I met some new
friends on my local board and hooked up for a feral animal cull in the
deep outback where city people don't usually go. This is the story posted on the local forum. I
hope horse lovers don't get upset but those featured in this story (known
as Brumbies) are really and truly wild and considered feral pests. Hope
you like it.
We were close to Roxby when DrG signalled for us to pull over. He wanted to show us something which meant we all had to squeeze into the front seat of his ute. We are all well over 100kgs so it looked like the sumo wrestlers in the TV ad. We only had to endure this for a couple of minutes until we came to Lake Mary.
After rains in January it had filled for the first time in 18 years. There are full on desert sand dunes around it and then this out of place looking freshwater lake. DrG tells us that Roxby has the highest average income of any town in Australia. The lake gives a vivid indication of the impact BHPs Olympic Dam mine has on the local economy when we see a brand new looking ski boat towing two blokes around. This lake is temporary, it’s already fallen 2m and there will be a bit of a hike to get it wet when the lake dries up.
After show and tell with our own toys DrG gives us a choice. Regular Ausvarminters will know he is a keen volunteer shooter for the Arid Recovery project and he has been asked to do a spotlighting session that night. Arid Recovery is on BHP land and BHP OH&S rules apply. We don’t have formal approval to shoot. We will observe only. I’m a below average sleeper in my own bed and expected a fitful rest in my swag. So no decision really. He liked my 6/250 enough to proclaim he would have the same stock on his custom long range cat killer. That’s only his first change of mind and I’m sure it won’t be the last. It’s part of the fun of a custom project. Any way I was a little flattered when he asked if it could accompany him for cat and fox duty. I brought it to show him what Shane was about to do for him but i was unsure if it would be sighted in right after the 1300klm trip. I've not had much success with someone else’s gun for a “live’ session first up.
When we get to Arid Recovery we set up at the office inside the fenced enclosure. DrG will take a practice sighter or 2 as soon as we get outside the fence. The spotlight patrols (along with the baits and traps) are to convince cats, foxes and rabbits that it is unhealthy to try to get in to play with the Bilbies bettongs and Bandicoots. Well as soon as we lock the gate and swing the spottie we see a fox at 150m, no chance to sight in and 2 shots sail over his head. The rifle shot high for DrG but i am glad Pat felt my agitation when he went to adjust the scope as it still shot OK for me when i next tried it a few days later. After hitting a Red Bull can perched in a shrub at 120m our shooter had the hang of this rifle but turns out he was wasting his time. When he went to unload the projie stuck in the lands and powder filled the action. Oops. My fault entirely, mustn’t have seated that one down firmly enough. Its HMR on rabbit duty only for the rest of the night.
We headed up the
track the next day stopping at William Creek and Oodnadatta. I know
Crocodile Dundee is only a fictional character but I half expected to see
Donk at the end of the bar in the William Creek pub! I knew this was my
first serious bush trip when we get a brief on the EPIRB and DrG shows us
the big orange sheet with a black V. “if I am incapacitated and you have
to set off the EPIRB drape this over the car so the plane can spot us.
“we’re not in Kansas anymore Toto”.
We were driving thru DrGs office on this trip and we were being educated. It was sobering to think this semi desert was once much more densely vegetated before sheep and rabbits wrought destruction. Another victory for human ingenuity. Mulga bushes live for hundreds of years but the conditions to allow them to successfully reproduce might happen 5 times in a century.
