The Varmint Goats of Kahoolawe
by John R. St.Clair, VarmintHunters.com
"WE AIN'T AFRAIDA' NO GOATS!"
Okay, this is for all you guys out there reading about those, two thousand dollar guns with one- thousand dollar optics and trips to guided hunts in new Suburbans rented at the airport. Us real people only make about $30,000 a year (if the wife is working also) and have teen-age kids. Now don't get me wrong, I love reading other people's hunting stories and I'm glad there is a "higher plane" of existence to shoot for (no pun intended.). The reality of the situation is affordability. I know a lot of you guys (I am not sexist! "Guys" is a figure of speech encompassing anyone, male, female, or navy, that likes to shoot!) out there are in the lower income brackets or don't have the connections the writers in hunting and shooting magazines do. If everybody was like them there wouldn't be anybody to read the magazines. Sometimes you gotta use what you can find around you and when an opportunity arises, go for it.
"Goat" as defined by the Grolier Encyclopedia, is "Genus Capra, of the cattle family. Extremely sure footed. Found in mountainous terrain and arid climates worldwide. Goats live in herds and feed on grass and shrubs."
I'm just a poor Air Force enlisted guy. Back in 1985, as a young two-striper (E-3), I was stationed at Hickam AFB on the island of Oahu, Hawaii. There wasn't much hunting to be had unless you had the bucks for a guided hunt on one of the other islands. Having spent the last few years in wide open west Texas and at SAC Headquarters in Omaha, Nebraska where hunting was readily available, it wasn't long before "Island Fever" set in. My only outlet was a gun range near Hanuama Bay. I heard a rumor about a military sponsored hunt on an island nearby and was, by this time, willing to chase just about any rainbow to go hunting. I was really surprised when the rumor actually panned out. I did a little calling around at Pearl Harbor and finally got in touch with the folks in charge of the hunts. "Yes", there actually were government sponsored hunts, "Yes" I could go on the next one. "You say it's on the island of what?" "Kahoolawe?" "Is that in the Pacific Ocean?" Sounds like someplace in a Disney movie.
The island of Kahoolawe (Pronounced "Ka ho oh la vey") is a small, uninhabited island in the Hawaiian chain. According to the person in charge of the "Kahoolawe project" at the time, the native population moved off the island back in the early 1900's when the industrial revolution hit the larger islands. I suppose that's where the money was and a man has to make a living. Some animals were left behind including some species of goat. I was told they were "Spanish goats" but I don't really know. (Also some domestic cat's, but I won't talk about that 'cause I'll bet some of my fellow hunters actually like cats, although I can't imagine why, but then, I digress...).
An aquaduct left by the former inhabitants.
Over the years the uncontrolled population of goats, having found themselves in paradise with an unlimited food supply and no natural enemies, did what came naturally to them. They ate and bred (not necessarily in that order). The population exploded and over-ran the entire island, stripping it bare of nearly all vegetation.
This is the result of an uncontrolled species of animal in the ideal environment.
As erosion began washing the island into the ocean Uncle Sam stepped in and tried a variety of population control measures, all to no avail. A program to replant the trees was begun also, but from what I saw it was a losing battle. Later, hunts began as a morale booster for guys like us (not either sexist...). Just in case you are picturing some helpless little fuzzy things that your kids hug at the petting zoo or maybe have for a pet in the back yard, lemme tell ya, over the years the goats had become wild and were not interested in getting anywhere near a human. Hunting them was comparable to hunting Deer. Kahoolawe is proof of the ignorance of the "Bunny-huggers". They stopped Uncle Sam from poisoning the goats and a few years ago stopped the hunts. Now, I guess, we let a natural resource wash into the ocean and all the goats starve to death. On with the story...
I took five days of much anticipated leave and reported to Ford Island for departure. Me and eight other blood-thirsty individuals showed up that day. Population control was the name of the game. The hunts were scheduled based on the gestation period of a goat and we were told to shoot as many goats as we could. NO LIMIT. This was getting better all the time. The only disappointment was that we could not bring back any of the meat, or trophies (yea, right...). We received our briefing on safety and emergency procedures. Safety was discussed for some time. Something I haven't mentioned about the island is that since it was an un-inhabited island and mostly barren, the US Navy used it for a gunnery and bombardment range. There was quite a lot of UXO (unexploded ordnance) on the island.
