HAWAIIAN GOAT HUNT

By

Brent Fassett


 


Camoed up…long sleeve T, vented pants, ball cap and boots. Daypack with a fleece, face mask, ditty bag. My bow and arrows were in the airline case. It was the Tuesday before Thanksgiving and I snuck out of the condo into 75 degree pre-dawn Maui morning. I walked up to the lobby to the professional stares of staff-they had no idea what they were seeing, but eccentricity was not to be visibly frowned upon. At 6:00 am, Rodney Perreira of Maui Hunting Safaris pulled through the gate and threw my gear into the back of his S-10. It might as well have been a transmogrifier.

We drove for about an hour around the south end of Maui, up onto the slopes of the Haleakala volcano, leaving the developed coastline behind and traveling up to agricultural land. By the time we were around the corner of the island, evidence of civilization was mostly gone, except for the deteriorating single lane asphalt road and an occasional passing truck. On our right was the blue Pacific enveloping the barely visible Hawaii, on our left were the vegetated slopes that led up to the volcano cone. Green grasses and trees of the slopes intermixed with the black gashes of lava left by the ancient floes that created the island. I should have taken more pictures. The beauty would make your heart ache.  

Rodney and I chatted on the way. He was fifth generation Hawaiian, raised on a cattle farm. He had been guiding 15 years or so on the 17,000 acre property. The working cattle ranch ran from the ocean up to 9,000 feet, bordered on three sides by the National Park. It didn’t take long to get to talk of family and travels and I knew Rodney was “good people”.

We pulled off the road and drove up to 4,000 feet and pulled into a turn off. Being a naïve optimist, when I was booking the trip, I asked about the quality of the meat. Rodney had suggested that I could take a trophy goat first and then a meat goat. The trophy billy goats were 10-13 years old and apparently not much for eating. We parked, I put on face camo and I asked Rodney what supplies to bring. Not much…we would hunt a few hours, then come back to the truck for lunch and finish off the day. With a two bottles of water in my pack, we were off.

The day soon grew warm. We worked mostly universal mountain terrain….narrow game trails, ridges and draws covered by trees and bushes that often limited visibility to 20 yards. Vegetation was often over our heads and viewpoints were infrequent. The unique aspect was the black volcanic base, sometimes covered with dirt. I would call it tropical alpine. We hiked for about an hour and didn’t see anything other than birds. Ahead were large grass fields-the goats would come off the higher slopes to the fields and we were trying to intercept them as they moved between their bedding grounds and the grazing fields they shared with the cattle.

We crossed over lava ridges that were 50-100 feet tall and back into gullies, following game trails and only rarely seeing broad vistas or the ocean stretching below. Rodney motioned for a halt and we raised our binoculars. We spotted a couple of goats within 100 yards-gender unknown. We crept closer trying to get the wind in our favor. We had probably gone another 75 yards when Rodney signaled another drop. As if by apparition, there were goats everywhere…in front, to the side, behind. The cover was so thick you could only glimpse body parts. We waited…and more goats would appear. Guess we were in the middle of them. To our right, there were two good billies. I could see them at 20 yards, and they weren’t aware of us yet… the foliage was too thick to contemplate a shot. We waited…..

The biggest billy, nearly black with a rust colored beard, bedded down in front of a small rise that was as tall as his bedded back. There were probably 40 goats, or at least parts of them, visible. I had no shot. There didn’t appear to be goats behind us, so I signaled to Rodney (who was right beside me) that I was going to try to crawl back and up, cut over and come down on the billy using the his backrest ridge as cover. The first 20 yards went fine….then I saw that while there were no goats right behind us, there were plenty above my intended target.  I had a strong wind blowing from the billy to me, and it helped cover the clattering. I did my version of a patient stalk, which was really a bull in a lava shop. No sooner did I try to cut over, I had lost my landmarks. Worse, there was an open field of baseball sized lava rocks 50 feet wide between where I was and where I guessed the billy was bedded. I couldn’t see Rodney. Hand and knee crawling was out of the question….I would bleed out before the goat. I tried placing the bow ahead a few feet, then scooching on my butt and that was a little more tolerable. Of course, every five feet I moved a goat or two would spot me. Soon, they decided that this was no good and they started heading out. It didn’t take long and I was pretty sure every goat had left the area. I hadn’t reached the billy’s ridge, so I kept crawling.