|My untrained eye would have said ‘so what?’ to that statement. “do you see any new growth or saplings?”. Well of course we can’t. Since overgrazing much reduced the vegetation there are no sheep here anymore, but rabbits love new growth. The consequences are simple. If the current vegetation is allowed to die off naturally without protection for new growth then nothing holds the sand together. Apparently the shifting dunes of the Sahara used to be vegetated like this country once. Seems the locals had a lot of goats. I wont try to explain DrG’s job as I'll get it wrong but he monitors the Mound springs and bores on private land as a management function of the Great Artesian Basin. So of course we stop, like thousands of tourists before us, at the bubbler mound springs. These thing work like volcanoes except water from the GAB takes the place of lava. With water naturally trickling out the top they are like green topped islands in a sea of red.|
|Unlike the thousands of tourists before us (and yet to come) we have the current Govt authority on the springs with us for narrative. Not only do we hear from the scientist, but also the friend of the traditional owners of the area. Interspersed with “these are the oldest living organisms on the planet” and “the water coming from this spring fell on the Great dividing range in Queensland 1.4 million years ago” ( I thought about this when we saw a station manager turn on a bore pipe and let it pour over the ground a day or two later) comes the Dreamtime song line of the Two Snakes. Both these topics are covered with equal intensity. The song line is spoken with terminology i can imagine the original tellers using. This is quite an experience for me. I would class myself as the typical white Australian whose knowledge of Aborigines and their culture comes from TV and stereotypes. DrG’s Knowledge comes from first hand experience. He has been ‘sung in’ to the tribal areas.|
|A day or two later over a few beers i said ‘you have an affinity for Aboriginal people”. No, I got that wrong . Respect for their traditional culture? Maybe. Some understanding? Maybe. However no romantic idealism, I hear about their problems too. I don’t think I have the right word yet but I asked many questions and felt educated by the answers. We get to a remote cattle station. I’m home after the whole trip and I still don’t know why the cattle aren’t just bleached bones! Well apparently desert vegetation is very nutritious. It would need to be, there wasn’t much of it! They are all very healthy looking though. The secret is that there aren’t very many of them. We arrived while they were getting next weeks dinner ready. I think it might well have been a set up when the manager tells DrG his 22 wont work and asks if we have something that can kill the cow. He volunteers his 17hmr and gets “your gun, you do the job” as a come back.|
we head out for a spotlighting session. Two stockmen accompany us,
one is half Aborigine. His mate reminds him that he is a ‘caramello’
and not a real black fella!
I have no idea how
tall or short these tales are but my shot was a perfect heart shot with a
50gn BK at 150m. I knew it was fatal right away because of the massive
blood flow I could see through the scope. The dog did not lie down, he
turned to bite his wound while yelping loudly, hence his blood stained
muzzle. I am sure this would not have lasted very long but I do not like
suffering anymore than the other four onlookers who were encouraging me to
make it stop which I did with a fast second shot.
|We had to laugh when Tim spotted a rabbit out the opposite side to the spottie. He proclaimed his aboriginal heritage by telling us native hunters don't need this technology as they can see in the dark!|
Camel culling is performed to control numbers, to protect the fences that they just walk through and to preserve sparse feed for the cattle.It is not hunting as traditionalists would view it. We were there to cull unwanted pests, to do a job the pastoralists would otherwise have to do.
It was the trust the owners have
in DrG that was allowing us to do the trigger work. Success was not to be
measured by the best shot or trophy sized bull, success was eradicating
the whole herd. The modus operandi was to drive round the remotest
paddocks (I use the term ‘paddock’ quite loosely as they are the size of
small countries) locate a herd, drive as close as possible and despatch
them as humanely as possible. DrG knew this remote country better than the
pastoralists some of the time as he had mapped the spring areas and
because of the drought; the most unproductive areas were carrying very
little stock and therefore had few visits from stockmen.
Our first day was relatively unproductive. A small herd of donkeys was spotted but as we drove over the rough terrain to intercept their headlong escape dash, they made a sharp 90 degree turn and headed down a steep gorge we could not follow. DrG wasn’t very happy and I thought he was regretting the fact that his guests missed out on a shot. Oh no, he detests feral animals in the ecosystem he loves. The day ended with one camel. No one really claims a kill with camels as they are big animals and everyone joins in to ensure they go down quickly.
It would have been easy to call that a disappointing result after driving huge distances to get there. That would not do justice to the wonderment and appreciation myself and Pat were feeling at just being there and seeing part of Australia that most city dwellers only know exists if they see it on TV. “Do we ever park the car and go on a stalk” I ask, “we might find a mob and dismount to sneak up on them but we don’t go stalking in this country” is the reply “why not” simple answer was “you might die”. I’ve been geographically challenged before but I don’t need to be convinced that it would be a bad idea in these sand dunes or stony plains. It’s not summer yet the temperature is “only” in the mid thirties but there is a constant desiccating wind and even sitting in the Cruiser with the window open as we scour the plains needs constant rehydration. I know I’m drying out when several bottles of water and a 2ltr camelback are empty without my normally frequent pit stops.
I am again
encouraged to remain in the car when a photo opportunity for some
native fauna presents as a Mulga Snake crosses the track. We are
told that his venom is not the most toxic but because he is very
aggressive he will bite more than once and hang on to keep pumping.
This volume of venom in an attack makes him very dangerous. I ask
how close I can get to him before it will be dangerous. I am
instructed firmly to stay in the car. “You see the way he is holding
his head off the ground and flattening his hood” I do. “Well that’s
Mulga snake for I’m pissed off look out”.
