The following is the story of how mountain hunting became my passion. My first backcountry hunt, and many lessons learned. I stumbled upon this story which I wrote years ago and thought in the midst of this COVID-19 life we are all living. Thoughts of simpler times and great memories are good for all of us in a time of such despair. Here it is, in all glory. Enjoy. -A.Smith
Foreward – Logistics
It was a dreadfully muggy afternoon in August of 2008 when I squeezed my sweaty helmet back onto my head and buckled the saturated chin strap. I thought to myself “great, more form tackling drills.” I paired up with Blake Rothschild, a stud freak show. This guy was shredded, and I do not mean that stereotypical guy who hit puberty a little earlier than everybody else. Blake did not have an ounce of fat on him and had a good ol’ farm boy’s work ethic. He was everything you wanted in a leader. Now, I was not the greatest football player, but I sure tried like hell. I was not thrilled to be paired with him for the first round of this “around the corner” drill. The whistle blew, we sprinted for the “hole” defined by two collapsible orange cones and collided head-on. If you knew Blake in those days, you know who won, and you would have offered me your sincerest condolences. As he helped me up and patted me on the back of my helmet, he had that shit-eating grin on his face, which he always had when he knew he got you right.
They say the people you meet along the way shape you into the person you become. Little did we know that eight years and 3,000 miles separated us from when we would reconnect and hunt the famed Kodiak Island together. Back then, Alaska was so far away from Kansas and seemed so unreachable that hunting the treacherous landscape was just an unattainable dream. At least that is what I would have told you had you asked me if I ever thought I would hunt Kodiak Island.
Growing up, Alaska was just this place on the map that all the legendary hunters wrote stories of. Colossal Kodiak brown bears, towering seventy-inch moose, caribou that appear to have locust trees sticking out of their foreheads, the lists go on and on. The Last Frontier was so far away that it never occurred that if I wanted, I could not only see it but eventually have the opportunity to live there permanently. If you had told the 18-year-old version of me that I would hunt goats, bears, sheep, deer, moose, and caribou as an Alaskan RESIDENT someday, I would have asked you what you were smoking and where I could get some. Logistically, even getting myself to Alaska sounded like a nightmare, let alone moving my entire life.
Fast forward eight years, I had moved to Alaska and been a resident for two and a half years. Blake had enlisted in the Air Force and stationed in Fairbanks, AK. He was currently in his fourth year as an Alaskan resident. Fortunately for me, Blake had some experience hunting the mountains and would share as much knowledge as he could with me. I owe a lot to him. He helped set me straight on my gear list and steered me toward the lighter, more multipurpose backpacking items. He saved me a lot of mistakes along the way. In the beginning, when a guy starts to acquire the gear necessary to become an independent, self-reliant backcountry hunter, he realizes what a money pit he has entered. Coming from a place like Kansas, where you can drive to and from your hunt location typically quite painlessly, survival gear is the last thing you would ever think about. Guys are not concerned about cookstoves or reliable packs. Guys are concerned with how difficult it will be able to drive their pick-ups or tractors right up to their animal.
As you can see, I had a lot to learn, and I still do. The gear list got longer and longer the more research I did, and after two years of collecting and spending, I had acquired what I considered a trustworthy lot of gear. Into the backcountry, I went.
After eating a tag sammich my first year as an Alaskan hunter, I vowed to make year two a memorable one. After months of discussions with Blake, I had planned my first walk-in over the counter tag sheep hunt. My father, who was to join me on the trip, could not make it, and I opted to scratch the journey to save my leave time from work for something later in the year. Sheep would have to wait until next year. Huge bummer. I devoted the coming weeks to scouting goats right in my back yard, Southeast Alaska. We grow ’em big here, as some record book research will show. However, the population densities are not all that strong. Finding big mature billies requires MANY miles under the hoof and through quality optics.
