Nick Latus catches up with a spectacular trophy goat after a hair-raising trip through the Irish countryside at breakneck speeds crossing three county borders
After a very successful hunt in County Galway last November, when a number of fallow does fell to the rifle, I eagerly arranged a follow-up visit before leaving to return before the end of the season and hopefully grass a few more Dama dama.
My host for the weekend would again be Tommy Hynes, a larger-than-life Irishman with a sharp tongue and an unquestionable talent for hospitality. After the relaxing coach trip from Dublin airport, I was once again received by the Irish legend with a reputation for doing the do and delivering in the hunting of game. The expletive-riddled conversation soon turned to the next few days’ hunting. Booked in to shoot fallow, I flung him a curve ball and chanced my arm. “Would it be possible to hunt one of the famous feral goats that inhabit the Emerald Isle?” I asked.
The look coming from the Gaelic man’s face was one of shock and horror. He had access to many areas thriving with fallow, but goats were a different matter. However, not wanting to dent his reputation of being the ‘man that can’ and receive the associated reprisals, he stared me out and said: “Let me make a few calls, Englishman.”
When I last visited Galway, I had attended a carcase handling seminar by the Wild Deer Association of Ireland. There I had the privilege to meet David Dunne of Roscrea. David had, like Tommy, access to many areas to hunt, and ably assisted my concerned guide by making a call to close a colleague who lived on the Limerick-Kerry border, an area apparently lifting with goats of biblical proportions.
The return call soon put a smile on Tommy’s face. “You’ve got your wish, Englishman, you pillaging plunderer. A goat it is.” Despite the well-meaning insults, I would be hunting one of Ireland’s famed ferals known for their huge horns with David’s friend.
Soon after, in the small hours of the following morning, Tommy and I were racing down myriad country roads at speeds that defied belief, using all the capabilities of a Land Rover to enable us to reach Roscrea before dawn.
On arrival at David’s house, the pleasantries were swifter than swift and the quick exchange of vehicles was more akin to a bank raid than a hunting outing. The weather had been foul throughout the journey, but during the last leg to the hills it seemed to get better the further south we went. Pulling up in a typical picturesque Irish village, I was introduced to my guide Mike Kelliher and his father Dennis. Both, as it turned out, were avid stalkers and varminters, Mike personally taking out over 300 foxes a year on his permission.
I made the third transition to another vehicle and, handed David’s rifle to use, I couldn’t help wondering when the balaclavas would be handed out as well. As we headed towards a wood-clad hill in the distance, the new day looked promising. I had been informed the day before that the targeted goat herd inhabited some dense forestry that surrounded a quarry close to the summit of the hill before us. The plan was to drive up the quarry road and stop north of the quarry itself. Here we would exit the vehicle and stalk in towards where the goats had last been seen.
Exiting the vehicle, I was soon brought up to speed about our quarry’s expected whereabouts. I was told the herd numbered about 30 animals, and in a more melodramatic fashion with much emphasis: “Three of ‘em have horns like a Harley Davison’s handlebars.”
Being an English hunter, my usual footwear is high boots and gaiters, much to the concern of my Gaelic companions. In Ireland, every man and boy hunts in wellies owing to the nature of the terrain, which is predominantly bog and marshland. Undeterred, I shouldered the rifle and followed Mike, who shook his head in despair as he picked his way through the tussocks. The more I hunt in Ireland, the more I can see the sense of wearing wellies, as I soon sunk past my boot tops. But I wasn’t going to let my pride take a hammering, and kept up pace behind my guide.
Half an hour later, the clearing surrounding the quarry could be seen. Mike indicated that we should keep low, as the big Billies usually settled close by on a grassy ledge that overlooked our intended position. Crawling forward with me now in the lead, we snaked in the last 20 metres, and edged an inch at a time to spy over a hummock of turf and stones.
I couldn’t believe my luck. My guide had been quite correct, as there, 200 yards across the quarry, stood the biggest Billy I have ever seen in life or in a book. His white coat shone amid the green sitka spruce, sporting a beard Santa would have been proud of and topped off with two handle bars any Hell’s Angel would have sold his mother for. This was truly a goat of immense proportions, and thankfully it was totally oblivious to our presence.
As there was no bipod fitted to my borrowed rifle, I decided to move forward another 10 metres to a heap of quarry spoil, which would give me a good shooting position. Moving forward, I finally made it to the earth bank undetected, and steadied myself for the shot. After a few deep breaths, I settled the crosshairs on his chest and touched away the Sako’s trigger.
The muffled bark of the moderated .308 was followed half a second later by the sound of the bullet strike that brought the big goat to its knees. The Billy raised his head in defiance of the inevitable, so I placed another round into its vitals just to be sure, and the beast expired. Looking round, Mike was already on his feet and close to breaking into an Irish jig. His plan had come together like the final piece of a jigsaw – a testament, I’m sure, to his knowledge of the area. This was a goat that certainly wouldn’t be bettered in my lifetime; the only worry now is how I’m going to persuade the war office to let me hang it above the fireplace.