Another 4am start, another western adventure to start the season. This adventure, however, was different. This one started twelve long years ago when I first started applying for Montana mountain goats. Each year I would calculate draws and put in for them religiously, only to get that dreaded “Unsuccessful.”
MY HUNT OF A LIFETIME
WELL, THIS YEAR I WAS IN FOR A SURPRISE!
After twelve years of applying and twelve years of hoping – and a slightly different draw result – I finally had one of the most coveted tags in the west. All this culminated in a 31-hour and 3,452-km (2,145 mile) journey to what promised to be the pinnacle of my hunting career so far.
You know, driving from one side of the country to the other gives a guy plenty of time to think – and second guess. Had I prepared myself enough physically? Was my gear up to the test? I’ve been on lots of hunts, but this was different. I didn’t want to leave anything to chance. Did I have everything that I would need? Which gun would I carry?
And then there was the smoke. Our hunting area in Montana had been inundated with forest fires this summer. Would it clear in time? Would we even be able to film? I didn’t have the answers to a lot of those questions, but I knew one thing: this is my hunt.
THE DAY I HAD BEEN LOOKING FORWARD TO ALL MY LIFE WAS FINALLY HERE.
With one last check of the gear, we were on our way into my mountain goat unit. It was finally time to climb, and climb we did. It didn’t take long to find some goats – but little did we know at the time this was only going to be a small part of the challenge. This is because I’m sure that there are more up there, but it isn’t going to do us any good tonight, due to the descending darkness. During pre-scouting in the summer, we also talked with a biologist for this region, who told us exactly where to start. We were actually there last night and saw four or five, no billies though. Although we’ve got a pretty good idea of where they are.
A beautiful morning! Even though it looks like it’s flattened out, we’ve gained a lot of elevation. There are places here that go up to 3,300 meters (11,000 ft). Although we are not at the top, we are really high. We are just banking on being able to spot something before we put a stalk on. With a lot of these things, it’s going to take a day to get to them. We’re not going to just take off arbitrarily unless we’ve seen something we can hunt. It’s going to be a lot of work.
It was time to start up. We had spotted one mature mountain goat last night. So, we planned a route that looked achievable and headed up. Gaining only a couple of hundred yards in an hour was taxing; we had expected this but hadn’t factored in just how much time it would take to reach our target. Lots of breaks were in order. Having dreamed of hunting these things for years, seeing them in a spotting scope was almost surreal. Especially when I had a tag in my pocket. Too short on time tonight, so it doesn’t make any difference. They are a day away. We’ve got a few hours left. Let’s keep moving.
These first couple of days were filled with sightings. But even with tons of miles on our boots already we realized pretty quickly that we were going to have to go even higher. The area we were hunting in was in the form of a canyon with sheer faces on both sides. There wasn’t a “long way” around. We were going to have to find a way to go straight at them from below.
These are probably two of the shallowest ways to the top, or at least to get near the top. We’ll just have to try it, and if we can’t make it we’ll just have to go back down and try a different direction.
AND DAY AFTER DAY AFTER DAY THIS IS WHAT WE DID.
We’d make three- and four-hour climbs to the top only to find out that the goats had disappeared. You know Teddy Roosevelt referred to them as the “white ghosts.” I was starting to understand that it didn’t have anything to do with their color.
That is awesome! You know some people scoff at hunters. But anyone who was ever here inevitably thinks of the quote from Fred Bear saying: “Twenty feet up a tree is twenty feet closer to God.” This is unbelievable! Beautiful!
We climbed up here to the top again this morning, trying to get on the herd we have been seeing. We actually saw them from the very top of the mountain on the other side yesterday. I just spotted a couple of nice ones over there and it looks like one of those could be a billy, but no human in the world could get to where they are.
I always assumed that getting this tag would be the hardest part. After all, only 5% of nonresidents who apply ever get one. It never really crossed my mind that I might not get my goat, but as we wound down to the last days this was slowly becoming a reality. After one ironman climb to the top and back, we were out of gas. Yet we turned up the hill every morning anyway. But now our feet were bloody and our muscles made it hard to walk on flat ground, let alone climb these hills. I wouldn’t have had it any other way, though; I wanted to earn my mountain goat. That’s why I was doing this one on my own. But don’t worry, it’s not over yet. I have a deer hunt I can cancel next month to come back. If winter doesn’t show up before we can get back, we’ll have one more crack at it.
ONE MONTH LATER
The goat gods must have been smiling on us. Winter was late to the high country this year, but it was coming hard. We were a few days in front of a winter storm, so after a quick gun check, we were straight off to the mountain. There’s no other place on earth that you can see something like that – a huge flock of snow geese! We’re at about 2,500 meters (8,000 ft) and the peaks you can see on the other side are about 3,000 meters (10,000 ft). They are almost at eye level coming across, it’s amazing! After all we had put ourselves through on the first trip, look what we found less than a mile from the truck! Things were looking up already. We’ve spotted two up there already, we just want to take a walk and give it a check out, we really don’t have time to climb today. We’ve got two up there – about 550 meters (600 yards) from here. They’re actually moving around in the green timber, so I can’t tell exactly what they are. We’re going to stick with them, though, just in case something great happens and they come down to a spot where we might be able to retrieve them.
We’ve got weather coming in tomorrow. It looks like winter is finally going to show up out here. It’s going to be in the thirties Fahrenheit and snowing for the next four or five days according to the forecast and I don’t know what’s beyond that. It’s been holding out for quite a while out here and it looks like it’s going to hit. The sooner we can get something done, the better chance we are going to have. Keep your fingers crossed!
Let’s get right out here, drop back, and set up somewhere. I’m trying to keep my eye out. If they look like they are getting really nervous, we are going to stop right here. Look, just one more corner!
That’s a fine goat. One limb over this goat’s vitals saved his life. He slowly moved over the spine and he was gone. A huge wave of disappointment washed over us until we realized that we had another goat on this side of the face. There he is! I’ll try to shoot that thing right now! [gun shot] He’s going down, right there!
This is something else. I just got to thinking, on the trail on the way out, about all the highs and the lows of this trip and the trip before. A whole goat season, really. It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done but obviously one of the most rewarding too. I mean, I’m truly blessed to be able to get this. I thank God for having the health and the opportunity. I also want to thank my wife and my family for putting up with my addiction to getting out here and doing this stuff. They are just absolutely as supportive as anybody out there. What do you say? This has been one heck of a trip; physically exhausting, mentally taxing! If you get a chance, you have to try to do this.
This is absolutely the hunt of a lifetime!