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Gun nuts and target shooters need not read

  • November 1st, 2012

When my wife Cathy posted on Facebook a  snap of Sam Judd and me celebrating his first stag, downed with the second centrefire rifle shot of his life, she did not expect the comment thread that  followed. Sam was lambasted for hunting. That quickly gained vegetarian support.  I was not surprised. The 25% of New Zealanders who own or use rifles forget how many fellow citizens now copy their politics from the  US. Without knowing our indigenous tradition of routine firearm availability and use, and aligning themselves with the faux compassion left/liberal side in the culture war that now passes for US political debate, they assume Bubba characteristics for New Zealand gun owners and hunters.

But Sam Judd is an environmentalist. As founder of Sustainable Coastlines he practices what he preaches, a long way from  the path sought by most ambitious law graduates. And after his pithy contribution “Delicious, this pest control” the Facebook thread was left to those who shared his glee in shooting the meat for his forthcoming wedding breakfast.

 My work colleague Jordan Williams had a similar reaction to pictures of his hunting success on Facebook last year.

These young people are part of a resurgence in deer hunting.  James Passmore has written The New Zealand Hunting Rifle recognising their needs – “With this book I hope to equip the new shooter with enough knowledge to recognise a rifle that is a keeper from one that is unsuitable for his needs, while the experienced hunter may learn techniques that extend his abilities. With the experience shared in these pages and some shooting practise, the reader should become confident and knowledgeable about rifles and how they can be used in his style of hunting”.

The book succeeds. I learnt from it things I wish I’d known years ago. After 40 years of hunting and a number of rifles, for me muzzle velocities and ballistics remain eye-glazing. For years I considered myself a poor shot. My first good rifle (a Mannlicher Steyr) was an object of covetous awe from many hunters, but inexplicable misses meant I felt I did not deserve the rifle. I had bought it cheaply from a friend without knowing its high status. Then ten years ago my shooting improved dramatically when I tried a cheap but heavy production line Japanese Howa. The Mannlicher was sold soon after. This book explains why – the Mannlicher was so light it delivered a bruising recoil with each shot. Unconsciously I was flinching with each trigger squeeze. Many trips would have been more productive if I’d had this book 35 years ago.

I only shoot for eating. I want the least risk that anything I shoot at will suffer for longer than 10 seconds, or run away and disappear.  To me, 10 seconds contrasts with the hours of fear and confusion facing stock taken to slaughter houses. The comparison makes hunted meat more humane than supermarket meat. So a rifle and ammunition should be judged by the speed and certainty with which the target ceases to feel anything. No one I know boasts of hunting with under-sized gear. There's no equivalent to the disgraceful  "light tackle" fishing school.

Speed and certainty are James Passmore’s tests (along with beauty). He is not prescriptive or opinionated, but he’ll steer you away from what is unsuitable.

 I’m happy hunting all day whether or not I come home with meat. But it does make a difference to the home reception. Mockery waits for empty hands.  Studying this book should reduce the scope for mockery.

 The book has flaws. With no index you can’t use it as a quick reference consumer guide tocheck on a rifle purchase. It would not have been hard to summarise the conclusions in tables, with ratings on the various characteristics. Instead you have to read it as a narrative.

 The book is a long conversation with a wise man who knows what he is talking about, but you have to let him conduct it at his pace, with his diversions, and just wait for the nuggets. You can hurry him up, for example by going directly to chapters on what to look for in used rifles, or in telescopic sights, and in shooting techniques, but most topics just emerge in the sequence he selects. Best to assume that you will need to read it as a whole, rather than dipping into it as a reference book. And dont bother if you have no existing interest in hunting.


From a book review for that excellent Wellington arts weekly ‘Capital Times’



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