Sizable birds, the Cape Barren Geese, with a happy shooter.

Nailing the grey bombers

The honking of a flock of Cape Barren geese feeding about 300 metres away told us we had not disturbed the squadron of big grey birds below as we shuffled into our conga line 500 paces long, heads down and hopeful. Our guide, Chris (Rockjaw) Rhodes, who operates Rockjaw’s Hunting and Fishing Tours (, had warned: “Stay below the rim. Don’t look over. Let the birds fly to you. If they see you. That’s it. Game over.”

Now it was game on.

We all got into position and waited in the open. I pushed a couple of No 2 shotshells into the side-by-side tubes of my hard-hitting Beretta Silver Hawk and snicked two others through the middle fingers of the left hand. An old elephant hunter’s trick for quick reloading of double rifles, I’d been using the technique for decades of single-shot rifle and shotgun use.

The honking stopped and we heard the muffled sound of Rockjaw’s quad as the ex-farmer tried to round up the flock to send them over the centre of our spread. Always hit and miss, you can participate in six sets in a day and not have a goose fly over. It had happened to me twice this day, but I was hoping the third time would finally prove lucky. And it did.

There sounded the whoosh, whoosh, whooshing of wings slowly flapping and just above my head up rose a whopping bird with pink feet and green cere. I took the overhead swing and shot the bird dead at 30 metres as it passed. I reloaded quickly as the 12-gauges boomed up and down the line. Some 60 birds had sailed overhead, their two-metre wide wings zooming them along at phenomenal speed. A bunch  turned and two split towards me, trying to gain altitude. I got a quick left and right on the rear bird, swinging four metres in front for the vital head shot, and it stalled, like a fighter jet suddenly raked by tracers, the long neck dropped and the big bird plummeted to earth, landing with a ground-shaking whuump!

Two for three, not bad. It would be my best result this trip on what has become an annual trek south to the Tassie islands.

Each year for four days in February a team from Australian Hunters International fly down to Launceston, then take a Tasmanian Airlines milk run across Bass Strait. We pass most of the 52 islands in the Foveaux group to the little village of Whitemark on Flinders, the biggest of them with its cobalt waters and white sandy beaches. The former home of aborigines, sealers, shipwreck survivors and colonial farmers is a sporting paradise, one of the nation’s best kept secrets and home of duck, quail, turkey, peacock and, best of all, Cape Barren geese weighing 3.1-6.8kg (7-15lbs).

Most of our group chase pest wallabies in down time, beating the tea-tree bush, dodging snakes and grassing the fleet-footed little marsupials. My long-time mate Robert Borsak usually leads the throng, but he was disappointed this year having only taken 30-odd wobblies. Me? I go fishing every time in preference. This was our first time with Rockjaw, after our usual farmer hosts Rob and Judy sold up and moved to NSW, tired of the grazing life and add-on costs of the Tassie islands.

It was a novel experience fo me and Dr Emmanuel Gregory riding a twin, 115hp Mercurypowered Marlin boat to sea to catch whiting! But, despite the over-kill rig, we did no good.

This year the bag limit for the January-April season was just five birds, way below the 12 we first experienced when Robert and I joined a group of dead-keen Victorian gunners 10 years ago. Bird numbers were down, according to a survey by Tasmanian Parks and Wildlife Service officials. A couple of blokes shot their bags easily, most notably country boy, Graham Jamieson, car and gun salesman, out shooting us all with an antique Holloway and Naughton bespoke hammer gun. With its long, 36-inch (91 cm) tubes, Graham took the grey bombers way out.

I struggled this season, with few birds in range. In the end, thanks to Rockjaw’s persistence, our team did manage to bag out. It took time, but who cares when you’re having fun? We took home ten breasts apiece and mine, after two days in red wine and garlic marinade, sliced then cooked fast on a hot wok, tasted bloody wonderful.




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