Overcoming The Odds

By Nanci Nicholson
Montana, DIY, Public Land

Nanci Nicholson - Overcoming the OddsDecember/January 2013 EHJ (Issue 134) - Spring time in Montana is a beautiful time of year, not only for the good weather, but it is also that time of year where you can start dreaming, "What if…what if I was lucky enough to draw a mountain goat permit?” To put this story in perspective, I have been putting in for mountain goats for over twenty years and every year the best I have ever done is get another preference point. This year was expected to be no different as they only give two permits in the unit I applied for. On June 14 I went in to have major foot reconstructive surgery, which involved several stiches, screws and scars to hold the bones in my foot together. Two days later, I found out I drew.

Days and weeks went by and my husband Rob, son Keaton, and daughter Haley scouted for goats every weekend while I was stuck at home in a cast. Upon my family’s return from their scouting adventures, they would give me the play by play of where they went and what they saw. They hiked lots of miles, climbed many mountains, stood on numerous cliffs, saw several goats and encountered a few grizzly bears. My husband was really good about taking pictures of everything. As much as I enjoyed hearing about their scouting adventures, a part of me was sad that I could not be there with them on the trail. However, it reinforced to me that I had to somehow make this goat hunt happen. I never told them, but I often thought, how am I going to get into the backcountry with my foot?

In July, during a follow up visit, my doctor reviewed my list of questions and concerns. When he came to my last item, his eyebrows raised and he asked me, "What does this mean, ‘goat hunt?’” I told him about my permit and he just smiled and walked out the door, not saying a word. This was not the answer I was looking for. Shortly thereafter, I got my cast off and was put in an orthopedic cam boot, which is like a removable cast from your knee down. Most people thought that there was no way my foot would be ready for this goat hunt and I would be forced to let my permit go. I told them that the likelihood of drawing another goat permit would never happen again. Nine years earlier, I was lucky enough to draw and get a Montana moose. I never dreamed of drawing another special permit and knew I had to try.

On October 3rd, after months of therapy, we decided to give my foot a test drive in the mountains. We strapped my orthopedic cam boot to our son’s backpack and headed up a drainage that had not yet been scouted due to fresh grizzly scat encountered earlier in the year by my husband and daughter. On this particular attempt up the drainage my husband quickly skirted around any grizzly scat he saw before our daughter noticed. After about one mile on the trail I realized that my foot was not ready for the twisting and turning mountain-goat country had to offer and was forced to switch to my orthopedic cam boot. If I was going to have a chance to walk in this backcountry, this would be the only way.

Four miles and six hours later, we spotted what appeared to be the biggest goat seen to date. As Rob put the spotting scope on the goat, he said, "I think we can get him.” Although my foot was tired, I knew we had to try. We headed off in the big goat’s direction. Our kids quickly realized that I was struggling to get through the 10 foot tall alder brush and up the steep and rocky mountainside. Without saying a word, they began to work together like I have never seen them do before. Our daughter, Haley, pulled me up the mountain while our son, Keaton, pushed. This was truly a family affair that neither I, nor my husband, would ever forget. As we climbed up after the goat he just kept moving higher and higher. We were obviously out of place in his world.

As we crawled off the mountain that night, the adrenaline rush of our close encounter with the big billy quickly changed focus when I heard my husband loading the rifle. At about the same time our son asked, "Why do I have to be in the back?” This of course was right after my son heard something rather large busting through the brush and my husband stepped over a fresh pile of grizzly scat, hoping our daughter would not notice. Needless to say, we were very relieved and happy to see the main trail and start the walk back to the truck. Now, having a better understanding of the terrain this goat was hanging in, and the condition of my foot, we realized that if we went up after this goat again we would have to stay the night on the steep rocky cliffs in his world.

Nanci Nicholson - Overcoming the Odds

For a full account of Nanci's adventure, go to page 18 in the December/January 2013 issue of Eastmans' Hunting Journal.