Krag Dwellers, By Keegan Daruda

 

As the new year kicked off, the usual planning for a goat hunt the following season was quickly underway. Being a Limited Entry Hunt (LEH) hunt my hunting partner and I made our applications hoping for a tag. With odds that usually wouldn’t allow us to draw on back-to-back seasons, we didn’t expect success but put in regardless. We made plans as if we were going, and even have a General Open Season spot picked out as a plan-b. To my surprise, I drew the tag. We were excited to be back on for our second goat. Immediately, we start upgrading gear and chasing the white rabbit of pounds and ounces, even adding some version of a fitness routine into the mix. Meals are improving and we are feeling like serious mountain hunters now. Our confidence is high once again since we have successfully taken a goat out of a zone with low success rates the previous year. We’re confident that we shouldn’t really need to do much scouting, we know where to go and simple hunt. After all, last time our scouted goat was scooped out from underneath us so might as well start fresh when we get there.

We make it to the headwaters of our valley a bit later than expected due to some mechanical issues, as well as highway construction. The old trail in is now in rough shape due to heavy spring runoff and vegetation growth on the trail. It is now a struggle to get in with the quads to where we had previously driven a truck. This time, we also have a third member joining us. We take the quads in a far as possible and then embark on foot to the base of the mountains, eventually reaching the base of the rockslide where we planned to make camp. The following morning we are greeted by a skiff of snow in the valley and after a usual breakfast of oatmeal we fill our water bottles and head up the slide.

We start climbing and by midday we are up in our new glassing roost, scouring the slopes for goats. Once again we are hunting in September and the weather has recently changed with a cold front on our doorstep. In spite of our efforts with three of us scanning, we can’t locate a goat, so we retreat down off the peak to a relatively flat spot and set up camp. We rise at the crack of dawn the next day and partake in our usual morning routines. The one item we pack up every trip regardless of weight is a small bottle of Carolans Irish Cream for coffee. A few creature comforts go a long way towards keeping you comfortable on the mountain — which in turn helps keep you on the mountain. After the one hour pilgrimage back up to our viewpoint, we notice some fresh tracks and pellets alongside some fresh urine in the snow. Can’t say for sure whether a goat has walked by in the night or maybe we had bumped one out of the spot on our way up the previous day. Either way, we never did see any goats. We spend that day glassing from this location moving just enough to see into a few other nooks and crannies in some nearby areas. Still no sign of goats. The day is fading and finally, a goat appears. Off in the distance just visible through the binos a goat is walking the skyline of a razor ridge. Now through the spotters, we can see this creature looks big and burley, but unfortunately, there are a few km between us and this white walker. Realistically he isn’t far from where we had started our journey back closer to the quads. Now we are all warm and fuzzy feeling, conjuring up a plan.

Ideas get bounced around about what our plan of attack is going to be. It’s approaching evening, Either we go down to the tents and spend the night and leave the mountain in the AM, or do a midnight run off the mountain in the dark. Our ambition wins and we elect to have another quality dehydrated meal, pack up our tents, and scurry down in the dark. I really dislike navigating the mountains by headlamp but when time can be saved this seems to be what happens. Now we managed to follow our route down easily enough until we had to navigate a slippery section of a slide with some water running down. The lesson learned from this moment was to always strap the guns into the packs when navigating dicey spots. I ended up slipping and losing my footing and my gun went for a tumble through the rocks. Nothing too bad but enough to make a dent on my scope tube and make me lose confidence in it. Had I had my rifle strapped in I’m sure it would have fared better.

We continue down the slide, reaching the creek below. We are back into “the grizz sanctuary” judging by the semi-recent sign we had seen on the way in. Its been a long day but we continue to hike out through the main valley and arrive at the quads. I don’t recall how late it was, but we decided to saddle up the steel horses and start our ride back towards the general area of the mountain with the goat. When we arrive at our destination we set up a tarp tent and called it a night.

The sun broke the next morning, and I won’t even lie and say we were out of bed to see it. It was past 09:00 by the time we were up. Feeling a lack of confidence in my rifle I went for a stroll to take a few poke shots at some rocks to check my guns zero. Three shots managed to connect at the rock I targeted so I feel things are still holding together with my trusty Leupold VX3. Most of the mountain this goat was on isn’t visible from the valley bottom, but there is one rocky peak that I figured I’d glass before we start hiking up. I pull out the spotter and low and behold there is a goat tucked into the rocks. The morning is running out but we hit the hiking sometime before noon. We chose a path that followed some run off down a chute which turned into a mess of scrub alder and devils club. Soon enough after wasting time and energy fighting the shin tangle we chose to go straight up the mountain where the timber was a better choice. We followed a labyrinth of mule deer trails up the mountain until we finally got close to the tree line.

