The Great Wasp Shoot
(a true hunting tale)
Whenever shooting men talk about high birds, it is a matter of degree. I have seen very high pheasants killed out in front by crack shots. Often flighty stubble quail do tower high over the hills, or the fleet black duck circle warily beyond range of the guns.
The degree of bird height transforms afterwards when the hunters talk about the events of the day’s shooting. The height of confirmed kills is relative to the eyesight of the hunter who is consuming generous portions of lubricating liquor. I have heard of impressive elevation kills when the hunter is staggering with excess lubrication. It happens to the best shots down at our place following local hunts on higher than high birds.
Mind you, the best ‘high birds’ shooting anywhere is seen here at our local hunts. The highest fliers to test the flashiest gunners are only found near Mount Gambier.
We shoot here surreptitiously because the shooting is so good! We see no reason to advertise.
Moreover, it is a guarantee ‘bird’ type of shooting that is hard to beat. So we simply stay quiet and share it among ourselves. (Also we need not bother with hunting permits because our high fliers are vermin. We shoot them all the year too.)
Australia is a stimulating place for vermin. Practically everything introduced here runs from normal to a crazy riot. Look at rabbits for example, they ravage and rampage. Donkeys, goats, pigs, brumbies, starlings, sparrows, pigeons do so too, and the list is endless. The moment these beauties go bush they go wild, breeding themselves to obscene proportions. It is as if there is something in the soil or the air spurring them on. The creatures simply multiply beyond reason. A continual war rages to stop their advancing hordes from swamping us.
Unfortunately, at Mount Gambier, another catastrophe happened. This was the sudden appearance of Sirex noctilio (giganticus), and it devours pine trees. Entire plantations of pine trees have succumbed to this dreaded scourge.
To top it all these wood wasps grew and grew, until they presented a fairly large target for the guns. At Mount Gambier we hold regular Sirex Wasp shoots.
They make good eating too.
None of the fellows hunting with me can quite figure out what causes the mutation in size of the Sirex. Normal wasps are small insidious insects. If the trees did not die, you wouldn’t even notice the little bugs. Then, by some aberration in the environment they turn into huge hungry creatures.
The Sirex wasps already devour immense tracts of forest annually, and if it wasn’t for us hunters’ constant shooting the total timber industry would disappear. Yes sir, we do a community service by hunting them in organised drives.
The local community gets right behind us shooters in combatting this nuisance.
Mind you, they taste good, and everyone considers brain paté to be a fine treat. You have to shoot a big bag of them to cook this delicacy due to their small cerebral feature. Our local gourmets reckon the effort well worth it though. (On special request a local restaurant will offer a platter of Sirex cutlets garnished with Wasp brain paté, which is considered an epicurean delight).
Every Spring my friend Ivan invites a few boys around to thin out the flying wasps that flock at dusk to raid his pine seedlings. Young pines are very popular with vermin and a determined bunch of wasps can wipe out prime trees in a night. That’s why Ivan asks us to gather at his place with the dogs and our guns to hunt the menace to his plantation. It is his valuable crop of Christmas trees for the Melbourne market, you know.
Ivan’s Christmas tree plantation is in Rennick district in the South East of South Australia. It’s a very pretty spot nestling in a forest clearing and we must cross some creeks to get there.
The wasps roost at Mount Gambier where tourists photograph the beauties dangling precariously in the parklands. People often think the tourist wasps are as big as they grow, but let me tell you the really large wasps hang out in inaccessible spots. Why they do grow so large is a frequent point of contention with regular hunters. Some say they have crossed with native vermin, which explains anything in Australia, where bigger than life things get around.
Anyway, these wasps pitch in on young pine plantations at dusk and are a real problem for honest blokes trying to earn an honest dollar.
So we gather late afternoon at Ivan’s Christmas tree farm and when the dogs have sorted out their differences we draw straws for positions. The tree plot is a large block and the best shooting is against the glow of the full moon. Our next best spot is in the clearing by the dam where some ducks may jump as well. The snappiest shooting is against the forest because there the wasps buzz over at all-mighty speed. This spot tests the best shots in our group because of the furious pace of the hungry raiders, which you wouldn’t see until they buzzed by full-bore.
All shooting is at a ten-to-two stance to avoid anyone getting hurt by careless shots. The posse by the forest edge usually brings snappy follow-through and lead -them-by-a-bus-length type of shooting. It was the most exciting position to draw and two hunters rally there as a rule.
Generally ten hunters assemble and everyone settles in early to get the feel for the excitement to come. To drop the smaller wasps we always use light shot, like a no.9 grade, but tonight we expect the big ones and load our cannons with BB’s. I load my auto with no.4’s because I intend putting many pellets up there and I figured on the more lead the merrier.
Our dogs shiver with the building tension as the afternoon light fades into dusk. The spring evenings are famous for the short period of twilight and the moon rises later. Suddenly my alert dogs look upwards at the forests and the distant ranges.
Wasps fly in formation and skip over the treetops. Flitting around silently, like bats, they go berserk in their feeding frenzy and destroy entire trees in the process.
Fortunately, we are camouflaged and they burst in on us, unsuspecting of our ambush.
During the short twilight period a swag of wasps drop to our shooting and others disappear in confusion. The dogs fetch dead and flapping wasps while we wait for the moon to rise when then the real fun begins.
Our gundogs are especially toughened to deal with wasps because there’s danger in tackling wounded ones, which snap and gripe fiercely, fighting all the way. Also the serrated wings have sharp spurs that deliver a nasty wound and can nick a dog like a can-opener.
I’ve lost several dogs when a frisky ‘pricked’ wasp disemboweled them. Now I train my animals in ‘swift dispatch technique’ when tackling them. Mongrel crosses of terrier and pointer go well and the boys breed especially vicious dogs from bull and pigdogs. When they are not shooting large flying wasps, the boys go hunting feral pigs. You can always pick the really dedicated hunters with their pack of dogs crated on the tray of their ‘utes. We have tough dogs down here that’s for sure.
The best method we teach our dogs is to let the snapping terriers in first and the bigger dogs come in strong for the throat of a flapper. Working pair of dogs are very valuable and treasured by us. They kill a wounded wasp in a flash and retrieve to your posse as well, delivering to hand. A season of hunting over such dogs is a world class experience and I’d never part with my brutes, that is for sure.
With a rising full moon the hungry wasps return to the plantation. Soon my shoulder aches with the pounding it cops by the automatic shotgun. Ripening Christmas trees make Sirex Wasps mad with desire and we must have shot several hundred before they gave it away and disappeared over the dark Rennick forest.
We saved the plantation plot again this night and harvesting of Christmas trees will finish successfully later in the year, pleasing the children of Melbourne very much. We enjoy the good cheer our efforts in shooting vermin bring.
When wasps feed on such sweet pine-shoots, they are a delicacy, and we cut the juiciest pieces from their carcasses. These we barbecue beside the dam and then we bag the rest for the freezer. The dogs crash after we patch their war-wounds and I stitch one of mine deftly because of a gaping rip along its side. Sirex Wasp shooting at Ivan’s Christmas tree plot isn’t for the fainthearted, that’s for sure, especially when it is ‘high bird’ shooting by moonlight. You should have seen the towering wasp I shot, – it must’ve been at least 185 metres high. Wow! That is very high.
© Pieter Zaadstra 1995