Hunting the Rocky Mountains started as an unreachable dream over a decade ago. Then it became a goal to hunt mountain big game when I moved to western Canada, and now it’s simply a deep passion — or an obsession, if you ask my wife.
After a memorable 2015 hunting season, I knew 2016 was going to be a life-changer. I was to become a father, which implies changes in life’s priorities and a balancing act among family duties, life in general, work, and my passion for mountain hunting. It was to my utter surprise, during spring 2016, that my wife suggested she would spend a good portion of the hunting season with our daughter at her parents. Out of town. Once the details were finalised, I got into planning mode. Knowing my hunting time in the coming years would become more limited due to a growing young family, I promised myself to make 2016 worthwhile and to hunt without regrets!
Throughout the spring and summer, I reviewed all my gear and did some upgrades; anything short of a “must-have” item came off my list. I also trained physically, spent time at the gun range, and made hunting plans with two good friends for late season Stone sheep and mountain goats in northern BC. I was prepared like I’ve never been before.
About a month before the hunt, my two friends had to make the very difficult decision to cancel their hunting plans with me for legitimate personal reasons. So, having some mountain hunting experience during the early and late season already under my belt, I decided to go on with the hunt by myself. Not an easy decision to make, but I have been on a few backpack hunts over the years and I knew I could make this happen. I promised my wife, and my friend who was keeping track of me in the backcountry with the Delorme technology, that I would not take unacceptable risks. After all, I want to hunt the mountains for many years to come, but most of all, I now have a wife and a child to come home to.
After a cool summer and fall, where it rained just about every other day in northeast BC, I was expecting tough conditions and white mountains. My goal was to find a mature mountain billy goat, with a prime winter coat, before the mountains turned completely Arctic. Afterward, I was going to focus on Stones; their dark winter hair should make them easier to spot on snow-covered mountains. At the same time, what I’ve experienced and been told about late season hunting is to expect all types of weather conditions and be prepared.
The end of September arrived, and I started the long journey up north, with lots of ambition and excitement. While driving, I saw the mountaintops on the horizon were indeed white, the air was cold, and the scenery was breathtaking.
After a good hike in and getting my spike camp set up, I hiked to a goatie-looking mountain with cliffs next to some high alpine feed, which looked mighty steep. I spotted a nanny goat with a kid and possibly her yearling, then decided to climb an avalanche chute to see if I could find more goats in their hiding holes. While climbing the chute, I picked out a goat chewing its cud, perched on the edge of a cliff at the top of the mountain overlooking the valley. This goat appeared to be a nanny, and I carried on climbing the steep chute.
Once in the alpine, I found a well-used mountain goat bed from which to glass. I was 300 yards away from the nanny goat who was now on the move feeding towards me. Glassing the mountain side, I located two other goats, one feeding — which appeared to be another nanny by the characteristics of the horns — and a bedded goat. This bedded goat had a good-sized body and decent horns: a potential billy. After he got up to stretch and urinate, he went back into his bed, looking away. It was at that moment that I got my confirmation that he was indeed a billy. This goat had the features I was looking for! He had beautiful thick hair, especially at his knees, his back was well-arched, and he sported a generous beard that was moving with the wind.
Now it was time to make a game plan. I backed out of the chute again and climbed up higher to get closer, yet out of sight. Once at 225 yards, I got myself ready on a shale slide. I waited for him to get up and also see if another goat would show itself. An hour passes very quickly when you’re admiring some spectacular scenery along with some amazing wildlife! When the billy got up again, he stretched and checked his surroundings, but I had already made my move on him. Without a good shot angle, I waited for him to move around and I didn’t have to wait very long before he stood quartering to me. One well-placed round later, he collapsed on all fours and started rolling down the steep mountainside. I lost sight of him quickly.
At that moment, with the sound of the gun shot, a couple other mountain goats started to appear out of the cliffs. It was white goat heaven! What a show I got. Mountain goats are amazing to watch moving around in the cliffs; one of them was climbing up what looked like a wall of rock.
