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Guns on farms

I haven’t talked much about guns because when I did the course to get my gun license it was made quite clear that we should keep our guns private. We were actually told not to shoot near a property boundary where a member of the public might see the gun and complain to police, even if its on our own property! Gun laws have been strict in Australia since the Port Arthur massacre in 1996 when 35 people were killed by a gunman.

 In order to get a gun I first had to do a two-day course and pass a theory and practical test. I then had to wait six months to get the license, which was approved for “rural purposes” because of the area of our property. If you don’t have a large enough property to qualify, you have to belong to a gun club to get a license. After I got the license, I then had to apply to acquire the particular gun I wanted to buy, with a written justification as to why I needed it. My license only allows rifles and shotguns, so there wasn’t much choice anyway.

I think there is a place for guns on farms, and I don't think we should avoid talking about it. I also think that our current gun laws are necessarily restrictive. I don’t think owning a gun is a right, it is a privilege for those who can demonstrate a genuine need and capability.  But we need more education, rather than trying to hide guns away.

Putting down cattle
We originally decided to start the process to get a gun license because we were worried that we would have to put down cattle at the start of the drought. At the time, so many people were sending cattle to the sales, that some cattle were being turned away. We realized that if our cattle got too weak, we might not be able to sell them. Fortunately we were able to sell the cows before it came to that, and cattle numbers are now so low, the market is great if you have anything to sell. The sad fact is that many farmers have had to shoot their animals. 

 We have had to ask our neighbour to shoot a sick cow for us before, and we’ve had another euthanised by the vet. I think the gunshot was better for the cow, because the drug took so long to work and the cow was so scared the whole time, the shot is quick and she doesn’t even know it happened. We were told to use either a .22 magnum or larger rifle, or a solid 410 shotgun bullet. You do need to shoot the animal in the correct spot on their head, see the instructions here.

Controlling predators and feral animals
The other reason we thought we might need a gun is to control the wild dogs and pigs we know live on our property. They live in the bush areas, and while they are not a problem at the moment, they could kill calves, and make it difficult for us to keep our own pigs. 

While it is illegal to shoot native animals, including the dangerous ones, we can get a license to shoot kangeroos and wallabies for our own consumption (50 per year).  We also have plenty of rabbits, but they are a bit quick for me at the moment!

Butchering large animals
So far we have always had a butcher come to our property to kill our cattle for beef, but we butcher the chickens ourselves. Anything larger than poultry is best killed with a gun. You can slit the throat of a lamb or a goat, but it would not be pleasant. As I said above, a gunshot is quick and the animal doesn’t know what happened. Eventually we would like to butcher our own beef, and to do this we need a gun. Some more remote properties would do this regularly just to feed the people living on the property.

Learning about guns and gun safety
I learnt to shoot in highschool when I joined the small-bore rifle shooting club. I never owned a gun then, or had a license, I borrowed a gun from the club and only shot on club days or at competitions.  Over a couple of years I learnt to shoot at small targets about 100 metres away, lying down in “prone” position. I went to the club once a week and saw my aim gradually improve. This was a really good way to learn, on a small rifle, the techniques required to aim and hit a target, and all the safety requirement. I think I learnt more from that experience than the gun license course, which was more of a refresher for me (all the others in the course were from rural backgrounds and already knew how to use a gun).  We need to put more time into target shooting now that we own a gun, so that we maintain that ability.

Taz is scared of the gun...

I’m not saying that every farm needs a gun, but I do think that you should consider if you might need one for the above reasons. You might be able to rely on neighbours, but I don’t like to be in that position all the time. I think that it pays to learn how to shoot and be confident around guns, even if you don’t need to own one, its certainly a skill I didn’t know I was going to use again!

I'm not sure if I should ask this.... do you shoot?  Do you think guns are an important part of farming and self-sufficiency?


  1. I have to say, this a very well written argument, reading it from your point of view, i can see where the need for a gun arises. I'd much rather shoot an animal than slit it's throat, and whilst i hate the idea of shooting anything, if it meant saving livestock, i wouldn't hesitate, at the end of the day, it's your livelihood at stake.

