I fired up the motor bike and headed off, up a track that was less track and more scrub in most places. I puttered along for a few clicks. It’s spectacular country and every now and then the early morning sun caught the Gulf waters in the far distance. Up and down and round about and then I found myself in a creek bed with three kangaroos pulling themselves out of their nest of loose dirt and shifting away through the native pines. I’m enjoying those. The pines that is. They are perfectly shaped and petite in a strange sort of way. I lose the kangaroos but am not perturbed about that. While the new owner of this block wants them cleared off it’s the goats that have the priority. And there is plenty of sign of goat. Their tracks are everywhere and I have been travelling in and out of their scent for half an hour now. Okay, scent is probably not the right word. Goats are inclined to pong.
By now the morning freshness has burned off in the oven of a day. The sky is a brilliant azure and the heat is beating back off the rocks that make up the banks of this creek. (Later I learn we are at forty degrees. It certainly felt like it). I step up the bank and look at the opposite ridge. I can see there is a goat track coming straight down the hill to where I am standing. And there it is, the faintest hint of a goat bleat carried on the breeze, but coming from behind me. I pause and turn my head in that direction. I can see a rocky bluff nearly a kilometer away. It looks like perfect goat country. But are they up there? Do I lug myself up there in this heat to chase something I might have been imagining? I come down off the bank, re-cross the creek and start a slow plod up a spur, heading in the general direction. Then I hear it again. Another bleat. But I am at the mouth of a large gully, closed in by scrub and pine. They could be anywhere.
I decide to push up the left spur. The weakness of my position is twofold – I am on low ground and the wind is on my back. If there are goats out there in those rocks heading up the left spur might be indirect but it will push the wind onto my right shoulder. The bush closes in and I am pushing through pine and scrub and a million black boys that stab me as I pass. I am amazed at how many tracks I am crossing but I have not heard any more bleating. I walk carefully, trying to not crash through in case goats are nearby. I roll my feet into the litter to reduce the possibility of a cracked twig, and step onto and off rather than over logs – all the while very conscious of the possibility of a snake bite. A bite out here will undo me – there is no way I could get to a doctor from here if a brown snake grabbed me. At one point I look across the rolling ridges and know that a bite out here would not only be fatal but there would be little prospect of someone finding my remains. Suddenly I can see the rocky spur at the head of the gully. It’s about 600 metres away and another 500 feet up (I still mix my metric with the imperial – I can visualize height in feet better than in metres). It looks like ideal goat country and sure enough, as I catch my breath and gaze across the rock line I catch the slightest movement. Up comes the scope, dialed out for maximum advantage and there she is. Tan coloured and moving down the rock line with another black and white one in tow. As I watch they bleat and the sound carries to me very clearly. And then somewhere in front of me I hear another bleat. Two mobs? I hate taking my eye off the ones I can see – I have learned the hard way that these beasts are very elusive the moment you lose sight of them. You think they will reappear on another ridge but they don’t. They vanish into thin air.
But the prospect of a mob in front of me changes that. I climb as quickly as I can as quietly as I can to get height. Height is advantage, every time. I bend down to wriggle under a bush and find myself on a goat track, with very fresh droppings. I pick them up and take a sniff. It’s moist. Only an hour old at the most in this heat. But there is no hint as to whether they are off to the left or to the right. Have I missed them? I take a punt and turn right. That will take me up to the head of the gully in any event. A kangaroo climbs out of his bed in front of me and moves off ten meres and stops. He is not spooked which is good – if there are goats around their startled flight can galvanise the goats into action as well. I stand like a stork for a minute waiting to see what the roo will do, foot hanging in mid step. I wait and so does the roo. So I quietly push on. I look over my shoulder and the roo is still poised at polite attention watching me. Then the bleat, directly in front of me, on the same goat track I am on is my guess. I drop to my knee and prop by a small sapling. The bleating continues and suddenly there it is, meandering along the track, breaking cover only twenty five metres away. I close the bolt and sight up the picture waiting for more to appear. A second goat ambles into the picture. Are there any more? Are there another four or six or ten just out of sight? I can’t tell. I squeeze off a round and the first one drops, then rolls down the hill. The sound of the round rolls around and down the hills, hammering off the rocks and echoing from every point possible. The second goat jumps uphill (clever girl) and disappears. I hold my position and sight picture and she steps back into it, watching her mate rolling to a stop. I squeeze the trigger again. Nothing.
It is more than twenty years since I fired a semi automatic rifle but that military drill has counted for something. Somehow I was expected a self loading experience. Idiot. I quickly chamber a round without dropping the rifle from my eye. The goat is still standing there looking downhill, presenting a classic heart-lung profile. I squeeze off the second round and the booming echoing crash is far better than the empty pull of the trigger of a few seconds earlier. When everything settles down I hear a bleat from off the rocks, only four hundred metres or so away now. The second group are moving.
But that rock ledge is still above me. I scope the ridge and watch two or three goats moving away from me and out of sight. Do I go after them? I figure I have come this far I might as well push on but the deciding factor is my perception that these animals might have heard the shots but are not spooked. They did not look like they were in any hurry to get out of the way. But they are now out of sight and rule of thumb says, once out of sight I have Buckleys and Nunn of finding them. It’s vast country and there is plenty off space for them to hide. But I push on and climb straight up. Or that is what I want at least. There is a lot of fallen timber and I have to make a conscious effort to push my way upwards., even when it means backtracking a bit. The easy option is to allow fallen timber to push you downhill but very quickly you can lose any height you have gained. As I clamber up a rock wall, covered in goat droppings and hair I hear the quick “thud thud” of a roo warning something is amiss. I pause but can’t see it. But I can’t see the goats either. Worse, their bleating has stopped. Are they miles away now? I hope not. I scramble to the top of the ridge. By now the wind is coming across my shoulder. There is little chance the goats will smell me coming. I walk to a point where I had last seen the goats. I can hear nothing. But there is a spectacular view out over the gulf and I grab the camera and start taking some photos. I am very happy with this consolation prize. Then I hear a bleat. It’s very close.
I grab my rifle and a pocket full of ammo then peer over the rock ledge. There below me are two goats, one on point duty, looking out for the rest of the mob. She is in shade and peering down the gully through which I have just climbed. The wind is in my face and it’s I, not them, getting a face full of pong. I had expected to find them at some distance so had adjusted the scope accordingly. I had the presence of mind to adjust for point black shooting and started with the lookout. As expected the first shot had the whole mob stand up out of their nests but in this country the crashing boom would only confuse them. And confused they were. To my advantage. But I was sniping them through a fissure in the rock and was pretty much invisible to them. I kept my head down until done so I was not giving away any advantage I had worked so hard to attain. (Mind you I did check a few times where the rounds were going, the last thing I needed was a round splatting me in the face).
It was a two hour stalk which started with a bleat and finished with a chorus of them.