Bears And Billies, By Andrew Horvath

My buddy Aaron arrived at my place the night before our departure and, just like our sheep hunt only a few weeks ago, we were like kids on Christmas Eve. I could hardly contain my excitement for the goat hunt, as I had yet to harvest a mountain goat. After a few more obsessive looks at Google Earth over some beers we hit the sack. We had an 11 hour drive ahead of us the next day. Short in comparison to what we had to endure to get into sheep country but long nonetheless. We arrived at the trailhead in the early evening without any major holdups and set up camp. The plan was to hike in the next morning.

Bears

Day 1 – Best Laid Plans

The hike in was supposed to be about 15 km and not overly difficult, but of course things didn’t go exactly to plan. The rain started around the halfway point and, although it wasn’t raining too hard, it was just hard enough for us to need our rain gear. I am sure a lot of you can sympathize with just how uncomfortable it is to hike in rain gear. It didn’t make for a great second half of the hike into our goat area.

At about 18 km in we broke into the alpine and finished off the hike, roughly 20 km from the truck. That evening the clouds came in and the temperature dropped to freezing with a little bit of snow falling. It was August 31 so I crossed my fingers for a weather break the following day. It was the evening before opening day for my Limited Entry tag and we were socked in. Not the way I’d hoped the trip would start.

Bears

Day 2 – Opening Day

We woke up and poked our heads out of the tent to see…not much. We were still socked in and the visibility was utterly terrible. We decided to wait out the clouds and stay dry and somewhat warm. In the early afternoon the sun started poking through giving us a little bit of visibility, so we made a solid effort to check out the crags that surrounded us. We could see very little from camp, so headed up the closest mountain to check over the backside and try and get a higher vantage point. At this point we hadn’t located a single goat, but we were in good spirits as we found a decent amount of tracks, sign and beds. We hiked up, down and across many draws until the light started to fade. We made our way back to camp before dark and got the stove out for our meals. Overall, we’d salvaged a solid first day given the weather.

Bears

Day 3 – Snow Day

Overnight a blizzard arrived with howling winds and blowing snow. We had to unload the tent multiple times throughout the night, as about 8-10 inches fell before midnight. When we got out of the tent in the morning our spirits lifted when we saw a clearing in the sky. I was really excited to get up the mountain and start looking for goats and we wasted no time in doing so. With breakfast and coffee in us, we packed the bags and started our 2000 foot climb to the top in subzero temperatures.

We had about two hours of clear visibility before more snow and wind arrived. It became very tough to see over 150 yards so we decided to hunker down on the summit until the storm passed. It lasted the majority of the day and we were forced to layer up with every piece of clothing we had as the temperature dropped to at least -15C with the wind chill. We’re talking 50 plus mile per hour winds, the kind of wind that’s tough to walk through, let alone see where you’re going through the blowing snow. We had small windows of visibility throughout the day, but nothing that lasted more than 30 minutes. As the day wore on, we spotted our first set of tracks. We followed them with our glass and within 20 seconds had our first goats in sight. It was a nanny and two kids, but encouraging nonetheless.

With this last minute sighting we started to lose visibility again and since it was getting into the evening we made our way back to camp. We were pretty far from camp so it was a tough walk back as the lack of visibility made it a bit of a guessing game to find the spine we had originally used to climb up. Once we got back, we set up the siltarp and hunkered down for the evening. My buddy Matt was coming up solo the next day, so I sent him some last minute inReach directions while making a hot NUUN and scotch as a treat for having toughed it out in some gnarly conditions.

Day 4 – Goats Galore

The next day proved to be eventful. Right off the bat we were spotting goats first thing in the morning. It seemed as though the goats had timbered up for the storm and then moved back in overnight to the crags just above our camp. We spotted several little family groups, which really got our hopes up. We had been a little concerned that the goats had moved out of the area for whatever reason, but were soon over that worry. We spent the day running ridges at 8,000 plus feet glassing and looking for a nice mature billy. The weather would sock in for short periods, but didn’t force us back down the mountain for shelter. All in all, it was a great day with some sunny periods and lots of goats spotted. Matt arrived at 7 p.m., just as Aaron and I were summiting yet another 9,000 foot peak for what seemed like the fun of it. We’d just climbed up the mountain to see what was on the other side, a unexplainable desire I know many of you know well.

One of the best things about Matt coming in was he was bringing his dog Leo. At this point we knew there was a heavy population of grizzly bears in the area as we were seeing snapped trees on the trail coming in and lots of tracks and sign throughout the area. After dinner, Leo made sure every scrap and drop was gone from the boil-in-bags and we turned in for the evening. We slept soundly that night with Leo on guard under the siltarp.

Day 5 – Bears and Billies

The next morning, dog and all, we hunkered down under the siltarp, yet again waiting for the clouds to disperse and caught up with Matt regarding the hike in. We were patiently waiting for a clearing so we could start glassing when after an hour or so, things started to clear. All of a sudden Aaron jumps up and shouts, “Grizz!!!”

It was a sow and three cubs and they were on the other side of the drainage about 800 yards away when they disappeared into the bottom out of sight. We were on our feet at that point with our cameras in hand waiting to see if they would reappear. In a matter of minutes they had travelled about 600 yards and were now 200 yards from us. Shit.

We rushed to trade our cameras for our rifles, when Aaron realized Leo was making a possibly fatal mistake. He yells out, “Matt, call your dog!” Leo must have thought we were at the dog park and he’d ventured out to check out the bears! He was probably thinking “Wow. What cute friends”.

