Counting Geese

Stephen Barnes Takes on the Hoards

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Shooting|March 2023

Late December 2019 saw us on a planned excursion to Darwin in the Northern Territory, just in time to catch the end of the Magpie Goose season.

As fortune would have it, my step-son Logan Martin Skeen was also in Darwin holidaying with his mother Megan Martin from the Kitja tribe where I live. With some delicate and thoughtful negotiations it was ultimately agreed that I could get access with Logan to take him out hunting for a couple of days.

On the appointed day my girlfriend Abby and I picked up Logan early in the morning from a resort beside Palmerston just south of Darwin.
It was my 61st birthday & starting off well with two people very dear to my heart, Logan, my step-son and Abby my girlfriend, both much loved!

We'd only travelled about 35 kilometers southwards towards the hunting property and experienced a blowout on the rear left wheel, BUMMER.

My experience with hunting is that one faces issues along the way and one can view them as either obstacles or a challenge, it's our choice? Is the wine glass half full or half empty? Am I going to be pessimistic or an OPTIMIST? My choice is to go for it and invest in the moment.

I quickly pulled over to the left near the old WW 2 pipeline to Darwin, ensuring we were well clear of the Stuart Highway and SAFE to change the wheel. In reality it only took a few minutes of strenuous work to swap with the spare and we were mobile again going southwards on the Stuart Highway.

We arrived almost on time at the property and went straight to the workshop where my good friend 'John' worked as a boilermaker /allrounder. The workshop was deathly quiet and no John to be found, so I elected to backtrack to the property main house about a kilometer away.

John was having breakfast and invited us in for coffee, which was greatly appreciated, the drive and wheel change had left me feeling decaffeinated!  Shortly after, we all drove down to the workshop, John in his Nissan and us in the Toyota Troopcarrier. Here we loaded his all terrain vehicle with a small 'esky' containing drinks, food and ice, our firearms and ammunition, knife kit, phone, camera, etc.

Being prepared has GREAT advantages as the buggy was loaded in minutes and we were off to scout around the property. Our chief quarry was Magpie Geese, AKA 'Anseranas Semipalmata' to the scientific community; a game bird present in their millions. The Northern Territory Conservation Commission carries out a count pre-season each year to determine numbers for duration of season and bag limits. It's a rather PEDANTIC exercise as 2 ex-Conservation Officers with GREAT experience have told me they cannot count the NT population to the nearest million!

What I know from over 50 years of hunting is that Magpie Geese coexist well with man and can even be seen at golf links, football fields and mango plantations in Darwin. This was NOT the CASE back in the 1960's when one had to travel out to the wetlands to encounter Magpie Geese in any huntable numbers.

'Burdekin Duck' (Tadorna Radjah) has also benefited from landscape & environmental change, occasionally seen in 1960's they are now PROLIFIC, also living in Darwin.

We were seeing and hearing the honking of Magpie Geese even before we left the workshop, we were in Magpie Geese heaven, floodplains and a nearby rice farm. This day I was shooting my 'William Powell, SLNE' the 53rd English gunmaker after just completing the 52 English 12-bore gunmaker's shoot, 2 3/4" nito proof.

Logan loved the travelling in the buggy; a new experience for him and expanding his greater world view. Soon we came to a man made dam with perhaps 600-800 Magpie Geese congregated on it and I elected to get out and walk in on them. Every one has two eyes and consequently that means there are over a thousand eyes intermittently scanning the surrounds for potential DANGER.

By crouching on the walk into the dam, I was able to get close enough to be within range when they lifted OFF, the din of over a thousand wings NEEDS to be experienced. I dropped 3 birds with the two shots, and NO I didn't specifically aim to shoot these 3, with numbers like this it's simply impossible to say pick out a specific bird!

From memory the bird (Goose) in the water was wounded and I quickly dispatched it with a followup shot, which Logan kindly went and retrieved.

Photos were in order and Abby kindly obliged by taking them prior to dressing out the birds, I removed breasts, legs, hearts, livers and giblets from two birds. The third bird I plucked out for my Darwin Aboriginal Grandma 'Marjorie Harris' who we were to visit at Rainbow Acres in Howard Springs.

I have a newspaper clipping in my Rigby diary of 'Marjorie Harris' buying her last Browning O/U shotgun at 81 years old from Fishing & Outdoor World in Darwin.

With the birds dressed out and onto ice, we had refreshments and a bite to eat prior to continuing, there was a slight chance of putting up a wild pig, but it wasn't to be. We had lunch with John and then departed to the afternoon hunt on another property, where the hunting continued, but that's another story.

Upon our return to Darwin we dropped Logan back to his mother Megan Martin with two bags of fresh game meat which was GREATLY appreciated. Abby and I, immediately after drop off, drove over to Rainbow Acres at Howards Springs to have morning coffee with Marjorie Harris.

It was a emotional meeting as Marjorie has taken a keen interest in my life from child to adult hunter and was pleased to meet Abby, my Chinese princess! Marjorie was even more pleased to receive the bag with Magpie Goose and game meat, this is a very special connection for older Aboriginals.

We had a most pleasant morning tea, reminiscing about the earlier days in Darwin, with a few more recent hunting expeditions thrown in.All-up we had a wonderful couple of days and blessed others with the fruits of our sport.

And yes the 'William Powell, SLNE' shot beautifully and got my tick of approval!

Published by Vintage Guns Ltd on

Shooting|March 2023

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