So You Wanna Be a Roo Shooter?
Australia’s kangaroo industry is probably one of the only jobs in the world where a person can legally shoot wild animals fulltime for a living. Other than full-timers, some registered shooters living in rural areas have normal day jobs and shoot on weekends to supplement their income.
While certain skills are definitely called for, the job entails “shooting” as opposed to “hunting”. Shooting is done from a vehicle and no tracking on foot is involved.
Is It Worth It?
Kangaroo shooting is a tough life with long hours, and a certain danger element. Depending on weather conditions (wind, rain), phases of the moon and drought, the kangaroo shooter may have a good or bad night. It can be a very irregular income earner.
Many shooters struggle to make money, some make a living, and a few make good profits of A$100,000/annum +. Dedication is the name of the game …. going out night after night and avoiding the temptations of the local pub.
The upside is that the shooter is very independent and can lead an exciting outdoors life, totally using his wits, determination and shooting prowess to make money.
Meat or Skins?
The ‘roo shooter has to decide if he/she wants to be primarily a skin shooter or a meat shooter though most do both at different times. Meat shooters have to be registered with the Government Meat Authority and follow strict guidelines for meat-handling.
The meat shooter must bring the kangaroos (with skins on) to the local chiller box around daybreak each morning. This can sometimes mean a trip of a couple of hours. There are different field processing methods for kangaroos destined for pet food and those for human consumption. For human consumption meat, the heart, lungs and liver are left attached to the carcass for checking by a government vet in order to verify that the kangaroo was healthy. Head and forearms too are left on the carcass for human consumption meat but are removed if the ‘roos are being sold for pet food.
When skin shooting, the meat is discarded in the field. The carcass cannot be sold once the skin has been removed as it would be contaminated in the field by dust, etc. Skins can be salted and stockpiled for weeks or even months before being taken to town and sold. Some shooters skin by hand though most use a simple but very effective truck-mounted, power-driven skinning machine and a motorized salting tumbler. Hide salt is an additional expense.
Kangaroo skins have two principal applications: leather (one of the strongest in the world) and fur. With skins destined for leather, the tail is cut off short whereas in winter when ‘roos are shot for their fur (souvenir rugs) the full tail skin is left on.
The consensus is that more money can be made from meat shooting than skin shooting, and in addition, the meat shooter is paid each morning he delivers the carcasses, meaning constant cash flow.
The wannabe ‘roo shooter has to first qualify to become a professional kangaroo shooter. This includes a shooting accuracy test where 5 out of 5 bullets have to be placed in a small target circle at 100 yards. The reason for this is that all kangaroos are required to be headshot for instantaneous death. Next the prospective kangaroo shooter must undergo two courses; one run by Parks and Wildlife Service (Environmental Protection Agency) and one by the Dept. of Primary Industries (Safe Food) with progressive assessment throughout the courses. The first course is mandatory whereas a shooter who does only skins need not do the second course.
An appropriate 4×4 vehicle is necessary – a cab-type with a tray back. A special welded rack has to be built and fitted with steel pins on which to hang the kangaroos. It must be galvanized or preferably stainless steel. The rack has to have adequate lighting for nighttime skinning and carcassing, large water container, hand-wash dispenser, etc., and must be approved and registered.
A shooting rest must be made and fitted to the driver’s side window, and often the passenger’s side as well. As mentioned, in the case of skin shooting, a skinning machine and salting drum have to be made.
The shooter has to purchase a suitable rifle and scope. Three main calibers are used for kangaroo shooting: the .222, the .223 and the larger .22/250, the latter two currently being the most popular. Most shooters use a heavy-barreled version. In addition, the shooter must have and be able to competently use his own reloading equipment to keep ammunition costs to a minimum.
The vehicle must be fitted with a powerful spotlight mounted through the roof for hand-operation from inside the cab. It should have a UHF radio. A GPS is advisable because even if you don’t know where you are, you basically can’t get “lost”.
All ‘roos – whether shot for meat or for skins – must be tagged with government tags (specific color for each year) purchased from the appropriate authority. This allows a table-to-field trace-back system in the event of contaminated meat. It’s not surprising that initial set-up costs are in the tens of thousands of dollars.
Where To Shoot?
There is often competition among ‘roo shooters for suitable properties (farms) on which to shoot. A fulltime shooter will need at least five large properties (each around 20 – 30,000 acres in size). This means persuading the owner to allow them to shoot on his land and convince him that no livestock will be accidentally shot, no gates left open, and nothing stolen – especially diesel fuel!
The shooter will obviously need to live in a rural area where kangaroos are to be found in required numbers, and in a region serviced by meat and skin buyers (no, kangaroos do not hop down the main street of Sydney!)
Types of Kangaroos (Macropods):
Kangaroos are prolific breeders when conditions are ideal and kangaroo populations are further enhanced by the availability of water (man-made bores and dams) and crop cultivation. Government estimates put the national kangaroo population at over 60 million animals. Added factors are the vastness of the Australian bush and the country’s small human population. Registered kangaroo shooters (Macropod Harvesters) are permitted to shoot four kangaroo types; the Eastern Grey, the Red, the Western Grey (in certain States) and the Wallaroo. Some buyers do not like to purchase Wallaroos from shooters as the leather is coarser-grained.
The shooting of females – often with young (Joeys) is generally, though not always, avoided.
The Danger Element:
Going out alone night after night deep in the bush, the shooter needs to be aware of things that can go wrong. No shooter wants to make a fatal error and wake up in the “Happy Hunting Ground”! Problems and potential dangers may include a couple of punctured tires in a night, getting bogged after rain, accidental cuts inflicted when skinning or carcassing, tripping over a log and ending up impaled on a stake, loose fencing wire wrapped around an axle, poisonous snake bite, being attacked by a bailed-up pig, running out of fuel miles from nowhere, getting lost in heavy bush, extremely unpleasant diseases such as Q-Fever, and in my opinion the most dangerous of all – falling asleep at the wheel while driving back to town after a long night’s work.
Kangaroo shooting is a unique job and many people are involved in one way or another in Australia’s kangaroo industry. My advice for the wannabe ‘roo shooter? You’ll need to make a few phone calls to chiller-box operators in various rural centers to evaluate the impact another ‘roo shooter would have there. Then decide on a location.
Before doing anything, take a week off work and go out with a qualified, professional ‘roo shooter and see what is actually involved.
Okay, you like what you see and you’ve done your courses. Move to the rural center that you have selected and get a day job there, whether it be pumping gas or whatever. THEN, start looking around for properties on which to shoot and start off by shooting week-ends. See how you go, then move on to fulltime when you know that you can make money. Good luck!