Upon reaching the edge of the alpine, we dropped our packs for a well-deserved rest. As my partners set up for an afternoon coffee I continued to take a peek at what was visible at the edge of the trees. I immediately notice goats scurry past, about 200 yards above me in a shale slide. Two nannies, both with kids in tow. They make quick work scrambling up to the top of the saddle and out of sight. This was the first we had seen of this nursery group. I’m not sure if I had spooked them directly but I retreated back into the cover of the trees. Upon hearing of my new found group of goats the three of us crept back into a spot to take a better look. Both nannies were perched above us with the kids presumably on the other side out of sight. They seem rather calm bedded up there now, either they had not seen us or they felt secure enough up in their beds. Now the big solo goat could be seen across the bowl from our location feeding on the slope. We had him through the spotter and by our accounts, he seemed like a stud. The distance across this bowl registered at 800 yards on our rangefinder. Now we had the issue of these nannies bedded between us and our billy. The weather had been good up until now but we had been aware of a system due to blow in on us, and we knew we had precipitation en route. A message was sent to a wife back home via Inreach to check the weather report and the news wasn’t good. The clouds had begun to blow past us taking visibility away at times, but things were still very reasonable. With some distance to gain to make a play on this goat, and the band of nannies in our path, the decision was made to drop back into the timber to wait out the night. We had lost sight of all the goats due to the clouds and we really didn’t have enough daylight to get where we needed to be. We gathered as much firewood as possible to ride out the night in comfort. We had all agreed to leave the camp gear back in the valley bottom. All we had was our clothing systems and fire.

Now I won’t go into detail regarding who was big spoon little spoon that night, but we had dinner and kicked back to enjoy our cozy fire as darkness fell. We’d been bullshitting for a few hours when flakes of snow started to fall. Now the fire was great but the scrub mountain juniper firewood sure had a pungent smoke to it. The wind wasn’t in our favour and the smoke had become a real nuisance. The snowfall picked up to a steady pace and soon we were wearing all layers with our rain suits on. Over the years, I have purchased a great many used items and the first light clothing I had was certainly worth every penny. This was my first night spent around a fire waiting the night away and I really don’t look forward to doing it in the future… By far the longest ten hours of my life. By morning we had close to three inches of snow and it was still coming down. Throughout the night I had many conversations in my head regarding how fast I planned to get off this mountain with the first rays of daylight. Once the sky brightened we felt slightly more at ease and were faced with a decision about our next move. Everything was socked in still, and the snow was still falling. There was no visibility to check the locations of our goats and the practical safety of our climb ahead was weighing on us. The decision was made to pack off the mountain and head home.  Afterwards, we watched the weather network to monitor our area’s weather and that storm did not let up for three days which helped to ease the pain of deciding to leave. At the end of the day, one does not want to jeopardize their whole future goat hunting career over one goat opportunity.

After a week of letting the weather clear up, we were headed back into where we left off. This was our last ditch effort to pull a rabbit out of our hats. We made good time getting back into where we had departed from but now there was a considerable amount of snow down low in the valley. Unfortunately, judging by the tracks on the road up the fsr, we were not the only ones up here recently. As we get back to the end of the road in the truck before disembarking with the bikes, we find a familiar truck parked. The outfitter is up in here again. We cruise up through the snowy trail which will soon be more ideal for a snow machine. As we pull in to where we planned to head up the mountain, we are soon back in conversation with the outfitter, who has a guide and client up our mountain. He is surprised to see us again but congratulates us on our previous success — we had killed one of his plan B goats the previous year. We decided to pull out and our once choice is to go look for a new billy.

As we leave the outfitter asks us if we know a spot that matches a quick description he gives, and since we haven’t caused him any grief with his clients he says there is a goat at this new location. Not knowing whether this is a goose chase or not we decide to go look since we really don’t have an alternative. Upon reaching this new spot only a few km away, we quickly locate two goats up on a rock face. I’m not sure if this is the one he described but its a pair of goats never the less. Upon further investigation, we can determine that this is indeed a nanny with a young billy. He is Mature by definition but clearly not sporting much age, I’d wager he’s maybe in the 7″ range. Now we move a bit closer and the goats even start feeding in our direction. We haven’t even had to climb up much in elevation thanks to the recent dump of snow. The goats are now within range and the decision is getting closer. Deep down I know this goat is too young but the pressure to be successful is weighing heavy. We banter back and forth about the young billy and the goats feed their way out of sight.