I found a lovely billy a few weeks before the season and watched him daily. I had a spot where I could get to at night and watch him feed up and down a particular cliff, like clockwork. Every night for eleven nights, he did the Same. Damn. Thing. Here, I had scouted a mature billy and had his routine figured out as if he were a pre-rut whitetail. I judged him to be somewhere over or just above nine inches, and I went INSANE as I counted the days until the opener. A week and a half before the opener, he vanished overnight, never to return. As I write this, two months later, I still have not laid eyes on him. I know he’s living up there with his babes right now as the rut should be in full swing, running from hell and back, keeping his legacy alive. The rest of that story is for another day. This story is about two friends, rekindling a high school friendship 3,000 miles from where it all began.
Monday, September 5 @ 21:19, I get the text from Blake’s Delorme: “Sheep down!” That son of a bitch landed, woke up the next day, shot a ram, processed him and got picked up the following afternoon. A less than 48-hour sheep hunt, ALL SOLO. But that is a story for Blake to tell. Three days go by, Blake gets back from his sheep hunt and realizes how much leave he has left. His wheels get to turning, and I get the text: “So what do you think about going to Kodiak? I’m 98% serious.” In the next three days, we figured logistics out, and our flight was booked. It all happened so fast that neither one of us could believe that after two years of trying to line up our schedules, it was finally going to happen. Two kids from a small town in Kansas were going to get to charge up the ridges and scale the peaks on Kodiak Island in search of my favorite animal, Oreamnos americanus.
I loaded my gear up and hopped on the ferry on Friday afternoon. An eight-hour ferry ride separated me from Juneau. Down the Lynn Canal, I laid with my head propped up on my dry bag, picking out goats on the nearly unreachable crags and cliffs that towered overhead. Blake told me about goat numbers on Kodiak, but I needed to see it for myself. No way, it could not be possible! I had to get down there and see it for myself.
After a fun evening of chatting and hanging out with family, I awoke and hopped on the first jet plane bound for Anchorage. Blake was coming from Fairbanks and was due in an hour and a half before I was. Upon landing, we met up with David Knapp, an avid hunter and close friend of mine from Palmer. Knapper ran us around town to get a few last-minute items and took us on a “farewell good luck” lunch at the infamous pizza pub and brewery known as “The Moose’s Tooth.” Thanks for lunch, Dave!
After lunch, we made the typical stops in Anchorage for the out of town mountain man, Barney’s Sports Chalet and Cabelas. I needed to snag some extra pins for my pack, you know, just in case. Dave dropped us off at the airport a little before noon, and we had some time to kill, so we went to one of the bars in the airport where we charged our electronics and enjoyed what would be our last beers before the backcountry. After catching up on all the lost time, we boarded the plane for our quick forty-five minute jaunt down to Kodiak.
Upon arrival on Kodiak, it was raining. “Sweet,” I thought. “This is how the trip is gonna start.” Fortunately for us, the rain faded, and it ended up being a splendid evening. We met up with our pilot shortly after we gathered all of our baggage, thankfully it all arrived in one piece at the same time.
Our pilot was Taj Shoemaker of Island Air. I cannot say enough about Taj. What a class act. We talked with him for a while and got our game plans together. Plans A, B, and C. You know, just in case.
That night I do not know about Blake, but I slept like shit! All I thought about that night was the lake we were going to be on the next morning and how anxious I was to get up the mountain.
When 0600 came, I was more than thrilled to get packed and get our last-minute errands done. We had breakfast at McDonald’s and then went into Big Ray’s when they opened to grab stove fuel. After killing a little bit of time, we headed down to the basin for our flight out. We got our gear all situated and waited for Taj to arrive from his early morning flight.
Day One – Listen to Your Alders
Taj taxied up to the dock as we finished the last of our paperwork and weighing gear. We loaded up the 185 on floats, and off we went. It was my first time in a float plane, and I may have developed a love for hunting off of lakes. Our flight in was spectacular. I did my best to soak it all in as much as possible. Between trying to document everything on my Nikon and see it all at the same time with my own eyes, I am sure there is A LOT that I missed. All the more reason to go back! Right? On the way in we spotted countless goats and a handful of bears. As we made our final approach to the lake, the terrain confirmed that our initial plan looked solid. When Taj touched the floats to the static water, sending ripples out to both shorelines, I felt relief. Despite Taj’s experience as a pilot, it always feels good to be on the ground, or in this case, the water. He taxied us to the far end of the lake where we would eventually set up camp. We got everything unpacked from the plane and had Taj snap a few pictures for us, and he was off like a prom dress.
