Mad goats and Irishmen (or ‘Two go to Tipperary’)
8.30pm on Wednesday night finds me midway between Herefordshire and Pembrokeshire, en route to Gadget’s house and the 02.45am Pembroke Dock to Rosslaire ferry. Unfortunately, 8.31pm finds me screeching to a halt and performing a rapid U-turn, as I remember that my passport is still on the kitchen table – ****, ****, and double ****. A couple of terse phone calls to my long-suffering wife, a mere 75 unscheduled and mostly illegally fast miles, and a meeting in a lay-by later, I’m back where I’m supposed to be – somewhere near Sennybridge, albeit an hour later than planned…
In the tradition of the Adamant & Gadget world stalking tour, everything was a bit last minute. What had started as a vague invitation to come to Eire to shoot a couple of trophy Billy goats had suddenly become an invitation also to stalk Sika hinds too – and by the way, ‘the season ends next week, so you’ll have to get over here this weekend’. Panic on, very expensive ferry tickets bought, leave from work begged, wet weather gear packed (it’s always raining in Ireland, usually horizontally) and we’re good to go. More panic when I get to Gadget’s – he’s forgotten to fill the Disco’ with diesel, so there’s a mad dash to the only fuel station in Pembrokeshire still open at 9.55pm. After much flapping, we’ve got a full tank, all the gear is stowed in the truck, Euros and passports/ID to hand and a Chicken Chow Mein with Prawn Crackers later, we are finally ready for the off.
We roll onto the ferry, having narrowly avoided an international incident when G’s free-range driving meant he almost ran over a customs officer. Visions of being cavity searched were haunting me until the ferry left the dockside! I forgot to mention that G’s legendary dislike of spending money meant that we were cabin-less, so we headed off to the bar in search of ‘comfy’ seats. Thankfully, the ferry was nearly deserted, so no one was particularly bothered that passengers were kipping on the saloon sofas and after approximately 20 minutes of fitful sleep and 4 hours of trying, the ferry slides into a grey and drizzly Rosslaire at an ungodly hour of the morning.
Our instructions were to drive to the first petrol station near a roundabout and wait for a man called John to meet us at 07.00am. Simple? Two petrol stations, 45 minutes, several men called John and a number of phone calls to our host later, we find the right man. Our hosts, John and Dominic, live 100 or so miles apart, so we’re off in convoy to Dom’s place in the depths of County Wexford. I’d forgotten that the roads in the Republic were 98% pothole with entirely random signage, so when coupled with G’s total absence of driving skills and the fact we were following someone else; it made for an exciting hour.
The plan was to get to Dom’s by 8.30am, have a quick session to check we were capable of hitting a bull in the arse with a banjo, transfer to Dom’s truck and head off for a couple of days hunting further north. We were using rifles provided by our hosts (Blaser R93s no less, both in the one true calibre of .270) as there hadn’t been time to get RoI Firearms Licenses sorted for this trip. As Dom’ and John are both left-hookers, they had kindly begged and borrowed right-handed bolts for us – one of the advantages of the Blaser system. So, 20 minutes of shooting at Dom’s – a couple of rounds dead centre at 100m, a plastic bottle at 200m and a neck-shot on a Roe-shaped steel plate at 300m – and we’re off to stalk big smelly Billy goats in the hills of Tipperary. The general tone for the weekend had already been set, with much barracking about who could and couldn’t shoot, who’d fiddled with whose scope etc – I don’t thing the childish giggling stopped for the next 72 hours.
No one had mentioned the fact that there are in fact several religions in Ireland – Catholicism, Sport, Alcohol and – most sacred of them all – the Fried Breakfast. Mid morning finds us in a café, wading through piles of buttered soda bread, cups of tea and a monstrous fry up of heart attack inducing proportions. I’m still not sure what’s in White Pudding but I’m still feeling the hardening in my arteries as I type. This is compounded by the fact that, in Irish eyes, the best accompaniment for White Pudding is an equally vast heap of Black Pudding…
The sun is burning through the mist and it’s shaping up to be a glorious day – mysteriously, not a trace of horizontal rain to be seen. We’re now heading into the Tipperary hills where Dom’ and John have several thousand acres of forestry and open hill stalking.
Dom’ and G are going to stalk through the woodland on high ground at the top of the valley, where there’s a chance of Fallow, onto the open hill where the goats are. John and I are heading a couple of miles down the valley to concentrate on goats out on the steep hill faces. Leaving Dom’ & G, we make our way down in the truck, parking up a little way up a track on the opposite side of the valley. This gives us a good vantage point to glass the hill side for a while – after about 30 minutes we spot a small group of goats high on the hill, with what looks like a couple of good Billys. The range finder tells us that they’re 1000 meters away, up what looks to be a 45-degree slope of mostly heather-clad open hill, with the odd cluster of gorse, scrubby trees, and bracken.
After a brief conference about whether we thought the goats were good enough to warrant a tough stalk in to them (they certainly looked big) and the best route, we pared our kit down to the bare essentials – rifle, binos, windproof tops and skinning kit – and set off to the base of the hill. We aimed to use the cover lower down to enable us to stalk straight up for the first 500m or so, and then use a series of traversing gullies to gain further ground upwards until we could get into a shooting position. There was going to be little chance of getting above the goats, so they had the advantage on us most of the time. Unlike deer, if we spooked them, they probably wouldn’t go far but would tend to move upwards to better vantage points. They were also able to pass over terrain that was too steep or rocky for us.
