Flies were already starting to gather on the goat and the heat of the day was beginning to build. I had to move quickly. I unpacked my pack and opened the tarp next to the billy. I rolled the billy onto the tarp, creating a sleigh and began to drag him away from the water to a more remote spot. I could hear new mobs of goats starting to head to the water and I didn’t want to scare them away in case they were potentially my dinner for next time. Even with the tarp, it took all my strength to gain 20 metres distance – I had shot quite the big billy by accident. I was almost daunted before I even began. How was I going to skin him when I couldn’t hang him like Jack had shown me? I knew this was one of those tasks that I was just going to have to start and figure out along the way. I took a deep breath and made an incision in the stomach between the back legs with my skinner and began to work forward.
I had never done this by myself before but it was actually freeing not having to work with anyone else. It took away any sense of right or wrong. No one was there to care if I made the wrong cut at the wrong place. I just needed to get the skin off and then the meat off and that was pretty straightforward if you weren’t trying to be pretty about it. I am always surprised at how quickly an animal turns from an animal to meat. I don’t mean to sound uncaring but once that first cut has been made, then it’s all just food and resources.
It probably took me the best part of 2 hours to break down the goat. I wanted to use the skin so I was taking care not to put any holes in it. I cut off every bit of usable meat from the bones (rather than break it into quarters that would be hard for me to carry). I cut the head off, putting it in a bag away from the flies and then carefully sliced open the guts. I had never really looked inside a goat before so had a little trouble figuring the difference between the liver and the lungs but the heart and kidneys were pretty obvious. There was definitely a moment when I was squeezing the poop out of the intestines that I took a quick look at myself and wondered who I had become – I was covered in blood from head to toe, had hacked off an animals head and was now splattered with poop because of a theory about intestines making good rope. Again, I have never felt so alive or so perfectly in the moment.
The remains of the goat filled me with a strange kind of pride. There was just a skeleton and it’s stomach contents. I maybe could have harvested the sinew on its legs but not much else usable was left. None of him had gone to waste. I slung my heavy and now filled pack onto my back and headed back to stone cottage. There is a different kind of goodness you get from freshly killed meat and my breakfast of goat tasted amazing. There was a huge satisfaction in knowing that I could provide for myself with my bow. I now had meat for at least 4 days, a skin for leather and cord to use.
Over the next three days I worked hard to make sure none of it was wasted. I made a lovely piece of leather using a natural brain tanning solution that I subsequently made a quiver for my arrows out of (still smells of billy though). I made some cord with the intestines that I sewed a bag together with and I learned how to boil out a skull so that Fred (my name for the goat) would forever be remembered for the achievement that he was.
The rest of the three weeks were filled with four days of processing followed by a day of hunting to replenish my food stores. Apparently I can eat a whole goat by myself in four days! I learned a lot about hunting goats and more about processing an animal. I made mistakes and ruined some hides but learned more for the mistakes than I had for the successes. I slept under stars so beautiful I never wanted to close my eyes and sweated in stone cottage with temperatures that ended up soaring into 48C. I learned that I can do it all if I need to but that there are huge advantages to finding a tribe. There were definitely times when I wanted to just hand my kill to someone else to process and lie down in the shade until food was presented to me and the leather was done. Times when my shoulders were so sore from working the skin in the sun that I would have loved to swap in with someone else but I just kept putting one foot in front of the other and I got it all done in the end.
The shower at the end of three weeks was long and heavenly. I’m surprised my cousin let me into the house to have one to be honest. I’m pretty sure it took me a few weeks before I stopped smelling like billy myself. As I drove away from the station back to civilization I knew that the experience had changed me profoundly. It wasn’t just about the hunting, it was about a feeling of self belief, the knowledge that I had the skills I needed to not only survive but thrive on my own if I needed to and that was a pretty powerful knowing to carry back into the modern world with me. I knew I was going to miss stone cottage for a long time to come.