Hunting is a tradition that has, largely, been passed down through family members. My dad taught me and my siblings to hunt, his dad and uncles taught him, and their families taught them, and so on, for as far back as we can remember.
How it all started
Just as there was a process to my schooling, starting in primary school and graduating through the different stages until I completed my degree at university, there was also a process to learning how to hunt. Dad insisted we learn the basics first – and in Dad’s school of hunting, the most important skill to master was safety. I can’t even begin to count the number of hours we spent at the range, shooting targets and learning every aspect of our firearms. He was never going to let us loose near an animal until we got that stuff down pat. Even now, many years later, those safety lessons are so deeply ingrained in us that they’ve just become second nature.
While my brother and sister started hunting a lot earlier than me (my little brother accompanied Dad on an African hunt when he was just 11), I didn’t pick up a rifle until I was 17.
I vividly remember the first animal I shot. We were out with Dad, watching him cull a mob of kangaroos for a farmer. He spied a rabbit at about 80 metres and handed me the .22 I had become so familiar with on the range. But as I was to learn, the range is very different from the real thing.
Adrenaline pumped through my veins as I lined the rabbit up in the sights. There were so many different emotions coursing through me as my brain struggled to reconcile my love of animals with my desire to become a hunter like my Dad.
I gently squeezed the trigger and saw the rabbit drop.
When I looked back at Dad, I was overcome by the pride I saw reflected back in his eyes, but as we walked over to the rabbit, I felt a very different emotion bubbling to the surface. I’m not going to lie – I shed plenty of tears for that dead rabbit. But I also felt part of something so much bigger than myself.
Getting Jack involved
Fast forward seven years and I am now an accomplished huntress in my own right. Not only have I graduated from rabbits and roos to deer and much bigger game, I now run a hunting business with my family, and have just started filming a new hunting show for TV. But more importantly than all of that, I now get to pass on the hunting tradition to my son.
Jack has come along on roo culls since before he could talk, but earlier this year, I had the great privilege of bringing him along on a fallow hunt in Central Tasmania. At four, he’s still a bit too young and noisy to participate in the spot and stalk part of the hunt, but I really wanted to share as many of the experiences as I could with him.
Jack’s first deer hunt
The first few days, I got to teach him how unpredictable the weather can be as I told him about hiking 19kms through swirling wind and rain without seeing a thing.
On the second day, the rain continued to pelt down. We saw some does and a handful of spikies, but no decent stags. We again returned empty-handed from our hunt, but even that was an important lesson for Jack to learn. There’s no guarantees in life, particularly when it comes to hunting wild animals. That’s why it’s called hunting, not shopping.
The rain stopped on day three and the sun came out, and we finally spotted our first mob of fallow stags about 600 metres away.
We stalked in slowly, using a strip of thick bush as cover. Despite two days of solid rain, the ground was still quite noisy but the wind was in our favour, blowing directly into our faces.
I spotted two good-looking stags in the mob: a black one still in velvet and a red who had only recently rubbed. I was immediately drawn to the red because he reminded me of the stag I’d taken the year before. Perhaps they were from the same bloodline.
We got to the end of the tree-line and we were still 400 metres from the deer. While, technically I could make the shot from that distance, the strong wind that had helped us get close also made the shot risky, and therefore, unethical.
The deer were out on the flats, which meant there was no other way to get close to them than to crawl on our bellies through the grass to a small knoll about 200 metres out. There we set up a shooting position, waiting patiently for them to come a little closer to us.
Slowly and surely, the deer started feeding their way towards us, closing in on us from all three sides. I never thought I’d be upset to be surrounded by a mob of deer, but it’s pretty hard to stay undetected when there are just so many eyes, ears and noses looking out for danger.
A couple of times there, I was afraid to breathe in case they heard me and took off.
I kept my eyes trained on the red, watching and waiting as he fed over towards that grassy knoll. My guide, Andrew, ranged him at 180 metres and nodded, giving me the go ahead to take the shot.
I lined him up, breathing slowly and evenly as I squeezed the trigger.
He stumbled but didn’t drop and I knew in that split second if I didn’t take another shot, I’d lose him.
I reloaded and made the follow up shot, feeling the euphoria of emotions wash over me as he dropped to the ground. And while there’s no longer tears shed, I am still overwhelmed by a sense of respect and awe for the animal I have harvested. This time, I was just so excited to get Old Red back to camp and share my experience with Jack.
Passing on the tradition
As a mum, you’re always being watched and observed by your child. They’re like tiny little sponges, taking in so much from those around them.
That evening, Jack didn’t just watch me cape and butcher the deer into cuts of meat for our freezer. He took an active part in the process, getting his little hands as dirty as the rest of us.
I loved being able to teach him where his food comes from and, because the deer had only recently rubbed and still had dry velvet clinging to his antlers, I was also able to teach Jack how deer grow their antlers.
You could say my life has come full circle. As a single mother, it’s up to me to pass on the traditions of hunting to my son, just as my dad taught me, and his family taught him. Unfortunately, in Australia, his hunting education will have to stay largely observational until he’s old enough to legally hunt here. But I have just heard about a young hunters competition that’s held annually in New Zealand, which allows younger children to hunt for small game. Maybe I’ll take him along some day…
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The whole world is talking social distancing like it’s a new thing. But social distancing for hunters is something we have been actively practicing for years. Forget 1.5m distance; when I head out bush, I prefer to keep at least 1.5kms between me and the nearest person. There’s no better feeling than being alone out there with nature, far away from the maddening crowds.