Hunting Down Under

By Alex Wyschnja


Australia is a huge island that encompasses tropical rainforests and grassland plains, rugged mountains, alpine forests, vast areas of open farmland and perhaps the most famous area, the outback, the red heart of a desert continent. It takes about 5 hours to fly across Australia by modern jetliner! You can get Coca-Cola anywhere in Australia but McDonalds and KFC are only available in the larger cities and towns. Australia's population is about 20 million, of that about one million people are involved with shooting and firearms.

Most game hunted in Australia is of an introduced or feral species. These range from small animals like the European sparrow, starlings, rabbits, hares, cats, foxes, goats, pigs, dogs, various deer species, donkeys, horses, Asiatic water buffalo, banteng, domestic feral cattle and camels.

The major native species culled is the kangaroo, these are taken under permit with strict government regulation, for the skin or meat trade or by farmers under a destruction permit where crops are damaged by excessive animal numbers. It is illegal for hunters to hunt kangaroos outside of these arrangements. There are millions of kangaroos in Australia, many more now than before white men arrived, because farming expansion has assisted the population growth and sustainability.

All other marsupials (pouched animals) are protected and are generally not as abundant, except for isolated pockets where populations have increased due to local factors. There are no dangerous predatory animals such as bears or large cats except for salt-water crocodiles, which inhabit the tropical areas. They are also fully protected following near extinction caused by over exploitation of the skin market some decades ago.

Unfortunately, we have the two most toxic land snakes in the world. Buffalo and pigs can both inflict fatal injuries on hunters when cornered or injured but basically they are not considered aggressive towards humans. Dingoes roam the outback in large numbers and have caused fatalities following attacks on unprotected children. They can be hunted but generally the effort is too great for most hunters.

The bulk of Australia's population lives near the coast along the eastern and southeastern part of the continent. Early settlement in the 1800's resulted in Europeans trying to colonize the harsh outback areas, which eventually failed. Domestic stock was used for transport and milk and meat supplies during that era, and when better communications and transportation, such as motor vehicles, arrived these animals were invariably turned loose to fend for themselves in the harsh environment. Other species such as rabbits were released for "sporting purposes" by the settlers and immediately adapted to the environment. These outback releases eventually bred up into the herds scattered across the continent, which today provides much of the action for Aussie hunters.

Australian Gun Laws.

Australians are allowed to own and use firearms for hunting. Much has been made of the tough approach adopted by the Australian Government following the terrible Port Arthur mass murder of 35 people in 1996 and the consequent vilification of Australia's law abiding firearms owners.

The government dictated that the population could not own semi automatic firearms or pump action shotguns except in very exceptional circumstances. Firearm owners were required by law to hand in these types of firearms, compensation was paid according to a valuation on the firearm.

Money for the compensation payments was taxed from the Australian population as part of a compulsory health benefits scheme. In effect, the government stole money from the people ($500m Aus) to pay for guns that they confiscated from law-abiding shooters.

It was an unforgettable experience to stand in a queue with other law abiding, honest citizens to hand in prized and much loved firearms for destruction! The Australian Prime Minister, dressed in a bullet proof vest, stood before a huge gathering of firearm owners and admitted that this disarmament would do nothing to prevent a future civilian massacre.

The Government also dictated that the population could not own firearms for self-defence purposes, and that all firearms needed to be registered and owners licensed. One of the conditions of license was that the licensee has to justify the need for the firearm. Hunting, target shooting, collecting, club use or tools for primary production (farm use, culling etc) are considered legitimate justification, self defence or protection is not accepted by the government as a reason for firearms ownership.

Handguns are not permitted for hunting and are strictly controlled for club or range use only. Only the Military, police or licensed security operatives are permitted to carry handguns in public in Australia. Criminal offences in Australia involving firearms have risen following implementation of these draconian laws. There is a lot of truth in the old saying, "when guns are outlawed, only outlaws will have guns".

Hunting Styles

A lot of hunting in Australia is basically culling of animals where a large tally is the object of the exercise. Feral pigs, for instance, breed prolifically in good seasons and there are no bag limits on any of the feral species. In fact, regular culling of animals occurs in remote areas using contract helicopters to keep feral populations under control.