The sow moved out in front of the cubs when Leo was only 40 yards from the bears and the bears only 120 yards from us. We all chambered a round thinking that the sow was going to give Leo a chase and, in turn, Leo would bring the sow right back to us. We yelled at Leo to come back and he eventually came to his senses and wandered back, none the wiser for the excitement he’d caused! The situation de-escalated just as quickly as it had turned interesting. The sow turned and wandered up the drainage with the 3 cubs in tow. Wow, we thought. That situation could have ended very badly. Leo spent the rest of the trip on a leash, even under the siltarp.

By this point the ceiling had lifted and it was time to start glassing from camp. Right away we saw goats. Lots of them. They were all over the cliffs just above our camp, but at about 7,000 feet. We could easily count eight right off the bat, including a young three to four-year-old billy. We were jacked! It seemed as though the goats had waited out the storm down in the timber then came back to their preferred lofty positions as the nice weather rolled back in. As Matt and Aaron were glassing the goats, I took a short walk up the drainage to get a different perspective and try to get a vantage point on some hidden crags behind a large hill that was partially blocking our view. I couldn’t believe my eyes.

Bears

“I think I found my goat!” I said to the guys over our Garmin Rinos.

He was totally hidden from camp, all alone on a snowy slope. With the nannies and kids all on one side and this lone goat off with a couple others about 100 yards away, I figured pretty quick that he was worth taking a closer look at. I took out my spotter and started the sex and aging process. As soon as Aaron and Matt arrived we had plenty of eyes on the goat. He moved around a bit, to switch bedding positions, but for the most part he stayed pretty close.

After about an hour or so of watching and comparing this goat to the nannies that were about 500 yards away, the call was made to head up the mountain another 1,200 feet so we could have a better look at him. Matt and I made our way up the hill, blind to the goat due to the terrain and just as we were reaching the three-quarter point of the climb, we spotted movement coming over the top of the ridge right above us. “Damn,” I thought.

A big, belly-dragging boar grizzly was coming over the saddle and heading down the mountain on a course that would pass no more than 100 yards away. As luck would have it, he changed course just enough and avoided us by about 300 yards.

With Matt and I now roughly 500 yards away from the goat, it was time to get out the spotter and glass him again. We got some great looks at him and we were set on taking him. I was planning my next route when, all of the sudden, Aaron radioed us from down below and told us to abort the shot. He has been on more than 8 goat kills and I was not going to question his knowledge. I took some more pics to show him from a different angle and we headed back down the mountain to talk it over.

We talked it over with Aaron when we got back and he said that he just wasn’t 100% sure it was a billy. He needed more time to be sure. Based on the horn curvature and the fact he was alone, not to mention the space between the horns, I was fairly convinced but didn’t want to push a shot. He told Matt and I to wander up the valley and glass some other areas so he could stay back and watch the goat from down below and see if he could better determine whether it was in fact a billy or not. He glassed for another two hours as Matt and I went up the valley. We were doing our due diligence on this one. There was no denying that.

It was 6 p.m. when we got back and the decision was made to go for it. It showed all the characteristics of a billy and Aaron estimated it to be around 8 ½”. The goat had moved to a different location by this point so the three of us mapped out a plan for a stalk. Aaron and I went up one side and Matt went up the other, the first group to get a clean shot was to take it. Aaron and I made the stalk up the mountain once again and by now I was beat but we had to climb another 1,000 feet through the snow. We came up perfectly in-line with the goat, about 270 yards away.

The goat was standing broadside on a cliff in a perfect silhouette. He wasn’t moving, just staring down the mountain without a clue we were there. Aaron pulled the spotter out once again, so we could confirm he was in fact a billy and upon doing so he gave me the go ahead. I chambered a round and with an ideal rest on a rock face, I squeezed off the shot. It was just the shot you want, through both front shoulders. I quickly chambered another and hit him once again just above my first shot and with that the goat’s feet were in the air. There was no running away with this goat, just falling.

He fell about 75 feet off the cliff onto a ledge and then another 75 feet off that ledge to the rocks below before sliding down and ending up about 250 feet from the original shot location. Aaron watched from behind me through his glass and said it was a hard hit and so we hoped the horns were still attached. From the location the shot was taken, it looked like he would only fall 20 feet if he went down on the spot. The rest of the cliff had been totally blind to us. It was all over so fast! My first goat was down and now it was time to get to work.

Out of respect for the animal, I didn’t take any pictures of it as we found him. He was pretty beat up and bloody and missing both horns and half of one of the horn cores had even broken off. You can see in the picture below where the goat fell from, it was basically the top of the cliff to the ledge that you can see in the picture and then fell to the ground and slid and rolled down to the bottom.

The next day I went back up to the ledge and searched all over for the horns and to my luck was able to find them on the first ledge where he landed. They had both popped out and were only about 10 feet apart. I was excited beyond belief. Total length was 8 5/8” and he was six-years-old.

Day 6 – Two for two?

The next day we went out in search of another goat for Matt as he also had an LEH tag for the area. We put in a solid day and glassed many new areas only to find nannies and kids and another sow grizzly bear with two cubs. A few great pictures were taken, but we ended our hunt that evening with a great fire and a bunch of memories relived given our relatively short trip.

Day 7 – The Pack Out

It was a pretty long hike out but thankfully in dry conditions. We’d experienced a hell of a lot on what was a fairly short trip and I had my first goat in the memory bank. We all had smiles on our faces as we’d had yet another very successful trip and as is often the case, the people and the country experienced make these expeditions the true success they are.

 

Posted by JOMH Editor