Bec and Sharna don’t look like the kind of people you’d call “psychotic murderers”, “disgusting whores” or “killers with a sick fetish”.
They’re normal, friendly women. They’ve got normal jobs. They live in normal, regional towns.
But when killing wild animals on the weekend is what you call fun, they’re the kind of names they’ve come to expect.
Between them, Bec and Sharna have killed enough animals to pretty much fill a zoo. Deer, a zebra, a giraffe, a mountain lion, a pigeon, foxes, kangaroos, impalas, baboons, a feral cat, a cow and a wild dog have all found themselves in the crosshairs of Sharna’s rifle or the target of Bec’s bow.
Some end up on their dinner table, some in their dog’s bowls, and some end up hanging in their living rooms.
“In a way it’s a trophy, it’s a memento of the hunt,” Sharna told Sarah McVeigh for the ABC’s new podcast, How Do You Sleep At Night?
“Each of those have their own story and for us, we don’t want to see any of it go to waste either. That’s probably the best use of those skins.”
The Hunting “lifestyle”
Hunting has been part of her life for so long, Bec can’t even remember the first time she fired a gun. A sixth-generation hunter; it’s in her blood.
“It was the same as other kids going and playing footy. We went hunting. It was just something that was done.
“I learnt really quickly that when I went to school that not all families were like my family. We ate a lot of homekill meat; I grew up on a sheep farm so Dad always slaughtered our own lambs.
“Sometimes that meant that we even ate our pets,” Bec says, remembering her pet lamb Blinky who eventually ended up on her plate.
“I remember friends coming over after school and they were like, ‘What the hell is going on here?’ and then I started to realise that that wasn’t how other families did it.”
Bec and Sharna are both licensed hunters and only hunt animals permitted by local authorities. They both insist hunting, for them, is more than a hobby.
Why hunters find joy in the kill
Sarah McVeigh spent five days with Bec and Sharna in the Victorian High Country to understand how they tick and why they get satisfaction from killing animals.
“Hunting is a challenge. And sitting around the campfire is fun,” Sharna says. “Pushing myself when it’s freezing cold up that mountain, that’s the fun part. Taking the actual shot is something where, you’re in the moment, there’s that adrenaline rush.
“I think they say it’s the same chemical release as kissing and that sort of thing. You’re getting that big rush of endorphins.”
Critics of Bec and Sharna – mostly on their public posts on Facebook – don’t buy their argument. They call Bec and Sharna serial killers; they call them sick; they say Bec and Sharna should turn their weapons on themselves.
“Put a rifle up your c***,” someone wrote, “and pull the trigger”.
Bec and Sharna understand why people are quick to judge hunters. But they say criticism tends to be clouded by false assumptions, and – unless their critics are vegans – embedded in hypocrisy.
“They think we go out there to torture animals where we don’t,” Sharna says. “They don’t understand what we do. That’s definitely an aspect of why people dislike us so much.”
But Bec and Sharna’s reasoning for hunting boils down to a few things: they enjoy hunting for fitness, they eat the animals they’ve killed, and they only kill animals that are a sustainable resource.
“I’d much rather know where my meat is coming from,” Sharna says. “I don’t want to just walk into the supermarket, pick it up off the shelf and not know where it’s come from.
“There’s a genuine respect for the animal. There’s no regret [when we kill]. But there’s… it’s very hard to describe. It’s not remorse, it’s not regret.
Are all animals equal?
Bec and Sharna often go back to this existential point: when it comes to hunting in the animal kingdom, there is no hierarchy. Apart from endangered or rare species, no life is worth more than another. Squishing a spider is the same as shooting a baboon in South Africa – where they are a sustainable resource, Bec says.
Bec shot a giraffe in South Africa, and the animal was butchered that day for the locals to eat.
“The amount of food that this guy provided for the local community is possibly still being enjoyed,” Bec says.
“I’m not a serial killer”
Bec says none of the criticism she’s received online has made her “second-guess” her hobby and lifestyle choice.
But for Sharna, one comment caught her off guard.
A commenter once took issue with Sharna’s taxidermy animals. “That’s what a serial killer does, a serial killer collects tokens,” the commenter told Sharna.
“For me I was like, ‘I want to know what separates me from a serial killer’ and that’s a pretty big thing to think about within yourself. That comment made me sit down and think about that.”
So what does separate Sharna and Bec from, say, Ivan Milat? Is it just the victims they choose?
“There’s plenty of things,” Sharna says.
“I’m a nurse and I have compassion for people. Obviously serial killers don’t think about their actions – they’re sociopaths. So there’s quite a bit that separates me from a serial killer.
Both Bec and Sharna are careful about calling killing “fun”. They insist the act of hunting – the whole experience – is fun, but pulling the trigger is not.
“If I were to say that to pull the trigger is fun, the way people view me might change,” Sharna admits.
“You take the shot, pull the trigger, and if that animal falls over straight away, hasn’t really known what’s going on, that’s a success. So you do get excited about it, and it is a fun activity.”
Sharna and Bec know it’s hard for people to understand how killing could be fun.
“Instead of just sitting behind a keyboard and telling me that what I’m doing is wrong, come and see it.”