I couldn’t believe my eyes. When I checked the results in May of 2017 and realized that I had drawn a once-in-a-lifetime mountain goat tag, it felt too good to be true. I had always dreamed of drawing the coveted tag, but never expected it to happen at the young age of twenty-six.
The state of Wyoming does not use a preference point system for mountain goats and with one-percent draw odds, it felt like a pipedream. Right away I began reaching out to friends who knew the area and had previously hunted mountain goats. I read every article I could find on goats and listened to more podcasts on the subject than I care to admit. This research process is what led me to the Journal of Mountain Hunting, I found the content and podcasts to be a valuable resource in preparation for the upcoming hunt.
In the following days and weeks while in the field scouting, I learned much about the terrain, the mountain goats, and myself. I saw dozens of goats in the most spectacular country I had ever encountered. On one particular backpack trip in late June, a friend and I hiked into a remote area and found over thirty goats. They were shedding their winter coats, leaving long white clumps of hair in areas where they traveled frequently. After observing goats for an entire day on the cliff ledges, the next morning we glassed a group of nannies and kids in the high meadows. With the wind blowing against my face and ample rocks to use for cover, I was able to get within twenty-five meters of the group. I watched the goats for over an hour at this distance; marveling at the opportunity to be up close and personal with these prehistoric looking animals. I left the goats to their routine, slipping away undetected, and met back up with my friend for the hike out. My optimism and excitement for the fall hunt was higher than ever, I was on cloud nine.
Thankfully my search for a hunting partner wasn’t very difficult. The first volunteer to accompany me was my father, and I couldn’t have been more excited to have him along as he was the one who introduced me to hunting so many years ago. Throughout the summer he joined me on two scouting trips and we continued to learn the terrain, test our new gear, and push our physical limitations. The majority of our days were filled in search of good vantage points and settling in behind the glass, searching for that whitish-yellow colored billy.
Understanding the physicality of this hunt and how crucial training would be, I knew there was no substitute for time in the mountains with my pack. I took to the hills, hiking at every opportunity I could and built a program for those times when the mountains weren’t an option. When I wasn’t in the mountains I worked with a mixture of weights, running, and biking. My father, at the age of sixty also made an effort to get fit by walking to and from work every day that summer and fall leading up to the hunt. As often as he could, he would make the lengthy drive from North Dakota to join me to go hiking and scout for mountain goats.
The season opened in early September. With the advice from friends and the goal to harvest a billy with a thick winter coat, I elected to postpone my hunt until October. The fall produced more snow than expected, and the decision to push back the start of the hunt forced us to change our plans rapidly. The area I had scouted in the summer and knew to hold goats would have to be accessed from an alternative, more difficult route. Accompanying me on the first pack in would be my father and my good friend Alex. Due to varying work schedules we agreed to meet at the trailhead the evening before the hunt. When we met that night our excitement was palpable as we anticipated the adventure we were about to embark on. As dawn broke the next day, we double-checked our packs to ensure we had everything needed for the multi-day excursion that lay ahead. With packs loaded, the three of us set out climbing.
The plan for the day was to gain all of the elevation needed and set up camp above the drainage. My father hiked and kept up as best as he could but as the terrain became increasingly difficult, it was clear we couldn’t complete the ascent before dark. We had two options; push forward and finish the climb in the dark, or retreat to a place where we could set up camp and re-evaluate the situation. After some tense discussions we decided to drop down and pitch camp for the first night. That night brought more conversation about what lay ahead and the appropriate course of action. As much as I wanted my dad with us at this stage of the hunt, the terrain and conditions were not favorable. The alternative route we were using to access the area was already more physically demanding than planned, and the added amount of snow forecasted compounded the deterring factors. My father volunteered to hike out solo the next morning while Alex and I continued with the hunt, undoubtedly a tough decision to make. All summer and fall we had prepared and anticipated the harvest of a goat together, but ultimately everyone knew the right choice had been made.
The next morning Alex and I reorganized our gear, sent back what was not needed with my dad, and headed higher up the mountain in search of an elusive billy. This time our ascent went much smoother, and we were able to reach the target area with a few hours of daylight remaining to get behind the glass. Before long I picked up a goat across the canyon in my binos. After getting the spotter on the white body we were able to confirm it indeed was a billy! We eventually lost sight of the goat as he headed across the snow into another drainage. With all of the fresh snow, we were hopeful that his tracks could be followed.
By the time Alex and I arrived at the area where the billy had last been seen, the snow and wind had picked up so much that we were never able to locate him again. Setting up camp that night was a chore with the wind, snow and ice blasting our faces. For dinner, Alex and I had our dehydrated meals of choice and proceeded to get situated under the tarp. With the wind howling and temps well below freezing, I needed every piece of clothing I had to stay warm and tried to catch some sleep.
Morning brought us fog and more winter weather. After breakfast we dumped the contents of our packs for a day hunt, and the pursuit continued. The morning consisted of intermittent fog and gusting winds that made glassing nearly impossible. Our persistence eventually paid off as the clouds broke, and we were able to look over a significant portion of the drainage. As we picked apart the mountain we were able to find ten goats, but none were the billy we had seen the previous day. The snow began to fall once again, and it was decided the next day we would try another area.
