The sun was beginning to sink below the opposing ridgeline as we stalked to within comfortable shooting range of the goats. It was autumn and Rob had invited me to join him on a reconnaissance of a property he had regular access to.
He had been eager to take his teenage son out looking for deer sign. Within minutes of reaching the property the young man had accounted for a good size fox, but an hour or two later we had yet to spot any trace of deer.
Rob was the first to observe two light shapes, sky-lining themselves, on a spur to our north. There was a moment of debate ‑ were they sheep or goats? Once I had trained the binoculars on them it was plainly obvious, I was looking at a pair of goats.
We approached the duo by moving up a gully, which ran parallel to the spur they were grazing on. While we stalked into position the goats had continued feeding and moved off the ridgeline. Eventually, once we were standing where they had initially been, we spotted them either side of a shrub in the next gully.
Rob then informed me neither he nor the rest of his family eat goat, offering me an opportunity at both of them. My first thought was to try and convince him of his foolhardiness, my second was of a nearly empty freezer at home.
So it was with the mental image of a full freezer that I carefully closed the distance to 200m and took up a prone position. The angles offered by both animals were far from ideal, I was above them and they were both quartering away. While I had no concerns about quick ethical kills, I felt over-gunned for goats at 200m. I could see no way to avoid significant meat loss.
For the moment I put the thoughts of roasts, chops and sausages out of my mind and concentrated on my breathing. The billy fell instantly to a shot that entered high behind the left shoulder and exited low in his chest. To my surprise the nanny did not bolt at the report of the rifle and sudden death of her mate. Instead she stood her ground gawking. I cycled the bolt, shifted my body ever so slightly to the left, exhaled slowly and gently squeezed the trigger. The nanny fell to a shot placement almost the mirror image of her mate.
Having done most of my hunting in the Top End, opportunities to enjoy wild goat had been few and far between. As such I was eager to explore the culinary possibilities these two animals presented. Goat is reportedly the most consumed protein in the world and I had certainly eaten plenty of it in the Middle East, bringing curries flavoured with cumin, cardamom and cooked ghee to mind.
On the other hand my family had never eaten goat and are far more accustomed to the flavours Australians’ associate with lamb. With these two competing flavour palates in mind I settled on smoked leg of goat with Turkish-style accompaniments for my family’s first meal of feral goat.
The feral goat in Australia
Domestic goats were introduced with the arrival of the First Fleet in 1788. Their escaped, or deliberately released, descendants have since spread to cover almost a third of the continent. The goats’ ability to eat most vegetation, combined with early sexual maturity and high fertility (goats breed twice a year, with twins and triplets being common) has resulted in major impacts on native vegetation and pastoral land. The gender of goat offspring is close to 50/50 and their only significant predators are dingoes, wild dogs and humans. With female goats typically weighing about 45kg and males reaching about 60kg, even a small mob can have significant effects on vegetation, water and soil.
While the effective management of goats is difficult, and complicated by the fact they hold some commercial value, they are an excellent target species for recreational hunters looking to put quality meat on the table. Any calibre matching, or bettering, the terminal performance of the .22-250 Remington is suitable for humane kills at appropriate distances.
When setting out to find goats, the game trails to and from permanent water sources are a great place to start. The size of a herd and its home range are dictated by the availability of food and especially water. The area of the home range is smaller in zones of abundant food and water, anywhere from one to 13.5 sq km and significantly larger in semi-arid regions, from 14 to 460 sq km. When water is abundant, herd sizes are usually small; when water is scarce, herd size increases, and in times of drought herds made up of hundreds of goats will congregate near permanent water.
The goats’ preferred habitat is hilly or rocky country, enabling them to find shelter, and elevation for security from predators, in the hills and water in the gullies and valley floors. Goats tend to have a preference for weeds and can often be found grazing on blackberries, thistle and briar. This makes weed-choked gullies about halfway up ranges another logical place to start looking.
