Since we are in winter mode and doing everything possible to relive old hunts I thought I would share a mountain goat hunt with you that I had the privilege to participate in back in 2012. I wrote up the story but never did anything with it so I thought people might enjoy a winter story to read.
Ryan, a good friend, and co-worker of mine drew a mountain goat tag for the now well-known Crazy Mountains, and asked for mine and another good friend, Levi's, help with his hunt. As soon as Ryan drew the tag he began his research about where to access the mountain range, and what kind of hunt he could expect. He also began to increase his workouts, and also made a couple of backpacking trips into the area that he wanted to hunt. As the season got closer, Ryan decided that he wanted to head to the mountains on Sept. 4th and hunt for three days. Levi and I both were hesitant to give up 3 days of elk hunting, but agreed that we would forgo our own adventures for the three days, in hopes of being part of a hunt of a lifetime.
Opening weekend came, and Ryan was hearing of several people that had filled their tags over the weekend, and began to second guess his decision to wait until after the holiday weekend. I assured him that it was a smart decision as we would not have to worry about running into as many other hunters during the middle of the week. Sept. 4th finally arrived, and I had a few commitments at work that I had to attend to, so we were unable to leave town until 11:00 am. Once we were on the road, we had nearly a two hour drive to the trail head that we were going to be using. That time was spent talking about all the close encounters Levi and I had with many bull elk during the previous weekend, and also recounting the events of opening day when I filled a cow elk tag. Once we arrived at the trail head, 12:30 pm, we quickly realized that we were more than likely going to be the only hunters in this area, as all the vehicles in the parking lot were small cars, nothing that resembled a vehicle of a mountain goat hunter. This lifted our spirits, and we quickly made the final preparations and began our pack up the trail. We had decided that our base camp was going to be just over 5 miles up the trail, and we would then be near an alpine lake with great vantage points to glass several different basins.
After 1 1/2 miles up the trail, and passing several day hikers, I noticed that Ryan was struggling to keep up with Levi's pace and saw that he was sweating profusely. He assured me that he was OK, but I had seen the look on his face before and knew that we needed to take a break, or else there was a chance we would never make it to base camp. We stripped our packs off, drank some water and ate some granola bars, it was 1:30 pm. As we were sitting on the trail, I began to glass the tops of the mountains and soon saw the first goats of the trip. They were high up in an alpine basin that looked like it had some green grass. They were far enough away that it was hard to see them with the naked eye. We then set up the video camera to get our first footage of the goats, and also broke out the spotting scopes to get a closer look. I was able to zoom in far enough with the camera to see that there seemed to be two mature goats with a kid. Levi confirmed that he thought the biggest goat could possibly be a Billy, and thought that he had average horns for the goats that come out of the area.
We then found ourselves contemplating if there was a way to “bonsai off the trail”, and climb the mountain to the goats. We decided that we could use a large rock slide to get onto a shelf across from the goats that would give us a look at them from about 200 yards. Ryan agreed that we should climb up the mountain, as he said he was ready to shoot the first decent goat we came across. We quickly dropped off the trail and crossed the river at the bottom of the valley where we hid our packs in some thick brush. It was decided that Levi and I would unload two of the packs and carry those, while Ryan would just carry his rifle up the steep mountain. The GPS showed that we would have over 2000 vertical feet to climb to reach the goats, a task that seemed easier than what actually unfolded.
After climbing a few hundred feet Ryan said that he had to take another break to catch his breath. He was once again sweating badly, and said that he just couldn't catch his breath. I reassured him that we had all afternoon, and that there was no hurry to climb the mountain. We agreed to climb a few hundred feet and then we would stop to take a break. It was very slow going as the terrain was much steeper than it looked from the bottom of the valley, and Ryan just didn't seem to be himself. Levi continued up the mountain, like a mountain goat himself, so that he could try and get eyes on the goats, while we made the slow journey up to them. After 3 hours of climbing we finally reached the shelf that we thought we would have a good look at the goats from, and to Ryan's dismay they were gone, it was 4:30 pm. Levi said that the goats were gone when he got to this point, but he figured that they had just crossed over a small ridge and gone into the top of the large, secluded basin we were climbing.
Ryan was at near physical exhaustion by this point and was unsure if he would be able to make the final ascent into the top of the hidden bowl. We decided that Levi would climb up to where he could see into the big basin, and if he saw the goats he would signal down to us that they were there. While Levi hiked up the mountain, Ryan drank water and ate one of the two granola bars we had brought up the mountain with us. After about 20 minutes, I could not see Levi and I told Ryan that there was a good chance that the goats would be up in the basin as I could not see Levi climbing down the mountain. Ryan agreed to try and climb the last 500 vertical feet, but assured me that it was going to be a slow climb as his legs were beginning to get wobbly. After climbing about 100 feet, Ryan lost his footing and began to summer sault down the mountain. After 2 1/2 rolls, he was able to get himself stopped and we both were grateful that he didn't go all the way to the bottom of the valley, as there was no way anybody could have survived the plummet. Fortunately, I had taken Ryan's gun and put it on my pack so we didn't have to worry about his gun getting banged up in the fall. After climbing a little further I saw Levi just a couple hundred feet above us and he was giving me some hand signals. I was able to discern that he was telling us the goats were only 140 yards away from him. I didn't want to make Ryan nervous so I only told him that Levi could see the goats and we needed to get up to him. After the fall, I could see in Ryan's eyes that he was at complete physical exhaustion and it crossed my mind that we might be calling in a rescue flight if his condition didn't improve. I told Ryan that we had come too far to turn back now, and I told him to grab onto my pack and I would drag him up the mountain if that is what it took. This provided Ryan with the little bit of motivation that he needed, and he clawed his way up the last 200 feet.
Ryan put everything he had into climbing the last 200 feet, and we finally reached somewhat level ground as we entered the bottom of the hidden basin, it was 5:40 pm. We gave Ryan his gun, Levi had the range finder and I broke out the video camera to capture everything on video. We all slowly crept over the last little edge, and the basin revealed six mountain goats slowly walking away from us. After some short discussion between Levi and me, we decided that the goat that was in the back of the pack had the nicest horns, and the best coat. Ryan agreed that he would be more than happy with the goat we were looking at, and he then anchored the goat with one well-placed shot, and we all began our celebratory high fives and hugs. As we made the short hike to Ryan's goat the other 5 goats finally had enough of our presence and scurried out of sight. After a quick photo session, Levi and I made Ryan sit down and eat the last granola bar and drink some more water, while we boned out and caped his goat. The basin was one of those basins that you see in a magazine, and dream of finding. There was a large pool from the runoff that was filled by a large snow drift that still lingered in the shadows, and there was green lush grass that covered the basin floor. I could tell that the goats had lived here all summer as there was mountain goat fur all over the grass from when they had shed their winter coats.