"In North America there is one large animal that belongs almost entirely to the realm of towering rock and unmelting snow. Pressing hard against the upper limit of life's possibilities, it exists higher and steeper throughout the year than any other big beast on the continent. It is possibly the best and most complete mountaineer that ever existed on any continent. Oreamnos americanus is its scientific name. Its common name is mountain goat." -Douglas H. Chadwick
Sweat and Tears :: Monumental Moments in Goat Country By :: Erica Forsyth
Sweat and tears, I shed a lot of both while pursuing mountain goats in wild country. More than I care to admit. This very thought rolled through my mind as I quivered on the side of a towering, scary slope and stared up at rock cliffs and pinnacles that glared back down on me. It made me feel small, weak, and scared. A few more tears flowed before I summoned up the courage to start putting one foot in front of the other and clamber across the dicey chute. My husband and hunting partner, Dylan, signaled that we had to keep climbing up. It was time for more sweat.
Burning quads equaled the burn in my lungs as we scaled the mountain side, even though I was using my arms as much as my legs. My confidence dwindled with each slippery step up the loose scree. Although scared to a whole new level, I trusted my husband and continued toward the hidden hole that would hopefully contain the billy. The consistency of time was now gone. This stalk seemed like an eternity of raw emotion, but also a whirlwind of excitement.
I was busy mentally encouraging my legs to continue on when Dylan suddenly stopped and pointed. It took me a second to pick out the black horns and white face staring us down from less than 100 yards away. No question, it was our goat. A large dirty patch of hair on his side made him very distinct. I scrambled to get down and get set up, but the sly billy wheeled and disappeared up the cliffs. Dylan’s face showed that he was as crushed as I was at the failed stalk. I was all but ready to just lie down and quit, but the slope was so steep that it wasn’t an option.
My mountain goat hunting season to this point was full of bad luck. When I first found out that I had drawn a goat tag for the zone literally out my backyard, I was ecstatic. Living in south-eastern British Columbia, I am very fortunate to have good odds of drawing a limited entry tag. The zone I had drawn includes the mountain that shadows out home. I figured that this was an opportunity for an “easy goat”. Turns out I was wrong. The idea of an easy goat hunt turned out to be nothing but a dream.
My optimism had me scouting, hiking and preparing for the season. My mind was set on a billy, which the BC fish and wildlife division encourages hunters to take. My lofty goals even included making at least a couple of attempts with my bow. I knew it was going to be challenging, but also exciting. With the backing of my husband, I knew we would have a great season.
After many sleepless nights my adventure finally started. Preseason trips revealed two billies haunting a high and lonely basin. Accessing it was difficult, but once the peak was crested, it put you in the goat’s playground for the day. With bow in hand, we drove to the trail head and started up the steep ridge. I knew all too well the miserable climb that was ahead, but the lure of what could lie over the ridge drew us into goat country. Pushing up through the dewy brush, past the dizzying cliffs, and clambering up the last pull affectionately known as “the meadow”, we could all but feel we were at the top.
With only a few minutes of climbing left, the sky darkened. The first drops of rain soon followed. Ominous clouds let loose their fury and started pounding us. In spite of the deterring conditions, we pushed for the rocky ridge line that we planned to glass from. As we crawled over the sharp ridge, the view was disappointing. Low clouds and driving rain cut the visibility to a few yards.
The clouds and rain teased us, giving us small windows that kept us sitting and waiting for a sign of better skies. They never came. Despite good rain gear, the bitter cold of the high mountain storm finally forced us to abort. The hike down the trail was draining both physically and mentally. Just hours earlier I had the energy of a kid on Christmas morning, but defeat at the hands of mother-nature took that away.
With the effort I had put into scouting for this tag already, I admittedly expected to have some reward on my next attempt. However, my goat luck continued, as my next outing with the bow proved similar results. If I learned anything from my experience, it’s that you should never expect the weather man to tell the truth.
Outing number three needed a change. Although my bow was in tow, so was my rifle. We had also decided on a different basin that we knew goats haunted. I just hoped something would improve my goat luck, as I had yet to lay eyes on one since the season opened. As we ascended the basin to the back, a glimmer of hope lit in me. A solemn white form ghosted across the rim of the basin. The Swarovski spotter revealed a billy, which got the adrenalin pumping. It quickly faded as he drifted out of sight over the ridge.
