Lucky last

So glorious. Nature is the world’s best artist and this morning she is throwing together colours and painting them across the width of the eastern horizon. The various shades of bright orange and yellow coordinate with the dull hues of layered hills and snow-daubed ranges. I cannot help but admire the beauty; it literally stops me in my tracks.

They are random tracks, these little boot prints of mine, as I have no route planned and no target species on my ‘Wish List.’ I’ll go where the breeze blows me, keeping it in my favour if I can. I will be satisfied with anything, or with nothing.

Up near the tops, a patch of colour amidst a terrace of interwoven matagouri catches my eye. Highlighted by the morning sun, the eye-catching silver almost shimmers amidst drab grey. Eventually it moves, then it vanishes. In that instant, my route and my quarry are chosen.

Careful to utilise the topography and the slightest waft of northerly, I stalk closer to the terrace. Once within easy rifle range, I sit myself down, nestle

my ample rear into an accommodating tussock and lay my rifle aside. It’s loaded now, ready to go, but there’s no rush.

Watch. Wait. Enjoy the moment, the place and the day.

There are a lot of goats in the matagouri but only one or two are visible at any one time. They munch and crunch. They crawl on their knees to get at spring growth beneath the hard spiny shrubbery. Their horns, wide and curled, are polished as they go. Their coats— black and silver, black and gold, blue and brown—are groomed too.

Eventually, I conclude all the goats are mature billies, bar one. There is one female. She is young, still immature, but with the onset of spring and a flush of nutritious growth she will blossom. Every male goat here knows it—that’s why they’re keeping her such close company.

I realise, as I sit, watch and wait, I have forgotten my box of ammunition. That means I have three bullets—a magazine full. That also means I must be very selective. All those big billies, all those big wide horns, but I choose instead the skinny, immature hogget.

Why? Anyone who has witnessed what happens to a little she-goat on heat and in the company of a large mob of horny male goats will understand why.

When the opportunity presents, I send the hogget off to heaven. I also shoot an older arthritic billy whose coat is the ultimate caprine camo. The rest run free, though they are loath to leave without their future love interest.

Fifteen wide-horned stinkies climb out of the gully-head in single file. To shoot another would be easy, very easy, but I held fire, unloaded the rifle and put the magazine and lone bullet in my pocket. Over the years I’ve learnt to always, always, keep at least one bullet spare. A golden rule strictly adhered to.

As the love-lorn goats straggle over the top of the catchment, I’m well on my way out, utilising a game trail on the contour. It skirts the worst of the matagouri and bluffs and leads me to the 4×4 road-end and from there it’s an easy stroll back towards my ute.

It’s a shadow that alerts me—a moving shadow amongst motionless shadows—I have no idea what lays ahead, but my hand instinctively goes to my pocket and the rifle mag there. As quietly as I’m able, I load my rifle then drop to my knee and wait.

The shadow slowly takes animal form, it is long-legged and narrow, almost chamoislike in shape but its horns are not tall or hooky.

It is a black goat, which eventually steps out of his own shadow. There is something about the way he moves, something odd about him. He is nothing I want to eat or keep but I sense an obligation to shoot him, so I use that last bullet now.

Geesh—he is a bloody awful goat—skinny—and besieged with parasites inside and out. His horns are broken too; God only knows how he broke them both.

It was only as I went to drag him off the track, I saw the pus ooze out of those broken horns.

The long-suffering goat had chafed himself raw in places. His horns were broken and frayed because he’d rubbed the tips on rocks to try to ease his pain. Eating had become secondary to trying to get relief from constant torment.

Come summer and flies would have been attracted to the oozing pus and blown him. The resulting maggots would have burrowed deep beneath the horn shell and into his head. Imagine the misery. Imagine having no way to end it all.

Nature may paint a pretty picture sometimes, but it can be cruel and unforgiving too. Being a hunter is not always about taking the biggest or the best. Sometimes it’s about animal welfare— taking out the unwell, the unlucky or the unfortunate. Sometimes it’s about being merciful, and I was grateful today I had inadvertently saved my last bullet for the animal who’d needed it most.

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