Taking the feral challenge


Dave Pearce with an insight into the feral challenge

Finally we spotted them about a kilometre away, grazing up the side of a hill in the morning light. A black and tan goat had betrayed his feral mob and we knew to load-up and make ready for some shooting action. Containing our excitement we decided to watch the mob carefully until every one of them had moved over the hill then, with the goats out of sight, we were able to drive to the base of the hill unseen. On foot we moved swiftly and quietly to the top, not wanting to spook any stragglers that might be just over the ridge.

I was hunting with two friends and as planned we spread ourselves along the ridge and moved forward as a hand signal indicated goats had been spotted. We were in the perfect position, wind in our faces, sun on our backs and the mob 100m below. From our elevated position we could see in all directions around them, especially up the opposite hill where they’d most likely run so we edged forward into comfortable shooting positions.

On the rocky ground we were using a combination of bipods, backpacks and shooting sticks to build stable positions, then with everyone sorted and spare mags at hand the ‘shoot when ready’ call came over the UHF. Within seconds the first shot rang out and with an authoritative thump from a .308 hollow point, the lead billy dropped. It was on! The left-side shooter worked the left edge of the mob, the middle shooter on the middle and me on the right.

This technique saw us systematically target any breakaway animals, slowing their escape and confusing the rest, though also caused a few double hits as we converged on the last of them. In less than a minute and all inside 150m, 18 goats lay motionless and while it’s not always that easy, it’s satisfying when the feral challenge is achieved.

So what is the feral challenge? Well it started about 30 years ago when I was hunting with the SSAA Conservation and Wildlife Management team in a National Park. I was proudly telling the senior ranger we’d taken 15 goats that morning from a mob of 30 but instead of congratulating me he barked back: “Why did you let half get away – your job’s to take the lot!” That stung and ever since I’ve made it my policy to plan hunts carefully and doggedly chase down any escapees. To drop every goat you see, that’s the feral challenge!

Open season on ferals

If you grew up in Australia, like me, you may not know just how spoilt we are to have unrestricted feral animal hunting, where property owners encourage you to take every one you see. This is in stark contrast to some countries where hunters enter lotteries or pay a fortune for permission to hunt just one animal.

Here, feral herbivores such as goats and deer lack significant wild predators, leaving population control to Australian hunters. If we don’t seriously cull herbivores they’ll likely go through painful ‘boom’ and ‘bust’ cycles and trash the bush in the process, so my passion has long been for hunting feral animals. I get to enjoy a challenging hunt, solve an ecological problem and bring home large quantities of free-range meat to share with family and friends – a triple whammy.

Goat damage

I’ve hunted goats on private properties, National Parks and conservation reserves during the past 40 years and have seen first-hand the benefits of reducing their numbers. Infested properties have nothing green left on the dusty ground and trees are pruned bare, six feet up their trunks. On properties with persistent hunting the bush bounces back and gives native plants and animals a chance. Many small bird species, like the Purple-backed Fairywren, depend on the shrub layer to survive as it provides shelter from predators, nesting sites and feeds the insects they eat. And the iconic Yellow-footed Rock Wallaby is also directly displaced by goats.

Be part of the solution

Goat herds can increase by more than 60 per cent a year, so the traditional game management approach of just taking what you need shouldn’t be applied to feral animals. If recreational hunters stop shooting when they’ve taken a trophy or filled the fridge, the land manager won’t see them as a serious control option and may turn to other measures such as mustering, aerial shooting, trapping and baiting.

Farmers and ecologists don’t want managed large populations of ferals for easy hunting. If you’re invited on a property to cull ferals, take it seriously and hone your skills so you can drop as many as possible. Hunt hard and with persistence and demonstrate that recreational shooting has a legitimate place in feral animal management. Never fear you’ll hunt yourself out of a hobby, as I’m yet to hear of a mainland property which doesn’t require ongoing shooting to prevent re-establishment. Maintenance hunting is very rewarding as you have to work a bit harder and smarter to find and eliminate dispersed smaller mobs.

Setting up the perfect hunt

Dense bushland is the hardest. You can stalk carefully or wait in a hide, a tree stand on a trail or over a feeder or water point, but you’ll likely only take a couple of goats in each engagement and, with every encounter, the mob becomes more wary. Ideally you want a clearing where they go to feed, then you adopt a position between them and their cover to target more of them as they move back to that cover.

Use binoculars

Open rangeland is the friend of the goat culler. Climb to a ridgetop, don’t skyline yourself and scan the terrain with binoculars. Move to the next ridge and repeat, as more time looking and less time walking pays dividends. Look in shadows as goats will bed under bushes in daytime and can easily be missed and once an animal is spotted, assume there are others nearby. Plan your stalk from downwind using gullies and ridges for cover.