Goat down, I had work ahead of me. I loaded my pack and made my way to find my billy. There was only one direction he could have gone from his bed and it was down, so down I went. It was very steep and challenging to find footing amongst the thick alpine alders. Without much for a blood trail, I was looking from above for his white coat to stand out. A dead tree stopped his fall 40 yards down; if it wasn’t for that tree, I think he would have rolled all the way down to the treeline. It was so steep, and being alone, I couldn’t move him much for pictures without the risk of sending him down further. He was well anchored against the tree, so I managed to snap a few good pictures with him there. At that point, it was getting late in the afternoon, so I decided to clean him out and come back the following day to retrieve the meat and cape.
With the sound of the running water from a nearby creek, I enjoyed my evening resting my legs next to a fire with a Mountain House meal in my gut. It was great to be able to share my day via satellite with my wife and hunting partner back home. Life was good to say the least!
The next day I climbed up the mountain again to proceed with quartering the meat. By far this was the most difficult field dressing I’ve ever done. Hiking poles were my friend up there to hold my backpack in place as I loaded it up with meat. After maneuvering sideways through the rocks and the vegetation back to the avalanche chute with a heavy pack, the “easier” portion of getting off the mountain remained. It’s amazing how fast one’s body adapts to intense physical activity. The next day, I felt well-rested and ready for the hike out. Once back to my base camp, I washed the blood from the cape in the creek and restocked my food for the next portion of my hunt: Stones.
With the meat and cape stashed up on a meat cache, it was time to head out again into the backcountry. I decided to go explore some interesting but promising country. After an enjoyably long hike to the edge of my intended sheep country, I set up camp.
The next morning the mountains were beautiful but the country was difficult to hike due to the tall and dense vegetation in the valley bottom. Once I arrived where I wanted to start looking for sheep — “the promised land” — the weather was turning for the worse. The temperature was cooling below freezing with a strong wind from the big snow clouds moving in covering the mountains. While I was setting up my spike camp, a young bull moose chasing a cow came within bow range. I’m sure they were wondering what I was doing there in such conditions.
Glassing what I could see of the surrounding mountains, I located across the valley, 800 yards away, a cow moose with a decent bull staring at her from afar. With the clouds moving in, I could only see the bottom half of the mountains, and with no sign of sheep or trails in the snow, I decided to have some fun with the moose. Off I went, making cow-moose-in-heat calls. Well, that got me some attention. After some intense staring in my direction, the bull decided to come my way. Back and forth, we were calling at each other until Mr. Bull was within bow range, staring at me. Then, out of nowhere, a younger bull appeared behind him. What a sight to enjoy! After all, this is what hunting is all about.
I enjoy hunting vocal animals, and I was about to experience some memorable interactions. After more glassing, I found more cow moose, seven of them, coming out of a spruce patch with a giant bull in tow. That explained why that decent bull I called in earlier was not with the cow: he wasn’t quite mature enough yet. Mr. King was a dream bull. He had it all, from width, to height, and wide paddles with big fronts and good long points on each side. If I wanted him, he was mine, but there was no chance on earth that I would be able to haul him out. Such a big-bodied moose in a remote location and in such habitat would involve multiple trips to haul him on my back. It was just not possible to accomplish. So, out came the camera. Mr. King allowed a young bull with antlers the size of my hands around the cows. The young bull was no threat to him and the cows wouldn’t let the young chap breed them.
That afternoon I enjoyed watching and observing the dynamic of all those moose interacting in the open backcountry. After all, it’s not every day you get the opportunity to observe moose rutting behavior up close. By late afternoon, I packed up my hunting gear and headed up a ridge to attempt to glass a new drainage. Unfortunately the clouds thickened further, to the point where I had zero visibility, which ended my day. That evening as I settled in my tent, I could hear moose calls coming from Mr. King, his cows, and a duo on their honeymoon in the spruce patches nearby.
