The alarm was set for 3:30 a.m., but I awoke 15 minutes before it was to go off, which is quite normal for me. I was out of bed, fully dressed and ready for a cup of Joe and perhaps something to eat. By 4:30, all the gear was loaded onto the horses and we started up the trail from the last gate. It was pitch black on the trail for the three-hour ride over uncertain ground to Rock Lake where the horses could be tethered for the day without concern. We climbed to a point where my guide, the wrangler, and I could begin glassing the steep slopes of the Cabinet Mountain Wilderness. It was the beginning of a dream that I have had for many a year — a hunt for the North American mountain goat.
In mid-June of 2011, I learned that I had drawn a very coveted resident Montana mountain goat tag for zone 100-00 in the Cabinet Mountain Wilderness region. My spring and summer consisted of walking, hiking and climbing the bleachers at our local high school football field in preparation for the hunt. By early October, I was, in my mind, physically prepared for such an adventure, but let me say that nothing — but nothing — can prepare a 64-year-old man for such an adventure. Mountain goat hunting is mountain climbing with a rifle for the possibility of getting a shot at one of those magnificent creatures.
This was the morning of the first day of my quest for a good Billy. After much glassing and discussion about the four goats seen that morning, it was decided to climb to another basin on the opposite side of the mountain to investigate that area. I am not an accomplished mountain climber by any standard, although I have done a bit in my time and am reasonably confident in my abilities. It took us a good four hours to reach the new area agreed upon. There were some difficult traverses and large boulder fields to cross. The new basin was glassed to no avail. There were no goats to be seen. By that time, it was approaching mid-afternoon and we had to get off the mountain before it got dark. We were at approximately 8,000 feet elevation. My guide, Eric Weare, proposed that the wrangler and I go straight down as we could see the trail below. It was a long climb down. The last quarter mile down I literally was falling, due to the pain in my upper thighs. Climbing up was torture. Descending was much worse. We arrived back at camp after 8 p.m.
The weather the following day was not going to be good. Rain was in the forecast, so I told Eric that I needed time to recover my legs. “Good ’nuff,” was his reply. I took four days off — four days of ibuprofen, hot tub and rest to recover some semblance of muscle tone in my thighs.
The second full day started much as the first. The long horseback ride in the early morning blackness of the Cabinet Mountain Wilderness gave me time to reflect upon things that had led to this adventure. At some point, I may have been nearly sleeping, and saw sparks. Sparks? Up here? The horseshoes were striking rocks on the trail and sending off small light charges into the black morning. Strange what a person notices when not entirely focused on the matter at hand. We dismounted the horses at Rock Lake and set off to the north wall on this cold morning to glass the ledges for goats. Eric spotted a good Billy on the south face of the basin soon after sitting, then the Billy disappeared into a rock recess more than a quarter-mile away and at least 800 feet above us. We climbed the north face for more than an hour for a better vantage point in an attempt to find that Billy again. Eric found him at rest on a rock perch nearly opposite our vantage point. The distance was laser ranged at 700 yards-plus, and at a 29-degree upward angle.
My heart pounded like a trip hammer. I needed time to regain my composure before attempting the long shot and took at least 45 minutes to prepare. I got a good solid rest on my backpack and even dry fired my .300 WSM a number of times for confidence as I prepared for a long shot. But connecting with that animal was not in the books. The last thing I wanted was to wound one of these great animals and not be able to recover him. It was time to head back after a mere twelve-hour eventful day. Rain was forecast for the next day, and I took two full days off to recover. It did not require as much ibuprofen this time, but the hot tub surely did help.
The third day hunting was the same routine as the first two. I was up at “0’dark thirty” a.m. We packed the horses, and were off into the black abyss of the Cabinets. Rock Lake came quickly, so I must have been getting used to riding to some degree, though my experience with horses is minimal at best. We climbed the south face of the basin again to glass for a goat that Eric spotted the day before. He was no more than 100 yards from where Eric saw him the previous afternoon. Off we went to this Billy that was more than a half-mile away and who knows how much above us at that point.
He was bedded in the notch of an avalanche drainage near the top of the north face of the basin. Three hours-plus of climbing through alders, bear grass, boulder fields and steep faces put us within reasonable reach of the Billy. Eric spotted him many times during our ascent, and we had to be careful to avoid being winded as we approached his perch. But it was not to be. We rounded a rock outcropping to discover that the Billy was on his feet and climbing higher. He had caught our scent. I got my rifle out of my pack in no time, folded the bipod legs down and lay both on the rock above my head to acquire a firm rest. “”Eric, how far?” I asked. “Distance, 247 yards at a 65-degree angle,” he replied.
The shot hit the Billy behind the left front shoulder, taking his heart and breaking his right front leg. Down he came, head over heels, tumbling more than 500 feet from where I shot him. I heard myself yelling, “No!” as he tumbled down and down the rock face above us. In my mind’s eye, I saw him breaking his magnificent horns and God only knows what else. The Billy landed on a large square rock approximately 50 yards above us and Eric quickly climbed upward to the Billy. “He’s OK,” yelled Eric. “Get up here!” I climbed up as fast as my old legs allowed.
My Billy had a small cut under the left eye; the only outward damage from the fall. My Remington Model 700 in .300 WSM, along with my handloaded cartridges, had done what they were designed to do — the Billy was dead even before he had started to fall. The shot was true and my Billy suffered little to nothing upon the strike of the 180-grain Nosler Accubond.
Eric skinned and butchered the Billy in less than an hour. On the way up, I worked up a good sweat and an hour on this north face was due cause to make me cold, with the wind coming up from the basin floor. It was time to pack this guy up and get the heck out of Dodge. I have to give Eric a lot of due, as he packed the Billy all the way down to the horses without so much as asking for my help. The man is half mountain goat himself. Eric grew up in northwestern Montana and guides in Alaska and Montana each year. He is truly one tough SOB.
I have taken my much sought after North American mountain goat. He is currently at the taxidermist and ready to go to the tannery. Upon returning, he will be immortalized in a full mount on a rock
perch to be hung in our entryway. His flesh will be prepared as a hard sausage to be savored by many. There were times on the many rock faces when I had to call upon my lost son to help me in my resolve to continue this most arduous hunt, and he was with me in spirit. Thank you Matthew, I miss you so much!
Those who desire to hunt the many amazing trophies in the world should not hesitate to do so. Life is not a dress rehearsal. You go this way but once. Dream big! Hunt hard. Kill swiftly. Offer no apologies! I hope you all enjoy my grand adventure.– Tom Myers