Mountain goat season was finally coming up and Adam and I had spent quite a bit of time scouting this summer and felt very prepared (http://www.biggamehunt.net/forum/great-white-buffalo ). I've been dying to go on this hunt, as I didn’t know when, if ever, I’d get the chance to hunt one for myself. However, we hadn’t been out in over two weeks and checking in with another license holder made us kick ourselves for not coming out even more recently. The goats seemed to have disappeared from their usual places and were nowhere to be found. We set up camp and went back out scouting two days before the opener, only to have our fears verified. Scouting all the usual places on Sunday was a huge disappointment. Nothing. Not a goat to be found. Still, we had all day Monday to find a goat, but the overconfidence was gone, and cautious optimism was the best we could muster. Within about 30 minutes of dawn, we breathed a huge sigh of relief when we found a goat in the drainage we were camped in. It was only one goat, but that’s all we needed and had no one else bothering to hunt our drainage. Oh and it was a big goat, with a beautiful coat. We were never really close enough to him to properly judge his horns. However, there’s so little difference between a run of the mill mature billy and a Booner, it didn’t really matter how long the horns were. Besides, the coat is the real trophy.
We went back to camp but our restlessness was just too much. We had to plan our route and more thoroughly check out the additional basins in the area. With no real trails leading us all the way up to the mountain our goat was using, we figured it would take us three hours in the dark. That meant getting up at 2:30 and leaving camp by 3:00 am. We weren’t excited about getting just a couple of hours of sleep or the climb or the cold front coming in, but this was the only day of the hunting season that I could commit to helping.
2:30 came quickly after a restlessness night and dreams of the big shaggy, white beast. We spent a little longer than we had intended to in camp, but had the dogs taken care of and were off by 3:15. With the cold morning in the 20s and winds pushing 30 mph, we tried to pace ourselves to prevent any severe chilling when we got in position at the bottom of our target basin. We finished our initial climb from 10,800 feet with about 15 minutes to spare. At 11,900 feet, we still had scrubby little spruces to hide behind and shelter us from the howling winds before dawn arrived.
As the sun rose, we glassed and glassed and glassed. The faint white outlines along the mountain in front of us became boulders and our goat was nowhere to be found. We watched the 13,200 foot peak above us, hoping the goat would materialize any minute, and were mesmerized by the mule deer climbing out from the willows surrounding the lake at the basin and marching up the mountain. Never in my life had I seen mule deer above 13,000 feet. We caught a little bit of them on video while the wind chilled us to the bone. After 30 minutes, our patience wore out and we began the hike up the mountain. We had to view the basin on the other side of the ridge. The goat had to be here somewhere. It took us nearly 45 minutes to gain 800 feet and peer into the next basin. At 12,700 feet we were able to see down onto the slopes, but still no goat! He had to be here somewhere. We spent a few minutes catching our breath and watching a group of six mule deer bucks below us and got a little video of them.
After exhausting our usual places to search for this billy, we suspected he was in the neighboring major drainage. But he could have still been hidden around the rocks along the peak. And from the peak we would have a great view into the next drainage. Our greatest fear was that he was on the wrong side of our peak and we weren’t sure if we could get around it safely. At 13,100 feet, we were as high as we could safely get. There was a goat trail leading up slightly higher, but with the winds and our dislike of packing friends’ shattered corpses out of mountains, we decided prudence was the better call here. I wouldn’t call it a fear of heights, more like a fear of death. And having cheated death 12 years ago after a nasty fall in Montana, and not enjoying the thought of spending a snowy night on a mountain waiting for a helicopter, we had to call it quits. We could not go any further, and it was killing us. We had an absolutely incredible view from the top of the world, but the steep slopes below us into the neighboring drainage prevented us from viewing much directly below. We could see the camp of another mountain goat hunter we knew, but couldn’t see him.
With our hearts at pits of our stomachs, and no way of getting higher and viewing what might be behind us, we had to come up with a new plan. The winds were dying down and the sun warming the mountain, we decided to think about our next move over a nap on the ridge.
When we woke up an hour later, we discovered that the other mountain goat hunter’s camp was gone. Although the winds were howling this morning, we were less than two miles away from the basin he was hunting and felt we should have heard him shoot. Also, it didn’t make any sense that he could have packed his goat out already and then came back for his tent. The only thing that made sense was that he wasn’t seeing any goats and decided to move. So now what do we do? Should we stay put hoping the goat miraculously materializes? Should we can this drainage and glass some new ones? Since I only had the rest of this day to hunt with Adam, we decided to hike back out and glass some of our other potential areas that we could get within view of with a truck. On the hike down, we spooked 3 more bucks, two of them were real dandies.
At 3:00 pm, we were back at the truck, and there was a note from Kurt, the other mountain goat hunter. We were within a few hundred yards of that goat several times this morning and he had seen it all! We were so close, and he was just out of view of us from at least two different points that we stopped at. It was heartbreaking and yet encouraging at the same time. But it was too late to go back in after the goat. So we decided to try to get lucky with a couple spots where goats might be within view of a road. With no apparent luck by 6:00 pm, we were back within view of the drainage we had hunted this morning. And sure enough, there was our goat! We had talked about just staying put all day, and he would have been within shooting distance of where we napped this morning! Adam was ecstatic to see him again, but I was so dejected. This was my one day to do this, and the goat was no less than 4 hours from where we were glassing. There was no way we could move back in on him and I had to get home. I felt terrible. Adam was now going to have to hunt alone, I wasn’t going be able to be a part of this hunt, but I know he will kill that goat. As I write this, I still haven’t heard back from him, but I’m confident I’ll be posting a picture of his goat soon. I just wish I could be there.