There are some things that I hold in high regard; people you can count on are right at the top of the list. A few years ago, Brian, my regular mountain hunting partner and I had come out of the sheep mountains a week early. We had covered lots of ground and found sheep but nothing we could convince ourselves was legal. On the hike out I mentioned that I knew where some goats had been in the past and suggested we use the rest of our vacation to see if we couldn’t get on some Billy’s. Long story short and leaving the hyperbole behind we doubled on goats in an amazing basin surrounded by glaciers. The payment for this success was numb toes, devils club in almost every square inch of our flesh and muscle pain like I’ve never felt before. It was a brutal place to hunt but the goats were there.
Two years later and fond memories of that hunt swimming through my head I started hinting to Brian that we should go back. It didn’t take much convincing for him and the ensuing weeks and months were filled with the normal talk about gear(especially devils club resistant gear), looking at maps, photos, and planning.
Sometime in the spring, another hunting buddy got wind of our goat hunt that was in the works and asked to join. Scott has a solid resume of hunting success but we had never done any kind of grinder hunt together. I gave him ample warning about the suck factor of this particular area but also the number of goats it usually holds. Now have to pitch the idea to Brian. He asks all the usual questions about Scott and how well I know him. He’s cautious that we don’t want to take a quitter because there is very little “fun” about this hunt. Scott continued to show interest so we cemented the plan. He and I hunted bears in the spring and then we all did a backpacking trip mid-summer to make sure we could get along.
Fast forward a couple of months and it is now mid-September, it’s go time. In the normal BC hunting tradition, we spend a lot of time pouring gas into the truck for the long drive north. The weather forecast hasn’t looked good for the few weeks leading up to the hunt but the time off has been arranged and we’re going to make the best of it.
We arrived at a spot where we could do some glassing for about an hour before dark to hopfeully confirm that the area still holds goats. At sun up we confirmed goats again and begin enacting the plan of attack. Our packrafts were quickly inflated providing us and our gear safe transport across the water currently seperating us from the goat mountains. On the other side, we deflated the boats and put them in 5-gallon buckets, in hopes of slowing down or detering any bears or vermin that might be looking to chew them up in our absence.
Now the ascent begins and the months of planning becomes reality. Our gloves and pants that were supposed to be relatively impervious to devils club seem to be working, but the real standout item was the small handsaw we had. If you’ve ever had to hike through alder you know that there are places where you absolutely can’t get through. Last time we were in here, our packs would get taken off and shoved through the branches followed by us squeezing through and strapping the pack back on. This time we had all agreed not to hurry the ascent and to take some time to trim a half-decent trail into the alpine.
Somewhat selfishly I kept quizzing Scott if the climb was as bad as I had described it to him. Now, he is a man of few words but he agreed this was a suckful adventure we were currently on(as most good mountain hunts should be, in my opinion).
Five long hours later we emerged into the alpine, out of water and drenched in sweat. I encouraged everyone to sit down and take some time to glass our surroundings so we wouldn’t bump any goats that may be in the vicinity. After glassing and relaxing for a few minutes Scott says we have goats directly above us. He wasn’t kidding. 180 yards straight up we have not just one but two Billy’s visible. Scott’s rifle comes out of the gunslinger quickly and he has his crosshairs on one of the goats in short order. He asks if he should shoot and I’m trying to get him to hold off while Brian gets his rifle out of his pack. Soon enough both rifles are on the goats and triggers are pulled. Two goats are down and we’re somewhat in shock to have doubled on goats on day 1 of the hunt. Some pictures are taken, hands are shaken, and some time is spent soaking up all that the mountains are giving us on this glorious day. Then the work commenced as we broke the animals down and carefully salvaged all the meat we could.
We were on a very steep slide path, in grizzly country with two goat carcasses, no water and no flat space to camp. The only play was to hike up and across the mountain to where we know water and a flat spot exists for the night. A thirsty hour of sidehilling and falling later we gorged on glacial water, cook some dinners and made camp. We pulled out the horns and did our best to count annuli, Scott’s goat looks to be a 9” 7-year-old billy and Brian’s is an amazing 11” 10-year-old by our count. We were rewarded with an unreal full moon rising right down the valley we were overlooking as we retired to our tents for the night.
In the morning we traversed back to the kill site and sat 100 yards above it and the meat cache. We glassed and rolled rocks for signs of a grizzly having moved in overnight, but eventually decided were ok to go retrieve all the meat. Our packs were loaded in short order with the meat divided 3 ways, the skulls and capes being bonus weight for the shooters.
The next five hours were all downhill back through the alders, slick grass and devils club. We all fell more times than we cared to count but we eventually make it to the lake and found the packrafts still safe in their buckets.
It was a long drive home with lots of laughing and a gradual awareness of just how sore and stiff we were all slowly becoming. We all agreed it was over too quickly, but you never give up an opportunity like that, be it the first day or last.