Every hunter who has been dropped off via plane knows the feeling of watching the bird disappear into the distance. You listen to the whine of the engine grow distant and fainter until it finally ceases to exist. For me, everything up until that moment seemed like a dream. It did not feel real that this hunt was finally happening. Once that shiny black 185 disappeared, we got to work. Shuttling our gear up to the spot we deemed would be our basecamp. We spent the next two hours assembling camp and rearranging gear in our packs. The typical “this goes, this stays.” If I remember correctly, we packed for five days on the mountain at our eventual spike camp. We got everything up to par at basecamp, and I flipped the bear fence on and off we went.
With no exact route determined as to how we would travel up through the alders and brush, the beginning was a bit of a struggle. We knew from scouting on the flight that if we made our way up a designated ridge, we could hopscotch our way from alder patch to alder patch. Trying to navigate the entanglement of branches and devil’s club was indeed the challenge it all too often presents. I always reminded Blake how much fun it was and that we were some sick-minded individuals to elect to spend our vacation time punishing ourselves. He quickly reassured me that there was nowhere else we would rather be than halfway up an alder and devils club infested ridge. He was right. Anyone who has been there understands. Bent over straddling an alder branch regaining your balance by grabbing the only thing available, a handful of devil’s club is not my first choice of something to be doing on a Sunday afternoon. But we were doing it, and in a sick way, we were relishing in it.
The struggle was real, and it did suck. But this was part of it. This was the “suck” part. Every mountain hunt has it — it is part of earning your keep. The suck part is the portion you talk about when you describe the hunt to fellow hunters when you return home. You tell them about the time you fell flat on your back when your foot slipped out from under you as you tried to step over a waist-high limb, and the shale mountainside gave way. Or the time you dug devils club out of your hand for forty minutes to grab your trekking poles without stabbing pain again. And friends, there are plenty more “suck” portions. However, on day one, we were blessed with great weather and an “eventless” hike up 1,200′ to get above treeline.
I would later learn that this is referred to as Type 2 fun — the type of activity that only becomes fun after you’re done doing it.
Once above treeline, we set up our spike camp at a little lake — A perfect jump-off point for day two, when we could finally hunt. For those not aware, Alaska has a same-day airborne law, which prevents hunters from hunting on the same day as the flight in. A very reasonable and essential law to keep hunting fair for all animals and hunters alike.
While setting up a spike camp, Blake realized that he left his rain fly for his pack down at base camp. Boy, was he an angry elf! I learned a few new swear words that night. Once we had camp all set up, we glassed until just before dark. That night we glassed up: 24 goats, ten bears, and six deer –All on peaks across the valley, except for two goats. At twilight, a decent billy appeared on the summit up above camp.
We played the “if you spot it first, you get the first right of refusal” game. I was first to spot him and called dibs! He was a nice looking billy, thick body probably somewhere right around 9″. After watching him for ten minutes and snapping a few pictures, he disappeared behind a ridge. I was pumped! We scoured the topography on the GPS to figure out where we thought he was going to bed on the other side of the ridge and what the best route to get up would entail. Blake boiled up water for dinner, and we ate our first of many mountain house meals, I cannot recall the meal of choice for the evening. However, I remember the look on Blake’s face when he told me that there was a goat “really low” as I was stuffing my face with dehydrated slop. We figured it to be the same billy we had just watched feed his way down before disappearing behind the ridge. We watched him for ten minutes before he fed his way back up to where he had come. We immediately formulated a plan for the next morning. Sleep that night was hard to come by.