Un-exploded Ordnance (UXO) was a common sight on the island.
We were warned to watch where we stepped, not to walk in tall grass and stay out of areas that had been marked with red tape or flags. We were also issued maps and instructed to annotate the location of any unmarked UXO we ran across. (I found quite a bit...) We went to the supply issue point and signed out our gear. The only thing not supplied by the Navy were any toiletries we might need and our clothes. We could bring along our own weapon or we would be issued one. For the guys that wanted them, each was issued a Springfield Armory, M-14 rifle and all the 7.62 (.308) ammo they wanted. I had brought along my only rifle, a stainless steel, Ruger Mini-14 with a 3X9 scope, flash-hider and a couple of 20 round magazines (I was into the "assault" looking weapons at the time). As I said, I was a poor two-striper and had managed to get my significant other (wife) to let me put it on our JC Penny credit card. (That was when "Penny's" still sold guns in their catalogs.) Since my Ruger was a military caliber, (5.56/.223) I was issued all the ammo I wanted also. We loaded up a truck with sleeping bags, cots, C-rations (Well I liked them...), web belts, canteens, etc. All courtesy of the US Navy (Yes, we had to give it all back after the hunt. Yes, especially the M-14's.). We were driven to the helo-pad and loaded up a Navy H-3 "SAR" (Search And Rescue) helicopter. Now I had done a lot of flying over the years in everything from a two-seat Civil Air Patrol spotter to the C-5 Galaxy transport but this was the first time I had ever flown on a helicopter. Watching the ground drop straight down was kinda weird. Anyway, off we flew to the wonderful island of Kahoolawe. Two hours in that eggbeater were plenty. What is it like to ride in a helicopter you ask? Well, if you want to simulate it, hang a couple of lawn-chairs from a tree on a hot, sticky afternoon and sit in them while someone beats on your chest for a couple of hours. Do it with a friend so you will have someone to talk to.
We landed at the highest point of the 11X2 mile island. The aircrew, with the helo's rotors still turning, waited impatiently while we unloaded our gear. We waved good-bye (Not...) as the H-3 lifted off for the return trip to Pearl harbor. There was a clump of trees by the heli-pad just big enough to provide shade for our camp. We didn't bring tents, we slept out under the stars with the cool pacific breeze blowing.
The view of the campsite as seen from the helo-pad.
Lemme' tell you "guys" the best coffee I have ever had was early the next morning. The sun was coming up over the Pacific ocean and we made instant C-ration coffee in an empty "C-Rat" can over the campfire. I held my steaming hot coffee can with a piece of bandoleer cloth and watched one of the most glorious sunrises I have ever seen. That's why "ambiance" is so important in restaurants, under any other conditions, C-rat coffee sucks!
After a breakfast of delicious C-rats we gathered our gear, broke into groups and set out to start hunting. I noticed that some of the veterans of prior hunts were taking two canteens of water, an awful lot of ammo and some C-rats. I have always found that watching others with experience is a good way to keep out of trouble. I took two canteens also, 120 rounds of ammo and grabbed one of the better tasting meals from our C-rat stock. (I think it was "Beef Slices with Gravy", affectionately known as "Mystery Meat".
Setting out at sunrise.
The terrain on Kahoolawe is extremely rough and varies from bare, red clay, to lava rocks to sparse "Kiave" brush. ("Kiave" is the Hawaiian version of Texas mesquite.) I completely destroyed a pair of military jump boots in the 5 days I was there. That's OK though because they destroyed my feet in return so we were even. Lesson #1: Get a comfy pair of boots that meet the conditions you will be hunting in.
The terrain on Kahoolawe.
We had to walk some distance from the camp to the hunting area. Since we were camped at the highest point on the island it was all down-hill. In the cool breeze of morning this was great, but, as I discovered later that afternoon, it was 95 degrees, high humidity and all up-hill on the way back. Lesson #2: Plan in advance for the terrain you will be in and pace yourself accordingly.
