Hooked on a Territory treat
Mark Daley and Mark Little tell the tale of their first, but definitely not their last, magpie goose safari.
With crocodiles, 95 percent humidity, high temperatures, cane toads, snakes, the cost of airfares/hire car/accommodation, early morning starts — you need to be crazy to be a visiting magpie goose hunter!
To echo the sentiments of Robert Ruark in his classic book The Old Man and The
Boy, if you need to be crazy to be a magpie goose hunter, then neither of us wants to be sane.
The decision to travel to Darwin to hunt Magpie geese was taken after only one-and-a-half-minutes of careful consideration. Then followed five months of anticipation and planning.
This included frequent phone conversations with well-known FGA identities, Graeme Eames, Rick Foster, Rod Drew and the 'goose whisperer' himself, Bart Irwin, to obtain all the secrets of a successful trip.
It was exactly like preparing for duck opening.
Further preparations included watching every magpie goose-related DVD and Youtube clip available, and re-reading all articles on Magpie geese ever published in Feathers and Fur.
Then followed the purchase of FGA air-mesh camo tops and matching pants (which proved perfect hot-weather hunting clothes), and booking suitable flights, accommodation, ammunition and a hire car just added to our excitement.
The only challenge to our brilliant plans came exactly a week prior to departure: the elder Mark seriously injured his back when the boat slammed into a big wave while snapper fishing on Port Phillip Bay.
The injury was to prove severe enough to prevent him returning to full-time work for five months, but not severe enough to prevent him loading up on painkillers and making the trip to Darwin.
Our departure day coincided with the FGA Annual General Meeting at Geelong, so as soon as the meeting ended, we drove to the airport, checked in our guns and luggage and had a preparatory drink or two at an airport bar. After an uneventful flight, we arrived in Darwin, collected our hire car and checked in to our accommodation.
Awaking early the next morning, we punched the address of the NT Branch of FGA into the GPS and headed out to the clay target range to meet the locals and dirty our barrels in preparation for a big week of hunting.
We are both primarily hunters rather than clay-target shooters, but to say that we were very impressed by the facilities, hospitality and culture at the range would be a massive understatement.
The NT mob appear to demonstrate exactly what FGA is all about — balancing member needs and expectations in relation to conservation, hunting and claytarget shooting. Their political influence and public promotion of hunting and shooting in the Territory is awesome.
We collected our goose-hunting ammunition from the branch and received directions to Harrison Dam, where we would hunt that evening and the following day.
Not knowing there were plenty of crocodiles in Harrison Dam, we waded out knee-deep in the water and found suitable trees to hide near while awaiting the flight of geese returning to the wetland after spending the day devouring the local mango crops.
We didn't need to wait too long before
hearing shots from near the dam wall and seeing large flocks of geese following the tree lines back into the dam.
For the next thirty minutes the action was fast and furious, with us both experiencing difficulties estimating the range and the leads on such a big bird.
Next morning was the reverse of the night before, with the geese leaving the dam for a day in the mango crops and copping punishment from the hunters lining the flight lanes.
Our shotshell to goose success ratio was not very impressive, having fired off 150 rounds between us for the first two sessions but only accounting for 28 geese.
It was pleasing that after the first two shoots, we finally worked out the leads required for consistent results, and our ammo supply appeared safe.
On the way back to the vehicle to dress the geese ready for the freezer, the younger Mark demonstrated his fear of snakes by being the first person to walk on water for 2000 years when he almost stepped on a harmless, metre-long python. This was quite an achievement as, due to his hunting partner's crook back, he was carrying two armfuls of Magpie geese at the time. Mark also showed what a true gentleman he was over the full week, by doing all the lifting, carrying, breasting and driving to avoid further injury to his crippled hunting mate.
Next morning we met the crew from NT Field & Game for a shoot over abandoned watermelon stubble. At first glance, you would not believe that the derelict paddock would attract a solitary crow but with daylight, Magpie geese, whistlers and burdekin ducks arrived in their hundreds.
We all had barrel melting shooting for the next hour or so before adjourning to some nearby shade to tell stories, clean the geese and, being in the high 30s (at 7.45 am), enjoy some ice-cold refreshments. One of the highlights of gathering in the shade was when some of the fresh goose breasts were sliced, crumbed and lightly fried in garlic butter. Simply magnificent tucker!
Wednesday morning was another early start, meeting Bart and the NT boys at a roadhouse at 5 am in readiness for a session of defending the mango crops from the marauding mobs of geese.
This was our first experience of shooting within the mango crops and we were not disappointed. The geese arrived in large mobs and were eager to start feeding but the hunters were waiting.
With a 6.45 am start, we were back at the car by 7.30 am with full bags and huge grins on our faces. We visited the mango farm with the Territorians again the next day with even better results. What an experience!
On our sixth day in Darwin we were pretty well exhausted so decided to take a day off to recover by the pool and get ready for our return to Melbourne the following night.
However, we could not return without one last shot on the mango crop so headed out early Saturday morning for another excellent shoot.
We had 19 kg of frozen Magpie geese breasts to take home and we also fed many of the people in the adjoining motel units. The balance of the birds we gave to the Aboriginal Renal Unit to distribute among their patients.
The 700 shotgun shells we fired over the week were evidence of the sheer volume of hunting we experienced and we still haven't stopped boasting about the trip to anyone who will listen.
Our 2016 trip is already planned, but this time we are taking our sons with us to combine awesome hunting, unbelievable hospitality and some quality father-son time doing what we love best.
Flights and accommodation are already booked, so bring on the 2016 NT magpie goose season.
Mark Daley is an FGA Board Member and Mark Little is a Board Member of the GMA
(l-r) Mark Daley, Mark Little and Bart Irwin