Whether you are going to shoot clay targets, hunt rabbits or take up target shooting, using the right firearm and cartridge is vital. The following details what type of firearm or cartridge to use when hunting several species of animal. With experience many hunters will develop their own preference. Ethical hunters want to be sure that the cartridge they are using is powerful enough to produce a clean and quick kill. There are certain legal requirements governing the size of cartridge used when hunting game species.
Most of the below animals are classified as feral or pest animals and can be hunted any time. Others are classified as game animals where they are managed as a resource in regulated seasons and bag limits apply. Responsible hunters should be aware of all current licensing and regulations that they need to abide by.
Rabbits and hares
When rabbit or hare hunting, most hunters would suggest that the minimum calibre cartridge for rifle hunting would be a .22 rimfire. The .22 rimfire is normally effective up to a range of 100m using high velocity ammunition. If using a shotgun, the range is reduced to around 50m. The most common shot sizes used for rabbit or hare hunting is between No. 4 and No. 6 where the shot sizes are heavy enough to produce a clean kill at moderate ranges without too much damage to the meat.
If you are shooting for meat, the placement of the shot is important. Head shots are certainly preferable because they don’t damage any of the meat. The most common method to target rabbits and hares is spotlighting at night. Day time hunting is usually a combination of flushing animals from cover by noise or with dogs or shooting from a distance when they leave their warrens.
Foxes and feral cats
Foxes and feral cats can be taken using the .22 rimfire or .22 Magnum rimfire at ranges out to about 100m. However, most hunters would agree that using a centrefire rifle provides the advantages of a flatter trajectory and a higher projectile energy that enables these animals to be taken at greater ranges. Many hunters believe that the .17 Remington, .22 Hornet and .222, .223 and .22-250 Remington are all ideal cartridges, but others can be used. Shotguns can also be used to take foxes and cats at closer range. The 12-gauge shotgun with 1.15oz loads of between BB and No. 2 size shot will despatch a fox or feral cat cleanly to ranges around 40m.
Most foxes and cats are hunted using spotlight at night. During the day, the use of a whistle that imitates the sound of a distressed rabbit can attract these animals within gun range. Foxes and cats can also be flushed out with dogs or noise towards a waiting gun line of hunters.
Wild dogs are bigger bodied than foxes and they should not be shot with anything smaller than a .222 Remington, except at very close range. The .22-250 Remington and .243 Winchester are ideal choices for wild dogs. If shooting at close ranges, about 30m, the 12-gauge shotgun loaded with BB or SG shot will also be sufficient to produce a clean kill.
Wild dogs can be hunted using spotlight during the night, but due to their normal cunning behaviour, hunting on foot during the early and late day time hours seems to be the most common method used.
Goats should not be shot with anything smaller than a .22-250 with similar muzzle velocity and energy to the .243 Winchester. The .243 Winchester has a sufficiently flat trajectory, which allows for accuracy at reasonably far distances. ‘Bush’ cartridges such as the .30-30 are sufficient for shooting these species at close ranges.
Most goat hunting involves hunting on foot with rifles. Goats tend to seek water holes at certain times of the day, which make prime areas in which to hide out or walk around.
Feral pigs can be quite dangerous and hunters should ensure that they have adequate means of despatching them quickly. When using a 12-gauge shotgun, you should only consider this approach if you load your shotgun with rifle slugs or buckshot. Lever-action cartridges of .30-30, .44-40 and .44 Magnum are effective on feral pigs at close ranges. If a shot is to be taken at a longer range, the .243 Winchester, .25-06 Remington and other similar rifle cartridges are good for taking feral pigs in a humane manner.
Most feral pig hunting involves locating an area where the animals are present on foot, quad bike or other vehicle. Once located, the hunter should endeavour to find a position that allows a safe and accurate shot to be taken. Another common way to hunt pigs is with the assistance of dogs. The dogs will locate and hold the feral pig in an area for the hunter to then quickly despatch.
To maintain compliance with all the different state regulations, all deer should be taken with a calibre no less than .270 anywhere in Australia. As an ethical hunter, you should always check with state authorities to ensure that you remain compliant with current regulations.
In Victoria the minimum calibre for Hog, Chital and Fallow deer is .243 Winchester with a 80 grain projectile. The minimum calibre for large deer (including Sambar, Rusa and Red deer) is .270 Winchester with minimum 130 grain projectile.
Hunting of waterfowl only permitted in some states of Australia during an open season or on Authority to Control Wildlife permits. The loads used vary depending on the species being shot and the range from which it is shot. Typically, 1.125 to 1.25oz loads of No. 4 shot are used for hunting Black duck and No. 6 shot is suggested for smaller species such as Teal. The shot type may change depending on the way the bird is targeted. If taking passing birds, shot size would be normally be larger than situations where a hunter is taking birds landing on decoys. The velocity of the load should be as high as possible to give as much energy as possible for shots at maximum range. All states require the use of lead-alternative shot such as steel or bismuth.
To undertake duck hunting, hunters will need to pass the Waterfowl Identification Test (WIT). Victoria makes available State Game Reserves where duck hunting is permitted on public land during the duck season. Duck hunting is permitted on private land with the landowner’s permission.
Quail, pigeons and pheasant
Pigeons and pheasants are not game birds, but Partridge, California Quail and European Quail are classified as introduced game birds. Live pigeon shooting is illegal in Victoria as all birds are protected.
Hunting for these introduced game birds usually involves walking around a specific hunting area with trained gundogs, which assist to ‘flush’ the birds from cover and then retrieve them after they have been shot.
These birds are normally taken with a smaller shot size in shotguns of all gauges. The most commonly used cartridge for a 12-gauge shotgun is a 1.125oz load of No. 6 to No. 9 size shot, depending on the game bird. Remember, the smaller the shot size, the less energy will be retained by each pellet in flight. This decreases the effective range at which it can be shot.