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

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