Sweet mother of god, that poxy hill was steep! I think John was worried we’d pared the kit down too much and that leaving the defibrillator in the truck might have been a mistake… I was to busy struggling for oxygen to worry about anything else – how the hell can the Irish manage to get a deep, clingy peat bog halfway up a bleeding mountain side? Still, John strolled and I, breathing like a pervert on the phone, staggered upwards until we ran out of the cover belt. Glassing the goats, they appeared to have moved slightly up and across the hill to our left. This meant we’d have to cross the hill at this point before climbing, just using the curve of the hill for cover. If the goats went any higher we’d be busted by being out on the open hill in pain sight – apparently they have superb eyesight that’s equivalent to us using 8x binoculars.
After another 30 minutes, we’d gained another 300m or so but lost sight of the goats – we were pretty damn certain they hadn’t gone over or round the hill but that they were in the dead ground 100-200m above us, just below a very steep outcrop. A bit more climbing and crawling later we got into a position about 60m below where the goats were grazing. Unfortunately, they were directly above us up a 60-degree slope, so we could only see fleeting glimpses of heads and horns – but on the other hand, at least two sets of those horns were very impressive indeed, measureable in feet rather than inches…
A brief whispered conversation established that we weren’t going to get a better position and that if we broke left or right, we’d spook them. So up went the sticks, of came the safety and I tried to find a comfortable, stable position on the steep ground, given that it felt like I was trying to shoot up a chimney. Time after time, I though I was going to get an opportunity as the two Billy goats jousted with each other nearer and nearer the edge, by which time my legs were beginning to feel the strain of half squatting behind the sticks. Suddenly, the larger of the two stopped and turned, face on to me, right on the edge of the plateau and backstopped by the outcrop - I could see the base of his chest, so I put the 130gn federal Fusion bullet right between his front legs and he folded on the spot. Later examination showed that it was a perfect heart shot, with the bullet exiting through the spine at the base of the cape.
John confirmed my goat had dropped cleanly, so he went to get him while I tried to slow my heart rate down to somewhere under 100bpm. After a two and a half hour stalk, I’d shot a handsome mature male goat of between 10-12 years old with a really superb set of horns – around the 30” mark with really nice symmetry, no damage and a good outward turn to the horns. Unfortunately, I also made the discovery at this point that, in my haste to carry as little as possible, I’d left my gralloching gloves in the truck. Usually this wouldn’t be an issue, other than a black mark for poor hygiene, but as anyone who has shot goats knows, they have one distinct quality – they smell like a cross between an elderly incontinent tramp, a teenage boy’s bedroom, and a Turkish urinal.
So it was with much hysterical sniggering from John that I began the unsavoury un-gloved job of caping out my trophy on the hill side. I have no experience of trophy preparation and I was simply following the technique I’d seen Andy Stalker use on a Manchurian Sika a couple of weeks ago in Kent (so cheers for that Andy!). Only this time, with the great smell of stale urine and musk invading the atmosphere. There was no point in hauling the carcass of the hill as no-one would be stupid enough to eat a 12 year old Billy goat, plus the local hill farmers consider them to be good luck, so we had to be a bit discreet coming off the mountain. After 20 minutes of goat wrestling, I’d achieved what Phil Leggett has now confirmed is a pretty decent if surprisingly heavy and unbelievably stinky cape.
John and I are off the mountain and recovering, with one very nice goat’s head cooling off by the burn. John’s ringing Dom’ for an update on their stalk. Apparently G shot a Fallow calf not long after entering the forestry but they’ve not seen any goats yet, so we update them on our success (just to keep the competitive edge) and leave them to it.
About 20 minutes later, Dom’ calls back to tell us that G has shot a Billy goat but that they’re having a few extraction issues as it’s on the other side of a deep ravine. This message is delivered between howls of laughter as he’s watching G cape out his goat. G has taken the whole smell issue very seriously indeed and is now wearing protective overalls, latex gloves and armpit length calving gloves – allegedly it was like a scene from Silent Witness…
John and I head off back up the valley in the truck, goat no.1 safely sealed in several layers of industrial refuse sack. After a mile or so, we pull off the road and head up one of the forestry tracks to rendezvous with Dom’ and G. That flipping hill was a hell of a lot easier in a Toyota Hilux than on foot! Trundling up the track, we ran into another group of goats – a bachelor group, nothing very spectacular but it showed how well these stocky beasts conceal themselves in the scrubby replanted areas of woodland. Parked up at the top, we could hear Dom laughing at G as he hauled his caped out goat up the hill. John and I helpfully sat on the bank in the line of sight and drank cups of tea to encourage them up the near vertical slope – friendship knows no bounds.
After a bit of a debrief, it turned out that G had had a few difficulties with Dom’s rifle (which was to plague him right up to the point on Saturday that Dom’ realised his scope was five clicks out of windage). He had eventually nailed his Billy goat after a missed shot, but not until he’d chased him over two ridges and almost lost him in the gorge – the killing shot was at 154 metres. In the spirit of friendly competition, a measuring tape was found and it was time for ‘Who Shot the Biggest Billy?’ Size honours go to G, whose goat horns measured out at just less than 31” with massive girth, whereas mine measured 29.75 inches. However, my goat’s horns were slightly better looking and had less fighting damage. Both will make superb trophies when they get back from Phil’s in a few months, albeit smelly ones.
Rifles stowed and goat-stinking kit packed away, it was time to hit the road and head towards Dublin. Friday would see us stomping around the Wicklow Mountains and bogs, chasing after very wary Sika hinds, suspicious as hell of any movement around them in the penultimate weekend of the Irish stalking calendar. I’d like to say a huge thank-you to Dominic and John for their generosity and excellent company, and I’m looking forward to the next leg, when the boyos come over here to stalk Muntjac and Roe bucks later in the spring.