I’ve reached the decision that this isn’t my goat. He isn’t big enough to be wall material and not really enough meat to warrant the work. More importantly, he is more valuable left on the mountain to help grow more goats. The sound of pebbles grabs my attention and I look above us to see the nanny. She has somehow got above us and is now spooked. She takes off for higher ground, soon followed by the young billy. The rest of the day is spent just enjoying the mountains, with a plan to head home. On our way down we cross paths with the outfitter and client once again. It turns out they were also unsuccessful in getting close to that big billy back on the other mountain. The client, an older fellow from Louisiana takes interest in us young resident hunters and is awestruck that we can have these opportunities readily available to enjoy these adventures. For the price he paid to be there that week I could afford ten seasons worth of time and gas to go looking for these amazing creatures that inhabit the peaks of our province. We truly are fortunate to call British Columbia home.

This summer we went back to scouting our area. We went in to check access, and as before the roads had been further eroded by mother nature. The summer smoke had been heavy and any glassing was out of the question. Still, it was well worth the road trip just to get back in the mountains. Our trio had become a duo as one member was up north on a horse trip.

Mid-September, we made our way up into a new area we had scouted and found a high basin with a great view. after hiking up and setting camp we went up and glassed the peaks. By evening we had a billy spotted. once again way off on a distant ridgeline. Now, this was a great feeling, first night on the mountain with a good goat pegged in the spotter. We made a plan to close the gap between us by navigating the razor-like mountain tops, hoping that the peaks all connect in a passable way. We decided to wait until morning to go after this goat so that we have an entire day to work with. There are patches of snow on this ridge and there are goat tracks that head from our locating to where we are glassing this goat. He must have passed through here not too long ago. The curious thing is, along the top of this mountain following this goat are cat tracks.

Morning arrives and surprise, surprise we have a skiff of snow, which always adds to the difficulty of navigating the mountains. We make it back up to where we had glassed the billy and push farther along the ridgeline to close in on the goat. There is enough snow on the ground that it becomes hard to see all the details of the holes between the rocks and I end up putting my foot into a hole that had been covered by the snow. A quick assessment and I feel fine, a little bit of initial pain but its fading. We push on. We are far enough away that we are not worried about being skylined as there really isn’t any alternative. Reaching a point where we cannot continue on, there is a cliff which is suitable for goats only. With the added snow, neither of us is prepared to risk this obstacle. Once again decisions have to be made. We need a new plan to reach this goat. Our only option will be to retreat all the way back to the trucks and venture in from a different valley. We pull back, collect camp and spend the rest of the day exiting the valley… once again.

We return for our main hunt in October. We now had legitimate holidays and all three members of our group were once again at it. This time we had brought my old beater horse trailer in, allowing us a warm place to retreat to if we encounter bad weather. I have a small wood stove in the trailer which helps to make the long trip comfortable. We are back in our valley checking familiar spots where we have found goats in the past. We find our one billy from the last trip, he hasn’t moved much over the last few weeks. But still, his location is next to impossible to put a stalk on. I’ve found goats usually stick to the same habitats year after year for obvious reasons. This goat lives here because he knows he is safe. We keep moving locations glassing, keeping this billy as a possibility if we can’t locate another in a better location. Two days pass and we haven’t seen any other goats yet. The thing about goat country is that they can hide so easily. If they are not out and feeding you can spend days glassing and never notice them, however, if they are on the move they can be super obvious. The evening of day three, as we glassed a familiar rock face, we see a white creature walking across a sheer cliff. We’d glassed this area fairy consistently and now he had surfaced.

The next morning we are up at dawn watching him. Unfortunately, he is out of reach 500 yards above us. From this location, there is no sense shooting him and having him free fall down a pile of hamburger and broken horns. If he were to hang up on a tree he would be impossible to retrieve. I spend the whole day sitting and watching him. He moves very little other than some browsing followed by naps in his hidden bed spot. By evening however he starts dropping down, closer to a spot where I may have an opportunity. I move closer to the base of this cliff while trying to remain in the cover of the timber and I lose sight of him. I wait until dark and he never appears. When I regroup with my partners, they inform me that he dropped down a bit but soon climbed back up into his balcony out of reach. The following day is a repeat of the previous, with us watching him all day. Still, he does not drop low enough for me to reach him. I get impatient. I have this feeling that he will eventually drop down lower but it just hasn’t happened yet. My impatience gets the better of me and I decide we will hike up the mountain behind him and try to come in above him. Two of us started hiking up the backside of the mountain while one remains to watch from the glassing spot. After hiking through some of the worst blow down iv ever encountered, it looks like we won’t have a decent enough angle to see him, and we end up heading back down.

