By Peter Muennich, Founder, President on August 17, 2015 in Member's Stories
Crazy Mountain Goat Hunt
By :: Matt Comer
“Struck out again, maybe next year.” I had just received a phone call from my great friend who informed me that the Montana Moose-Sheep-Goat drawing status was online. I am usually on the ball, constantly checking and re-checking the status, but not that day. I walked over to a computer at work and began to pull up my info. I really didn’t expect much considering I only had three bonus points for mountain goat. I pulled my account up: Sheep – Unsuccessful: Moose – Unsuccessful: Goat – Successful. I couldn’t believe it, I just became one of “those guys”. You know, one of those guys that draw a once in a lifetime tag with almost no points.
I called my buddy back immediately “Better get your pack ready.” Some choice words were exchanged, but the conversation ended with a congratulations and anticipation.
I called up the region-three fish and wildlife biologist and received some detailed reports on the unit. I had no idea a biologist could be so helpful. I was sent a map with peaks and drainages that held goats at a specific time of year. She also sent a report of how big the goats were that were being harvested year by year. I knew the unit was not known for monster billies, but more for its healthy population. The information that I received allowed me to make a game plan for summer scouting, so I targeted a few peaks and drainages that seem to hold the biggest goats.
I was gearing up for the busiest and best summer of my life. I was getting married at the end of July and had a lot of things on my plate. Drawing the goat put me over the top, so busy that time flew by and everything became a blur. Before I knew it, the wedding was over and my bride and I were spending some of our first nights as a married couple staring through a spotting scope at 10,000 feet. A few scouting adventures revealed some stud billies and a few honey-holes.
Everyone kept telling me to “wait for the hair”, but that wasn’t one of my biggest priorities. Sure a huge majestic billy with a beard bigger than Santa Clause himself is pretty cool, but there is a reason the success rate is only 70% in the district. Winter can come at any time in the high country, and I did not want to be hunkered down in a one-man tent in -20 degree weather.
The anticipation of the hunt grew as we neared opening day. Finally, the day was here. I had to wait for one of my buddies to get off work, and then we were gone. We parked the truck, finished loading all 60 pounds of the packs and began to hike. The thing they don’t tell you about goat hunting – it’s really easy. You keep putting one foot in front of the other and keep at it and eventually you will get to a point so high you can only go down. So that’s what we did.
About four hours into the hike, we met some people on the trail that told us about a mountain goat lying in the timber. They recognized we were hunters and told us that it was just up past the next lake toward the end of the drainage we were in. This was great news considering I was also packing my bow on my back and mountain goats don’t typically live in the timber. I would not be as picky if I had a real legitimate shot of sticking it with an arrow, after all, I can’t even put in for mountain goats in Montana until the year 2021, so I want to capitalize on the hand I have been dealt.
We went to the spot where the hikers told us to go and sure enough we spot the goat within minutes. All by himself, in about half-timber and half rocky cliffs, presenting a great opportunity. This was a nice goat, we knew Billy for sure, looked to be at least eight inches, and in a very killable location. We left a guy down low to glass and give hand signals, and two of us dropped our packs and went up after the goat. It took a good hour to work up the mountainside and get into position for a final stalk. Once we reached about 150-200 yards below the goat, we regrouped and made a final stalk plan.
I remember thinking to myself “with a bow, on the first day, too good to be true!” It was too good to be true. Apparently we were not the only ones who knew about the goat. Just as we made our final approach, three orange shapes popped up on the ridge about 400 yards adjacent to us. I can’t say who started stalking the billy first, but I knew that we were about half the distance to the goat compared to the other guys. We exchanged a few signals and tried to hand sign that we wanted to pursue with a bow, but they didn’t bite.
Before I knew it “BOOM” followed by an immediate “THWACK” – such a great opportunity spoiled. I looked at my buddy and said, “Let’s go.” We made it back down to our packs and got the scoop from our guy who watched it all unfold. “They blew it,” he said. Apparently the shot was a little off; the wounded goat ran over to the next bowl and bedded down. The three guys didn’t even give chase to the goat they just zinged a bullet through. It was embarrassing and I was embarrassed for them.
