It never ceases to amaze me just how quickly time gets away from us all. It's almost like as you get older, time seems to accelerate and before you know it, the years and seasons blur into one procession of memories. I was overcome by these nostalgic thoughts the other day as I was archiving some photos off my computer, I made very slow work of it as I found myself reliving the journey of my nephew into the world of the hunter.

      I guess I can remember Michael poring over every hunting or shooting magazine I had from a very early age, and I'm sure Sporting Shooter had as much to do with him learning to read as school did. He would sit with me for hours, cleaning primer pockets and handing me the next shell for priming, always asking what this does and why does that fit there. Within minutes of arriving at my place for a weekend visit from the big smoke, he would ask if I could unlock the gun cabinet so he could have a look. The look on his face was always priceless and we would spend the next hour examining each rifle, talking about the features, safe handling, whether this could kill that and just how far does the bullet go?

       At first I put it down to just the normal fascination all boys have with rifles. I was certainly no different at his age, except I was already shooting an air rifle unsupervised at about 8 or 9 yrs old....another time, another place.  Over the next few years though it became pretty obvious he was seriously into all things outdoors...fishing, hunting and animals. It became a real obsession with him to turn 12 as soon as possible and I think he had his Junior Shooter's Permit application filled out a couple of years ahead of time. In the meantime, we would go fishing together every chance we got and a few trips to the range to familiarise him with safety procedures and the nature of the rifles.

          As the lad's 12th birthday started to draw near, I got cracking building up a Stirling 1500 .22 WMR for him. It was a heavy bastard of a thing with a too long, soft & ugly stock. I docked the barrel to 18" and recrowned it, then borrowed a mate's thumbhole Fieldman to use as a template for making a kid's size hardwood stock for the Stirling.The project all came together pretty well and I finished bedding and painting the stock in time for Michael's birthday.You couldn't get the grin off his face for days after he showed me his Junior Shooter's Permit and I handed over his rifle to him. We spent a lot of time & ammo at the range getting him used to the rifle. It was obvious from the start that the boy really had some potential and his temperament was all I could ask for. Very cool & businesslike when handling firearms and never a hint of overexcitement. HeHe, kind of made me feel inadequate, remembering how I was at his age.

      The one dilemma I faced was, how to keep his shooting skills up while he was back home in the big smoke? His dad doesn't shoot, so I made a few phone calls to SSAA St Mary's range and got him signed up in the Junior Shooting Programme. The next I saw him, his improved marksmanship was obvious and we only had to check zero on his rifle and go hunting. Over the next year or so he became proficient field shot and took his share of Rabbits.

       We also traded the Stirling .22 WMR on a nice compact Anschutz .22. The Stirling had a lot of ignition problems that refused to respond to anything we tried and I didn't want the lad to lose confidence in his rifle. The little Annie was a pretty good shooter and would be economical to run for lots of practice & plinking. He had a lot of fun chasing Rabbits in the hills with that lightweight Anschutz and could shoot it very well.

       I had been aware of the fondness with which he'd been eyeing off my bigger rifles for some time, so the next challenge was to introduce Michael to centerfire rifles. My smallest rifle was a .243 Win Varminter which was way too heavy, but I had access to a mate's stainless Ruger 77 in .223 Rem which I thought would be perfect. Reasonably light, low recoil and a stock that was useable for a smaller framed shooter. A few range sessions followed with the .223 and the increased range and lethality were discussed on numerous occasions.

       Michael soaked it all in and was shooting very well, he was ready to hunt with a centerfire. Over the next few weeks he accompanied my mate and I on a couple of afternoon sniping sessions and some spotlight work on Foxes. To say my mate's were impressed with his shooting and safe handling skills is an understatement. I couldn't be prouder of the little man and though I don't have kids of my own...if I did, I'd want one just like him.

       Over the next few months he shot his first Fox with that Ruger as well as numerous Rabbits and most importantly, learnt the importance of a safe backstop before shooting and all the safety procedures involved when shooting with other people. This was important as I spend the summer months spotlighting and doing vermin control work, so the ability to operate safely around other people and in particular in and around vehicles is something I really impressed on him. I would regularly try and trip him up by nominating targets and ask if he'd take the shot or not. Don't think I got one over him though.

       As the year rolled by, I could see where this was heading so I was not surprised when Michael sheepishly remarked "I'm not being a smart arse or anything, and I like the .22 and all but when YOU think I'm ready, maybe we could look at a centerfire of my own". That night, over a pizza and a hunting video we discussed what his main interests in the hunting field is going to be. Without any beating around the bush, he was fascinated by deer and that was his priority. Hmm, I thought he will need something bigger than a .223 and there's not much point getting something that isn't legal for Sambar either. My main concern was that he was fairly lightly built and would develop a flinch and undo all the good work of the last few years. Michael wasn't phased by my concerns and assured me he would commence to "work out" immediately! How can you argue with that? I told him OK and to have good think about what HE would think was a good choice of caliber.