Rodney came back into view twenty yards to my left and he was vehemently signaling “straight down!” I couldn’t see a thing. I crept a bit closer…closer…I saw a few more goats down the slope so I knew some were left. Rodney upped the intensity of “straight down!!”… I glimpsed the contour that could be hiding my quarry. Black hair. I stood up…and the billy was laying against the ridge 10 feet away.  I drew my bow and stepped closer. I had no shot..the billy was bedded hard up against the ridge covering his vitals. I crept closer…he had no idea. Finally, I was literally a half a lateral step from being able to step on his back…and I was at full draw.

Panic struck. I was at full draw at point blank range on a really big goat…and I had no idea where to shoot an animal from directly overhead. I tried to calculate where my arrow would go in relation to the sight that was several inches over the shaft. I failed to calm myself…and sort of eyeballed a shot that I thought would angle enough to go through lungs…at 3 feet. Release. The goat bolted and the rest of the goats scattered. Rodney came over.

”Did you get him?”

"I think so”

“We need to find blood.”

We found the back third of the arrow first..no blood. Then we found the front two thirds, covered with blood and a chunk of flesh stuck in the carbon shaft. We searched a bit in the direction the goat had gone. Within 5 minutes Rodney found a spot of blood. We began the track…a quarter sized spot here, a half dollar there. It was easier to find blood on the black lava than it was in the grass. We tracked…small spots, bigger spots. Blood was drying in the sun. Under trees, across lava flows…..a splatter in the grass, I watched Rodney crouch to ankle level in the grass to find spots. We tracked for two hours, and at times it looked like the blood was increasing.  We took a break. It was hot, the scenery was spectacular, I had that feeling in my stomach…

We resumed the track and found a couple of pools blood that looked like the billy had bedded. We came to an interior fence line and crossed over into a huge rolling grass field backed by blue Pacific. We could see dozens of goats in the field. We glassed….none looked wounded, none were bedded…certainly there was no corpse laying about and it would have been evident in this field that was more golf course than cow field.

We looked another hour, scouring the field. Finally, Rodney looked at me.

“You can shoot another one.”

We headed to another part of the ranch. We tried a few more stalks, but nothing came close. Rodney directed us to a water hole that the goats would frequent at this time of day.  I finished off my second water bottle. It was about 1:00pm and the sun baked the lava.

We traversed a few more hills, spotting a few goats, all the proverbial “none of what we were looking for…..”.  We reached the water hole that was a tractor tire fed by a pump with mid thigh weeds off to one side. There were a few goats on our way so we skirted down a line of trees and brush and belly crawled into the weeds near the waterhole.

Within a few minutes the herd we spotted on our way started working up to the water hole, just as Rodney had predicted. A few came to the water, including a black one that I thought looked pretty good. I didn’t have a real shot.  A rust colored billy was working our way. Rodney whispered that he was big…really big. Rodney was excited, he had not seen this billy before and he was worth trying for. So we did. Goats meandered all around, up to the water tank in front of us and down to our left. Our target billy was taking his sweet time. The wind was swirling, we sat tight-nearly flat on our backs. He came closer and the closer he got, the more Rodney focused. He certainly had nice horns and long hair. He got to about 40 yards and happily grazed. We thought he would keep coming, then ten yards to our right a little black kid stuck his head out and looked straight at us. The jig was up…the kid bleated and 50 goats took off. We stood. I could tell from Rodney’s longing view that the big one was gone.