Day Two – The Gift
We awoke before the sun. The air had a bite to it, and frost encompassed everything. It was challenging to convince my legs out from beneath my down quilt. Blake started breakfast, and I collected water for both of us from the small stagnant lake just below camp. We intended to leave camp as it was and take a tarp with us up the hill and bivvy up high if needed. The lighter we could travel, the better. About the time we finished breakfast and were ready to begin the arduous trek up the hill, a white dot appeared just above where we saw the billy the previous night. We figured since we had enough distance between us, we could advance towards him in plain sight and hopefully get close enough to put the ridge below him between us. That way, we could proceed undetected. After making it 800 yards or so, another white dot appeared above us slightly behind the comfortably feeding billy we were after. A look through the binos confirmed that it was indeed another billy, very near identical in size. It turned from me going after a lone billy and Blake there along for the ride, to a potential double. We closed some more distance, roughly 150 yards and decided not to push our luck. We stopped in fear of spooking them up and over the top. We were caught with our pants down, stuck in the middle of the great wide open with nothing to hide behind but packs. Thankfully, after a little searching, we found a low mound and set up just below it. At this point, we were a solid ¾ of a mile and 700′ below the two feeding billies. We pulled out the spotter and made ourselves comfortable for what we imagined to be an extended sit.
The billies kept feeding, working themselves lower and lower. Blake was watching them through the spotter as I took pictures of a blacktail doe we spotted a mere 80 yards away. As I was clicking away, getting photos of the inquisitive doe, Blake pipes up, “dude, these billies are running down the mountain.” Sure enough, I took a look. They were closing the gap and fast. A quick decision was made, I dropped a pin on the GPS to find the packs later. We left our packs where they laid, grabbed our guns and set out to try to cut them off. Talk about zero to sixty. Now, these goats were not just working down the mountain anymore, and they were full-on hauling ass. Something had spooked them out of the little saddle they had been working, all we knew was that we had to cover some serious ground if we were going to make this happen. It ended up being 1500 yards that we covered in roughly five minutes. Up and down, jamming our knees doing everything in our power to control our feet as they landed on the soft spongy moss and shale that enveloped the mountainside. Talk about out of breath. We found a decent ledge where we could both lay down and get comfortable. We got into position and began scanning for the billies. When we saw the goats again, they were right where we thought they would be. They cautiously meandered out in the depression I was glassing. Blake ranged them, 580 yards. I said, “We gotta get closer.”
I wanted to be within 400 yards. I was comfortable anywhere within the 300s. But over 400 had me concerned. I had practiced at 300-500 yards. I had faith in my gun, and my skill set in the right circumstances all the way out to 450. However, I told myself I was not going to shoot at anything past 450 yards unless there were extenuating circumstances.
The goats walked behind a decently large knoll somewhere right around 500 yards. It appeared this was our last chance to move closer if we were going to. We decided to make a move. We sprinted down and closed the distance as far as we thought we could make it undetected. We identified a small shelf where we could lay down and get comfortable for a solid rest to make the long shot. We got there and popped our bipods out and extended the legs. I flipped my scope covers open and dialed my power up. We both started picking out landmarks, and ranging them, Blake would range something, and I would verify that I got the same readout on my rangefinder. We were on the money with each comparison. It seemed like an eternity, but I think it was only about sixty seconds, and the first goat walked out from behind the knoll. Blake ranged him at 426 yards. I referenced my ballistic drop card; 28″ at 400 yards. We decided Blake would shoot the first billy, and I would shoot the back one. Once the second billy walked out, we counted to three and both shot. We both missed low — the billies did not know where the shots came from, so they stood there looking around for the source of the commotion. I referenced my drop card again and realized I was looking at the wrong side of the card. I was looking at the ballistics for the Remington ammo I had brought as back up to the Nosler Accubonds that I had chambered. It read 34″ of drop at 400 yards. How stupid of me. I told Blake of my mishap, he re-ranged the goats. Still 426 yards, he said he would watch my next shot and to send it when ready. I accounted for the 34″ as I exhaled and squeezed slowly. At 426 yards, I hammered my first billy goat. I chambered another round and found him in my scope just in time to watch him tip over. I could not believe it. I was SO PUMPED! But I had to compose myself because we still had another goat standing there trying to survive. I switched my gun for binos and a range finder. The second goat was on the move. I began working to range landmarks up ahead of what I anticipated his next step to be. I could not for the life of me get a readout on my rangefinder, of course, how timely. So Blake had to range everything for himself while I watched the goat and called out his position. He finally slowed down and stopped at 620 yards. I finally got a readout on my rangefinder and confirmed that mine read 621 yards. He dialed right to 620 yards and held steady. After Blake dialed his scope, the billy had taken a few steps, so he held just a smidge high to account for the change in distance…whoops. When Blake sent that round towards that billy, I watched the ground just above that goat’s spine kick up. He shot not ½” above that goat. I could not believe how close he was to ruining that goat’s day. After that clean miss, we watched that billy walk out of our lives forever.