Actual feral goat distribution maps vary over time and between state government departments. What they all have in common is a high density in outback Queensland, New South Wales and South Australia, plus the adjoining areas of western Victoria. If the distribution maps do not show feral goats close to you, do not be too disheartened. I have personally seen a few small mobs in NSW State Forests that are not covered by the latest Department of Primary Industries distribution map.
Smoked leg of goat
- Upper leg of goat bone-in
- Two tablespoons freshly cracked pepper (reduce this by half if you don’t like things a little spicy)
- Two tablespoons coarse sea salt
- Four cloves garlic
- Two heaped tablespoons fresh rosemary
- Olive oil
- One lemon
- Mesquite woodchips soaked in water
- Two onions
- Four long chillies
- Olive oil
- Lemon juice
- Sea salt flakes
- Two cups sunflower oil
- Four garlic cloves very finely chopped, or grated
- ¼ cup lemon juice
- ¼ cup cold water
- Sea salt (fine or flakes)
Make a rub by crushing the coarse salt, pepper, garlic and rosemary in a mortar and pestle. Once all ingredients are thoroughly crushed add a tablespoon or two of olive oil and mix well. Rub the mixture all over the goat leg, being sure to work it into all of the gaps between the muscles. Set the meat aside, at room temperature, to take on the flavours of the marinade while you prepare your smoker.
If you haven’t already, start soaking a good couple of handfuls of woodchips in water, I used mesquite for this recipe. Most of the time I use an upright, bullet-type smoker, with a water pan, but this recipe would work just as well on an offset smoker. Despite the fact I have grown up in the decimal age and have to reach for a calculator to convert Fahrenheit to Celsius, I’m much more comfortable smoking food using temperatures in Fahrenheit. This is almost certainly because the vast majority of television shows, good cookbooks and recipes on the subject are American.
I aim to have the smoker stable at 200 degrees Fahrenheit (93 degrees Celsius), with the water pan at least three-quarters full. To achieve this quickly, and to avoid a dramatic drop in temperature, I use a chimney to start the charcoal and once white hot, I pour it into the smoker’s charcoal tray, and then add hot water to the water pan. Once the smoker has reached a stable 200-220 degrees Fahrenheit you’re ready to add the meat.
Immediately before putting the goat leg on the smoker I like to zest a lemon or two over the meat. Put the goat on the top rack of your smoker, and add a handful of woodchips to the charcoal. With the smoker at 200-220 degrees Fahrenheit, it should take about three hours to cook, but the size of the leg and amount of fat and connective tissue will vary this time. It’s best to use a meat thermometer to judge how cooked the meat is. With a smoker you really want to avoid constantly lifting the lid to check the temperature, so a remote probe-type thermometer is a must.
An internal temperature of 140 degrees Fahrenheit (60 degrees Celsius) will result in meat cooked to a medium doneness, 150 degrees Fahrenheit (65.5 Celsius) equates to well done and anything five degrees past that will be well done. The average sized upper leg of goat will probably take about three hours to cook to medium. Continue to add woodchips throughout the cooking process to ensure a good flow of smoke.
While the meat smokes, finely chop four cloves of garlic. Using a small food processor, stick blender, or by hand with a whisk if you’re a bit of masochist, slowly trickle the sunflower oil into a bowl with the garlic. Just like mayonnaise, or a hollandaise sauce, you are trying to make an emulsion. Too much oil, too quickly and the emulsion will split. Once all the oil is added you should have a thick mayonnaise-type sauce. Slowly add the lemon juice as you whisk. Then if the emulsion is still too thick, slowly add ice-cold water until you have the desired consistency. Add salt to taste, pour into a container and set aside in the fridge.
Once the internal temperature of the meat has reached 140 degrees Fahrenheit, or your desired level of doneness, remove the meat from the smoker and set aside covered to rest for 20 minutes.
While the meat rests make a salad of rocket and sliced tomatoes, dressed with olive oil, lemon juice and salt. Grill onions and long chillies (a mix of red and green, halved lengthwise) over a hot grill.
Finally, warm some Lebanese flat bread and carve the meat from the bone. Serve the sliced goat, topped with char-grilled onions and chillies, salad, and flat bread on large plates in the middle of the table to share.