High-Country Proposal

By Kelsie Erickson
Montana, DIY, Public Land

High Country Proposal - Kelsie EricksonJuly/August 2013 EBJ (Issue 78) - We were 5 days into our 10 day backpack trip deep in the Bob Marshall Wilderness. Our hunting area had been taken over by black bears and grizzles, so we made the decision to cut our trip short and hightail it back to the jeep. Backpack hunting is not for the weakhearted. It takes pure determination one step at a time. Trekking through the backcountry with Johnny and his brother Joe is like trying to keep up with Cameron Hanes. As a woman I have to work twice as hard, be tough, and stay focused each day. No matter what happens I know I must carry my own weight; there is NO room for whining. But, without them pushing me to be a better hunter, I would not be where I am today.

Joe, Johnny, and I literally hiked six straight hours to our jeep and headed home to make a quick stop to restock our food and swap out some gear to head to goat country! My ultimate goal was to harvest a billy with my bow. Of course I dreamed of taking the state record, but I wanted to set realistic goals. I was set on shooting a billy even if it meant eating my tag.

The terrain these goats live in is the toughest of its kind. I can tell you from a six day scouting trip covering over 44 miles that these goats hang out in the most ridiculous terrain. Why? Because they can! Our scout trip gave me the confidence I needed to hunt this country with my bow.

Driving through the prairie to the base of the trailhead gave me a blessed feeling about being able to experience an adventure like this. Johnny and Joe were just as excited as I was. I could not ask for better hunting partners than these two.

High Country Proposal - Kelsie Erickson

We hit the trail with bikes until we reached the incline. We stashed the bikes and began our ascent to goat country. There are no words that could describe the feeling of being the girl that gets to be the focus of the adventure.

In the late afternoon we made it to our first camp spot. We set up, relaxed, and got the spotting scope out to glass and right off the bat we spotted two kids and a nanny. This was a good sign. As the sun set behind the tall peaks we laid our heads down to rest.

Morning came and we woke up to frost. We still had over 1,000 feet to climb straight up. With the dry summer there was no water up high, so we had to make the decision to camp high and travel up and down the mountain for water or to carry four days worth of water to the top were we planned to camp. Thankfully, Joe hauled the extra 40 lbs. of water in his pack.

Halfway up the steep mountain I spotted a billy relaxing on the side of a cliff, so we dropped our packs and made our way up through the jagged rocks to see if I could get a shot. There was just no way unless I wanted to give my life.

We continued along and made it to our campsite which was just big enough for our tent. The wind was horrendous, so we had to tie our tent down with big boulders. We had a great camp, but I was a little concerned about the wind considering there was a vertical dropoff on the other side of our tent.

That evening we were all glassing and a young, curious billy came along so close he almost touched the end of the camera Johnny was holding. It was a neat experience to see a wild animal so curious about us. We spotted several goats lying between rocks on the steep mountains, but there was just no way to hunt them. We had learned in the summer that my best chance of getting in bow range was to find where the goats were crossing. We were definitely in the right spot.

After a hot meal we climbed into our sleeping bags with full stomachs to end the day. I could hardly sleep wondering what tomorrow might bring and if I would get a chance at a billy.

It was a chilly morning, but the adrenaline got my blood flowing. I let the guys sleep in and headed out by myself. I hiked up the ridge were we were camped and began scanning the area. Just as the sun came up the goats started to appear. It was a breathtaking sight, reminding me how fortunate I was to be there. I headed back down towards camp to rustle up my hunting partners and grab a mountain coffee.

High Country Proposal - Kelsie Erickson

Johnny and I headed to a nice vantage point where we could see in all directions and begin glassing. We heard a ruckus below us and out of the small pines came a group of nannies and kids. We watched in awe as they made their way up the ridge within 40 yards. This day felt special, and the goats were on the move.

As we listened to all the sounds of nature I glimpsed movement to my right. I turned around and I could see with my naked eye a glowing white beast coming around the mountainside. We watched as the goat slowly made his way toward us. It was apparent that there were no other goats with this goat, so there was a 99% chance it was a billy!

There was no cover between us so without a way to stalk we had to sit and wait. We waited for hours before he literally fed to the edge of the cliff 300 yards away. I thought he would go over, but he knelt down and laid there staring in our direction.

It was an overcast, windy day, and having to sit still made it difficult to stay warm. I could feel my back muscles getting stiff. Eventually, the goat stood up and began feeding down the ridge toward us. I couldn’t believe that I might actually get a chance. I went through my routine several times while I waited for him.

He disappeared several times while making his way down the ridge — each time my heart sank. It was just too easy for him to slip over the edge to safety. Finally, he made his way up and over the last rock that stood between us at 30 yards and stood facing me, giving me no shot.

I knew I was going to have to draw quickly when he stepped down off the rock. As he went to turn I drew back, but he caught me and turned around, staring at me. I held as long as I could and let down.

Again he turned and I drew back but he turned towards me again. I held, hoping he would turn but I had to let down again. My muscles were so stiff and cold I was not sure I could pull my bow back again.

I waited as he stared me down until he finally stepped down. I willed myself to draw, set my pin, and released my arrow. Smack – he let out a squeal. I hit him further back than I wanted, and he went off the cliff side.

We peeked over the edge, which was the scary part. We found him bedded between the rocks on a nasty cliff. I had to give every effort and set all fear aside to creep over the edge.

High Country Proposal - Kelsie Erickson

Tumbling rocks startled him and he got up and started moving. He stopped at 25 yards, and I was standing on the side of a cliff, trying to hold my balance and shoot straight down. I released another arrow – perfect shot!

Johnny and I carefully made our way down to the billy. I could not believe I was standing on the side of a mountain cliff with such a beautiful animal. To see my dream become reality was the most humbling experience I have ever felt. This was my trophy.

We still had a long journey of hard work ahead. We took pictures just before lighting struck the peaks and the hail and snow came. Rocks started to fall down the chute we were in. We hurried to cape the billy out, debone the meat, and load up our packs. We carefully began our ascent, trying not to slip on the wet rocks.

With the fog rolling through the mountain tops we stopped on the side of the mountain to conclude the hunt on video. Johnny grabbed my hand, made a sweet speech, and asked me to marry him! At first I thought it was a joke since I had been waiting for this moment for six years. Of course I said yes! With an engagement in my heart and a goat on my back we packed out nine miles to end an adventure I will never forget!