Frustrated in his attempts to hunt red stags while in Scotland, Paul Childerley turns his attention to feral goats – and bags a Galloway billy for his efforts
I’ve always wanted to hunt the Scottish red stag in the rut but the best time always clashes with my game shooting. The only availability that suited me and my good friend, Colin Lockerbie, was a late September date so we crossed our fingers for a drop in temperature and the red stag rut to be in full swing. I had planned on taking the Sako 85 with the heavy varmint barrel in .308 calibre because of its knock-down power and accuracy at longer distance in windy conditions. I already had a Zeiss Conquest DL 3-12×50 zeroed so I didn’t really want to swap scopes.
I headed to the range to push my skills to the test and shoot out to 300 metres. I have been using Sako ammunition for the past year in all my other calibres and have been really pleased with its performance on the range and in the field. For this calibre I chose the super-hammerhead 150gn soft point. After a couple of shots at 100 metres it was an inch and a half high centre; it went to 200 metres but was a couple of inches low and slightly to the left as there was a mild wind blowing from the right.
This particular model of rifle is great as it has a single set trigger which is perfect for the longer shots, as there is minimal movement before the trigger is squeezed and the bullet is away. My confidence was increasing so I pushed back to 300 metres, got myself steady on the bipod and took three consecutive shots. I then walked down to the target to see that all the shots were low and left, so after a few calculations my final shot was deemed to be good. Although I was happy with the zero and the distance shooting, I still returned the following day to go over the drill again and practice the long distance shooting with the .308.
I set off on my voyage north to arrive in time for dinner and a beer at a pub in Dumfries. The plan was to meet at 6am, before dawn, so we could get to the area before first light. We met at the estate office where we changed vehicles and headed up to the forestry where we were planning to find a stag. Unfortunately, the wind was blowing with heavy showers passing through but the temperature was very mild for the time of year and for Scotland. Colin explained that a few stags had been seen and heard the day before, but this morning was going to be hard work as it was windy and mild, so my fingers were crossed.
Stalking up between the first forestry block, it was initially extremely hard work as the ground was sodden; there was also a layer of moss and grass over the boglike ground so I never knew if my foot was going to stay on top or sink. This area has commercial forestry plantations which are harvested for timber so different ages and sizes of tree are sprinkled throughout the lower grounds. The red deer live and thrive in this area as they have plenty of cover and can head out to the hills in the evenings to feed.
Colin’s plan was to stalk to the edge of the forestry block where we could possibly catch the deer coming back from the hill to the daytime cover. And once we were on the edge of the forestry block we started to see the hinds heading back in. All was going to plan although no stags could be seen or heard. We stalked along the edge of the forestry block for a further half a mile and came across several other small groups of hinds and calves but still no stags. The optimum time to see a stag had passed so it was time for Plan B.
Colin suggested we should head up the hill for a feral goat as he had glassed several large groups of them while we were stalking along the side of the forestry block. We set off along a small burn which opened out at the foot of the hills to a vast expanse of heather, bilberry bushes, moss and rocks. As we trekked through the knee-high cover, it slowly started to incline and so we headed towards a large boulder where we could glass the hills and make a plan of action.
We could see two groups of goats on the face of the hills: one was 30 strong with two billys tagging along; the other was slightly closer with 20 animals including two billys, one black and white, the other a stony grey rock colour. Colin explained about the population and its history which was fascinating. I hadn’t realised that goats had been there since Saxon times and were an assortment of colours from black and white through to ginger. The Galloway Hills has a strong holding of 500-600 goats which have to be managed and culled due to their voracious appetite. When the weather becomes harsh in the hills and the population is slightly too high the goats will head down to the forestry where they strip the bark from the mature trees and devour the young saplings.
After a discussion we decided to go after the grey billy in the smaller group as these goats were positioned slightly better on the east side of the hill, giving us a better option for a shot. The goats were not tame in any way, shape or form; they are truly wild and thrive on a bleak mountainside so any unusual movement would be spotted in an instant and they would flea over a ridgeline, so making the next approach even more difficult.
We decided to set off using the undulating ground which was covered in heather and bilberry bushes, and would afford us good camouflage. Once we were beneath the group we scaled up the face of a bank which was covered in short white grass. Crawling over the top of the bank we had to check each rock ledge to our left and right to see if there were any goats tucked up for the day, as just one goat could blow our cover to the rest of the group.
We were all clear over the next couple of mounds and we pushed to get to the following ridgeline enabling us to look over the bowl where the goats were heading to. I’ve been hunting in the heat of Africa and the freezing conditions of Romania, and I’m used to stalking for many hours. But this was an intense, serious workout because we had to get to a position quickly before the goats disappeared out of range.
On approaching the ridge of the bowl we expected to look down upon a group of goats 100 metres away, but they had seemingly disappeared. After several minutes of glassing with the binoculars we could see they had snuck out of the lower side of the bowl and were heading up the adjacent hill, travelling more quickly than we expected. Colin explained they were heading for a less windier location and we’d have to crawl out quickly around the edge of the bowl to have a clear shot across to the adjacent side.
Once in position I set up the bipod and bedded into the moss comfortably. Colin and I had a discussion about the wind speed and the distance. He ranged the animals out at 280 metres which was well within the capabilities of myself and the rifle. After a few minutes of watching, the group started to move again with the grey billy dragging his heels at the back, giving me plenty of time to let him present me with a perfect shot.
The shot was on: a perfect broadside, 280 metres, wind from right to left, safety catch off, set trigger forward, on to the calculated spot and light squeeze on the trigger; the bullet was away and the strike seemed to take forever to get there. First the billy dropped then the impact noise drifted back to us. What an exciting experience!
Relieved and exhausted, we sat for a few minutes. taking the time to discuss the morning’s events and took some time to take in the beauty of the Galloway Hills, and the view of the forestry and lochs down below us. We had to mark down where the billy had dropped as he was rock coloured and we knew he would blend in with the surroundings. This wasn’t a problem as all we had to do was head slightly downwind and we could smell him. He was a lot bigger than I expected, with long matted hair and two swept-back horns, with the right one slightly broken. He wasn’t a red stag in the rut, as I’d hoped for, but it was still an exhilarating hunting experience, topped off with a shot to be proud of.