Greatest Game of All Time?
Chasing goats is one of the great Australian hunting experiences. They can be predictable, lazy, unaware of danger and ridiculously easy to see in their white coats. Or they can be the exact opposite, giving you the runaround and no chance for a shot. Their meat is excellent, their hides make great rugs and a big set of horns is an impressive trophy. Hunting them offers almost every variation of hunting styles and challenges that Australia offers. They exist out on the plains and in environments so steep and rough that “goat country” takes on real and daunting meaning.
Goats are one of the best animals for teaching kids how to hunt game. You can start out with easy, predictable hunts and progress through greater challenges.
Here’s a little of what I’ve learnt.
If you’re out to cull goats, it pays to remember one key fact about their behaviour as a herd. There will be a lead goat, whether nanny or billy, from whom the rest of the herd will take their cues. If you identify it and kill it first, the rest of the mob will mill around, waiting in confusion for their leader to run away so they can follow. It gives you plenty of time to pick off more of the mob. Often another goat will eventually take the initiative. If you see it begin to move, shoot it.
Goats are pretty lazy. Unless they’re skittish after lots of pressure from hunters, they often won’t go far after you spook them. Tracking them is easy if you keep your eyes open for droppings and hoof prints, and your ears open for their bleating or the weird moan of rutting billies. But be careful: wary nannies (and there always seems to be one) will constantly check behind, and they’ll usually see you before you see them.
Goats have great eyesight. When they’re not feeling threatened they don’t pay much attention to what’s going on but the moment they cotton on to you they’ll zero straight in and watch intently. Their inattention can make it easy to stalk in close but their good sight can make it very difficult, so take your time and look for the goat that’s standing apart from the mob, ready to catch you unawares. When you’re sprung, stay still, try to hide your face (you have a predator’s close-set eyes) and see if they relax a little. Goats that are hunted frequently will probably be on the run by then.
I’ve seen goats called in, just like foxes or deer. If you let out a convincing bleat you can draw them in.
TIMES OF DAY
Unlike so much of our game, goats are creatures of the day. They’re great for lazy buggers because there are no pre-dawn starts or late-night spotlighting sessions. In the mountains, just wait for them to come down from their overnight beds on the ridges after sunrise, hunt them through the day, and ambush them as they climb the hills again in the late afternoon. In the middle of the day, expect them to go to water.
They’re not the biggest animals we hunt in Australia but goats are surprisingly tough. They can take a lot of punishment, especially the bigger billies. Their thin skin but hard bones guarantee you’ll never get consistent results from your projectiles.
I’ve experimented with hollow points, soft points and harder projectiles like Woodley’s Protected Points, in weights ranging from 55 grains to 180. Forget the big, hard bullets; they’ll go right through without doing enough damage. The hollow-points can do a great job, but I’ve come back to simple soft-points and ballistic tips. I think the more important thing is bullet weight.
Give me anything ranging from 100 to 165 grains or thereabouts. A .223 is OK for small to medium goats, but to my mind not adequate for bigger ones. Heavier .243 projectiles, the .270, any .30-cal — take your pick of these and more. My current goat load is a 129gr ballistic tip in 6.5 Creedmoor, and it works well.
RIFLES AND OPTICS
The thing about goats is they can be close enough to bow-hunt and distant enough to challenge a sniper’s outfit. Anyone who says they know the perfect rifle for goat hunting is kidding themselves. You need to pick your rifle to suit the way you hunt.
Most of my goat hunting is to cull mobs in bushy and often steep terrain. For that, I inevitably take my Ruger Gunsite Scout with Aimpoint Micro red-dot sight. It’s a light, fast and very accurate set-up with the advantage of a 10-round magazine. Add a spare mag or two and you can’t beat it. The idea is to get in close and hook in quickly.
But for a more picky hunt — for meat or a trophy, for example — I love the lightness and ease of my Kimber Hunter in 6.5CM.
On the open ground of the western plains, or across huge gullies in the mountains that goats love, you might want a long-range rifle. The longest kill shot I’ve ever made was on a trophy billy across a gully at 380m with a 7mm Rem Mag with 26-inch barrel and a 3-15x scope whose reticle allowed easy compensation for bullet drop over known ranges. A gunsmith mate built himself a heavy-barrelled .308 long-range rifle and can sit on his property picking goats off the cliffs hundreds of metres away.
But the final verdict on rifles is that your run-of-the-mill hunting rifle — something with, say, a 22-inch barrel, four-round magazine and 3-9x scope — will do the trick in most circumstances.
TASTES AND TROPHIES
I’m chewing on a delicious piece of goat jerky as I write this. In my house we regularly eat slow-roasted, curried or stewed goat. Younger goats are, naturally, more palatable but you know what? Even billies’ backstraps are good if cooked the right way. Don’t believe all that rot about them being flavoured by the rank smell of a male goat’s rutting habits. It’s just not true. And the males have more meat on them.
Any other part of the billy turns out tough and horrible, at least when I cook it.
Whatever goat you take meat from, I find any kind of slow cooking is best to avoid toughness, and adding herbs and spices does improve the flavour.
Meat is my favourite goat product but horns are the obvious trophy. With a little experience, you’ll soon learn to judge the worthwhile ones. Anything under a spread of 30 inches is not worth it, so leave them to grow. In most areas, 40 inches is the benchmark.
Another way to look at it is saying that anything under a score of 100 is no trophy. You get the score by measuring the width tip-to-tip, adding it to the length of each horn and the circumference of each horn’s base, all in inches. If they add up to 100 you’re into the trophy zone.
Multiple twists add attractiveness to the horns, as do interesting sweeps and bends.
Feral goats are mostly mixed breeds of angora, cashmere, milking goats, meat goats and others. As a result, you’ll come across some beautiful and varied coats. Some have soft and thick wool, others long and luxurious hair. Short-haired breeds often come in wonderful colours, from bright tans to jet black and often multi-coloured patterns. You’ll be richly rewarded if you have them tanned.
SOME FINAL POINTS
You’ll want to be at least half fit to hunt goats. On open ground they’re very mobile, so a vehicle is almost essential. In the mountains an all-terrain vehicle will take you further than anything else before you have no choice but to burn your leg muscles up and down the near-vertical slopes so beloved by goats. It keeps you fit!
And it’s well worth it. I think of goats as the rabbits of bigger game because they’re accessible and abundant. It means you can tailor your hunt to what you want. Set yourself the challenge of culling as many as possible, in the process practicing your shooting skills. Or set out to take a trophy — finding it, stalking, judging horns, taking a precise shot from a solid rest. Equally, there’s meat to harvest. Going for goats keeps your hunting instincts honed for bigger challenges like deer, too.
Whichever way you look at it, goats truly are one of the top Aussie hunting experiences.