    I must say, it's kind of cool that you can shoot up to 50 kangaroos per year for consumption (how you'd get through that many i don't know, you'd have to have a lot of varied recipes lol) you could even tan the hides and make a throw cover
    I don't own or shoot, i imagine the control laws in the uk are probably even higher, and we are in just a house with a slightly bigger than normal garden, and don't own livestock so it's not necessary for us :)

  2. if you have a farm here in australia (and no, I'm not talking hobby farm with just a couple of pet animals) then having a gun and licence is actually essential

  3. For the correct care and disposal of large animals, I believe guns are essential but also good that they're so restricted to get. I totally sympathise with you on the vet method vs gun method. Shooting correctly is much more humane. Thanks for stepping out and publishing this post Liz. it's great that you discuss a sometimes taboo subject.

  4. i was going to ask about the kangaroos also! 50? isnt that a ton of meat? i thought they were really big? we agree that shooting larger animals is much better. i couldnt imagine trying to slit the throat of a large hog. i know of folks who butcher their own beef. but the biggest problem is hanging it. they have to use a tractor will a lift or bucket because it's so heavy and needs to be hung up high. we can hoist a half a hog and hang it from the rafters but i dont think we could do that for a beef. it's very weird (to us in the US) that they said not to shoot near a property line and to keep it private. out here it's kind of a free for all. now that hunting season is coming out there are people shooting every weekend for practice and to site in their guns. really interested in seeing the responses. a great post, thanks!

  5. We don't own a gun, but it may be something we acquire in the future. Not sure on the specific regulations now, but it used to be that you couldn't get a gun license (without having to join a club) if you were on less than five acres. We may just scrape in by a few metres, squared, lol.

    I'm pretty certain I've heard a gun go off, a couple of times a year, around these parts. Its always in the distance, so more likely one of the larger properties. I'm kind of glad the smaller blocks don't use them. I'd be concerned a stray bullet could injure a child - as more and more families move to the area. Our gun restrictions give a reasonable balance of freedom to own a gun, but also not just giving it to anyone who can buy one.

    As an interesting side note, my husband has recently joined the Army Reserves, and they have tight controls over weaponry - who is supposed to handle them, etc. There are a lot of Workplace, Healthy and Safety issues to consider, which is why you're not supposed to handle any of the weaponry, until you've completed and passed, the five-week training camp. So even when using legal weaponry in your profession, its taken just as seriously (if not more so) as having to apply for a regular gun license, as an individual.

    With guns, you can't be too careful. I feel the same about getting behind the wheel of a car. More people are killed on the roads than by gunshot wounds.

  6. no, i don't shoot & don't own a gun, i have shot a rifle when i was younger but only at a beer cartoon.
    yes to your other question, i think properties who breed their own large livestock should have a gun on the premises, like you said, you never know when one would be needed & you can't always rely on the neighbours, what if they aren't home?
    great post
    thanx for sharing

  7. I think they are essential but it needs to be the right gun for the right purpose. Are gun laws are tight in the UK as well and I think that's a good thing. I have a couple of shotguns and a top of tge range air rifle, mainly for pest control but the .410 has been used many times for humane sheep dispatch in the past. To be honest I use the air rifle more than anything, great for keeping rabbit numbers down.

  8. Excellent post, Liz. Our media here in the US is trying it's hardest to stir people up against guns, but in the most emotional way and with lack of logic. Basically, everybody is a dope and therefore guns ought to be outlawed. Like other pieces of equipment, it is a tool for specific tasks and it must be handled with respect. There used to be a time when no one would dream of going anywhere without a gun, now you're treated like a criminal for simply owning one.

  9. Very well written post! It always feels like we have a crazy gun culture in the US, so it's nice to hear things from your perspective in your daily life. I am a big proponent for gun safety - don't own one if you can't be responsible with it. I can definitely see it a being a necessity for life on the farm.


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