Billies in the mist

SONY DSCUndaunted by the less than perfect visibility, stalking guide David Virtue heads to the hills in search of a trophy wild goat for his client.

We set off into a cool and misty morning. Our destination was about half an hour to the south, the Cheviot Hills on the Scottish border. We arrived just after 9.30am, with a thick mist still shrouding the hilltops.

Scott has been shooting with us since he was 18 years old. He shot his first roe with me – a doe on a very windy morning – and has spent a great many years with us since. Scott’s progress in both his personal and professional life has mirrored one another, and has all centred on sport. A gifted novice rugby union player, he soon turned professional for Northampton Saints. His shooting goals have similarly increased, and from that first doe he progressed to a fine gold medal roebuck. Today though, we had our sights set on a specimen goat.

“Visibility could be tricky,” I remarked to Scott as we exited the vehicle. We stopped at the base of the hill, and Scott decided to scout the lower valleys to start with, hoping that the sun would burn away the mists on the high tops. This would increase our options if we didn’t have any luck down in the valleys.

After a short hike to a suitable vantage point, a thorough glassing of the first valley revealed nothing. There was the odd roe deer, but they were not on today’s quarry list – typical.

After half an hour of fruitless searching we decided to head into the next valley and try our luck there. I had seen a few really nice Billies on my last trip, so it was just a matter of locating them again. We climbed on silently through the tussocky grass on the steep hillside and there, just as we rounded the crest, we spotted our quarry. Silhouetted against the horizon were some goats. The Swarovski binos revealed three Billies, but I could see immediately that they were all quite young – not what we were after. We decided to push on further, beyond the young goats, and see if there were any more mature Billies further up the valley. Despite our sustained efforts, it was to no avail: the next valley revealed nothing.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAFortunately, the mist was beginning to lift, and we decided to take our chances on the tops. The wind was with us, so it was just a game of exertion as we worked our way uphill. We stopped at the required elevation, the mist slowly receding, and worked our way into the wind, angling upwards or downwards as the mist would allow. Suddenly our luck changed, and the gamble we had taken promised to pay off. About 300 yards in front a Billy appeared among a small group of goats, just visible through the rolling mist. He looked to be a good beast, and one that I would certainly want Scott to have a go at, if only we could get a clear view. As quickly as he appeared he disappeared again, lost in the fog clouds. He looked settled, however, and I reckoned it would be a relatively easy approach if we kept quiet enough.

Turning to Scott, I came up with a plan. “I reckon there will be a good few Billies in there, Scott. Let’s go on a bit further and sit tight till the mist rises. They seem happy enough at present and we don’t want them spooked – got to save those rugby legs.”

Cutting the distance a little more without incident, we settled down in a natural hollow to wait on the mist rising. It wasn’t too long before we could see the tempting sight of legs – goat legs – but the mist soon billowed back in again.

“Looks like a long wait for us, Scott,” I said, unwrapping the small picnic we had brought. It was lovely being up in the peacefulness of the mist-shrouded tops, looking down on the scenic views below. It wasn’t long before the mist began to retreat, banished by the burning rays of the sun.

Lunch done, we headed up towards where we had last seen the Billies, chasing the fading mist. One by one the goats started to appear, ghostly outlines before us. We were as close as we were going to get now, about 150 yards from our quarry. Surveying the bare ground we tucked in behind some rocks and Scott set up his bipod in readiness for his shot.

SONY DSC“Can’t believe I’m shaking,” Scott whispered to me as he steadied his rifle. I picked out at least two shootable trophies and directed Scott to the first one.

Taking a steadying breath Scott targeted on to the lead Billy, with good horns and a nice spread. He was tucked in safely amongst the group: a magnificent beast like that doesn’t get to be that size by being careless. However, our patience was soon rewarded. The Billy decided he wanted to show off his prowess, and leapt up onto a nearby rock cluster with an agility that defied belief. It was a perfect shot scenario, a clear sight picture against the hill that provided a suitable back stop.

Scott took his chance. Calmness overtaking nerves, he slipped off the safety and took up the trigger. The rifle report shattered the morning silence. The goat kicked up, half stumbled, and started running downhill towards us. He looked to be in full charge and unhurt. At 70 yards he tumbled head-over-heels, dead, as the other goats scattered over the rise and out of sight.

“I thought for a moment I was going to have to take another shot,” Scott said in obvious good humour. “It got me going a bit, doubting my shot placement there,” he added. “Aye, it did run quite some way, he was a strong one right enough.” I concurred. “Right Scott, let’s go see what he’s like then.” He proved to be a great Billy, in his prime at about seven or eight years old, and carrying thick horns with a fine curl.

The grin on Scott’s face was enough to show how much this hunt had meant to him. An exciting stalk in stunning surroundings, to eventually take a superb medal-standard trophy – it doesn’t get much better than that.

For trophy goat stalking contact David Virtue on 07866 901019 or www.dvsporting.co.uk.

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