The Bullshooter

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Professional Kangaroo Shooting Part 1

This is not going to be a discussion about the rights and wrongs of slaughtering "innocent" creatures. Most of the vocal lobbyists for demanding a stop to Government controlled culls have never seen a kangaroo in the wild, and seem to want to draw a parallel with the decimation of the buffalo in America. Nothing could be further from the truth. Improved water distribution to the semi-arid areas in Australia have provided conditions that sustain higher kangaroo populations than existed when Captain Cook landed. The latest population figures I've seen indicate a marked increase since private firearm ownership has been dramatically reduced by legislation. In a good year (plentiful rainfall), kangaroo numbers swell enormously. In the following seasons any droughts lead to widespread death from starvation. Professional shooters are regulated by government bodies in an effort to control the roo population.

I'd like to discuss the rifles and equipment used by the pro shooters I have encountered over the years. My perspective is dated by a few years now, but I doubt much has changed. There must be few places in the world where so much shooting is done by so few. Most centerfire rifle shooters, certainly hunters, never wear out a barrel in their lifetime. In contrast to this, it's not unusual for a pro shooter to rebarrel in less than a year.

I'll start with a brief job description. The work day starts in the late afternoon, not long before dusk. Kangaroos are nocturnal animals, and in any area a few hours' drive from the coast, if you are driving at night, there is a high risk of hitting one on the road (you will notice all the locals have roo bars on their vehicles).

A skilled roo shooter will take note of the weather conditions and the prevailing wind, and make a decision as to the most likely area of high roo concentration. He typically has a territory of many thousands of acres, sometimes incorporating several properties, sometimes just a corner of a giant station. He may use the shearers' quarters, or if he is lucky an unused homestead, but home comforts such as air conditioning are very unlikely. Any electricity is likely to be provided by a generator.

There are generally two periods of activity for kangaroos; from dusk until around midnight, then again from around 2am until dawn. For a shooting wagon most pro shooters favored the Toyota Landcruiser, this being the most rugged and reliable unit for copping a lot of abuse and hard usage. A typical rig is a flat tray on back with a 6' high steel box frame for hanging carcasses. Most shooters work alone, and shoot from the driver's seat. There may be a bar covered with soft rubber fitted to the outside of the driver's door, used as a rifle rest. At least one spotlight is fitted through the roof with a remote handle.

The shooter typically will be sweeping the surrounding area with his left hand, while driving slowly along his track. The spotlight beam needs to have enough brightness to hold the roo while the shooter takes the truck out of gear and slows to a stop, getting the rifle into position as he does so. This is where a lot of skill comes in to play. If there is a load of roo carcasses on board, he cannot afford to wait until the truck stops swaying back and forth, since the roo will only stay frozen in the spotlight for a few seconds. The better shooters can time their shot to release at the moment the truck coasts to a stop, just before the hanging carcasses swing backwards. Since roos normally congregate in a "mob", there is a chance of killing several before moving on.

It is surprising what noise will spook them. The report of smaller calibers such as 222 Remington may not immediately scare off a mob, but strangely enough the metallic click of a truck door will. Most of the time roos are shot within 150 yards. A single shot to the head is the preferred method, and government regulations prevent the use of rimfire calibers. I found that the guys I met took pride in using quality equipment that left as little to chance as possible for a clean and painless kill.

After a full night's hunting a successful shooter may have accounted for between 40 and 70 roos. If he is shooting for pelts he will have to skin them as the night goes on. If the carcasses are left to cool the job becomes extremely difficult. Otherwise, if shooting for pet food, there is less work in the field. Kangaroo meat for human consumption is a fairly recent development, and the cost of getting set up with a rig that conforms to sanitary regulations (virtually all surfaces stainless steel) was so high that very few shooters were interested. This may have changed in the past few years however.

Every roo shot must have a tag attached (bought from the state Parks and Wildlife Service); this is how the cull numbers are controlled. By first light the shooter drives to the nearest town to sell his truck load to a skin buyer or pet food processor. Given the size of these areas, just the trip into town may take hours. If there is a refrigerated box in the town, the shooter may also supplement his income by shooting wild pigs. Some of this wild pork is exported to Germany.

Our shooter has now been working all night, and may (if he is lucky) be back to his base by early to mid morning. Now he has to service his vehicle, fix anything that has broken, load ammunition for the coming night, cook and eat something, oh, and if he gets the chance, get some sleep as long as the temperature allows some chance of resting. I haven't mentioned the tendency for punctures if he works in mulga country or chassis damage on the rocky terrains. He should be more than a fair bush mechanic, since RACQ (local version of AAA) isn't likely to bail him out in some 10,000 acre paddock in the middle of nowhere. And it's a long walk home.

The next installment will deal with the rifles, scopes, reloading equipment and practice, as well as other accessories such as spotlights.

2 Comments:

  • At 24/4/06 8:49 PM, Blogger Z said…

    Who buys the dead kangaroos and what do they do with them? Food, leather,...?

     
  • At 24/4/06 9:45 PM, Blogger Warren said…

    The bulk of the roos are shot for pet food and skins. The skins are tanned and used as leather or the fur left on to be used for handbags and other accessories. There is a small market for human consumption as kangaroo meat is low in fatand a more healthy alternative to beef or pork. However, with recent generations growing up watching Skippy the Bush Kangaroo on TV, it's a market that has yet to flourish.

     

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