       A few weeks later he rang me and said after reading everything about deer hunting he could get his hands, he'd decided a .308 Win would make a lot of sense. I remember thinking what smart lad he is, as I'd pretty much come to the same conclusion myself. I rang around and tracked down a pristine Remington 700 ADL with a synthetic youth stock. My only concern was the blind magazine and I intended to fix that in the future, but in the meantime I would stress the need for extra caution during unloading and see how the lad went. I spent the next few weeks bedding & floating the rifle and topping it off with a Leupold VX-I 3-9x40. Finding a good deer load the rifle liked proved a bit of a challenge...the usual 150 Gr BT's and AR 2208 were woeful. Ended up settling on AR 2206H and 150 Gr Core-Lokt's for the deer and 110 Gr V-Max's for a general purpose vermin load.

      A few months later found us at the range, putting the .308 through it's paces. Michael was rapped with the rifle and the youth stock on the Remington was a great fit for him. I was quite surprised how well he handled the stiff 150 Gr loads in particular. When I commented on this, he just casually said "I've been working out". Of course he was keen to start chasing deer right away, but I tempered his enthusiasm by encouraging more familiarity with the rifle. Several spotlighting trips and early morning  and afternoon hunts with the rifle followed and he gained a good understanding of his new pride & joy. I was now training him in shooting from field positions with the .308 at every opportunity. His increased upper body strength was paying off and he was now knocking down steel rams at 200m from the offhand position with regular monotony.  Some extra gear like a daypack & knife was also added to his expanding hunter's kit.

       Over the next 6 months we did a number of overnight stalks and concentrated on the basics of deer sign, habits and identifying potential places of ambush. He sucked up the information like a sponge. This period in Michael's journey impressed me the most for a number of reasons. We were covering a lot of steep ground and not seeing deer as well as every trip ending without a shot being fired. On some trips we got close, but the opportunity to shoot did not present and the way he handled this aspect of hunting was a true credit to a young bloke. I'm not sure I had the same patience or maturity at his age....in fact I'm sure I did not.

       The way he maintained interest and didn't switch off was very impressive. It was not wasted time of course, he learned some basic bush skills, navigation and got see some great country. And I would always remind him that when success did come...he will have earnt it.

       On a foggy October morning last year, Michael & I were making our way into a back valley in some steep country in NE Victoria. He was as keen as ever and commented that he'd be happy just seeing a deer today. I told him the trick is to put them down, not put them up....but I agreed with his logic. We spooked a couple of Fallow Bucks on a ridge line and I urged Michael to take the shot. Range was around 150m, side on and uphill...very much within his shooting ability. Anyway, after a long pause the deer cleared out and Michael hadn't fired. He said he'd been unsteady due to the steep climb and did not want to risk a wounding shot. I just shut my mouth and smiled inside. Half an hour later saw me peering under a low hanging tree through the binos. A spikey and a girlfriend were just getting to their feet and we were caught out in the only open creek flat we'd travelled through that day. The doe took off as I watched them and motioned Michael to shoot. Without anything to rest on, he dropped to a kneeling position and shot the spikey through the chest at a range of just over 120m.

       By the time we got to the spikey, we were both almost running. After congratulations and a few photos, we just sat there and took it all in...reflecting on the long journey leading to this day. The impressive thing is..... the young bloke actually "gets it" and understands what all the hard yards earlier on in the piece were all about. With the philosophy out of the way, knives were sharpened and the work began as we had a few hard yards to do today as well. He thought it was hilarious when I smeared his face with a bit of the deer's blood.

       A few hours later, as I watched Michael battling through the blackberry bushes along the creek, with a deer over his shoulders, I thought to myself "the apprentice really has graduated". To this day it is the happiest day I can remember in a long while and the closest I've come to a tear in the eye. After few days hanging in the coolroom, the young bloke got to practice breaking up a deer and we lived well on tender venison for the rest of his stay.
       And so we move onto the next stage of the journey, the Anschutz .22 has been replaced with a CZ 452 American as he was clearly being limited by the Annie and now he's starting to talk about getting something with a bit more punch than the .308 as well. Recent trips have also seen him snatch my HMR at every opportunity and do some very nice long range work on the Rabbits. Come to think of it, I better keep an eye on the keys to the Jeep too, as he seems very happy driving that around as well. It's all good though, and I would urge anyone to take an apprentice under your wing, show him/her the ropes and make a new lifelong hunting mate. The rewards are surprising and the future of our way of life depends on it.

       I was talking to Michael the other day, he's just started year 10 and can't wait to finish the year and start an apprenticeship of a different kind. He's keen on anything mechanical, so looks like he'll follow in my footsteps and take up the calling of the spanner. His parents were a bit concerned that he has no interest in schooling beyond year 10 as he blitzes every subject and is obviously very bright. Speaking to him about this, he said he had considered higher education and better paying trades but his passion is in the mechanical area and reckons it's better to be happy than rich. Sounds like a switched on man to me, but of course I'm biased and hope he moves down to NE Victoria!

Australian Hunting Net 2006