After loading up and packing out, I met up with my father as Alex had to return to work. For the remainder of the hunt it would just be my father and I. Day five was spent using our ATV to cover ground, and making short hikes to glassing locations. With countless hours behind the glass, we didn’t turn up a single goat and decided to move on to yet another part of the unit. That evening as we discussed the strategy for the following day, I began to feel the pressure building. The following day would be my sixth day hunting and I had yet to even attempt a stalk.
The sixth morning started off with a hike into our glassing position before sunrise. The weather was clear and glassing conditions were excellent, but yet again, no goats were found. As the weather turned to rain that afternoon I decided to hike into an area I had never scouted, but was told could hold goats. The two hour hike in the rain led to the same result as the morning; no goats. As I hiked out that night my morale hit rock bottom. After seeing so many goats during my scouting trips, I couldn’t believe that I was struggling to locate a billy. I tried to remain positive and patient, telling myself that eventually all the time and effort would pay off. Eventually I would find a billy worthy of this tag.
Day seven started off all too familiar, with a short hike to a glassing area. As the sun was coming up, we alternated between the binos and spotter checking every white or discolored spot on the mountain. Thirty minutes after first light my dad said with confidence, “I have something that definitely needs a closer look.” As soon as I looked through the spotter I knew without a doubt it was a goat, and from what we could see it was also alone. This meant the goat was a great candidate for a billy. The goat was five kilometres away, bedded on a rock face in a feeder creek to the main drainage. After a quick discussion, we decided I would go after the goat solo while my dad watched from afar, staying at the glassing location.
Before I left I took photos of the general landscape around where the goat was located. I knew they might be a good reference when I arrived in the drainage later and lost the panoramic sightlines we had from our glassing spot. Based on the terrain I figured I could make it to the area without getting cliffed out; but I knew I would lose sight of the goat for at least six hours on the stalk. I left my dad at 7:30 in the morning and began the trek. My mind was churning through the different scenarios I might encounter in the hours to come. As I worked my way across the last boulder field and entered the drainage, I began to constantly scan with every step, trying to locate the goat I had lost sight of hours before.
Finally at two in the afternoon, I arrived at a position to glass the cliff faces where I hoped the goat still remained. Because I was alone and had no one to talk sanity into me, my mind kept trying to trick me that I was in the wrong drainage. Thankfully, I had the photos taken earlier to reference, reassuring myself I was in the right spot. I would glass in one spot for forty-five minutes, then I would move up about fifty meters and repeat. Because the drainage was not very large, I was able to cover almost all of the open terrain with optics, however, I was not able to see the goat.
An hour before sunset, I moved up one last time to settle in for what would be my last glassing session hoping to spot that white shape I had found so often scouting. My spirits were sinking after glassing the small area for hours with no sign of the goat. As my binos scanned some dense timber, I caught a glimpse of something white. At first I thought it was nothing, as had been the case most of the day. I then focused my spotter on the area in question and I realized the white spot was indeed a goat!
The goat was bedded in the dense timber and I couldn’t identify the gender until it stood and stepped into the open. Taking advantage of my cover while it was bedded, I positioned myself so that when the opportunity presented itself I would be ready to take the shot. After fifteen minutes of keeping tabs, the goat stood up from its bed and stepped into the open cliffs. I stared at the horns for what felt like eternity, re-convincing myself over and over that it was indeed a billy. Finally, I was satisfied, and I watched as he slowly worked his way to an opening right above the timber. I ranged the goat one last time at 290 yards, settled the cross hairs and slowly squeezed the trigger. The break was clean and the echoing “smack” confirmed that the shot was a hit! I immediately worked the bolt on my Remington 700 and cycled another round as I wanted to be sure and anchor him. The billy scrambled into the timber below and slid against a tree. I then fired one more round from the .308 and the goat was motionless. Through the scope I watched him for ten minutes, wanting to ensure he would stay put. With little daylight remaining I raced to the goat, punched my tag, snapped some photos, and began the skinning and quartering process.
Caping and quartering used all of the remaining daylight, and I carried on under the beam of my headlamp. With my pack loaded, I began the long trek back to where my dad would be waiting; hanging the remaining meat in a tree away from the carcass in hopes that a bear wouldn’t get there before I did in the morning. Seven hours later I made it back to where my dad was located, much to the relief of both of us. After a quick recap of the hunt and ensuring the meat was taken care of, I caught what little sleep I could knowing I would have to head back for the rest of the meat the next morning.
After four hours of sleep, I armed myself with bear spray and a pistol to hike back and recover the rest of the meat. I was extremely nervous about encountering a grizzly along the way but was pleased to find the meat had not been touched.
Arriving back at camp, my father and I recapped the last forty-eight hours as we loaded our gear. The entire previous day he’d stayed at that morning’s glassing point and caught glimpses of me as I made my ascent. Near dusk he heard the two spaced-out shots and thought that I had been successful in harvesting the goat he’d spotted that morning. The entire month-long journey provided us both with memories that will last a lifetime. Patience, persistence and hard work really does pay off.