We moved down to where we thought my goat was lying, and sure enough, he was lying right there! I could not believe that it happened this fast! On the morning of the first day we could hunt, I had already filled my first tag! What a gift this was, I harvested a goat at roughly 1,500′. Find another hunter who managed to do that in September. I bet you can’t! We truly were in the right place at the right time. After further investigation later in the trip, we would discover the tracks of a brown bear inside the tracks of the billies’. One can only assume that he pushed them down out of the crags. Thank you, Mr. Brown Bear!
The next few hours were spent skinning and breaking down my goat. We got everything back to camp and laid out to cool and begin to develop a crust by 1400. Blake walked me through removing the skull from the hide and turning the eyes and lips. Something I cannot thank him for enough! After we got back to camp and got my goat all taken care of, we decided that we needed to verify that it was a clean miss on the billy Blake had shot at earlier. After over an hour of searching the area we thought he would have moved through after the shot, we found absolutely no sign of a hit and no sign of the goat at all. We felt we had righted our wrong with the goat gods by verifying that Blake indeed had a clean miss. Now that I had shot my goat, it was Blake’s turn. We got back to camp to tend to the meat and have a hot mountain house for dinner. We discussed a plan for the morning while we pounded water to try and replenish our fluids. As I laid there under my quilt trying to sleep, I tried my damndest to chase the thoughts of a large Kodiak brown bear sniffing around my tent out of my head. After about an hour of laying there, staring at the walls of my Hilleberg, I finally faded off to sleep.
Day Three – A Goat Hunt
Day three, we awoke before the sun again. This time a hard layer of frost covered EVERYTHING. Thankfully, the Hilleberg tarp we had spread out over the cooling meat took the hit of the frost and kept the meat safe and dry throughout the night. Everything developed an excellent crust that night, with it below freezing and a slight breeze, the meat was in great shape. I took the inner out of my tent and began creating a bed of branches under the rain fly for the meat to set on while Blake cooked breakfast.
We had decided to leave my goat protected inside my tent with just the rain fly pitched so that we could create good air circulation, keeping it protected from the elements. We ate breakfast, loaded up with water, said a prayer that the bears would not find the tent full of decadent goat meat, packed and up the mountain we went.
We elected to bring one two-person tent and a tarp up as our shelter. Light and fast, the only way to hunt! We took our time making our way up the hill. It was your typical false summit after false summit. But we eventually made it up and over. A couple of spots got a little hairy, but I would do that hike again without a doubt in my mind! It was a grinder, but after what I believe was 3 hours, we tamed the beast. We slowly edged our way up and over, staring all kinds of new country right in the face. We knew from our fly-in that this was going to be an excellent bowl crawling with goats. Upon our first peek over the ridge, we discovered that we were far from right. We were staring at a vast wasteland as far as I was concerned. We plopped down, pulled out the spotter, and scanned the crags and cliffs out beyond us. We discovered a sow with her two cubs well over a mile out, working directly away. Good news! As we continued our search for our white-coated trophy, we found a lone billy sitting directly over a five-hundred-foot cliff…he was absolutely out of the question until he moved.
After about ten minutes of glassing what lied ahead, we decided to work down onto the bench that overlooked the steep bowl below. We hoped to look back on the terrain that was directly below where we had topped out. It was the only part of the bowl we had not seen yet.
We cut down and around the mountain towards the opposite side of the bowl. As we worked along the bench, we used all the cover to stay hidden from what we had not yet laid eyes on. Working slowly and methodically, we checked every nook and cranny as we scrambled our way into an ideal glassing spot.
(Side note: As we slowly paced into the cuts where there should have been water, I begin to notice, there was no water on this side. It was all shale, jagged rock, or large boulders. There was no soil, nothing for the water to collect in. It just ran right down the rocks way down deep into the hillside. We began to make mental notes of all the places there were snow patches. Great, another curveball, water issues are not good issues to have. Of all places, Kodiak is one of the last places in Alaska I thought I would run into a lack of water! “The rock” truly is unforgiving!!)