We spot a camel on the horizon and
head off the track in a diagonal approach that will take us within 100m of
the target. Because we did not head straight at him we are in range before
he spooks and starts to move off. Following ‘Judas’ over a low ridge we
find he isn’t alone and 3 other camels rise to their feet to see what has
interrupted their repose. DrG instructs us that whichever camel starts
running first will be the herd leader. Take it out and the others will
mill around looking for direction. This will give us time to do the job
with this small mob. I am not sure who hit it first but I am pretty sure
both DrG and I fired at the herd leader. They were all down in a short
space of time. Remember that the skill of the stockman out here is judging
how much feed is available and what numbers of cattle it will support. It
is hard to judge if the feed is shared with ferals.
DrG wants us to try camel steaks so he starts work on the back straps of one of the younger camels. This means taking the hump off first. Yes folks, it is simply a large lump of fat. Meanwhile I climb the high ground nearby to take in the view. A few moments later I spot what seems a huge herd of camels on the horizon. Pat later told me he heard “broken ankle” in the conversation as the rest of the crew watched me running down the rock strewn hill with my arms waving frantically. They cruelly beat down my enthusiasm by telling me they had already spotted them. Not true of course but a good wind up nevertheless.
|Same plan of attack on a larger scale. This was to be repeated a short time later on another mob of 20. In all we removed 64 camels that day. There was little of the usual hunter speak such as projectile performance as there were few bang flops. A few lucky camels copped a 180gn Accubond from my 300WSM and a 150gn Highland soft point from DrG’s 30-06 at the same time. I actually saw 2 impacts in the heart lung area almost simultaneously. These did not get up again. These are big animals, mostly; even a well placed shot that felled its target often saw the beast rise to its feet again. To do the job quickly multiple shots were required. I am sure barrel erosion was happening as it was too hot to touch and DrG’s barrel was marking his car when we got back in I actually got a full on blister burn in my webbing between thumb and forefinger when I tried to pick it up.|
|The second vehicle followed delivering close range 223 brain shots to any that twitched. It really was full on. On the way back we came on a small herd of 5 Brumbies. Yes, horses and men have a close association and I enjoy the races as much as anyone. I had thought I would have mixed feelings if I had to take a horse but no such qualms arose when the necessity presented. These are feral animals too. Horses and donkeys go flat out as soon as they see you and it’s a wild ride chasing them. We could not catch up as we had to continually stop to negotiate washouts and small gullies. We finally got to within around 100m “hang on tight I’m gonna stop quickly.” I jumped out, the trailing horse was closest so I lined it up with the rifle moving past the horse I squeezed the trigger and kept following through. Although it was a horse this was one of my most satisfying shots of the trip.|
|I consider myself a poor off hand shot but perhaps as it was moving the motion of the swing stopped my crosshairs jumping up down and around. The result was a perfect bang flop on a fast moving target. The 180gn Accubond may or may not have caused instant death. It did cause an immediate leg collapse and cartwheel. We would have needed Oodnadatta CSI to work out whether a broken neck or a gunshot wound was the cause of death. At least it was clean quick and humane. As we were getting back in Cruiser the motorbike scooted past so we didn’t give up the chase. The horses were heading for a wide dry creek bed which was pretty heavily treed. Once in there they had escaped the cruiser but the bike followed them in to force them back into the paddock. The young ¾ grown horse couldn’t keep up and saved his life by staying in the trees. Although I intended to kill him I had to admire the stallion.|
dropping back to protect his herd by charging the bike. The rider
had to swerve his gnashing teeth more than once. Pushed back onto
the flat and caught between fence line and cruiser they were doomed
but the stallion still didn’t give up, he even swerved in to ram the
cruiser, prompting some evasive action from DrG and a point blank
chest shot from such close range that my whole scope was filled with
horse and blood ended up on my lens.
|DrG and I got out to stalk closer. Between 100 and 150m one looked straight at us, then at his friend and they decided to leave! DrG was quick enough off the mark and steady enough to put his down before it got any speed up. I missed mine completely and I am sure DrG quietly took some pleasure in slowing him down with his next shot, allowing enough time for me to reload and make contact! Because the driving was constant and the fuel so far away we did not battle fatigue to do much spotlighting and were happy to eat hearty station fare, drink a few mid strength beers and fall asleep after shooting the breeze.|
The final day saw us heading to a different area but passing by the scene of the first days cull within a few kilometres. This area must have some tasty stuff in it because before long I spot another mob of 13 camels. Unlucky for some. No attempt is made at stealth. With the herd leader down (we don’t need instruction by this time and all three of us probably hit him) the camels self preservation strategy is to bunch up. Only after death is delivered in feet per second foot pounds and decibels do the survivors try to run. If any break away on the stony plains they are soon overhauled.