I had teamed up with three of the other individuals in the party and we decided to follow a ravine for awhile. The ravines were about the only place where vegetation was growing. The only water on the island, besides that which we had brought, collected in the bottom of the ravines when it rained so that's where we figured the goats would be. I stayed up on top of the ravine while my team-mates stayed in the bottom. Their idea being that if anything ran out of the ravine I would drive it back in. My idea being that I could see some distance ahead of them and if anything ran out of the ravine I would nail it (so much for team work...). Well somehow, at a fork in the ravine, we got separated. They took a right turn and I went left. About twenty minutes later I was all alone when I spotted a single goat on the opposite side of the ravine on a rock-strewn plateau. The ravine was about 200 yards across, a bit far for a Mini-14 but that was all I had (poor, poor airman...) The goat was an albino and stood out well against the terrain. I worked my way to the edge of the ravine and got ready to shoot. I zoomed the scope all the way up to 9 power, put the cross-hairs on his chest, and squeezed off a shot. I watched the 55-grain, full-metal-jacket bullet impact next to his right front hoof. Two things happened at once. The ravine was about 50 or 60 feet deep and nearly straight down. That goat ran down the side of the ravine and disappeared from sight. Secondly, the plateau exploded with movement. Due to "target fixation" or the natural camouflage of the goats hides, I had not seen the 15 or 20 other goats in the herd grazing among the rocks and sparse grass on the plateau. They scattered in all directions. A group of about eight took off at a dead run (pun intended) parallel to me on top of the plateau. We had been instructed to kill as many of them as possible so if what follows bothers you try to picture them as 3-foot tall prairie dogs with hooves, and horns. (now that's a scary lookin critter...) The goats had all clumped together so I aimed "center of mass" and sent two or three rounds into the group. I don't know if any of those "Hail Mary" shots hit any of them or not. The group of goats started heading for the left end of the plateau so I sent three or four rounds into the rocks ahead of them. That discouraged them and they headed back the other way. I took another shot into the group and dropped one. As they neared the other end of the plateau, I sent a few more rounds into the rocks at that end and turned them back the other way. This back and forth thing went on for a while. It was like one of those circus arcades with the targets going back and forth. The group, somewhat smaller in number by now, tried to hide behind some boulders. A couple of "bank shots" among the rocks ended that situation. I was changing magazines and loading ammo into them between shots when I could, all the while keeping an eye on the group of goats so they wouldn't escape the top of the plateau. When it was finally over I had managed to drop six of the little buggers. I had also managed to expend 95 rounds of ammunition, many of which were used to keep the goats on the plateau and out in the open. Still not a good ratio though. (Lesson #3: Don't ever grab the barrel of a Mini-14 with your bare hands after shooting that many rounds through it.)
The goat's hides gave them a natural camouflage. Can you spot the goat? (Hint: Look for the blood on the rocks.)
Who say's the 5.56/.223 round is useless? This one entered in the left kidney area and exited in the center of the chest, destroying the heart.
My friends showed up about 30 minutes later to see what all the commotion was about. I was the only one that day in my group to get any action. We could not take the meat back to Pearl Harbor with us, but it would be tastier than the C-rats waiting for us back at camp so we did some quick field dressing. Upon arrival back at camp we found that the other parties had also bagged a few. We also discovered there was another creature on the island worth mentioning. Quail. (Notice I didn't say cat's.) Someone had just happened to bring a shotgun and lots of bird shot. There's that experience thing again. We had quite a feast that night. Barbecued goat and Quail over an open fire supplemented with the best kind of beer there is, cold and free. So picture this: An un-inhabited island in the pacific, five days off, no contact with the outside world except by radio, a bunch of guys around a campfire with guns, nearly unlimited ammo and hunting stories, no limit, and four more days to go. Like they say, "It just doesn't get any better than this".
The ride home! A US Navy H3 approaches the helo-pad.
I'm now stationed back home in Texas. Hopefully someone out there will clue me to a place in the San Angelo area where varmints are abundant. If there are any VHA members in the San Angelo area I sure would like to meet up with you.
NYT 1922: Goats of Kahoolawe: Rescue of One of the Hawaiian Islands From Its Fallen Estate