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.
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