goat hunting

Billy-goat scruff: the hunt for the imperfect rug

It’s all about the challenge. The hard yakka. The successful stalk. The elation of the kill. But it ends in failure

Hundreds of goats had been swarming out of the gorges but only one of them was good enough to hunt. He was sensational. His long black coat, with a beautiful tinge of dark tan through it, was thick and luxurious. He was a perfect rug.

That excited me beyond words. Our youngest daughter had moved out and her boyfriend had tanned his first deer hide. She wanted a few more for the new place. My parenting instincts ignited. This shaggy black goat represented an outstanding opportunity to thrill them both and win the respect a hunting father deserves.

The minute I saw him I knew I had to get him. Besides, I needed an excuse to get fit again.

goat hunting
Rug appears high up on a distant ridge. He proved elusive for a long time

The thought of dragging my limp legs and shiny backside into goat country to get the bugger was not thrilling. The hills here are not exactly Alpine but it’s more than 300m vertically from the creek to the top of the big hill and the easy way up averages a one-in-four slope. As in one metre up for ever four you move forward.

Goat hunting usually dictates climbing up the hard way. One-in-two in places. And worse.

The dread of burning thighs and heaving lungs, however, was outweighed by the rush I got when I pictured myself presenting the untanned hide to the young bloke. He’d transform it into a rug that would be part of their new life together. She’d appreciate the effort. The house would be one step closer to a home.

The first time I saw Rug, as I came to call him, I was up on a ridge looking at mobs spread all over the countryside. Rug was one goat among hundreds — one very specific goat.

I’d have to get close to place the shot just right to avoid blowing a hole in the rug. There would have be no exit wound, and a point of impact that wasn’t part of the final rug. A front-on shot to the brisket, no exit, would be ideal.

goat hunting
Sometimes Mick got real close to Rug but couldn’t get the right shot

Over the next two weeks I climbed those bloody hills in search of Rug. Sometimes I’d see him on a distant crest, once way down in a gully, but never near enough for the right shot. Either the other goats would spot me first and they’d all bugger off, or I’d pant and clamber until I had no pant or clamber left.

But I did get fitter.

All the while I was driven by the reward at the end, the thought of seeing that luxuriant rug on the floor of the kids’ house. The expressions of thanks and love on their faces. All this effort was going to be so worth it.

goat hunting
When Mick climbed above the mob, he emerged to find already streaming away

Then I saw him on the ridgeline above the house. I scrambled, grabbing boots and rifle and knife. Charging out, I saw the whole mob coming down the track towards the house. I couldn’t believe it! Rug was coming to me.

Taking no chances, I headed the long way around and up so I’d be above them, but one billy spotted me. I slinked into dead ground but when I emerged the whole mob was streaming away again. Not perturbed, I opted to head them off: I knew where they’d go and I’d be there waiting.

I grimaced against burning legs and bursting lungs, powering straight up the slope to cut them off. I slithered through the barbed wire fence, amazed I didn’t get hung up on it. My heart thumped my ribs when I reached the top.

Nothing. The bloody goats didn’t head up! They’d gone down the track on the other side.

goat hunting
Goats flee after being spooked

I moved on, fighting to stay upright on the loose rocks down the other side. That’s when
I saw them.

They’d looped around low on the slope and I was just 20 metres from them. Unseen, I let my camo do its job as I withdrew into the shrubs and looked for Rug. There! Halfway back in the pack, coming through. 

Half the mob ambled past and Rug appeared in my firing zone. I aimed high on the base of his neck, knowing this wasn’t the ideal shot to avoid blowing a whole in that plush pile but with little choice; I just hoped the frangible Winchester Deer Season projectile would open up and go to pieces at such short range.

Rug dropped on the spot when I fired. The mob sprinted away. 

goat hunting
The Winchester Deer Season in 6.5 Creedmoor minimised coat damage from such a close-range shot because it is nicely frangible

Full of adrenalin and pride and excitement, I slid down to Rug, who lay with his head tucked under his chest, his distinctive horns displayed like a trophy and his stunning hair backlit by sun.

Man, I was ecstatic. 

Better still, there was no huge exit wound. The bullet had mushroomed and then mostly come apart, and now rested just under the skin on the far side, a glimmer of copper jacket poking out of a pinhole. Beauty!

I unsheathed my knife and stretched out Rug to start skinning him. And my heart broke.

I realised I was looking at a thin and wispy coat with no underlying winter fur, just a scaly scalp with sparse hairs and a storm of dandruff. I was gutted. Rug was a dud.

goat hunting
Scaly, sparse and useless: Rug was not a rug at all!




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Mick Matheson

Mick grew up with guns and journalism, and has included both in his career. A life-long hunter, he has long-distant military experience and holds licence categories A, B and H. In the glory days of print media, he edited six national magazines in total, and has written about, photographed and filmed firearms and hunting for more than 15 years.