Montana, 2009, DIY, Public Land
Archery hunting mountain goats is risky business to say the least, but what an adventure. That’s what it’s called, if you live through it - an adventure! The risks of slipping and falling hundreds of feet to a painful demise, rocks and boulders sailing past your head like fatal projectiles and the unpredictable weather are just a few of the hazards that accompany the hunt.
My adventure started with a pre-season scouting trip with my friend, Jestin Needens, deep into the Montana wilderness. With this being a first goat hunt for both of us, we started climbing and spotting, figuring the higher the better.
After hiking around a peak, we came to a cliff that dropped about a thousand feet. Before we reached the edge, a bone-chilling wind and icy rain socked us in. ***Lesson of the day: never trust Mother Nature and never leave your rain gear behind.*** Storms in the high country can develop in minutes. The day had been 75-80 degrees and now it felt like 30-40 and we were getting wetter and colder by the minute. The rains gradually dissipated and the winds settled as quickly as they had arrived, leaving a spectacular double rainbow across the beautiful green valleys and high peaks.
The closer we got to the edge, the weaker my knees felt. Jestin is half billy goat himself and he marched right up and stood on the edge, making me extremely nervous. Just then, he dropped down and waved me up the rest of the way. All smiles, Jestin was waving for me to come closer and look down below. And there he was - our first good look at a billy - pure white, almost glowing, grazing away from us on a steep rockslide embankment like he was right at home. We were hooked!
They’re truly magnificent animals and their domain is breathtaking. As I was watching him graze along through the dark-colored rockslide with brilliant green vegetation spotted here and there, a loud screech echoed through the rims. I quickly looked around, not knowing what direction it came from and unable to locate the source. The billy turned his head sharply over his shoulder and started walking away from us at a steady pace.
We backed away out of sight from the edge, moved to a position closer to the billy and peeked over. He was gone - long gone. We never saw him again.
Then we saw what made the screeching noise and probably the reason for the sudden disappearance – a large eagle. This large raptor glided effortlessly through the air on unseen wind currents, paralleling the cliffs, hunting. A goat on a steep cliff would be an easy mark. Seeing all this made me dread the wait I had ahead of me until the season opened.
As the time to leave for the real hunt approached, the weather was nice and dry, perfect for hunting steep ridges and cliffs. We rode in with horses and mules around ten miles and set up camp. Jestin knew the area from many pack trips with his father and he wanted to set base camp up at a high elevation to eliminate extra hiking. It would also help to avoid having to leave the horses in a place we might not be able to get back to the same night. This worked out fantastic.
The view from camp was great for spotting and hiking. The next morning, we spotted two nice billies from camp, took about 20 practice shots with our bows and then set out after them. I decided I wasn’t going to use my rifle unless I got desperate, so I left it at camp.
We started straight up a hogback and then into the crumbling, shifting, nasty, noisy rockslides at the base of steep mountains and cliffs. We had different thoughts about where the billies bedded down after they disappeared behind the rims. Jestin thought they may have gone over the top to shade up and avoid the midday sun. I thought they might be too lazy for that, so I went around the cliff and up a bit to see if I could spot them…and I did. They were bedded down in a secluded little area you would never see unless you were where I was or on top of an adjacent mountain two miles away.
I hurried back to find Jestin, but he was gone. He had continued on to the top in case the billies went over or in case I spooked them over the top while stalking, because goats rarely go downhill when threatened.
I went back and formulated a plan. After hunting elk, deer and antelope with a bow for most of my life, I thought this was going to be easy. It wasn’t! There was a tough 200 yards between the billies and me - almost straight up, two or three rock ledges, a bouldery wash and a few sparse trees for cover and no likely place to set up for a shot. It looked impossible. The billies definitely had the advantage, but after studying the layout for awhile, I realized this might be the best and only chance I was ever going to get with a bow. Remembering the previous places we spotted goats made this stalk look at least possible.
This was it; the best it was ever going to get. I decided to give it my all, compile everything I had learned through the years about hunting and stalking and staying focused until it was over. Successful or not, I would leave it all on the mountain.
For a full account of Dallas's adventure, go to page 36 in the November/December 2010 issue of Eastmans' Bowhunting Journal.