It would be true to say that most if not all serious shooters these days own a 4WD vehicle of some sort to access their hunting grounds, and with good reason. Over many years of hunting I have seen just about every type of vehicle adapted to various shooting activities such as spotlighting, off road access, game recovery or plain old scouting of hunting grounds. These tasks are met with various levels of success and it is always a compromise between the comfort and practicality of a road registered vehicle and the specific demands of a dedicated shooting buggy. Some of my fondest hunting memories have been in the Zook with mates Adrian and Moose and this article is an insight into our solution to a specialised shooting buggy and more importantly, a testament to Adrian's perseverance and engineering skills.

     Between us we had used various trail bikes and four wheeled bikes in the field over the years and had found they all had significant limitations in terms of safety, stability and cargo space. A small lightweight and cheap 4WD seemed like the go and so the Zook project was born. Adrian acquired an old LJ series Suzuki hardtop and did a chop job on the roof, added some shooting rests, rifle racks and we were in business.  Having a vehicle that is not road registered does mean we need to trailer it to the hunting grounds but it also frees us to do whatever modifications we deem necessary.

     The Zook had military bar tread tyres and the original 530cc two stroke engine was never going to shred them that's for sure. It soon became obvious that with three regular sized good ole boys on board, the Zook struggled on even the most modest of hills.

     Watching her cruise across the paddocks was reminiscent of a tank laying down a smoke screen as it went into battle. It was obvious that the two stroke motor was tired and not producing anywhere near the mind bending 25HP it should have.  Nevertheless we soldiered on and found the Zook to be a good shooting platform as it had enough room for 3 blokes and the basics on most trips. The vehicle was capable enough but the stiff suspension and tyres let her down in some of the rougher terrain even though she went into spots you wouldn't dream about with a regular 4WD. One aspect of the narrow track width of the Zook we did find unnerving was driving across a hill face. Side sloping was a scary activity and gave the feeling of almost rolling over and due care is warranted. The narrow track also means  you will never have a level ride on typical bush tracks as the wheel ruts from standard vehicles are too wide.
     The next stage of development involved a heart transplant and Adrian shoehorned a 1300cc Corolla motor under the bonnet. This required the addition of the now famous bonnet bulge necessary for such a high performance vehicle. The radiator was moved forward, a brush guard added and 31" mud terrain tyres fitted all round. The bigger tyres gave a little lift, wider track, better ride and traction.
     On the maiden trip with the "big block", we were about to drop into a creek crossing and Moose gave the steering wheel a good heave and the look on his face as the wheel spun freely between his hands was priceless. The standard Suzuki steering box linkage was no longer up to the job and broke. During the long walk back to the Patrol and trailer, Adrian had already worked out the fix and a Corolla steering box was fitted the following week.
     Many successful trips followed and the Zook allowed us access to some truly wild country. Whether we were spotlighting rabbits or culling vermin over summer, the Zook proved a very capable and stable shooting platform. A niggling tendency for the engine to flood and foul up in hilly country was rectified by a float adjustment on the carbie and an upgrade of the ignition system. The single battery system proved inadequate for long spotlighting sessions and is now supplemented by a dual battery setup.

     We also used the Zook more and more on our deer hunting trips over winter as it allowed access into some boggy country the regular 4WD's would have no hope of reaching. Using the vehicle to access the main ridges and then dropping  off hunters to stalk the feeder gullies opened up new possibilities and really maximised our actual hunting time.

     I well remember shooting a very large Sambar hind that the three of us could barely budge on the ground when gutting. The Zook was called in to hoist the deer over a tree limb so as to cool and drain the carcass and I always regret not taking a photo of the Zook wheel standing as it struggled to hoist up the near 300kg deer. Without the buggy we would have really struggled to get all the meat out in good order.

      A few years ago the nephew and I shot a Fallow each in some pretty rugged country and after struggling for hours in a blackberry infested creek, it was a welcome relief to see Moose clawing his way towards us in the unstoppable Zuke in country that was difficult to walk in! Fallow deer were easily recovered by simply lifting onto the bonnet and driving out, however the larger Sambar needed a new approach.  

     The answer was of course Adrian's patented Game Recovery System (GRS) Mk1. A simple design of a sheet of heavy duty steel mesh, hinged from the bottom of the bumper and folded flat against the grill until needed. The mesh is retained in place by a length of chain and a slotted bracket on the bull bar. When lowered, the animal is simply rolled or dragged onto the mesh and then lifted like a Breville sandwich maker and secured to the front of the vehicle by the retaining chain.

