It is better to be an outcast, a stranger in one’s own country, than an outcast from one’s self. It is better to see what is about to befall us and to resist than to retreat into the fantasies embraced by a nation of the blind.
Chris Hedges

Tuesday, July 13, 2004

The Possum Hunter

Dear Fellow Travellers:

New Zealand is a country blessed with a lack of predators. True, you can be gored by a wild boar if you are hunting it and I have heard tales of people getting a tusk in the leg or groin and bleeding to death. But for the most part a walk in the park is just that.

At the turn of the 1900's someone thought it would be a good idea to import possums from Australia to establish a fur trade here. In Australia the possum is a protected species because wild dingos, tasmanian devils, and whatnot love to eat them. But in New Zealand the possum has no enemies and has prospered. There are estimates that there are more than 70 million possums here. They eat the leaves of native trees at a prolific rate and have a very healthy breeding cycle.

When I first got here I would swerve to avoid them on the roads - karma and all that. But when I moved to Pawarenga and looked forward to eating the plums off our tree, my attitude took an abrupt turn. Just off the side of our house is a lovely plum tree. Just as they were getting ready to pick I noticed a troop of possums in it taking a bite out of a piece of fruit, dropping it and moving on to another.

They weren't too concerned about me being there. I grabbed my trusty sand wedge and gave one a solid whack in the guts. It looked at me and took another piece of fruit. I went into Jim's garage next door and grabbed his flounder spear and thrust it into his hide, coming away with a ball of fur on the tine...the possum took another piece of fruit. "Okay," says I, "the gloves are off."

A quick call to Anahera's brother got me his old 22 and after three shots there were three dead possums. By the end of the night I shot another five. For the next couple of weeks I spent an hour after supper clearing the brutes out. The dogs love to eat possums. And they eat all of the possum. They were getting awfully fat.

A few weeks ago, my neighbour, Bobby Proctor, took me up into the Warawara forest to poison possums. He does it for a living and there were dozens of decomposing carcasses around each poison set, but still they keep coming.

Falling back onto my military training, I purchased a pellet gun, a Turkish model that fires a .177 slug at 1200 feet per second. I bought a maglite and taped it to the barrel and last but not least I purchased a scope. The interesting thing about the possum is that it does not have a typical nervous system. When it is hit it carries on eating. Even with a .22 it will not stop eating. You have to hit it in a critical spot to drop it.

I have now gotten to the point where I can hit the damn things in the eye, and yet they stay alive. The best spot seems to be a small area under the chin and above the shoulder.

Last night I grabbed a team of shooters; Bobby, his grandsons Tinny and Hori, and we went out to slaughter as many as we could find. We shot 6. These animals have gotten to the point where they turn their eyes away so the light doesn't give them away.

The slug gun I bought is the most powerful air rifle made and certainly it hammers the possums but lacks the hitting power to drop them. So I am going to research and get me a semi-automatic .223 rifle with a hefty hunting light, perhaps a converted M16. I have to get a gun licence first and that costs $127. so this may take a while. But this is war dammit!

On the hunt.

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