JAMES’ BC BILLY OFFICIALLY TIED FOR 2ND ALL TIME POPE AND YOUNG
Shards of ice began to rain from above, followed by thunder. Within seconds my heart sank as I watched rocks tumble downward across our only passage. I questioned the thought of ever reaching the colossal billy.
The echoing stopped with the last pebble and we both knew it was now, or never. Ryland and I grabbed our packs and carefully scaled the near vertical face of icy granite. Safely across and out of harms way, we knew now the real challenge began: the stalk.
It can be hard for some to imagine that the Rocky Mountain Goat would be one of the most dangerous animals to hunt in North America, but although they may not be apex predators like Grizzly Bears or Cougars, the terrain they occupy is as unforgiving as it gets. Coastal monsoons, sub zero temperatures and a perfect week of sun added danger to this early November rut, but it was a beautiful mid-afternoon day. Rays of sun streaked the sky and the granite rocks sparkled like little diamonds inside the stone walls. In the thick of all the danger I had forgotten how beautiful this mountain can be.
Once directly above the bluffs where the two goats were bedded, we started our descent. It was a slow process. One of us would keep eyes on the kid that was bedded in plain sight while the other would cautiously pick his way down cliffs using immature limbs of thorn bush and handfuls of grass. We thought it was strange how the billy was harassing a lone kid and that no nannies were in sight, but I also knew it wasn’t unheard of. Once below a small razor back of rock, the rangefinder was reading 130 yards, but we could not make this number any smaller. We were cliffed out.
We doubled back across the precipitous face and climbed down our path of flattened alders to a more suitable elevation. We then decided to cross the rock slide once more. We crossed for the third time and made our way down the mountain side before cat-walking a small ledge to the east, at the foot of the cliff that we were stranded on an hour before. We quietly pushed through a small portion of alders and timber that led us to another small pedestal above the two goats.
We dropped our packs and grabbed our glass. I got comfortable and nocked an arrow. After about an hour, we debated on moving closer, but I knew to wait it out. Twice in this past month I had blown stalks on the same billy by trying to get above where I put him to bed, only to find he moved up with the sunlight throughout the day. Now the sun was beaming down on me, and they were bedded in the shade. It was only a matter of time.
A giant white boulder moved below, only this time without the now familiar sound of a rock crashing down the mountain. The big billy got up and started to feed. I ranged him at 60 yards. He wasn’t going anywhere, so I raised my binoculars to get a good look.
After about fifteen of the longest minutes of my life, the billy started feeding towards me. My heart raced and I did my best to stay calm. As he walked beside the base of the cliff I was perched, I knew I had a small window of opportunity to capture my dream. I quickly ranged him at 35 yards. I dialled in my sight, and drew back my bow.
This is it. All the time spent cutting trails through harrowing Devil’s club and labyrinths of alders; hours upon hours each day shooting targets and glassing the same hillsides; mistaking the same smoke-stained rocks for goats; blowing multiple stalks; refusing, and passing up more rifle shots than one could count; all the blood, the sweat and the tears. This is what I’ve been working for, this perfect moment. It was an archer’s dream.
My arrow rocketed through the thick lofty hide and ricocheted off of the sparkling granite slope. I had seen it penetrate him, but something was off.
“You got ‘im. Put another one in him,” Ryland whispered.
I nocked another arrow and the billy was on the move. I ranged him at 60 yards and let one fly. A complete miss. I ranged him again, 70 yards and counting. I dialled in my sight once more and nocked my third arrow. As he was quartering away, I held my single pin over his front shoulder. A loud thud clearly indicated a promising shot. The billy jumped up and moved for the timber, faster than I’ve ever seen a goat move.
“He’s done. He’s done,” Ryland whispered. I took a deep breath and lay my head on the cold stone.
We sat still. We tried to muffle our whispers, but our spirits were too high. It was just after 3:00pm and we both knew we only had another one and a half hours of light. It wasn’t very much time to find my kill, do the knife work, and re-cross the “death slide.” We were both experienced mountaineers and knew that once that sun goes down, everything turns to ice. That was something we didn’t want to encounter.
We climbed off our vantage point and started searching for blood. We found my first arrow broken in half, not a speck of blood to be found anywhere on it. My suspicions were right about my first shot. Ever since I started researching stories about bow hunting the elusive Rocky Mountain Goat, my head had been filled with nightmares. Multiple times I read the same line in different stories, “My arrow went right through the fur!” Just like a Freddy Kruger movie, my nightmare had become reality.
I made my way to the alder patch where I had landed the 70 yard bomb. I started searching like a blood hound. I walked up, down, left and right in a grid fashion. I was starting to worry when nothing turned up.
“I heard that thump. I know I made a clean hit,” I said.
Just before I was about to hit my peak of frustration, Ryland shouted out, “There’s blood over there on the alders!”
We stopped and gave each other a big man hug. Right away that feeling of joy came pulsing back. There it was, 30 yards into the timber: the Holy Grail.
“What a tank!” Ryland shouted out. We both stopped dead in our tracks and stared.
“That is definitely a book goat!” I said.
I was fortunate enough that the billy decided to take his last breath on a little nub, in the middle of the steep timber. There wasn’t much for scenery, so we used the hide as a bright canvass to show off his daggers. I placed my bow and we started snapping photos. After 20 pictures or so I couldn’t take it any longer.
“I have to know now, I can’t wait!” I said as I reached into my pack and grabbed my small measuring tape. I extended the length of his horn and did a double take.
“Was that an 11?” I screamed. I put the tape back and sure enough it read 10 3/4″. Through the whole stalk I knew he was a dandy, but I never expected this.
We started the knife work and caped him out for a full mount. Thank god for Ryland because I would have been skinning that thing until midnight if it hadn’t been for his surgeon-like skill with a blade. By the time we were done deboning it was dusk. Three quarters and both back straps in Ryland’s pack, one quarter and a full Cape, for a life-sized mount, in mine. We got our headlamps ready and threw on the packs.
It looked and smelled like a goat, but every step felt like I was packing out a moose. There was still a glimmer of light, just enough to leave us feeling a little comfortable on the last rock face. By the time we reached the rat’s nest of alders it was entirely pitch black.
For me goat hunting is a love-hate relationship. I wouldn’t have it any other way. When people look at a photo of me hunting, or a mount on my wall, they just see a trophy. When I gaze upon it, I go into a trance as I’m flooded with memories and filled with joy. I was fortunate to be able to experience this memory with one of my best friends, now I eagerly await our next adventure.