Snug cabins fronted a trout-filled lake. Beyond the lake stands of alders and dense pine forest stretched up quickly to dense berry patches and grassy knolls. At that level the slope steepened quickly; farther up jagged rocks stretched to the skyline. From the shoreline, looking across the lake to the north and right and left, west and east, we could see several miles of ridges and hanging basins.
This was a goat valley, and we saw goats every morning, far up in the rocks. Seeing them, of course, isn’t quite the same as getting to them. The trick lay in identifying a billy in a place where, after a six or seven-hour climb, we might actually be able to get in on him—and then take him without damage from a 1000-foot free-fall.
My primary goal was to get a good Rocky Mountain goat for daughter Brittany. Family friend Heather Smith was in camp as well; she was also there to take her first goat. In this endeavor we were in extremely good hands, those of Ron and Brenda Fleming of Love Brothers and Lee. Although a low-profile outfit, they occupy a wonderfully remote territory 185 air miles north of Smithers, B.C., sort of on the southwest edge of the Spatsizi Plateau…and Ron has been hunting this country for more than 40 years. We had all the goats we needed more or less within sight of camp…although some were accessible and many were not.
For me it was a weird hunt. I didn’t need another goat, and with two goat hunters in camp it made no sense, either logistically or from a management standpoint, to try to take three from the same camp. Also, I complicated things by intending to film Brittany’s hunt for our TV show. So I didn’t buy a goat tag. I bought a tag for a mountain caribou and purely as an afterthought I also bought a black bear tag. This was mostly just to have something else to look for; black bears do occur, but one wouldn’t normally go “black bear hunting” that far north. Of course we bought wolf tags. This was not such a long shot; in another of Ron’s camps two hunters each took wolves, but we didn’t see any (which is hardly unusual). But we actually did glass up two black bears.
One was a medium-sized bear up in the berries far west of camp. I suppose we could have made a run on him, but we were focused on goats and caribou. The other black bear was working berry patches right across from camp. Ron saw him the day before we arrived, and we saw him our first few days. It appeared to be a very big bear, and we sort of had a plan to go after him as soon as Brittany took her goat. So we came back to camp after a long day on the mountain, and Brenda told us she’d glassed up two grizzlies on the same hillside. One of them made a run at the black bear, and the last she’d seen of him he was galloping into the timber with the grizzly right behind him! She thought he was gaining ground—or at least holding his own—but that was the last glimpse of that black bear!
So I sort of paddled along, glassing and climbing with the goat hunters, hoping a caribou might come along. After a hard climb and a perfect stalk Brittany took a fine goat fairly early in the hunt. I think a few days passed before she realized how lucky she had been. Heather had goats to stalk almost every day, but it doesn’t always go quite that simply. Once you get up there the mountains look a lot different than they did from the placid lake miles below. They had goats move out on them and others they couldn’t find—even though we could see them from below. On one heartbreaking day after a gut-busting climb they had a big billy dead to rights—and then a cloud moved in and that was the end of that.
It was the ninth day when it finally happened. Ron, Brittany, and I were on the lakeshore far below, watching the bedded billy through spotting scopes. We could see Heather and guide Brandon making their way slowly and tortuously up through the rocks…as the distance closed we wondered if they could see him, and how close they really were. In general hunting is not a spectator sport, but this was as agonizing as any cliffhanger movie. Finally we saw them set up—they were 160 yards from the goat—and we guessed they were waiting for him to stand. I was on the scope when he did, and I was willing the trigger to break—“Now, now!”
Then Brittany said, “He’s limping.” Two steps and he started to roll…and we were so far away it was only then that the sound of the shot reached us.
Mostly I just enjoyed the country. Dad and I first went to northern British Columbia back in 1973. Things were different then and a “full mixed bag” hunt was very affordable. Things have changed, but the country has not. Back then, as a youngster, I thought it was the most beautiful country I’d ever seen. Forty years later I still think so. I’m glad I could share it with Brittany, as her granddad did with me. Regardless of game, hunting that country is a North American classic, and I’m glad she saw it with a classic and classy outfit. I have few regrets in hunting, but I realize our northern American wilderness is country I should have spent more time in over the years. Perhaps there’s still time to fix that, but next time I’ll try to have a tag I can use!– Craig Boddington