The time of day and distance from the truck dictated that we start our trip back. We worked through thick brush. After about another hour of hiking, we saw a group of goats heading down a path in front of us. I ranged 30 yards. The last billy turned to a quartering away angle and I drew. I had time for a good sight picture and I let the arrow go. I saw the arrow fly and felt very good about the shot…much better than the first point blank shot. We waited 15 minutes or so and walked up to where the goat had been standing.

Just beyond, we found the intact pass-through arrow. Though the cover was thick, I felt sure this would be my goat….it was just like on TV. We found several good spots of blood on a trail through the brush and a tuft of hair. Then…nothing. We looked everywhere….nothing. We looked for an hour….not a spot more. The terrain was thick and he could have gone anywhere, but we found not a bit of sign. Rodney said that usually fatally wounded goats let out a “death bleat” and he had not heard the sound. Het thought the wound was not likely fatal and we should keep heading back. I think he was too steeply quartering and I hit him in the back through the hams. The light was starting to fade.

We hiked a bit more and Rodney hissed there were goats to our right.  The cover was really thick…goats would appear and disappear. The first one we were after was just out of a shooting lane when he spotted or winded us and spooked out 25 yards. As he did, a brown/rust billy appeared to our left front. I stepped in front of Rodney and took two stalking steps. The billy disappeared into a small draw, covered by bushes.  I took a few more careful steps and he reappeared. I drew and settled my 20 yard pin on his heart/lung area. I doubled checked my sight picture, took a pause and let the arrow fly, remembering to follow through. He took off right to left and I heard a plaintive bleat. We waited 5 minutes or so…the sun was setting. I went toward where I had shot the goat and Rodney headed on a vector to where we had seen the goat take off. Within a couple of minutes Rodney shouted that he was a fine goat.

The arrow had gone behind the first rib at a more acute angle than I would have predicted, buried nearly to the fletching on a 30” arrow with a pretty ghastly entry wound flowing blood profusely. We took pictures and Rodney took out his tape measure. The rough spread between horn tips was 27” and the horns were almost 25”. Rodney took out the same Piranta knife that the sheep guides had used and boned out the hams and tenderloins.  This arrow had broken inside the chest cavity.

Rodney led the way and I packed out the meat and horns ….we were a ways from the truck and light was fading fast. The Pacific and lava slopes were mostly orange as we hiked over rough terrain.  After my first archery kill, I was not too worried and feeling proud of the outcome, if not the process that had brought me there. We saw several axis deer. Rodney had a small flashlight and we started using that as we traversed up and down black lava cuts that were covered with the dirt, trees and vines of volcanic jungle. I was dead tired, hungry and dehydrated. We were coming up another draw when I slipped and fell. We both reacted with the rational “is your bow ok?” It appeared fine, with a slight gouge in the metal sight. I looked at my left hand… it was flowing blood freely from a lava puncture about an inch across and deep into the meat at the base of the thumb. Rodney had a bit of water left to wash it out and produced a latex glove for a bandage.

We walked the last 30 minutes to the truck. I dropped my pack and grabbed a can of Sprite from the cooler and slammed it down, followed by two more cans of fruit juice in short order. I looked down at my gloved hand and each finger was stretched with a half an inch of pooled blood. Rodney had the first aid kit out and put a decent bandage on the cut. We packed up the truck, threw our lunches in the front and backed out. Rodney called his wife and told her we were fine and on our way out.

After a slow dark drive behind tourists late on their drive from Hana, and an errand stop, Rodney dropped me at the condo at nearly 9:00pm, still fully camoed, face painted, bloody and muddy- showing the wear from a full day. I hauled my gear through the lobby to the condo and greeted Katy, who was hosting a relocated friend with her new boyfriend for a dinner. I was vey late and it was fine. They were grilling fish on a deck overlooking a beach. I dug out duct tape and rebandaged my hand.  

Katy poured a cocktail from the blender. The new boyfriend had hunted pigs on the island since he was a boy. They humored me by listening to the story of my day as we ate.  Only after they left did I look in the mirror and realize what a vision they had been talking to.