Maybe a thousand years ago—or more likely thirty—I was on a knife-edged ridge in deep snow when two big billy goats sauntered up the ridge toward me. We’d seen them from the bottom and made the gut-wrenching climb…but, as so often happens, on top we couldn’t find them. Then they were right there!
The lead goat was huge. At distance, they all look alike, short black horns in concert with fluffy white bodies. These were obvious males and the leader dwarfed his follower. Hopelessly out of breath, unable to get steady, I shot right over him. A few days later, I got an excellent goat but, at least in my memory, nothing like the one I missed!
That was not my first Rocky Mountain goat, nor my most recent, although I don’t know if I’ve taken my last or not. To me, our Rocky Mountain goat is one of our continent’s most magnificent animals. I’ve suffered through and (sort of) enjoyed every climb for him. Honestly, every goat hunt has been more physically challenging than every sheep hunt. However, since I love mountain hunting—which gives me a champagne taste on a beer budget—I’ve done more climbs for goats than sheep.
Maybe I’m not quite done, but I don’t have a reason to take another Rocky Mountain goat for myself. That said, I’m not yet tired of the challenge of spotting a goat and making the climb. Two years ago, in northern B.C. with outfitter Ron Fleming, we spotted two billies from camp and made the (horrible) climb with daughter Brittany. These goats were extremely accommodating, pretty much in the same place we’d seen them several hours earlier. We caught them feeding on a gentle slope at 125 yard. For the larger billy it was game over.
Although well-climbed and perfectly-shot, that was an easy goat (as such things go). First day, first climb. Technically that was supposed to be Donna’s goat. Under biz is biz, we were starting a new TV show season, so Donna insisted that Brittany take the hunt. I’m sure this cost her, because she’d tried very hard before. In about 2007, I went into the Chilcotins with Mike Hawkridge and found a valley full of goats. It wasn’t easy—in fact, it was damned steep and tough—but my partner and I both took goats. Seemed like a perfect place, so Donna and I went in a couple years later. We glassed, rode, hiked, climbed and glassed some more, but that year there were no goats in that valley. I don’t know why, just the way things work in the wonderful North American wilderness.
Fast forward to 2016, back with Ron Fleming; now it really is Donna’s turn. This time, unfortunately, the usually glorious early September weather was terrible. We lost a third of the hunt waiting for a break in the weather so we could fly into camp. Once there, we lost half the remaining week to low clouds and every type of precipitation I know of.
This is a part of mountain hunting we don’t talk about much: Visibility is critical. You can’t blunder around in the clouds hoping to bump into something. Also, snow and ice can make a stalk too dangerous. This is a problem with goats anyway. They like it steeper and rougher than any sheep, so it’s really a three-part problem. First, you have to spot the goat. This isn’t so difficult. Absent snow, their white coats stand out at great distance. With snow, it’s more difficult, but they’re really off-white, almost yellowish on snow. You can still see them.
Next, you have to determine if there’s a safe and hidden route to get you in range. This is best done from afar, but perfect solutions are rare. Up there, the mountain will look different, and since you’ll probably be climbing for several hours, the goat may move. This can be good or bad. However, most of us have only so many “goat climbs” per hunt, so it doesn’t make sense to expend effort on a goat you know you can’t reach. Finally, the goat needs to be in a position where you can recover it safely and, preferably, where it won’t wreck itself when it goes down. Goats have a bad habit of launching themselves upon receiving a bullet—even if it means straight into outer space.
Put it all together and you spend a lot of time glassing and waiting for a goat to be in a good spot. This particular situation was perfect. At Ron’s Duti Lake the “goat mountain” is across the lake from camp, so we glass from lawn chairs and go into a warm, dry cabin to wait out rain squalls. Almost too cushy, except the mountain is plenty serious when it’s time to climb.
Given the weather, we were lucky. On our first huntable day we had a lone billy in a perfect position, bedded just below a high saddle with shale and grass below, no cliffs but some low rocky shelves for stalking and shooting. We probably glassed him from three miles away and down 3,000 vertical feet. Five tough hours later, we were in position and the goat had vanished. Yes, we climbed on up to the top and looked in all the nooks and crannies we could see into. He was surely there, somewhere, but we couldn’t find him. From camp, they’d seen him stroll over the top about 45 minutes before we were in position, but we didn’t know that until we dragged ourselves into camp at dark.
Two days later, we had another lone billy—perhaps the same one—bedded below a rocky point. Elevation was about the same, but distance was much less. That made the climb a lot steeper, but we made it up there in three grueling hours. Up close, as usual, it looked a whole lot different; the goat wasn’t approachable until he moved. So we lay on a grassy knoll for nearly four hours, shivering through showers of rain, snow, sleet, hail and maybe a few minutes of blessed sunshine. Eventually the goat moved, we moved, and after more climbing and hurting, Donna finally got her goat.
We had him down on top of the mountain, fluffy and white and in a glorious spot for photos and then, as goats do, he gave one final kick and started to roll. Over and over, gathering speed down the steep shale, then slowed by grass, but over and over yet again until he was a tiny white dot maybe 1,500 feet below us. No longer fluffy and white, no longer in a glorious place for photos…but fortunately completely intact and, even better, on a direct and perfectly safe route toward camp. Goat hunting can be a bit better than that, but not by much!–Craig Boddington