A Worthwhile Effort
By Dave Whiting
First printed in The Australian Archery Journal, Edition No 14 1991© Australian Bowhunters Journal Pty Limited
"You're in luck! I've seen the first mob of goats in about two years this morning when I was ploughing the river paddock."
The words of the property owner still rang in my ears as I parked the Holden under the shade of an old willow tree, on the rivers edge. The ploughed paddock that Dave's farmer mate had been working on earlier that morning, stretched out in front of us for about six hundred metres before rising steeply into the pine covered rocky peaks that form one of the southern arms of the mighty Warrumbungle Ranges.
My hunting partner Dave James hadn't said much as we'd driven from the homestead down to the river and I was wondering what he was thinking. It was a stinking hot day and here we were in the middle of the afternoon about to head off into an area of bush land that must surely be one of the most natural heat furnaces in central New South Wales. The black weather worn volcanic rocks that comprised most of the country that confronted us as we left the comfort of the car, drew in the heat like a magnet and then threw it back at us with twice the intensity.
Maybe Dave was thinking along the same lines as me, "What's a bloke doing this for when less than an hour away beckoning is an air conditioned pub with ice cold beer on tap?" One thing about being a bow bender; I guess you've got to be committed in more ways than one.
Dave James with his record 136 3/8" pointer.
|My mind went back to what brought us here. Less than twelve months ago, Dave, whilst returning from the Annual Trophy Taker's Bow hunting Awards at Tamworth had stopped of at this very same spot, to see if the scattered mobs of the goats he had previously hunted here some ten years earlier, still held any numbers or more importantly horn size. On that occasion during the mild mid autumn weather he had found the goats well back in the mountains.|
With time running out Dave managed to bring down a beautiful twisty horned old billy that measured close to 112 points on the Douglas Score Trophy measuring system. Several other exceptional goats were also spotted by Dave during that brief hunt, and Dave vowed that he would return.
When Dave asked me to accompany him on the return trip I can recall thinking how lucky I was to be given an opportunity to hunt such a likely trophy yielding spot.
Now as we climbed the fence that bordered the last of the improved paddocks and we entered the thick hot and scratchy bush I began to wonder whether I was lucky or if my mate just wanted someone else there to share the agony with.
I had no reason to doubt the later as during the next hour or so we threaded and sweated our way to the top of the first ridge. The going had been tough and we'd seen nothing to indicate that the wild goats we were seeking continued to live here in any number. What sign we were seeing was old and was probably as fresh as the last frost, which at this moment I found hard to imagine ever happened here.
On reaching the top of the first ridge we walked along it for fifteen minutes or so before Dave signalled that we should drop down a couple of hundred metres onto the western side. On doing so we hit a huge rock fissure that formed a flat ledge prior to dropping off to a sizeable cliff face. The ledge and cliff face ran a considerable distance around the ridge. We started to work our way along. All of a sudden the oppressive heat and gut busting walk to get into this area were forgotten. Every centimetre of this ledge was strewn with goat sign. The thickets of native pine had well used nests under them everywhere. The tell tale droppings piled high and matted with goat hair of every colour told us this had been a popular camp for the goats for many years.
Despite the amount of sign and our efforts we hunted the fissure without any luck. We then agreed, based on my hunting companions knowledge of the area to drop completely off the western face and make our way down along the gully that bisected the hill we were presently on and the next hill which was further into the ranges and looked twice as steep, rugged and timbered than the one we had just struggled across.
Our logic in deciding to take this action was three fold (although on hindsight we never mentioned that this option was also downhill and a damn sight better than trying to get up over the next hill which had started to look like Mt. Kosciusko.) Firstly we would be walking into an ever so slight breeze that was rising up the gully. We would also be getting back in behind the area where the farmer had spotted the goats earlier that day where Dave had taken his good billy the previous year.
The washaway that we were following eventually broke out and ran along the eastern face of a gully which one could imagine in the better months would develop into a raging torrent judging by the country it ran out of.
It was amazing the difference in the terrain and vegetation between this clearing and the country we had just walked, with its lack of undergrowth and the continual half darkness caused by. the blanket of native purple and black boulders. The clearing we had now entered had a sprinkle of white knee high grass and the odd almost out of place red and grey gums.
Our mutual belief that this was where we would find the goats was confirmed almost instantaneously. As we stalked past the first red gum, arrows at the ready an old nanny with two half grown kids, spooked and headed into the safety of the surrounding pine.
