Will O’Meara - A mountain hunter in the wilds of Wicklow
A stunning, rugged, mountainous landscape stretches far into the horizon. A lake glimmers in the last rays of sunshine before the sky turns grey, and a howling gust of wind sweeps through the valley bringing with it a drizzle of rain. This is Wicklow mountains in Ireland, which Will O’Meara, a dedicated and hardy mountain hunter calls both his home and hunting ground.
“Ireland offers some great opportunities for hunting deer, especially sika deer in the Wicklow mountains and the red deer in the west of Ireland. The animals are plentiful and the mountainous areas are wild and breathtaking.”, Will describes and continues by telling that with a shotgun the main pursuits in Ireland are pheasant, snipe, duck and woodcock. Bird hunting is typically an individual or a small group act. The Irish hunting community is open and welcoming and it generally operates on a club basis. The clubs concentrate mainly around pheasant hunting with dogs in their local areas and are quite accessible and affordable.
“Woodcock hunting in mountainous or wilder terrain is my favourite type of shotgun hunting.”,
Will says and continues by telling that he gets great satisfaction from hunting with his dogs and seeing them working and using their instincts.
Will enjoys any adventure in the mountains, but spot and stalking deer is his absolute favourite hunting style. The ability to quickly access remote areas and jump on an adventure is invaluable to him. He loves hiking to the mountains, sitting down, glassing the landscape and spotting deer, and then planning the stalk.
“It’s a very deliberate, considered hunt where you spot the animal, plan your routing, have to look at the wind and consider your concealment from view, find a shooting position and deal with maybe a little bit more range if the terrain is very open.”, Will sets the scene and continues by telling just how much he cherishes the adventure aspect of mountain hunting:
“There is a big reward in planning, executing, overcoming difficulties and being successful.”
Will says that he sometimes reflects back on his life and realises that a huge amount of it is based around hunting: where he lives, what vehicle he drives, what job he has, how he maintains his fitness and what food he eats. Hunting has become an integral and inseparable part of his life as a whole.
“First time I hunted I enjoyed it. That enjoyment was then repeated, and over the course of time it became a lifestyle and a part of who I am. I’ve developed a love for hunting.”, Will says.
Lessons learned from family and the military
Will's earliest memories of hunting are with his dad:
“I can recall hunting rabbits with him on the farm at home. I think the memories are particularly vivid because our dad passed away when I was quite young. I was only eight years old.”
Luckily his mother was very good at facilitating interests that Will had and when the young boy expressed an interest in hunting, she lined him up with friends of hers.
“I have great memories of hunting snipe and duck as a kid. There were a few key, almost father figures who brought me along hunting, which I’m really appreciative of. We’re still good friends today.”.
Will's mother was also very skilled at allowing the kids the freedom to do things. She would even task them with big jobs: restoring a small cottage, fixing a fence or training a horse that hadn’t been handled before. That trust and sense of responsibility later turned into a deep feeling of competence:
“Throughout my years it was the same. You got a job and you’d figure it out. And in the army the same thing, and then again in the Special Operations. You take all the skills and apply them to the things you do. The expertise you have can translate into everything.”
Will thinks that most tasks, hunting included, are really about the consideration of the details.
“You first have to evaluate the situation, then make a plan, apply some resources to that plan and then you need to stay flexible enough to execute the plan if the situation changes.”, Will says, and adds that this mindset and confidence is something he is keen on passing on to his own children:
“It would be a success story if I could teach them that they can do anything that they put their mind to.”
Will served in the military for 21 years, of which three years in the Irish Special Operations, the Army Ranger Wings, where he was a sniper. Will sees that his experiences in the military gave him lots of skills that translate to hunting:
“It gave me confidence in the mountains with navigation, how to sustain yourself over long periods of time, how to plan and prepare for a mission and understanding what are low and high probability situations.”, Will tells and continues:
“I’ve learnt that even though things go wrong you just need to apply yourself and keep going. It’ll all work out in the end. And if it doesn’t, it's not the end. Just keep going, keep trying, stay flexible, don't be afraid to ask for help and don’t be shy of giving help to others.”
Helping others and preserving the lifestyle
Helping others is something Will finds great pleasure in, be it guiding other hunters to achieve success or helping a local farmer, a neighbour or a friend to keep the deer numbers down in order to save the crops.
“There has been a huge deer population growth and spread. Their range has increased over time and there's a lot of political pressure for reducing deer numbers. In some areas we might hunt deer also for conservation of the habitat, or conservation of the deer themselves. When the numbers get too high they don’t thrive and there might even be some deer that are in a very poor condition.”, Will says.
Will also feels that it is important to bring the next generation of hunters along. To make sure that the hunting tradition survives and that people get the opportunity to have the very human experience of hunting.
“Then maybe they'll become passionate about it, and when they get passionate about it they'll spread the good word.”, Will hopes, and says that he has taken his non-hunter friends hunting with him if they’ve expressed interest in his way of life.
Will also thinks it is very important to give his own kids a sense of adventure and introduce them to the hunting lifestyle, but he wants to do it patiently and not rush things too much.
“I’ve taken the older of my two younger daughters, Jessica, stalking deer without a gun. To show her the habitat and the animals, to camp and use binoculars. She's also been involved in processing the meat.”, Will says and continues:
“I’d like to teach them that this is something where our food and species have come from since the dawn of time. And that hunting is an honourable, respectful activity, and not something that is shameful or should be hidden away.”
Pursuing adventures big and small
Will admits that because he enjoys the type of hunting he does in Ireland so much, it is sometimes hard to go and do something different, but once in a while he does go on a big hunting adventure overseas. His latest trips have been to New Zealand, Greenland and Finland. In New Zealand Will hunted for Tahr on public ground.
“It was a phenomenal trip. We spent nine days hunting in the Southern Alps and we had no luck. If it could go wrong, it would go wrong. Even the small little things. We were hunting really hard and doing all the right things, but then the little moments we would have needed didn’t happen.”, Will laughs at the memory and continues by telling that finally on the last day of the trip they found a good bull tahr, managed to make a difficult stalk and shoot the bull. At that moment Will remembers reflecting on all the hard work, adventure, incredible mileage put in, climbing mountains, friendship, fun, wild terrain and magnificent species of animals. It was a real culmination of everything.
Will has experienced a lot and been on many adventures, but as time has gone on he has realised that the whole experience is mostly and more importantly about the people, friendships, culture, history, traditions and methods more so than just the hunting itself. Will also thinks we oftentimes concentrate too much on things we don’t have, and forget the opportunities we have close to home.
“At home it’s an adventure any day I go, but when I get to go with my friends and set up the teepee, it’s a great escape, a great catch-up, great laughs.”
It’s very important for him to also balance his life as a husband and as a father. Overseas travels or longer trips are welcome once in a while, but nowadays he is also focused on providing adventure for his family.
“I’m really looking forward to the days of having those adventures with my own little girls and sharing that very human experience of hunting with them.”
It is very easy to lose oneself in the daydreams of epic mountain hunts and long backcountry adventures, but even for a hardy mountain hunter, maybe in the end it's more about the little things close to home?
“Taking the tent and going camping with your friends or family, experiencing nature, sharing small adventures and escaping the duties of everyday life.”
All photos: Daniel O’Flaherty & Nicholas Bailey
Author: Saana Kamula
Saana is an Outdoor and Hunting journalist and photographer from Finland.
She has a strong background in a wide variety of different wilderness activities and hunting. She writes articles about intriguing places, interesting people and fascinating new outdoor gear.