Most blokes shoot a goat, cut off the head, sometimes skin the cape for a mount, then score it back home with a tape measure.
They stretch the fibre tightly between the two horn tips and come up with a score – 36 inches, 38 – and, if they’re exceedingly fortunate – 40 inches plus. (Incidentally, with hunting trophies, the major scoring systems still use the old Imperial inch of measure -which is 2.54 centimetres, to be pedantic).
That’s it. The question invariably asked by fellow hunters looking at a goat head is: “How wide is it?” And it’s a valid question because for every set of horns, spread a metre across, there are probably 10,000 sub-metre hat-racks. This is not to put down good goat heads that don’t quite stretch out to 40 inches or so. But you need a top quality criteria line somewhere.
A good goat is 36 inches. A fantastic goat is 40 inches. And a jaw-dropper as good as a mighty rusa or red stag head, is 44-inches plus in spread. And – thankfully – there are still some about. Not many, though…
As in one or two things in life, I was prematurely successful. By the time I was 30, I’d written two books, shot several Grand Slams on deer and two billy goats with 40-inch horns – the best 42-1/2 inches. But my Uncle Cliff – whom I lived with before departing to New Zealand in the late 60’s to become a deer culler – threw the horns out when I didn’t come home for years.
I spent the next 25 years trying to get a 40-inch set of horns. Ironically, I lined it up for my son, David instead, or rather my Eden mate, Clyde Thomas teed up the hunt, accidentally. As faithfully reported in Sporting Shooter as a cover story in February 1997, the beautiful white goat Dave shot was decked while looking for a sambar,
To this day I’ve not shot one better.
I’m still hoping a few mates from Sydney and Mudgee will get me another 40-incher. Top drawer billy heads are hard to get.
To my mind, a 40-inch goat is as hard to shoot as a 34-inch rusa, a 16-inch hog stag, a 240 DS point fallow, a 280 pt Aussie red, a 28-inch sambar, a 32-inch chital buck or a 100-point buffalo.
Put another way, the late Norman Douglas – the deviser of the Douglas Score – the trophy yardstick of most clubs Down Under – estimated that a massive goat of 130 points Douglas Score was the equivalent of a 450-point wapiti, a 350-pt red stag, 230-point fallow and 230-point sambar.
These are massive heads but so is a 40-inch or better goat. Ask my mates and they’ll tell you I am very reverential in front of a 45-inch goat head. I know the luck of the draw and the goat herd genetics, plus hunting skill that it takes to grass a big’un.
There are goat herds with zillions of members. But if the genetics for wide horns is not present, you can spend a lifetime among those ferals and never shoot a big head. The corollary is true, of course.
A friend of mine hunts on a large property at Bourke where 36,000 feral goats were mustered just before
the last floods. Only a dozen or so carried 40 inch-plus horns (101cms), three or four went 43 ins-plus with just one exceptional set about a hand-spread wider.
There are areas of Australia where big heads are found more than occasionally – but nowhere are they common. And there are places where you will never see a goat head better than, say, 37-inches. Fact of life. Crook soil. Not enough minerals in the ground. Poor fodder (not that goats are fussy, mind). Inferior genetics (there’s never been a decent head in the family from the year dot when the gold prospectors, sealers, timber cutters, squatters let the original bunch free, to the chagrin of modern ecologists).
So, obviously if you want a good head, hunt where top trophies come from. Right…
Goat scoring in not just about spread of horns, though most people might disagree. To know the true worth of a set of horns, you need to evaluate a few other factors about the rack than its spread. About 50 years ago, Kiwi deerstalker Norman Douglas came up with a fair formula that takes into account other aspects of a head than width alone.
Douglas was obsessive about uniformity of antlers and horns, their symmetry, evenness, balance. He penalised goat heads and antlers that were out of balance (i.e with one antler or horn longer than the other, or excessively wide for the species), unlike other scoring systems around the world that count every inch of “bone” an animal grew.
Like it or not, the Douglas system is the one we use here and it’s basically simple – you DOUBLE the smallest measurement on the left or right horn or antler. You DON’T add them together.
With goat horns, three measurements are taken – Length of horn (both sides, of course), the Girth at the base of each horn and the Spread.
If, for example, the length of the left horn (measured around the spiral) is 38 inches and the length of the right is 36, the total score for horn Length is double the smallest measurement – or 36 x 2 = 72 points.
It’s exactly the same for Girth. If the left basal girth of the horn is 6-1/4 ins and the right is 5-1/2, the total score for Girth is double the lesser, or 11 ins; 11 points.
If your goat was an eye-stopping trophy, with a Spread of say, 42 inches, this would be added to the other two total scores. So your head would finally tally up 72 + 11 + 42 = 125 points. This would be a record-class trophy in Australia – and New Zealand also. It would be as good as a 200 point rusa stag on either side of the trench, or a 9-inch Chamois or 12-inch Tahr.
If you managed to grass a 125-point goat head you are very fortunate indeed. You’re among a select bunch of lucky shooters who hunted the right place at the right time and nailed the best animal.
The rest of us keep on looking for that monster, hopefully like the 50-incher Des Donovan shot in Queensland 20 years ago – the largest head ever taken in Australia.
It’s no secret that over the years, the biggest goats ever shot have come from inland southern Queensland and western NSW. What are you waiting for?
This article was originally published in the Sporting Shooter February 2014 issue.