Because Australia is so vast and requires determination to get to, those that make the effort are usually well rewarded. Hunting pressure is very light in most areas. Very few Aussies use guides except for some deer hunts and for hunting certain species in restricted areas (i.e. Aboriginal lands). Most guides are set up to cater for international hunters; Aussies tend to do their own thing and make their own arrangements with landowners to hunt. Fees apply in some cases, but depending upon the area and feral animal population, farmers and station owners (Ranchers) are keen to have hunters cull their animals for free. This saves them in time, fuel and ammunition. It has been estimated that to shoot one feral camel in outback Australia would cost at least $40 Aus; this is the average cost of just getting out there to do it, not the cost of the shot. Another phenomena which has been spectacularly successful in one Australian state is a program of allowing groups of hunters to hunt in National Parks during periods when the parks are closed to the public. These cull hunts have been very successful in ridding sensitive desert parks of feral goats that destroy the native vegetation and habitat of rare marsupials.

Firearms for Hunting in Australia

A full range of military and sporting powders are manufactured in Australia; these are favored by Aussie hunters because of price and availability. The quality is commensurate with imported powders, in most cases it is superior.

Australia does not have a sporting firearms manufacturing industry. Australian gunsmiths, of course, can build whatever the customer wants using mostly imported components. Most firearms imports come from the well known American manufacturers like Winchester, Ruger, Remington, Marlin, Browning, Weatherby, and Savage and the European brands such as CZ Brno, Tikka, Sako, and Anschutz.

Aussie shooters tend to favor short action calibers with the .22 rimfire, .223 Remington, .243 Winchester and .308 Winchester being the most popular calibers. Other popular calibers are the .222 Remington, .22-250 Remington, 6.5x55, and .270 Winchester. The .30-30 lever action, by either Winchester or Marlin, is extremely popular for feral pig hunting, which is usually done at the ranges where this cartridge is most effective. For some reason the long action cartridges such as the .30-06 and various magnum offerings are not as popular.

Brass and components are not as easy to get for the magnums or anything out of the ordinary. The .303 British was very popular in Australia for many years and I think that heritage still continues, much like the .30-06 does in the States.

Most animals hunted in Australia will succumb readily to a well placed shot from a .243. The .308 Winchester will handle 99% of all hunting in Australia. Not many hunters own magnum rifles in Australia, they are considered a bit of an overkill and a novelty in most cases but good conversation pieces nevertheless. Hunters who specialize in large species (Sambar deer, buffalo and camel) usually go for the bigger cannons such as .338's, .375s and .458's, but there is hardly any real reason to gear up with anything bigger than a .300 Magnum in Australia. My personal hunting philosophy is that if I can't drop the animal with a proper shot from a .308 Winchester I may as well give up and go home!

The .17 Remington was very popular for fox shooting some years ago, before the animal liberationists destroyed the fox skin trade. Foxes are now in huge numbers and are helping to make more native species extinct. Most Aussie hunters handload, simply for the reason that they do a lot of shooting. I buy primers and projectiles by the thousand. Most of the American made reloading gear and components are available in Australia. An Australian company now makes Woodleigh big game projectiles; these are as good as any big game bullets made anywhere. Scopes are available from most manufacturers; the cheaper Asian imports are popular because of price, but many hunters either go with Leupold or the various quality European brands, despite their high price tag.

Aussie Hunters

Aussie hunters are real men, they like their beer cold and their women (sheilas) hot. They like to bullshit heaps (tell lots of tall tales) and love a joke, but the culture of mateship, forged in the trenches of Gallipoli in 1915, is still very much alive. There is nothing like going hunting with your mates. You look out for each other and you always help your mates when they need it.

Aussies won't take you really seriously until you have proven yourself, so there is no point in bragging about how you shot a 1,000 pound grizzly bear at 600 yards with your .378 Weatherby - we can't relate to that and we're not really interested! Hey mate, we shoot truckloads of furry little teddy bears every week out here with our .22s!

Americans who decide to come to Australia to hunt will get heaps more respect by initially keeping their mouths shut and asking the right questions at the right time. When they get a chance to shoot something, that is the time to show the local boys that they really are top class hunters.

Aussies love people who like to laugh at themselves; Aussies do this as well. Don't take yourself too seriously in front of an Aussie. Aussie shooters do a lot of shooting and generally have vast experience in the field. They are also very competitive and admire somebody who "has a go." Winning is important, but "having a go" is the most important thing.

The steering wheel is on the right hand side of the car and we drive on the left hand side of the road. 4WD Toyota Landcruisers are the standard by which all bush vehicles are measured, they are like arseholes here - everybody has got one! Footy and cricket are not sports, they are religions. We'll shout (buy) you a beer but we don't give anybody tips--bugger em!




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Copyright 2002 by Alex Wyschnja. All rights reserved.

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