Hunting alone in rugged country has its own hazards, even more so when the temperature is over 40 degrees. For David Kendrick, the biggest risk was dying of embarrassment!
Warraweena Conservation Park, east of Beltana in the northern Flinders Ranges is breathtaking country at any time of the year but rather unforgiving during the heat of summer. So, the park is closed to both tourists and hunters from early December through to late March. I was extended the privilege of hunting while the park was closed, giving me a run of the whole place.
Just before Christmas, with temperatures reaching 44 degrees it was going to be hard trekking into the isolated springs in search of goats but hey, you take your opportunities when they come. This trip would be just me and my newly modified Remington 700 in .308 – modified by adding a Hogue stock, CDI detachable magazine kit and two 10-round mags.
The familiar 800km trip was uneventful, except for the 35 goats walking past the shearer’s quarters as I unloaded my gear! By 11am I was parking the Prado in a creek bed and then setting off towards a spring 4 km further on. I travelled atop a low range to get a better view of things; in this heat the goats wouldn’t be up in the high peaks but I find a bit of elevation is always an advantage. Five goats were spotted seeking shelter down near the creek bed. A hurried decent put me 60 metres from them but just two were visible. Two quick shots and they were down, the other three disappearing into the tangle of tea tree in the creek bed. One thing that really stood out was the pad these goats had been travelling on, it was like a bloody highway! I only needed to follow the highway to find more.
Another kilometre later I arrived at a narrow gap in the range with shady gums and steep rocky outcrops either side. A black billy rose from the shade 50 metres above me; no other goats visible so I take the shot. The confines of the gap now come to life with animals reluctantly leaving the cool of the shade. With the 10-round mags working a treat I drop 16 before it’s over. Looking through the gap at the terrain in front of me, I decided 40 degrees is too hot to push on to the spring on the first day. Hell, last time I hunted this country in the summer I was a fit 40 year old shearer!
The next day I planned to follow a creek bed to another spring rather than the cool-weather method of climbing the steep ranges surrounding it. That changed when I spotted several goats feeding up high; the day had just begun so I’d take what I could see and began the long battle to the summit. Arriving at the top I was disappointed to find one solitary nanny (duly dispatched) and the rest of the mob 400 metres below and fast departing! From my high vantage point I could see goats grazing on the next ridge, the spring located on the other side of it. That meant climbing all the way down and starting over.
Reaching the bottom I followed the creek bed for a while before clambering up the side of the next ridge. Positioned resting over a rock ledge, I had three unsuspecting animals 100 metres in front with eight more in the creek bed 150 metres below.
The first three went down without fuss (love those 130gn Taipans) followed by four in the creek bed. Another two hours of trudging had me on top of the ridge 800 metres past the spring I’d originally set out for. Following the terrain into the wind, alternately climbing and dropping, the goats fell in multiples. I finally shoot my way out leaving 25 behind, taking the day’s tally to 33.
The third day found me in search of a spring in an area I hadn’t hunted. Arriving there, I climbed the nearest high point to survey the area. Atop the pine studded feature I had a commanding view of the surrounding ranges and valley floor. Goat pads converged on a small section of creek bed. I caught a glimpse of the spring and goats could be seen making their way towards it. Over the next few hours 13 were taken before I headed back.
Only 500 metres from the Prado, a kid bleated somewhere above me on the pine covered slope. “Too bloody hot to climb that now and I can’t see it anyway”, I thought. More bleating, mature goats this time. I couldn’t walk away from that so up I climbed. Eventually catching up with the source of the noise, the first shot was good and I continued to climb and shoot with eight goats taking the morning total to 21.
Day 4 was the most embarrassing day in my hunting life. I wanted some photos of the spring and surrounds from the previous day. By 6:00am I’m preparing to pick my way through the pines and come out overlooking the spring. Shouldn’t take too long – I’ll just take20 rounds. Bugger it; better take 40 in case things get busy.
A single black billy is at the spring when I arrive. From 80 metres it’s not a difficult shot and the billy falls – straight into the bloody spring! I work my way down to drag him out, taking some effort to get him on to the bank with his belly full of water. He’ll do for a photo with me so I begin to set up the tripod in the creek bed. What unfolds over the next two hours is almost comical.
60 metres away two billies wander over the top of the bank so I swap the camera for the .308 and deal with them. I continue with the photo session then walk up to inspect the latest casualties. As I think of composing another photo, three billies approach from the opposite bank. Again I change camera for rifle and dispatch each one. Now back to the spring to pack up the tripod but nope, it’s not going to end there. As I squat in the shade by the water, three goats come trotting down the creek bed. The camera captures their approach at 50 metres, 40, 30, 20 – that’s close enough! Camera down, rifle up and three more to the tally.
The shots had barely stopped echoing when a dozen showed up on the bank again at 60 metres… this was getting ridiculous. More photos followed by more shooting with three falling before the others retreated. When I finally finish packing up my gear and head up see where the rest of the mob went I find the remainder standing in the shade 50 metres away, again the Remington worked frantically. Peace is restored and I returned to the spring for more photographs. More bloody goats, 12 of them drinking at the soak 50 metres away! Photo first then fire; start with the shaggy billy and then… OUT OF AMMO!! How embarrassing…
After knocking over 32 for the morning I could now only “shoot” with the camera. As I continued to take pictures more goats arrived until I was surrounded by at least 50. Goats behind me, in front of me, to the side, on the cliff above me and not one round left – what now, fix bayonets? All I could do was to hang my head in shame as I left, passing within 20 metres of the closest mob. Several stamped and snorted as if to say “Yeah, on ya bike mate!”
I reached the car and found five goats sheltering amongst the pines just 40 metres away. A large gum tree stood a few metres from the vehicle on the edge of the track, blocking their view and allowing me to access more ammo. Right, tiptoe across the track and slide the rifle slowly around the tree then into it again; four more down make it 36. The day wasn’t over yet though, there was more embarrassment to come.
The next spring is usually totally off-limits to hunting due to its accessibility and popularity with tourists and campers. Any goats at the water would need to be pushed back into the hills before I could shoot them. Easing along the creek bed I spotted movement 150 metres before the spring. Five goats rose from the creek and headed up an adjacent gully so I bailed from the Prado and prepared to follow.
It seemed straightforward; stifling heat, slow moving goats – should catch them within 300 metres and 10 rounds will most likely be enough. Better take two magazines instead, don’t want to repeat the morning’s disaster. I fail to locate the mob by the estimated 300 metres. Hmm… let’s have a look over this saddle. Ah ha, gotcha! The mob has pulled up in the shade 60 metres away so I kneel and begin. One down, two down, three… what the? Beneath the trees some 120 metres down the slope more goats materialise from the shadows. The bolt works in double time as the first magazine empties. Change mags and keep counting targets as they drop -16, 17, 18… I don’t believe this, out of ammo AGAIN!!
For the second time in the same day I take the ‘walk of shame’ past the nervous survivors standing 40 metres from me as I head back to the vehicle. Although there were fewer escapees than my earlier “defeat” it was damn embarrassing to be caught out again. I brightened up a little when I came across four of the survivors while driving back along the creek bed. A quick 100 metre stalk ended with all four added to the tally bringing the day’s total to 58.
At the end of four sweltering days the final score came to 130 – not too shabby for a broken down ex-shearer with a bolt action.