Probably over six months ago now, last spring, we finally got our firearms licences. We bought a 1985 Brno .22 rifle with scope from Char’s grandparents at a very decent price considering its excellent craftsmanship. It had been in storage for a while, so was a little rusty.
I took some fine steel wool and WD40 to the surface oxidation, de-gunked the action, the bore, and the bolt mechanism with a proper cleaning kit and oiled up the whole lot. I also ordered a spring from Canada to replace the rusted one inside the bolt mechanism.
After a good clean the parts equalled a whole that was as good as new. A few shots downrange at some cardboard targets proved the rifle to be super accurate at seventy-five metres, with the age and feel of a tried and true firearm.
Out here in the country a firearm is just another farm tool. A very important tool. A dangerous tool, no less, which is why we were intent on both getting our licences. We were impressed with the firearms instructor and the amount of cautionary knowledge he had to offer. The test wasn’t overly difficult, but more in-depth than getting, say, your driver’s licence. We pretty much aced our tests after a bit of study of the Firearms Code, with Char beating me by one question. We’ve both had experience with .22 rifles before (Char grew up with them), so we were good to go on that front.
We were required to have a gun safe installed in order to pass our licences. Fortunately there was an old one already here, so I bolted on some big old rusty gate hinges so it would pass the inspection. Like everything in our cottage at the moment, it’s completely makeshift and temporary. Whatever does the job, for now!
Last winter the enormous crepuscular hares that lurk our farm caused hundreds of dollars worth of damage to our native saplings. We tried spraying repellent on the trees, but it didn’t seem to work well enough. Perhaps it might work for rabbits, but hares are another story. They’re much bigger, swifter, and their appetites for juicy twigs of baby trees are voracious. As sweet as the hares appear bounding about in the countryside, not keeping on top of their numbers would result in a loss of even more life once you factor in the shelter and forage our future trees would provide both bird and bee.
So over the course of spring we nabbed seventeen of the monstrous pests. As unpleasant as it can be taking a life, when we rationalise that it’s for “the greater good” and set our reservations aside, one might understand how hunting could be an enjoyable past-time (it takes a lot of introspection for an ex-die-hard-vegetarian to say that). Regardless of one’s ethical stance, hunting provides access to that ancient and primitive instinct which seems to lay dormant among many of us modern urbanised folk. Stalking prey is one of the only activities where you can be doing very little and yet hours go by without boredom. The senses are primed and suddenly activated, and because you need to be aware of your presence in the environment, you become at one with the grass beneath you, the wind around you, the dwindling light, and all the other animals that alert each other to your location. You’re outside your own head and refreshingly present. And there’s nothing quite like the satisfaction of a quick clean kill, of which all of ours, bar one, have been. Zero suffering and problem solved.
We haven’t yet plucked up the courage to gut and butcher one of our kills. It would make excellent cat food. I bought home my first kill to show Char, but we didn’t know what to do with the carcass, so I buried it near our plum trees.
I soon learnt, however, that there are winged mouths eager to quickly clean up a kill. Hungry falcons are always watching. It’s astounding, actually, to return to a kill spot the very next day and find the entire carcass – skeleton, skull, skin, and all – completely missing. All that remains is the stomach. So at least the invasive animal isn’t going to waste and is feeding an endemic species. Alternatively, we could bury the hares beneath newly planted trees, providing nutrients to the very thing they might have devoured themselves.
I’ve gone out with the rifle slung over my shoulder a few times since the spring culling, and seen the odd hare here and there, but I think we’ve made a serious enough dent in their numbers for this coming winter. Our baby cabbage trees (the hares’ favourite food) are safe… for now.