We should have stuck around and waited for them to make their way down, but we were running out of daylight and still had the toughest part of our climb ahead of us. We finished out the last leg of the hike and set up tents for the night. As we spiked in, we set up the spotters and picked the mountains apart. We located some nice billys and made some plans for the next morning.
We woke up to a frosty tent on day two. We fired up the Jetboils, made some coffee, and waited for the sun to come up. In the first light, we spotted a goat down near our tents. We grabbed the bare essentials and gave chase. As the sun came up, we followed this goat up the mountain. The higher the sun got in the sky, the higher the goat got. Our first stalk of the day ended with us getting cliffed out passing up this goat with a rifle at 300 yards straight uphill. It felt good to pass because I knew that if I shot this goat we would have spent the whole day in repelling gear.
As we made our way back to camp we noticed some hunters on the other side of the drainage. We showed up at camp and found that not one group of hunters, but two separate groups of hunters had camped within 100 yards of our tents. This was beginning to feel a little more like opening of deer season rather than a wilderness mountain goat hunt. We figured our original camp spot would be far enough away from the trailhead to get away from the crowd. We forgot people would be packing in on horses. All together we located five different groups of hunters, most of whom had horses. It was decision time, stay and try to pick a mature billy off with all of the other people, or call an audible and venture further in to the backcountry.
We were already seven miles back in, so what would another four be? The decision was made to pick up camp and head to greener pastures. It was around 2pm when we picked up and left. We made our way up an old switchback trail that led us to a beautiful vantage point. It’s amazing what you can spot from 10,000 feet. We started spotting the white goats everywhere. We counted over 30 goats from our new vantage point.
It didn’t take long until we spotted a very notable goat. “Grab your stuff, we gotta haul ass”, my buddy said. We descended about 1500 feet in about 30 minutes down a steep shale slope. We were running out of light very quickly so we dropped our packs at the base of the lake and grabbed the essentials. I had to make a decision fast, bow or rifle? The decision was made and after hearing the details of the goat from my buddy who had the spotter on him – it was an easy decision.
It was about a three quarters of a mile to where we saw the band of goats last but we only had about 45 minutes of light left so we had to boogie.
We followed a glacial stream until it was bisected by the start of a rocky slope. We followed the rocky slope up to a large boulder field that was overlooking an icy glacier. As we peered over the large rocks we spotted several goats. I had about ten white fuzzy animals inside of 200 yards.
We tried our best to pick through all of the goats as fast as we could, but one had us pegged. One goat separated himself from the rest and began to hop across the shale away from us. Billy! Big billy! We had him at about 150 yards but he wouldn’t slow down for anything. Finally at 439 yards he turned broadside and posed for us. I was rock solid and let the .300 do its thing. The goat took a slight tumble and was hung up in a lone patch of pine trees above a glacial avalanche chute. With the last few minutes of light, we ventured across the rocks and made our way up to the billy. We took in the moment, took care of the billy, put our headlamps on and carefully made our way back to our backpacks to set up camp for the night.
That night I slept like a rock. I kept replaying the shot and subsequent events over and over in my head. Something about notching a once-in-a-lifetime tag puts a smile on your face when you’re lying on your sleeping pad in the middle of nowhere at 8,500 feet. The morning came quickly and it was time to get to work. We loaded up our packs with the essentials and made the short trip up the glacier-covered slope. We made it to the goat and started celebrating. After we made our way back up we really had time to admire the goat. He ended up being a 9 1/8 inch, twelve-and-a-half-year-old king of the mountain. After taking our time with pictures and admiring the beautiful animal, we boned out the billy and headed back down the ice and shale for our camp. It was still fairly early in the day so we took our boots off, made a Mountain House and kicked back in the sun for a while.
We weren’t sure if we could make the twelve-mile trip all in a better part of a day, but we all agreed that we needed to start working our way out. Downhill was not as easy as I thought it would have been, but after a solid eight hours of hiking we saw the shimmer of a truck through the trees. Getting to the truck was like crossing the finish line. The trip totaled out at 31 miles and five thousand feet in elevation gain. We went where the guys on horses did not want to go, and for that we were rewarded. The beauty of a goat hunt isn’t necessarily in the animal itself. It is in the beautiful mountains they live in. The hunt honored the steep slopes the goats inhabit and every step and mile was earned.