The next morning I woke up to a completely fogged-in valley, so I went back to sleep. 8 am, 9 am and then 10 am came and I was still in my tent. Finally the clouds were trying to lift at 11, and off I went to glass — but I had no visibility. The clouds started to come back early in the afternoon and remained for good. Two days of thick fog and no visibility was getting tough mentally. After reading my tent manufacturer’s tag countless times, I realized I made the big mistake of not taking a book with me. I’ve always carried a book with me on my backpack hunts for such circumstances, but with extra insulating layers on this October hunt, my pack was heavy enough, so I decided that a book was a want item rather than a need. Now, stuck waiting out relentless fog for days, I regretted that decision.
Since the fog plagued the view of the mountains, I was stuck doing short, mid-day excursions in the valley bottoms. It was there that I located more bull moose, and some fine ones too, so I decided to pass time by calling them in. They all stayed away from Mr. King. One morning when I was stuck in my tent, I looked outside to see if the fog was starting to lift and I found Mr. King with a few cows 225 yards away in an opening making their way to another drainage. It was tempting to take him with the rifle next to me, but a dose of reality kicked in, and again, out came the camera. A wise decision made in the backcountry that I still today believe was the right one.
Finally, late one morning, the moment arrived that seemed like I would have an opportunity see some mountains. I got organized and as I was hiking up for a viewpoint overlooking a promising valley, out of nowhere came this bull moving at a steady pace towards me, calling every five seconds. I’ve never had so much fun with moose before. Fifteen minutes after reaching the viewpoint, the fog started to roll in and out of the drainage until it turned into permanently thick clouds for the rest of the day.
So after days of constant fog, not seeing a mountain (while IN the mountains!), and unfavorable Delorme weather updates, the solitude of being confined to my tent for large portions of the days, compounded by days of frozen boots and icy feet, the new role of fatherhood, and thoughts of my baby girl all compounded in my head. Anyone who has spent any time in the backcountry knows that when Mother Nature turns on you, it starts to affect you mentally. Under these circumstances I found myself reflecting on my changing life. Being apart from my wife and baby girl for many weeks during the hunting season was really getting to me. Finally, I reached my breaking point and decided to get out to join my wife and daughter whom I missed dearly.
I packed up my gear with mixed emotions. During the hike out, I was starting to doubt my decision and considered checking a different spot. Eventually, I took a bad step on a branch and slipped sideways which caused a sharp pain in my knee. I could still hike, but I felt some pain bending my leg while setting up my tent that evening. I made the definitive decision to go home while breathing in the cold mountain air and warming up by another big fire. I didn’t want to risk damaging my knee and jeopardizing my physical ability for future hunts. As difficult as it was to end my mountain hunt for the year, I am content with the choice I made. It took a week for my knee to heal up once I got back home.
After I decided to cut short my hunt, I shared my decision via Delorme texting with my wife. I had a few good chuckles at her reaction since she was wondering if I had lost my mind out there, knowing how excited and prepared I was for my hunt. After all, she had to listen to my planning and excitement year-round, especially in the last couple of months leading up to the hunt with the gear prep and my extra workouts.
The hunt was a success on every front that I could control. Mother Nature sent me a curve ball, but one has to expect the worst weather in the mountains, especially during later seasons. I spent almost two weeks by myself in the backcountry where the scenery was incredible, I enjoyed countless wildlife interactions, and managed to harvest a good billy. Even without seeing a sheep, I had a great time living out my passion.
Above all, this hunt taught me to embrace the moments as they come. As life’s priorities change, it forces one to adapt to new roles. Now that I have a young family of my own, I’m learning to balance what’s important for my family with other aspects of my life. I believe that life is all about choices and for me, I choose my family first! I am so grateful to have a wife who is extremely supportive on many fronts. While I was out in the backcountry, confined to staring at the walls of my tent, I couldn’t stop thinking of my two girls. I believe showing my wife I was coming home to spend my remaining vacation time with her and our daughter was the best way to put actions to my belief that family truly comes first. I have no regrets.