DrG certainly knows how to navigate his 4WD over this terrain. I must admit I do not share his taste in music. Because he has some musical talent he appreciates the skill of a particular player. Sorry DrG, I couldn’t bring myself to listen to a caterwauling singer just cos the bass player is a genius!
|I have heard of but not actually heard many of the tracks he plays. The volume is up, the windows down, the barrels extended and bolts closed on empty chambers. With the Doors (who I have heard!) blaring out I get the Hollywood impression of another fighting vehicle in another era that flew instead of drove.|
|An hour later we spy a mob of 5 donkeys. They share the brumby strategy and we race after them, slowing in the rough allowing them to pull away and gaining on them on the flat. When we get close HMAS Cruiser lowers the gunports and fires a broadside. If terrain does not permit we get as close as we can and stop, firing from hastily assumed rests. Two make it to a heavily vegetated dry creek bed were we cannot follow, the rest stop to pose for photos. This chase has taken us off the rudimentary track we were following and we blaze a trail in the direction of where DrG thinks the track should be. This takes us into a new and unintended area where we come across the biggest herd yet spread over a wide area. Our work begins again. The Accubonds go and the SSTs are used and now I’m into the 180gn Speer grand slams. These were recommended to me by Mark at RF Scott in Ballarat but he only had one pack left and I could find none in Melbourne before I went.|
He said he used these as his Sambar load as he wasn’t always convinced that Accubonds were tough enough (I think the AHN members here will know that some consider Sambar almost bullet proof). Well because lead was flying from 3 rifles and there were multiple hits I cant say that SSTs or Accubonds were perfect or otherwise. Pat is my witness on one shot on a three quarter grown camel where a broadside chest shot exited (pole axed the camel for my first confirmed camel single shot bang flop) and took down the camel behind it (which did need a follow up shot) On that performance I would use these again. I was loading the same powder weight, 64 gns of 2209, for both 180 gn projies. They shot to the same point windage wise with the Speers sighted in 1 and a half inches high at 100, the Accubonds hit 3 inches high, no doubt their more efficient shape was producing higher velocity.
|This was our last Camel encounter and I had run out of wsm ammo by the end of the one-sided firestorm. This was my low point of the trip. I was leaning over the bonnet taking careful aim to ensure no misses with my last few rounds. DrG came over with his bipod and said move over. I had earmuffs on he did not. My muzzle blast reflected off the windscreen and I know exactly the sort of impact he felt (though my experience was with a 243). The noise hits you like a force and really hurts your ear as evidenced by his reaction. He told me not to stress as it was his fault for not wearing ear protection and forgetting the windscreen. I still felt bad. But I felt worse when I gave up the bonnet to him and thought I was doing the right thing moving 2 or 3 m sideways. Only, seems I went 1m back too so he got the next muzzle blast (though much more mild) in his other ear. I knew where he was and was shooting parallel to him so we didn’t get carried away enough to be dangerous to each other but you still feel bad. Well, the lesson is wear hearing protection if you go on a cull. He got his revenge, and instead of letting his hearing recover with peace and quiet he turned the music to concert volume so he could still hear it in his half deaf state. I kept my earmuffs on and Pat may just have done so too.|
|While DrG and Pat drove off to finish the few that broke away I took his 223 to do the clean up. Most were dead but those that weren’t got a head shot from close range. When DrG had been doing this duty with his 30-06 I thought he missed the first one. It was sitting up with its legs curled beneath it like the position they take when resting. From 15 or 20m he hit in the shoulder before walking up for the head shot. Only when he did it again on another camel in the same position sometime later did I work it out (or Pat explained more like, remember I’m Irish) that you cant take the risk of the wound not having disabled them and them get up feeling angry when you are right beside them. Hopefully you can see the chest pad they develop for sitting upright on the sand. Well an angry camel can knock you over and squash you with this. Well the furthest camel was sitting in this position, the last camel standing with this mob was about 50m further out.|
It seemed unwounded but confused.
It didn’t seem a threat to me. As all others were dead I walked to 20m
and put a 55gn soft point from the 223 in the shoulder of the wounded
camel. Well I can categorically say that this pill does not take out a
camel’s shoulder. Instead of falling over it stood up. Although it headed
towards its buddy and not me I decided that discretion was the better part
of valour and did not follow. With its back to me the hump got in the way
of a head shot and anywhere else with the 223 would only wound and cause
more unnecessary pain. I think I did the sensible thing walking to the
highest ground and waving to the cruiser crew with the big guns to come
and do this work.