As we slowly crept toward the edge, the only unseen portion of the basin began to reveal itself. That is when Blake spotted him. A perfectly content billy all by his lonesome. He was just lying there basking in the late September early afternoon sun. This moment is what hunts are all about. The anticipation built in my bones as we discussed Blake’s route and what our hand signals would be.
Blake started his route back the same way we came, wholly concealed from the unsuspecting billy below. As Blake worked his way into position for his stalk, I layered up and hunkered down. I set up the spotter with the eyepiece inverted to lay prone while watching the event unfold. This way, all that would be visible to the goat would be the spotter. Blake circled the bowl, dropped his pack and continued with rifle in hand.
This is where it began to get frustrating. Blake made his way down into the bowl, working on getting directly above the goat. He was relying on me to talk him in with hand signals. It was so steep that I knew with the angle of the ridges protecting the billy from above, Blake would have to get close before he was able to locate the billy. I knew that if I did not get Blake on the right approach angle, he would miss the ridge he needed. When I began to give him instructions, I knew that getting the stalk started right was of the utmost importance. As Blake made his way, I would look from the spotter, which I had on the billy, to my binoculars to gauge Blake’s trajectory and distance.
The following half-hour was the longest I have ever spent watching an animal. To properly give Blake instructions, I had to belly crawl backwards off of my glassing ridge and down twenty yards to a ledge where I was concealed from the billy but not from Blake. It was tricky staying hidden from the goat, but we do what it takes to help out a hunting buddy, right??
Giving Blake instructions was frustrating because he only had his binoculars, so, between the distance that separated him and us trying to get a steady rest to see my hand signals, it typically took quite a few renditions for him to comprehend the message I was instructing. However, each time he put his binoculars away and continued his stalk, I found that he understood what I was trying to convey from hundreds of yards away. The billy was still content and unaware of Blake. Blake was close, real close. I could not for the life of me, figure out how he could not see the white beast. I finally figured out it had to be the angle. It appeared to be roughly 100 yards and a mere 100 vertical feet separating the two. And it was. Blake was inching his way down the slope now, trying to figure out where the goat was. He finally looked back to me for the final signal. I gave him a direction and then directly followed it with a number. I knew he would not be able to see my fingers from so far away, but I hoped he would understand that I was giving a two-digit distance, trying to convey that he was close.
As I turned to give him one last hand signal before laying back down, my glassing pad slipped out from under my binoculars and blew out into plain sight of the goat. SHIT! Thankfully the pad came to a stop 6 feet over the ledge. I could not let it blow any further in fear of losing it and catching the goat’s attention. Somehow, so far, it had not found the goat’s eye. I slowly edged over the ridge to grab it, while Blake was still moving down into position. As I got a hold of the pad, I looked up. The goat was fixed on me. Inch by inch, I worked uphill backwards while laying on my stomach. Moving backwards on your stomach uphill is no easy task. When I finally got back behind the ridge out of sight of the goat, I immediately checked the billy’s demeanor in the spotter, he had calmed down but was still on high alert.
At this point, Blake was within 50 yards. And let me tell you, from 300+ yards, it looked like he was just going to hop on top of this damn goat and ride it down the mountain. I could not believe that he was this close, and yet I could tell that he still could not see him. Right about then, the billy stood up to reposition himself. I went from the spotter back to the binoculars. I had both of them in sight, and for a split second, I took it all in. This was as cool as it gets, I got to sit here and watch one of my best friends make an EPIC stalk on a solid billy.
Just then, I noticed Blake aiming. I switched my focus to the billy. Right as the goat turned to look downhill, Blake sat up and squeezed the trigger. I watched the billy absorb the first round. Blake put it right through his boiler room. The goat hunched up and took three quick, nimble steps downhill then stopped to survey his next move. Right as he came to a stop, Blake put another round in him. It looked like this billy was going to take a tumble, thankfully the goat gods shined on us that day. As the goat went down, he put his front hooves into the ground and propped itself up to avoid falling and died right there on a ledge, no bigger than your coffee table. THANK GOD!
