2014 Wyoming Mountain Goat Hunt!
I've read and heard said quite a few times that the hardest part about Mountain Goat hunting is drawing the tag. While in many ways that is in fact true with the dismal odds that there are to draw a tag in the lower 48 states, the process of filling out applications and sending money in isn't exactly a difficult proposition. Once you actually draw the tag and start going after the goats, it can actually get to be difficult though!
This process began for me in 2011 when I decided to get serious about applying for a mountain goat tag. I posted on a few forums and got some good advice on applying in several states and keeping my options open to never drawing a tag and having to end up hiring an outfitter in Alaska or Canada in order to fulfill my goal of hunting mountain goats. I started applying religiously and hoping that eventually it might pay off.
Here is the thread that I posted back in 2011 if you want to read it. http://onyourownadventures.com/huntt...d.php?t=245647
I also got pretty serious about getting in shape for hunting in general. I progressed from running 6 miles in an hour in 2011, to running a half marathon in 2012, then a full marathon in 2013 and attempting a 50K trail race in 2014 that I didn't end up finishing due to the fact that I had broken my collarbone earlier in the year and didn't want to risk that messing up my goat hunt since I had already drawn the tag by then.
I write that all up to somewhat preface the fact that mountain goat hunting isn't something that you can do on your own without hiring an outfitter without some planning and waiting on your part. I actually got very lucky to draw a tag within 4 years of starting to apply even though I was applying in 4 different states. I was prepared to be waiting at least twice that long, maybe even 10+ years before drawing a tag so this for sure isn't anything you can expect to do on a whim just because you decide you want to go mountain goat hunting one year (unless you go to Alaska or Canada and pay for an outfitter).
Okay, so I draw the tag in April and have all summer to prepare. I live in Lubbock, Texas and the unit I drew is in Northern Wyoming, right at 1,100 miles away so scouting the area on a regular basis was not going to be a very likely scenario. I grew up in Montana though and already had 2 weeks of vacation planned in southwest Montana that I was able to go through my unit on the way to and from those vacations by just going slightly out of the way (what's a few hours compared to 1,100+ miles).
I only got to spend a very short amount of time on my first trip through and didn't even get to see any goats, but made plans to spend a couple days scouting on the next trip. That scouting trip was much more successful with a chance to see a few goats and I was able to talk to a few folks that gave me some pretty good information. Here's link to the thread that I posted on that scouting trip if you missed it. http://onyourownadventures.com/huntt...d.php?t=259927
Okay, quite a long write up and we aren't even close to leaving on the hunt yet! One other kink in this hunt was that I drew a good limited entry elk tag in Wyoming earlier in the year as well. The mountain goat season is 2 months long from September 1st to October 31st so that gave me quite a bit of flexibility in choosing when I was going to hunt. My elk tag opened on October 1st so I ended up deciding to make it one long trip where I would hunt for my goat first then switch to elk hunting after I filled that tag. That would save me 2,000+ miles of driving back and forth.
Now we are about ready to go on the hunt. I did a bit of shooting to make sure things were still good with my rifle and everything seemed good to go, didn't adjust a thing on the scope. Got all my stuff packed up for both trips and was pretty much ready to go. Had a meeting I had to go to in New Mexico for work Friday the 19th, came home, threw everything in the pickup and pointed it North and hit the road about 6 that evening. I drove through the night with a short nap on the side of the road somewhere in Colorado and ended up making really good time and arrived in Cody, Wyoming right around 3:00 Saturday afternoon.
I needed to pickup a OHV sticker for my Ranger and after a quick stop for some last minute groceries I headed to the local powersports place to buy one only to find out they close at 3:00 on Saturdays. Oh well, there was another one on the other side of town so I would just buy one there. Nope, they close at 1:00 on Saturdays! I guess I should have bought a sticker online or in Casper or somewhere else along the way! I checked the Wyoming Fish and Game site and found out that Painter Outpost right on the Chief Joseph highway on the way to my mountain goat hunting spot was actually an approved dealer for the OHV stickers and I called them up and they were open until 6:00 so I quickly headed that way. Made it there by 5:30, bought my sticker and headed back to Antelope Butte to actually start my hunt!!!
I offloaded the ranger and drove down to the end of the road, hiked out to the edge of the canyon and actually had my rifle on my shoulder! Here's a picture looking across the canyon.
This wasn't my #1 spot, but it is easy to get to and lots of people say that there are goats here and I'd seen them there on my scouting trip. Who knows, maybe I would get lucky and see a nice billy before the hunt even started. As it turns out I did end up seeing a lone goat on the other side of the canyon probably close to a mile away as it made it's way down the cliff into the timber just before dark. To me it seemed like a good sign, first night out and saw a goat. Tomorrow might be the day!