When we reach the bottom our third partner is waiting for us and informs us that somebody else killed that goat. Neither of us even heard the shot from up on the mountain. While we were hiking up another pair of residents had come into this area and neither of us had seen each other. As I suspected, the billy had dropped lower in elevation and they were able to take him. Had I been patient I would have most likely had my opportunity as well. All in all, these guys turned out to be solid, and I was happy for them.

The next day, however, was one of the lows of the emotional roller coaster that is mountain hunting. The other two buggered off on their own and I sulked around camp — I needed to collect myself for a bit. By noon I was back out, taking the quad over to some country that we hadn’t invested much time in this year. We had a few days left to hunt and the weather was beautiful for October. As I reached the end of the old road, I fired up the jetboil for some soup. I was laying back in the sunshine when I see it. Standing on a rock, skylined, is a goat. From where I am he looks good. Dirty rear end, and the horns look to have heavy bases from down here. The emotional rollercoaster is now on a major swing upwards. The billy settles down for a nap so I pack up a go gather my partners.

We return and watch the goat through the spotters for the rest of the day. He moves over the mountain a bit but we put him to bed that night. We are back at the base of the mountain trying to locate him as the sun pops up. We left camp in the dark to be here at first light hoping to find him in his bed at first light. We locate him quick enough, he is already up and feeding, so we make our last plans for our ascent and started up after him.

The first part of the mountain is shin-tangle city. We are climbing up an avalanche chute full of alders. Eventually, it thins out and the timbered section is much more forgiving. We reach the point where we last saw the goat around noon, but there is no sign of him. Now there are two directions he could have gone, after debating our options we pick our path and decide to creep over the top of the edge of the next chute. We reach the crest and decide before we peek over we should fuel up and take a break and let our heart rates drop from all the climbing. The guys drop the packs and we hang out for ten minutes taking some pictures. I decided I’d better take a peek and check what is over the edge. I’m twelve feet from where we were talking loudly together and I can see the goat, he is slightly below me sleeping on a rock. I range him at 140 yards. I motion to the guys and thing get serious, to me his horns say billy. I pull back and let the others creep up for a peek to give a second opinion… Bases are bigger than his eyes. Now, this goat looks very similar in size and horn length to our first billy. I set up on a rock that is like a perfectly flat table top. I couldn’t ask for a better rest. By now the goat has stood up and is slowly walking away. I pull the trigger and he goes down, piled up into a shrub thirty feet from where he stood.

We have to shimmy down a steep section to get down to him, but he is in a relatively decent spot. We dig him out of the juniper bush and sit back to take in the moment. Once again a quick check of his package triple confirms that he is truly a billy. We do the usual routine of pictures before we get down to business. Cape comes off and meat goes into my new black ovis bags, which worked great. We have left a few bones along with the hooves and the rest is coming down the mountain.

We had decided our safest route off the mountain in the dark would require some side hilling on the mountain, so off we went knowing we would be well into the night before we landed back in the valley bottom. Once again we would be travelling down heavy by headlamp. Our course was unknown, and we ended up slinking down an avalanche chute praying that we didn’t reach some unpassable obstacle. Emotions once again play on your mind and things become unpleasant as every muscle in your body lower body starts to complain. There were many moments where you consider whether simply hunkering down til daybreak would be safest, but we pushed through. I truly am grateful for both of them. Between the three of us, there was always one who seemed to take charge and keep pushing the group further. There were many moments where the chute was steep enough where we were mostly lowering ourselves down from alder to alder.

As we made our way down, two wolves were howling in the valley below. At this point, neither of us really seemed too worked up about the dogs. It was really eerie to hear the howls echo in the valley as we marched my trophy off the mountain, but it certainly added to the moment. We finally reached the old trailer sometime well into the morning. Even though we were all hurting and exhausted we made a fire, cooked the greasiest grub possible, and crushed a few beers, reliving the experience.

I had thought this goat would be a bit younger than our first one, which had 8 ½ inch horns at six years old. This guy did surprise me, being three years old with horns at 8 3/8 inch. I really just wanted a mature goat with long hair, and a bit more maturity would have been good but, I had one hell of a time to get here. To quote Mr. Brad Fry “the trophy is in the hair.”

Posted by Nolan Osborne