I stood up with my arms in the air. I could not believe that the charades from across the bowl worked! I managed to talk Blake into 46 yards of the billy before he smoked him. I packed up my goodies, shed a few layers and started on my way across the bowl to meet Blake, where he had dropped his pack before the stalk. Upon meeting him, we shared a congratulatory hug and gave each other shit for being bad at charades. He indeed understood what I meant when I started giving him two-digit yardages! Ha!
I got out my camera and documented Blake walking down to his billy and laying his hands on him for the first time. An incredible experience to share with such a great friend!
We got his goat all taken care of and in our packs within the next two hours and decided to get up and over the top before dark. That way, all that we would have to do the next day is head down to spike camp, grab my goat and get both of our goats loaded up and back down to base camp within the shelter of the bear fence.
We got up and over just in time for the alpenglow to hit the peaks all around us. What perfect timing for a photographer! I snapped a few pictures with the phenomenal lighting, and we continued down to a protected little bench where we elected we would spend the night beneath the trusty Hilleberg tarp.
Our first bivouac on the mountain.
We got all of Blake’s goat out of game bags and laid out on large shale rocks, exposed to the cool mountain breeze to form a crust and chill for the night. As we got hunkered down for the night, I could not help but wonder about my goat down below us and how it had faired through the day and if any hungry brown bears helped themselves to a free meal.
Sleep came easy, but after the wind picked up shortly after 0200, it became a toss and turner. 15-30 mph wind is tolerable when you are in a tent, but without those sidewalls, it’s a little more crisp and annoying trying to convince yourself out of the sleeping bag at 0630. Blake and I both decided as fun as bivying is, it sucks.
Day Four: It all Went Down Hill
We got “camp” packed up and headed down to collect the rest of our spike camp and my goat before pushing down to base camp where we could create a meat cache within the comfort of the bear fence.
On our way down, we bumped into a doe (luckily for her still two days out of season). She was irregularly comfortable with our presence, we worked towards her at an angle and then elected to take a seat and see what would happen. What followed was freakin’ awesome. She fed at a 45 right toward us, sure to make no sudden movements I got my camera out and was fortunate to capture her at forty, thirty, twenty, fifteen, ten and then FIVE YARDS. I even managed to get an angle with Blake in the frame as well. We played leapfrog with her down the mountain for 500 yards or so before she decided she was as low as she wanted to go. That is something I will never forget, the interactions that we as hunters get to share with nature are things that most people will never be able to grasp or comprehend. It is moments like that that I treasure and long for.
We made it down to spike camp at 1115, and my goat was 100% undisturbed. SCORE! We transferred what I had been carrying of Blake’s goat into his pack and got my goat all loaded into my pack. What a heavy son of a bitch that was. It took us every single bit of 3 hours to push down that mountain. Now I say I’ll never do that again, but we all know the unfortunate end to that story. I am certain given a choice to make two trips or tough it out in one — I will always pick one trip. Every. Damn. Time.
But let’s be honest, when successful, hunting is the same as coming home with groceries. Right? Show of hands, who else makes one trip inside from the car after getting groceries? That’s what I thought, 27 bags and two gallons of milk? Challenge accepted! You can put your hands down now.
We decided we were each somewhere north of one hundred pounds. Not quite sure how far north, and I am not all that keen on finding out, to be honest with you. Regardless, we made it to base camp and began constructing our meat cache.
We fastened up a ratchet strap between two trees. Then draped my Kifaru super tarp over the ratchet strap and staked her down nice and tight and gathered some nice sized dead wood to create a ventilated floor for our hides and BOOM, instant meat cache — all inside our electric bear fence to boot.
The rest of the evening was spent getting Blake’s goat skull out of the hide. Once that was completed, and our camp chores finished, we got a fire going just before dark and roasted up some fresh tenderloins to supplement the mountain house we shared. As we munched on fresh goat, we stoked the fire and told stories. It was a relaxing evening licking our wounds from the treacherous pack down each carrying our entire goat plus spike camp. We shot off some messages on the Delorme to family and friends and shared in the campfire until we ran out of the wood we had collected.
To be Continued…