My friend that was going to be hunting with me that lives in Powell, Wyoming was going to meet me Sunday to join me on the hunt. His wedding anniversary is on September 19th so he was going to spend it with his wife in Yellowstone Park instead of starting hunting with me on that Saturday evening. That meant that I was on my own Sunday morning. We had a #1 target area and right now I'm just going to call it Goat creek. Not like it's a secret spot or anything, but it is a pretty small area, and if all 14 tag holders in the unit started targeting it based on reading about it on the internet, it could get over hunted pretty quickly. There are goats all through the unit, they just seem to be in relatively small groups of 5 - 7 animals at least during the hunting season.
I spent the night in my pickup Saturday evening and rolled the ranger down a terrible 2 track road in the dark Sunday morning to get where I wanted to be at first light. When I had been to this spot during my scouting trip there wasn't a goat around, but I had been assured that come fall they would be here and sure enough, as soon as it started to get light I was seeing goats!! There was 1 goat way off a little over a mile away by itself that seemed a little too active to be a mature billy, but it was by itself so I was thinking it was probably a billy although I assumed probably a young one. It kept going back and forth along the base of a cliff and made me think that if it came down to it and I couldn't find a goat in an approachable spot, that might be a good ambush spot in the future. There were 3 other goats together in a group that were moving in and out of some timber that I figured was a nanny group and then there was another lone goat just over 1/2 mile away that was just hanging out bedded down looking things over. I was pretty sure this was a billy, but I had left my spotting scope with my friend and through my binoculars there was no way to positively ID him from that far away.
After spending several hours watching the goats and the one larger goat still bedded in front of me I talked myself in and out of going after him about a dozen times. My friend was as excited about this hunt as I was and I just thought that it wouldn't be fair to him for me to be tagged out before he even got there. Plus without the spotting scope I wasn't 100% sure that it was even a billy. This was going so easy so far that it wasn't like I would regret this later on. Right?
After a couple hours watching the lone goat bedded on the cliff, a couple elk hunters came driving up in their ranger and we talked a little. I was parking a good 1/2 mile from the base of the cliffs mainly because it gave me a much better vantage point and I could see a lot more area than if I followed the road all the way to the end at the base of the cliffs. The other reason was that it didn't seem to bother the goats for me to be parked there 1/2+ mile away. When the other hunters drove their ranger down to the end of the road, sure enough the lone goat got up out of his bed and made it's way off into the timber above the cliff. Not like it took off on a brisk run or anything, but as soon as the ranger got about 600 yards away, the goat got up and left. It did a little bit of posing when it got up and stretched, and I really think it was a good billy with good hair, but through my binoculars I just couldn't be sure. It was the last goat that was still around so when it went into the timber there really wasn't any reason to stick around anymore so I headed back to the camping spot where I was supposed to meet my friend after lunch.
This was my view that morning and several more mornings and evenings to come. Not the most classic mountain goat looking country, but there were goats there and out of about all the places that I was seeing them this looked like the place I might least need repelling gear to get one out.
Here's the full sized panoramic picture if you want to click on it - http://padens.com/v-web/gallery/albu...Creek_Pano.jpg
I met up with my friend just after lunch and we got his trailer setup for our base camp for the week and ate lunch and caught up on that mornings sightings. We decided to try to go up around to the top from the back side and see if we could get into that timber area where the goats had disappeared as it started to warm up during the day. We hiked in about 1/2 mile from the road at the top and it became evident that wasn't going to be the way to go. The fingers were deep and a long way around and it was going to end up taking several miles of hiking through the dark timber to get anywhere close to where the goats had been. We decided to just go back down to the bottom and check things out from down there.
A quick trip in the ranger and we were back to the lookout spot about 1/2 mile from the base of the cliffs. No goats in sight so we decided we would go ahead and climb up to the top and at least get a sense of what it was like up there. Who knows, maybe we would see a goat while we were at it.
It's hard to give a good feel for what it was like on a lot of this area. For the most part it wasn't ever so steep that it made me afraid that I was going to fall to my death or anything like that, but at the same time you found yourself using your arms to hold and pull yourself up onto the next shelf on a pretty frequent basis. I thought this picture gave a pretty decent feel for what it was like as we were climbing up. This would have been right about the middle of the panoramic picture above. You can see the clearing down below where the road dead ended in the clearing at the base of the cliff.
This was once we got on top looking back down below. Not a great picture as the sun was bad, but you can see the aspens down in the middle of the picture, we spent our time glassing from the sagebrush flat just out past those aspens. It was a little over 800' of climb from the base of the cliff to the top in about 1/3 of a mile according to the GPS.
I was a little disappointed with the quality of the pictures with my camera, I bought a new Olympus Tough TG-3 just for this trip and it did okay, but a lot of the pictures were taken in lower light and it for sure gets grainy pretty quickly as the light goes away.
