouldn’t really be on a public forum…
Others are ruined by simple things. Put the animal’s tongue back in it’s mouth. Watch your background. Open your bolt. I get it, you are still in the state of excitement and you have to remember to think. Your photographer can help you compose the photo if you are lucky enough to have one, otherwise best get acquainted with the self-timer! Some of my first photos I gave little thought to the presentation of the animal and as a consequence I made a few mistakes.
I think part of the onus has to be placed on the forum in which the photos are posted. Magazines and websites need to set some quality standards and promote ethics and respect and I challenge them to start rejecting photos that show excessive gore, disrespect to the animal, or very poorly placed shots – eg broken legs, gut shots etc. Mistakes happen but they should not be promoted.
Today at lunchtime I visited a bookshop in the hope of procuring a hunting magazine. The smartly dressed businessman in his 50’s next to me reached for the magazine at the same time, and we laughed. He asked me, “are you heading out in the roar?” And I replied that I really hoped to.
This is a pretty rare kind of encounter. For example, I recently needed another item of clothing. Entering the store, I made a beeline for the section I required and spent a considerable amount of time perusing the racks for a suitable item. After quite some time, a staff member approached and asked if he could help. Explaining what I was looking for, he asked if the clothing was going to be a gift. When I said it wasn’t, he asked if my partner hunted. Even the hefty discount he gave didn’t quell my feeling of irritation, as it was clear that he was astonished that the item was for me, and even more so that I didn’t have a partner who had dragged me into hunting.
My mate thought that I should write a post about the hardships of female hunting. He’s a very good mate, and we’ve had some great hunts together, and many trips. Describing himself as “ruggedly handsome,” with access to a regular hunting block, he is wondering where all these ladies with guns are and why he isn’t meeting them. He is looking to replace me for a more available model, but I suggest that in order to meet ladies he would have to spend less time in the bush, something that is probably not going to happen.
Hunting is a male-dominated sport, but there is nothing to stop the ladies getting in and having a go. I find a lot of the women’s hunting stories are a bit too focussed on how they are “different” to the normal female, and some are a bit too self-promotional (I am thinking of one gag-worthy piece that my mates will recognise). Many men are very supportive of women getting into the sport, and will volunteer to take them out. This doesn’t always work out however, as before I found some reliable hunters to take me under their wings, I had to make my way through the ones who had other ideas. You have to be able to trust the people you go with, as you can end up in survival situations and remote places, and you don’t want to be stuck in either with a creeper.
Last year I came across a lone male hunter at a hut I was happily occupying alone. We got talking, and he was instantly likeable. We ended up hunting together that day (so we didn’t shoot each other) and established a friendship. He was there to see me shoot my first red deer, and I was very grateful for his company, especially after a fall busted the nerves in one arm and rendered it useless. The thing I liked most about this guy was that he never once said anything about “you don’t see many ladies in the bush,” and he didn’t try to TEACH me. Nothing gets my back up more than a guy who needs to teach this poor defensive female a thing or two about deer….! He simply asked: “do you know how to gut a deer?” And when I said that I did, he lay down on the ground and watched quietly, using his pack as a pillow.
I’ve joined the local deerstalkers club and I find it pretty good. I think the HUNTS course is great for new people starting out, teaching essential skills and the very important ethics. It did take me quite a long time to feel comfortable at club meetings however. The members had been friends a long time, and it was surprisingly hard to crack into a group. Perhaps they thought I would just go away eventually…. but persistence paid off and the members for the most part are very friendly now.
So ladies wanting to get into this wonderful sport, please do! Most of the time you will be supported well, and you can laugh those other times. You will gain a lot from your successes and learn from your failures. You will be able to look after yourself in tough situations. You’ll get fit and have a lot of fun, as well as respect for the animals we hunt. Your local deerstalkers club is a good place to start looking for advice and like-minded people, alternatively there are woman’s hunting groups around (e.g. on Facebook) that could lead to new friendships. Women are out there doing it, and we are not the rare species that some like to portray us as!
Most vegetarians that I know are actually pretty ok with hunting. They care that the death is humane, and I believe a well-placed shot is, and they appreciate that the animal is in a natural environment, oblivious to its fate. I personally have no ill-feelings against most forms of farming (I come from a farm), however I believe that meat you have got yourself will always taste better! Today was the first time someone has abused me for my choice to hunt, calling me a “murderous bitch with blood on my hands for taste.”
To hunt an animal, usually you have to work hard. There is the preparation for the trip – be it a day trip or an elaborate multi-day expedition. You must get all the gear ready, check and re-check that nothing is forgotten, and plan every meal. Then there comes the logistics of actually fitting it all in the bag so that the right things are accessible at the right time. Sometimes it is nothing short of magical when it all fits in!
You then have to get it all to where you are going. Unless you are very fortunate and have a helicopter flight, this usually means walking it in.
The stalking of the deer is hard work. It takes a lot of energy to walk so quietly, using all of your senses looking for sign, listening for animals, smelling the breeze that seems to turn on you on a whim. It can take hours before you come across a spot where the sign is fresh, if you are hunting in the bush. In open country it is more about glassing the guts and sunny grassy spots with patience that I scarcely have.
You see a deer, you decide to shoot. But shooting is the easy part (for some). For me there is always a deeply rooted fear that I will hit somewhere other than where I am aiming and I will have a wounded animal to find. Fortunately that has not been the case to date. It takes a bit of time to gut an animal once you reach it, and then you have to get the animal back to wherever it is you are staying. Carrying pikau gets the intact carcass back to camp, but it is heavy and the bones from the forelimbs dig painfully into one’s shoulders.
Taking the back legs and back steaks and leaving the rest is sometimes frowned on as there is wastage – and I used to be in this camp – until I saw the light. If it is a big stag there is a lot of meat on the neck and shoulders that you shouldn’t waste. But on a spiker or yearling hind, often the wastage is minimal. Of course if your bullet went through the shoulder then that halves the useful meat again. I shot two deer one evening, and with it getting dark and the rain starting to set in I was rushing to get them gutted and get one carried out (I came back for number two in the morning). Carrying pikau was actually impossible as it was so steep, so taking back legs and back steaks was ideal. I boned out the shoulder of the second animal the next day when I had more time, but the amount of meat I gained from this was disappointing.
After getting your game to camp you still have to transport it out of the bush somehow. Furthermore, you have to then skin it, and convert it into useful cuts. I like to use a Wenger boning knife for this, as it allows me to get all of the fascia (silverskin) off the steaks, is good to sharpen, and is nice to handle. I do tend to stab myself a few times in the process with the very sharp tip though!
I like to cut the meat into steaks / stirfry and casserole meat. When we have a surplus of casserole meat, the next lot goes to our local game-licensed butcher become sausages, salami and mince. Vacuum packing the meat lengthens its shelf life by preventing the horrid freezer burn – a very worthwhile investment (about $120).
So this is not the easy way to get meat for the table, but it is so enjoyable! I love to be in the bush, getting fitter and using all of my senses. It is a thrill to see a deer in the wild and out-smart its superior senses. It is great to be able to get photos of deer and be choosy about which ones you shoot. It is a privilege to be able to harvest a wild animal, and I feel like working hard to obtain one is part of the respect for the kill. It’s pretty easy to pick up a packet of meat from a supermarket and turn a blind eye to where it came from, but not when you have watched it grazing and converted it into steaks. I like vegetarians, I respect them, I used to be one! But don’t target someone who is appreciating the opportunity to turn a pest animal into a meal. Go find a real atrocity – there are plenty out there!
My journey into beginning deerstalking and hunting in New Zealand