     Obviously this is not designed for long range transport but it is a very simple and efficient way of retrieving a deer without the need to break up the carcass and soil the meat. This was really demonstrated on the very first use of the GRS in recovering a nice spikey from a very swampy and difficult to access creek. None of us are getting any younger so we try to be smarter.

     In years gone by, we often passed up many shots on deer because we knew that it would be simply impossible or extremely hard to recover the animal from remote or rough locations. Yes you can pack out the meat but it is often a race against the dunny budgies during the warmer months and a lot of the meat ends up on the dog's table. The GRS has meant that we can shoot a deer in most locations knowing that a quick trip back to camp or a call on the UHF will have the Zook heading our way with every chance of a successful recovery of some prime venison.

     Of course a lot of these prime Sambar habitats are also prime bust your ankle spots too and also the preferred habitat of some nasty snakes. The Zook provides a reliable safety plan and a realistic chance of getting any injured parties out of rough country.

     The Zook is more than just a shooting buggy to me and the mates though, it has been at the centre of some memorable hunts and hilarious episodes. My guts have hurt from laughter after many trips, like the one to Louth during a heavy rainstorm. We get a call for assistance from a bogged Hilux, no worries we find the crew and park on top of the head of the only fox they shot for the night. We attach the snatch um strap and fire up the Zook and as the strap tensions and stretches, the Zook ends up being catapulted back towards the bogged Hilux, with everyone rolling around laughing.

     Then there's the long suffering wife of Adrian who we must drive nuts at time. Ellen is a great gal and often drives for us on spotlighting sessions. I piss myself laughing as the two clowns in the back constantly offer driving tips and bitch about Ellen hitting holes and rocks.

     Then I see the evil glint in her eyes as she takes a quick detour under some low hanging branches without the customary "duck your heads" warning. Or the time Moose was driving and seemed completely oblivious to a constant stream of warnings about a huge hole to the side of the track, right up until he drove in it! The hole was so deep it swallowed the Zook and you could get out of the back without stepping down.

     Many a summer's night is spent chasing rabbits and I can't think of a more relaxing way to spend the warm months than an open vehicle in the cool of the night. Good times spent with good friends are priceless and although we always have a laugh and a good time we've also developed into a pretty slick and efficient team. When a shot is on, the driver, shooter and man on the light just simply do what they're supposed to do without a word being spoken.

     Of course the Zook is an ongoing project and constant improvements are tried all the time. One of the most successful has been to run the tyres at a low 8 PSI, the difference this has made to traction and comfort has been amazing. Removing the inside door skins has given a little extra room for our slender frames and also created storage pockets for tools and other accessories. Adrian also fitted a folding bench seat from a later model Suzuki into the back. Something as simple as a seat with a backrest makes a big difference to comfort and safety.

     The major modification of recent times has been removing some leaves from the stock suspension and the addition of coil springs and revised shock absorbers. But true to form, Adrian didn't stop there. He also fabricated panhard rods front and rear to positively locate the axles under acceleration and braking.

     The ride and comfort have improved out of sight again and this thing will near on climb up a wall if you were game. Wheel articulation is pretty good and you can see in the photos that the Zook could drive over the back of the trailer without rolling. But what is really impressive with all the modifications is they are all low cost jobs and utilise parts that are on hand or lying around in someone's garage or yard. Of course Adrian's ingenuity is the secret to getting it all to work so well.

     We've often discussed the futility of building something really flash and expensive as at the end of the day no one is prepared to point such a rig into an overgrown gully or drag it's underside over a boulder strewn hillside. That is where our buggy is so practical, no one worries about scratched paint and yet the capability is all there at a very modest cost.

     I think a project like this really gets into your blood and it is nothing for Adrian to slam on the brakes whilst driving along because he's spotted a Suzuki in some farmer's paddock. He can feel justifiably proud of his efforts I reckon, when you think it all started with an old and tired LJ hardtop. Probably very similar to many that are gathering cobwebs on most farms. Hopefully my story has inspired a few of you with a little mechanical skill to see that neglected farm hack in a new light. Like most things in shooting it isn't really about an absolute need and a purpose built shooting buggy is as much about an extension of your hobby and passion as anything else. A buggy does however open up a whole lot of possibilities to the keen shooter and provide years of enjoyable tinkering and never ending improvements. So what are you waiting for? Go fire up that gas axe and grab an angle grinder this weekend!

Australian Hunting Net 2007