After messing around for a while up on top and not seeing anything, we decided it was probably a good idea to climb down while it was still light and not get caught up there in the dark. We did get a real good plan of attack lined out if the lone goat ever ended up in that same bed again, I felt like I could easily get within a couple hundred yards without being seen. I was hoping I would get the chance to try at least!
Climbing down was actually pretty fun since it was a nice day and it was light out. There were several times where we would get really close to getting cliffed out, but it always seemed like there would be an option that would keep us going. I really like this picture, in many ways it looks very scary like we were right there on a huge cliff face, but while we were there it didn't seem unsafe at all. The ledge was plenty wide and if you look closely at the actual angle of the crack we were following it wasn't steep at all. Here's the far off view, if you look close you can see my friend right in the middle of the picture.
Here it is zoomed in a little closer.
Sometimes it got a little steep, but there was generally something to hang onto or a crack to wedge a foot into.
One little side story in here.
It's always interesting to me to talk to other hunters that you encounter when you are out there. When you have a once in a lifetime tag other hunters are even more willing to talk to you and share information. On our way into goat creek and back each time, there was a group of archery elk hunters camped along the way that we talked to a few times.
On Monday they knocked down a nice bull and we talked to them that evening. Turns out after they had the bull down and were working on getting it quartered up they had a very scary encounter with a sow grizzly and her 2 large cubs. They were just finishing up getting one side quartered when the sow just comes walking/trotting right up to them working on the elk. No warnings, woofs, growls or anything, they just look up and she is maybe 10 yards away moving right in without even breaking stride.
Needless to say they bailed off the elk and backed out about 50 yards away. They didn't have sidearms, only pepper spray and after they bailed off the elk the bear didn't pursue them so they didn't use the spray. They stood and watched for 10 minutes or so while the bear and her cubs proceeded to eat the elk they had just killed. They yelled at the bear and threw rocks, but it didn't seem to faze her. They had another member of their party coming in to help out and when he started to get close, they were yelling back and forth to him to let him know the danger ahead. He had his bear spray out and the bear bluff charged him once and he let off a tiny bit of spray, but not a full blast as she turned back to the kill. After a few minutes with guys on both sides of her yelling back and forth, she finally got tired of it and left with her cubs.
I can't imagine how scary this would have been for these guys and they came pretty close to getting in pretty big trouble here. They said normally they would have had a couple guys working on the elk and one guy standing watch, but they were just not thinking about bears and weren't worried at the time.
It's pretty concerning that a sow grizzly is teaching her cubs that they don't even need to wait for the hunters to clear out before coming in on a kill like that. This could potentially get someone killed if this behavior continues. This is also in a place where there are lots of hikers and campers in the summertime, these bears obviously have no real fear of humans and that doesn't bode well for them either.
A hunting season for Grizzly bears can't come soon enough, although I think it will take a long time to get the fear of humans back for many of these bears.
End of side story.
Okay, back to the story. We go back to camp and reshuffle things, load up the ranger on the trailer and head toward Sunlight canyon. We spent a bit of time glassing from a turnout on Dead Indian Pass but it was pretty warm and sunny out and things weren't moving at all. That's one other interesting thing about this hunt to me, we were in some elk country and saw sign, but didn't see or hear an elk the entire time. We did see a few mule deer does, but for how neat and healthy the habitat looked, and as much time as we spent looking over it and hiking through it, I would have expected to see more animals.
I think I spent more time behind the spotter the week of mountain goat hunting than I had spent behind the spotter in all my previous hunts combined. I think that says more that I haven't spent enough time behind a spotter on my previous hunts, but for sure it was a different type of experience for me.
After glassing for an hour or so, we got antsy and decided to walk into the canyon. This is a pretty touristy spot and lots of folks stop at the bridge and look around, we were just going to take it a step further and hike down to the cliffs overlooking the Clarks Fork instead of just looking around up by the bridge.
I thought this was a neat plaque dedicated to the district ranger from the area.
It was a really neat hike, but it was hot and things just weren't going to be moving out in the open. We looked around a bit and got a feel for the area, but what we were seeing didn't seem like very promising stuff if we did see a nice billy and shot him and needed to get him out.
We looked around a bit and headed back. I stuck to the edge of the canyon where it was a little rougher going and my friend stuck toward the middle where it was a bit easier going. I thought this was a neat picture of him walking along the ridge.
Again, when you are in goat country you end up altering your normal sense of what is steep and what isn't. Over and over again on this hike I found myself saying "Hey, there's a spot that we could get down to the river" in areas that I would have never ever considered an option in any other circumstances.
Here's an example, looking at the other side, that looked very doable to me at the time. Thankfully I didn't end up needing to attempt it.
Looking back to the bridge where we had started our hike.
We got back to the bridge with a smidge over 3.5 miles under our belts and some pretty scenery but not much else to show for it. We decided to move over to Antelope Butte for the evening, we had seen goats there previously, maybe we could get lucky and see one in a spot that we could get to it that night.