UHF radios can help if hunting with others. You should be able to manoeuvre into a shooting position about 100m from goats, ideally above them with sight-lines to areas they’re likely to run (usually uphill or towards recently occupied cover). Importantly, before the excitement of shooting starts, clarify which direction shots can and can’t be taken, so none are angled towards fellow hunters or sent over a ridge.

Bullets and shot placement

Don’t shoot randomly at a mob – choose an animal and target it. Centre chest shots in line with the front leg from a .243 Win cartridge or bigger are deadly. A rapid-expanding polymer tip or hollow-point projectile is ideal and will fragment into the chest, shredding the lungs and arteries and causing instant death.


I recommend a rangefinder to help better plan your hunt, as across gullies it can be difficult to estimate distances after 100m so I use this device to map an area before I shoot. I calculate my holds and mark where I’ll stop shooting, which for me is about 300m.

The ideal goat rifle

This will be set up so it’s easy to carry and quick to shoot, so start with a comfy sling. Weight is the classic compromise – light is better to carry and heavy is great to shoot. A heavy gun forgives small errors by the shooter, recoils less and holds accuracy during long strings of fire, though with a backpack full of goat meat you won’t appreciate a heavy rifle. I recommend a rifle and scope in the combined 4kg range (scope and rings 1kg and 3kg for your rifle) so if you’re comfortable carrying more, beef up your barrel as that’s where weight adds value.


A 3-9x power scope is all you need. Most shots are taken on 4-8x power, giving a good field of view so you can see what’s happening around your target. Up close or when walking 3-4 power is ideal, while for sighting-in and spotting details 12x or more is desirable. I favour front focal plane mil-marked reticles so I can hold over for distance and in front to lead a moving animal.

Interchangeable magazines

I recommend having several 10-shot detachable magazines and a mild recoiling calibre, so several fast follow-up shots can be taken. I’ve tried lever and pump rifles but find bolt-actions more accurate with nicer triggers and very reliable when under pressure, so find what works for you.

The perfect rest

This depends on where you hunt. On flat open hills, lie prone behind a bipod or if you have a boulder, log or car bonnet, a shooting bag is a quick rest. Toughest country is waist-high bush where you need an elevated position to sit or kneel behind shooting sticks or a small tripod. In some places it might be worth carrying a tripod you can stand behind, though big ones are slow to deploy and difficult to move. There’s no perfect solution so experiment with a few.

Cartridge selection

I like these based around the .308 case as they fit in a shorter and lighter action and have a good balance of impact energy and moderate recoil. Some favourites I’ve used are .243 Win, .260 Rem, 7mm-08 Rem and .308 Win, shooting projectiles in the 90-150 grain range. All these loads will drop goats (and pigs) in their tracks easily to 300m and if you zero for 200m, you can hold dead-on for chest shots between 25 and 250m. The newer 6mm or 6.5mm Creedmoor cartridges are also excellent for goats.


Goats can range from outright dopey to highly attentive and with the sun on my back and wind in my face, I’ve walked toward them across open ground without spooking them. However, larger mobs which have been hunted recently are often very twitchy, usually with several ‘look-out’ nannies ready to raise the alarm. I’d leave the ghillie suit at home and just wear comfortable landscape coloured camo or plain colours. I always wear long sleeves and pants for protection against sunburn, brush, snakes and, when I drop prone behind the bipod, it’s nice to have knees and elbows covered. I believe staying down-wind and using terrain for cover is more important than clothing.

Hearing protection

I use electronic earmuffs for this as they work well with a sun cap and actually aid my hearing when stalking. While muzzle brakes are good for reducing recoil, spotting shots and rapid firing, they’re also very noisy and make ear protection essential.


Precision Rifle competition is great practice for goat hunting, teaching you to be stable in all sorts of positions using a variety of obstacles. It helps hone your skills in realistic field situations, engaging multiple targets at various distances and shooting swiftly under time pressure.

Butchering and eating

If culling large mobs I usually leave big smelly billies for the Wedgetails and take the back legs of young billies and females. I skin the legs and take them off at the hip and knee joint so I basically just carry the rump home. I use cloth bags inside a plastic liner in my backpack and hang it to cool before packing whenever possible, then use a selection of slow cooker recipes to feed family and friends. If I spot goats near the car I’ll take whole young ones and billy legs for my dog or mincing. So hopefully that has you all fired-up to take the feral challenge, test your gear and skills, cull a mob of goats, have a blast, help the environment and feed your family.

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