DrG wanted to finish that day by visiting the edges of a line of hills. He had seen donkeys there before and had discovered a rare plant on the nearby spring. He was a bit miffed that the donkeys had destroyed it. Another mob paid the price for their environmental vandalism. I had run out of ammo for my 300 WSM by this stage and with a door frame rest finished one wounded donkey with a well placed neck shot from DrG’s 223 at around 80m. Pat ran out of big ammo around this time too so DrG did most of the work on our last donkeys. The tally of large ferals for the trip ended up at 118 camels, 13 donkeys and four brumbies.
At the rare plant spring DrG felt
a short stalk down and across a gully and up the side of the first hill
was in order. When we got to the fence I saw a black animal about 200m
away on the other side of the gully. He lay there watching us. Because it
was jet black I called it for a cat but a look through the scope revealed
a young dog. Wild born but definitely with some farm dog heritage mixed in
to the dingo gene pool. He wasn’t keen on moving until my 223 shot went
high and DrG’s 30-06 went low. I saw the bushes he went into and couldn’t
see him come out but movement a further few hundred metres back gave away
the presence of a standard coloured dingo who blended perfectly with the
background doing an Olympic sprint into the hills.
Pat stayed with the vehicle and saw another one do the same thing as we reached the gully floor. The adults were either smarter or better fed. A well chewed large roo metres from their den seemed to be the reason for junior’s reluctance to head for the hills. He trotted out from the other side of the bushes as we approached and paused about 80m away to appraise the invaders. DrG was in position first and fired and missed as my cross hairs found him for a (now moving) heart shot. I was chuffed again. The misses didn’t matter anymore, I can still shoot. Well he twitched and it must have looked threatening to DrG’s more experienced eye and that was all the excuse he needed to ream him out with a 30-06 shot so the photo wouldn’t be pretty. That made 3 dingoes for the trip and all mine. 2 with my own 223 and one with DrG’s. The second one was not recovered. It was shot shortly after the big dog mentioned earlier.
|We caught it in the light in a flat out sprint over the stony plains and we reached pretty hairy high speeds (“you were safe, trust me I’m gonna be a Dr”). I took a running shot from a fast moving car and broke its ankle. DrG saw the paw flopping but I saw a small stumble and a flat out sprint continue and didn’t notice the flopping paw. 50m from the vegetation line and safety I took another shot, the “thwock” yelp and sideways stumble would indicate a serious hit but she kept going into the bushes where we could not follow. We are claiming it though. I climbed the outlying hill at the start of the range. There were well worn paths and many kinds of crap all over it. I fully believed DrG’s assertion that these ranges were donkey grand central. I would love to return in winter and stalk and camp in these hills to actually trail the donkeys (well I’d rather sleep in farmhand’s quarters actually). “Toughen up princess” was uttered by DrG more than once.|
|Now DrG has some pretty fancy camera equipment and has sold some professional quality prints before. We found a very old stock yard that may have been built by the first settlers, so when he went out to get some arty shots with his professional stuff I went to copy him with my $140 duty free special for a laugh. Hope you like them.|
We cleaned and packed after another big breakfast (I actually put on weight on the trip) and said goodbye to our hosts the next morning. I had given him some gun cleaning instruction after watching him pushing his rod in the muzzle. He had never used copper solvent before and the Sweets was producing very pretty blue patches. As a thank you I left him my universal bore guide (I had ordered Sinclair guides for each individual rifle before I left) and since I didn’t see many gun shops out there I also left the bottle of sweets) It was nice to hear “you did a good job, welcome back anytime” but all rather irrelevant.
Even if I could find the spot again I wouldn’t be able to
navigate it or repair punctures like DrG did and wouldn’t travel that
country without local knowledge, so Travis I ain't going back unless you
ask me. Well I hope the ringing in your ears has stopped and I can say
another cyber friend has become a real friend.
In reflection I can say that this was a huge experience and I am 100% glad I went. I even had Pat laughing on the way home (if you know him, he doesn’t laugh much, I am going to call him Eeyore). I have been fascinated by guns since I was a kid and the reloading bug lead to the accuracy bug that has seen me enter the fringes of the competition world. I wanted to own guns because they fascinate me and then to me hunting was the logical extension of owning guns. I am entirely not squeamish but culling is different to hunting and I could see why target shooters like Shane and Rinso, who have hunted since childhood don’t get that excited by it anymore. I’m not there yet, but I can see their point. If I'm asked back again I’ll be there with more big ammo and bells on!
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