Hunting for the table strikes a positive environmental blow

Two wild rabbits harvested for the table.

Matthew Godson

A generation or two ago the humble rabbit was a cheap, accessible source of protein that became part of many family dinners. Rabbits were plentiful across agricultural lands and they were harvested on mass by both commercial and non-commercial hunters.

These days rabbits are not as abundant due to the success of bio-controls such as myxomatosis and calicivirus and other management strategies. That said, the unassuming rabbit still makes an appearance across the Australian landscape in lesser numbers than years gone by. Although smaller in figures they still can have a damaging effect on farmers’ productivity and the environment. One rabbit in an area approximately the size of a football field can supress the regeneration of vegetation, so even a few here and there can cause considerable damage to the environment. To the farmer, 12 rabbits have the same grazing impact as one sheep so they can definitely have a bearing on agricultural productivity if their ranks are allowed to build up.

With ‘organic’ and ‘free-range’ food becoming very popular, the rabbit can add a ‘wild’ dimension. Anyone can develop the skills to harvest a wild rabbit. The most humane way to do so is with a firearm but there are some hoops to jump through in first obtaining a firearms licence and then purchasing a firearm. Most people that garner rabbits use what are termed as small calibre rimfire rifles. These are very affordable to purchase and operate. Ammunition is cheap so you can literately shoot hundreds of rounds at practice targets first to develop the skill to humanely shoot a rabbit in the field.

When you finally have the tools to bring in a rabbit you need to then cultivate the ability to dress or clean them. Just like cleaning a fish caught from the river or sea, this process becomes easier with experience. An internet search using terms such as ‘field dress rabbit’ should give some you some references to both text and video guides. Then there’s the need to find a good recipe that will have your taste buds thanking you for your efforts.

The rabbit may be one of the easiest to find organic, free-range and wild meats on offer across the country, but there are other species that fit into the tasty category. They too, without management, can cause environmental and agriculture issues. Larger herbivores that have been introduced across the Australian terrain, such as wild deer and feral goats, can also have a place on your plate next to a good serving of salad or vegetables. Again, these species are taken by people on private farmlands using firearms and, in some cases, public lands open to hunting.

The regular and timely harvest of some introduced species can reduce their effect on farmers’ productivity and the environment. For instance, if a farmer allows an increase in the harvest of female wild deer across their property they can decrease breeding potential and therefore diminish the current and future deer population on the estate. This, in turn, curbs the wild deer’s grazing influence on their business and the environment. Venison is a high-quality meat and wild harvest is one of the most humane pathways to put this meat onto your plate if you value animal welfare in your meat-choosing decision making.

Other species that can make their way onto your menu that can be deemed wild, organic, free-range and also sustainable include duck and quail. These can be collected on both public and private land in various states during set open seasons or management periods. Open seasons are in place when populations are at their highest, which is also a period of high natural mortality. This ensures that bag limits are accounted for within the doomed surplus. This means that birds that may suffer from starvation or disease as environmental conditions decline can be humanely acquired for food.

All the species mentioned and many more can be turned into a tasty meal. Wild food is healthy food and generally wild food is lower in fat and cholesterol than farmed meats. The award-winning cookbook Field to Fork – The Australian Game Cookbook has some great ideas to turn species that impact our farmlands and environments into wholesome meals. It is well worth checking out if you have an interest to trying to obtain your own wild, organic and free-range food to benefit our farmers, environment and taste buds.

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