My determination (or sheer stubbornness) drove me up the steep walls of the basin to pursue the ghostly figure. The climb burned in every way, but leveling out to see new country was worth the struggle. Short pines sprinkled the small plateau on top. Every “Charlie Brown” Christmas tree was frosted by goat hair. With this much sign, I couldn’t help but feel the rush of optimism.
Those feelings steadily faded, until the third basin that we peered down into revealed a lone white figure tucked in the shade of a small cliff base. I immediately dropped to the rocks and readied the rifle. Dylan frantically set up the tripod and STS spotter to judge the goat, but my rifle scope had already revealed a billy.
It also showed the ominous cliffs that sank deep into the basin below him. Dark disappointment rolled over my emotions, as I knew that this billy was safe for the day. The 800 foot cliffs would claim him if I pulled the trigger. I looked at Dylan, beaten, but not broken, and vowed to myself that my quest would be fulfilled.
Fast Forward to the Beginning
Dylan and I simply hung onto the side of the mountain, disappointed that we were so close to the goat, yet, still failed to get a shot. The steep slope made lying down and quitting simply not an option. My only choice was to lower my sorry self down the chute, to the bottom of the bowl, so we could find the best way to climb back up over the ridge. Thoughts of pure distaste for my tag lingered. Sheer hatred festered for any terrain that was less than FLAT.
Processing my thoughts as I picked my way down the slide, I realized that my feelings started to shift. My admiration for these strange and beautiful creatures had me realizing that it was an honor to be in their home. The cliffs that I feared so much offered them protection and safety. Harsh conditions for me were daily living for them. Pursuing them was a privilege that I was truly thankful for.
As we neared the bottom, my eye caught a funny white form in the walls across the basin. Sure enough it was a billy, taunting us from his isolated perch. An easy stalk of a few hundred yards would put us in chip shot distance. As tempting as it was to contemplate stalking him, I knew he would tumble to the basin floor. Retrieving him would not be an issue, but the thought of a smashed up goat was not what I had envisioned. I looked at Dylan and said “pass”. He agreed with me by giving me a look of pure admiration. He was proud of my decision, and it warmed my very core. The right choice never felt so good. For the first time I felt content climbing out of goat country empty handed.
It was at that moment that good karma shined a ray of hope on us. I took one last glance over my shoulder at the spectacular view that I had ignored on the original stalk. Suddenly, the dirty patch billy reappeared. He had moved over one chute and, of course, to the very top. Dylan eyed up the terrain, and confirmed my thoughts with a simple thumbs up. We could get to him! Without hesitation or a spoken word, we turned our sights back up the chutes and started climbing with all of our might.
Fringing the jug headed goat’s view, the rangefinder finally confirmed that he was within range. A big table top rock offered a perfect rest, so I took the invitation and pulled up a stiff rock chair to settle in on him. My heart raced and I felt overwhelmed by the moment. It was time.
I wanted to cry. I’m not sure whether it was the adrenaline of the escalating stalk, the thought of taking the billy’s life, or the underlying terror of the cliffs. A weight was on me, but I knew that I had to push it aside and focus on my goal. With a big exhale, I squeezed the trigger to seal the billy’s fate.
Although I knew deep down that it was a good shot, I was nervous because he had walked out of sight. Anxious moments had us clambering over rocky outcroppings to improve the view. As I was looking up the steep slope at nothing but the rock cliff monsters and jagged scowling crags, I feared the worst. Challenging the ominous walls, we continued up until my Swarovskis spied a white, motionless patch with black tips. In spite of heating up from the exertion and exhaustion, a chill came over me. It was an exciting and surreal feeling to know that my billy was waiting for me to climb up and cut my tag on him.
The tears that I had suppressed just moments earlier now streamed freely. Wiping them away was like cleaning my emotional slate. The excitement, anxiety, fear, and elation released themselves, and it felt wonderful. When I first set my goal of harvesting a mountain goat, I knew that there would be both physical and psychological obstacles. It wasn’t until I actually conquered the slopes and conquered my emotions that I finally understood the allure of the beautiful white ghosts in the dark cliffs.