Moving further into the clearing we broached a small mound overlooking the top gully. What happened next is a bow hunting memory that will stay with me forever. Heading back into the hill on the far side of the gully were two ancient billies that had probably wandered these ranges for close to a decade. They were alert and spotted us almost the same instant we picked them up. I've been fortunate enough in my hunting career to have grassed a couple of billies around the 123 point mark on the Douglas Score as well as having accompanied Paul Oswald when he shot his 143 point monster in central Queensland back in 1981. Let me tell you these fellas with their battered but wide curly horns were right up there with the best. As if mesmerised I stood and watched, only to snap out of it when they started to move away along a game pad and into the nearby bush.
In a split second I had made the decision to drop into the gully, follow it up for a hundred metres or so and then hopefully cut across the other side of the gully into the scrub and ambush these two as they made their escape.
I never got to know if my hastily made plan would have worked, because as I went to move forward Dave, who I'd forgotten I was there, said "hold it mate, there's a bigger one."
Sure enough as I swivelled my head to look back in Dave's direction, coming up out of the junction of the gullies below us, where we had correctly assumed there was a watering hole, was a magnificent billy that was undoubtedly better than the two we had just watched run away.
I still relive the shot in slow motion today, it was at a distance that I would probably not have contemplated, but Dave did not hesitate, he brought his trusty old Ventura recurve to full draw and placed the broadhead smack in the middle of the big fella's chest. Living only on adrenalin and trying to escape using years of experienced instinct the mortally wounded goat burst up the same route his companions had used only seconds before. However this time I was ready for such actions and quickly cut him off. Left with little choice the billy turned and ran back towards Dave, who had by now also crossed the gully. Dave dispatched him with a fine second shot as he trotted past.
It had probably only been sixty seconds since we had initially sighted the three billies but the quality of the game, Dave's outstanding shot and the quick kill on such a noble trophy make you appreciate why you can grow to love the sport of bow hunting.
Dave's prowess with the humble recurve bow on the archery courses throughout southern New South Wales and Victoria is well known and I have no doubt after watching over his shoulder on that day that even allowing for the distance he knew exactly where he was going to place the arrow.
It was an exceptional hunting shot over a distance that we paced out on a later trip as being in excess of fifty metres.
After snapping half a roll of film out of each camera, we removed the horns and hung them in a nearby tree for collection on the walk out.
We had about an hours daylight left and despite being physically drained from the hot hike and then the emotion of such a great kill we decided to try and find the two big goats we had spotted earlier.
As we moved off in the direction they had run we could still not contain our excitement and were continually trying to guess the likely Douglas score of Dave's trophy. "A conservative guess is 120 points, but if you're real lucky maybe 130 points!" In the end we gave up and realised we would have to wait until we got back, to use the tape we'd left at camp.
A climb to the top of a partially clear saddle that separated two of the main hills in this range, found us glassing about thirty or so multi-coloured "stinkers". All were sporting record class horns. Many hunters would go for years without seeing even one of such quality, we were indeed having a good day.
In fading light we carefully tried to cut down the two hundred metres that separated us, suddenly we spotted a movement behind a boulder only ten paces to our left. In disbelief we watched as a good sized predominantly black billy stepped out from behind the rock and glared straight at us. Dave's arrow was looking good but at the last moment the goat who had obviously decided that we meant big trouble, spun around to high tail it down the hill. The arrow passed harmlessly along side the full length of his body.
Knowing this was going to be my last and only chance for the trip, I moved quickly to the lip of the saddle and placed a quartering shot through the billy's chest as he made his escape.
After a few minutes of searching under the native pines we found him on his last legs about one hundred metres from where I first arrowed him.
A few quick photos and removal of the horns then saw us heading back to pick up Dave's set out of the tree before walking back to the vehicle in the much appreciated cool of the night.
Back at camp and after some frantic searching for the tape measure, we learned what a truly great day of bow hunting we had been privileged to have.
The big white bloke that Dave brought home measured out at just over 102cm (40in) spread and just under 137 Douglas points. My black billy had a spread of just under 99cm (39 in) but without the curl, height and thickness of Dave's set only measured out at around 112 Douglas points
Dave Whiting with his own 112 pointer
surprisingly, and despite our big day we sat up well into the night drinking a few ales and recalling the days events over and over.
Dave's goat horns have since been officially remeasured and are the current "number one" computer rating with the bowhunting organisation Trophy Takers incorporated.