Like many western big game hunters, after November, my time spent in the mountains comes to a screeching halt. Every once in a while, I can extend the hunt with predators and waterfowl, but nothing ever really comes close to chasing big game in the fall. For years, I’d been looking at options for over-the-counter hunts in the winter months that would allow me to keep chasing big game. I’d thought about Coues deer down in Arizona, aoudad in New Mexico, or even Axis deer in Hawaii. Unfortunately, I never really gave much thought to Hawaii because every time I got on the state’s hunting website, I was left with more questions than answers. From what I could find, it was difficult to sort out when seasons were open, what land is open to hunting, or even what days of the week you could hunt on. It wasn’t until I met Danny Bolton that I found the confidence to go. Danny was born and raised in Hawaii and has a reputation for being one of the big island’s premier bowhunters. He recently set up a guiding service, Boarman Outfitters, and I knew he’d be a great resource to help. After getting to know each other a little bit, we swapped invitations to take each other hunting in our home states.
My brother-in-law, Casey Richmond, and I would head to Hawaii at the end of February. In preparing for the hunt, Danny said there were no Axis deer on the Big Island. You can imagine the letdown I felt. Part of this trip was the adventure of hunting an exotic, far- away place, but the other was being able to get out and chase big game in the winter. It turns out that while the Big Island doesn’t have Axis deer, they do have a plethora of big game – wild boars, turkeys, Mouflon sheep, Hawaiian black sheep, and Hawaiian feral goats. When I found this out, I was pumped!
On the descent into Hawaii, it quickly becomes apparent that while you’re still in the West, you’re no longer “Hunting the West.” The mountains are massive. Two of the volcanoes exceed 14,000 feet. They are steep, covered in dense jungle, and unforgiving lava rock. I knew this would be the type of adventure hunt I’d been looking for.
The first couple days, we hunted on a coffee and fruit farm. The game was abundant. Hunting elk and mule deer in the backcountry of the West, you get used to going long periods of time without seeing game. In Hawaii, you don’t go more than an hour. We had a ton of opportunities on wild pigs and turkeys over the first few days.
When we decided to go goat hunting, Danny explained to us that there are two different styles of goats. One has curved- back “ibex” style horns, and the other has curling-out, wide “Spanish” style horns. I quickly fell in love with the look and style of the Hawaiian ibex goat, but I still had no idea what to expect.
As we drove into the area we would be hunting, I spotted some goats feeding in the distance. I asked the driver, “Aren’t those goats right there?”
“Oh yeah, look at that. It’s a tribe of billies,” he responded casually.
I thought we would stop the truck and get ready to stalk these goats, but we just kept driving and eventually veered to where we were driving straight towards them. Maybe he was just trying to get us closer before we started stalking them. Nope. We kept driving closer and closer until the entire herd spooked and ran out of sight. This was very disheartening. Sometimes you only get one chance, and I couldn’t help but feel like we blew what would be our only opportunity at killing a goat. Out of the corner of my eye, I watched as our driver nonchalantly kept driving like he hadn’t just ruined the hunt for us.
Once we parked, it was around noon and the temperature was in the 80s without a cloud in the sky. Danny and Casey drove out in a different truck, and I wanted to ask about the tribe of billies we ran off. Danny laughed and said, “Well, we wouldn’t want to make it too easy, right?” I didn’t know if I agreed with him or not. Either way, he reassured me we would find plenty more goats.
We hiked until we found a decent glassing position under some bushes to provide some relief from the pounding sun. If there is one thing hunting in the West instills, it’s to be patient and glass. We went to work. We began picking apart every tree, rock, and bush. Any place I could find shade, I looked. After several minutes, I could start to make out the silhouettes of goats. It felt so good to find them.
As I settled in and began watching these goats, I couldn’t help but notice how small and agile they were. They’ve adapted to the steep mountains, lava rocks, and dense grasses of the Big Island. They move effortlessly over terrain that would punish even the most accomplished hiker. We continued our search through the glass, and it wasn’t long before the dozen or so goats we found bedded down had turned into hundreds of goats. Suddenly, I felt so relieved that we didn’t try to chase down the tribe of goats we found at first. Trusting our guide was already paying off.
It was fascinating to look out and see goats that were black, brown, blonde, white, buck skin, and various mixes of all those colors. Of all the goats we looked over, very few had the ibex style horns I wanted. Also, out of everything we could find, only one goat was solid white. I knew the one white goat was unique, but I really wanted an ibex.
Around 4 p.m., the goats began to stand up from their beds and feed closer to us. With the distance now cut from 1,000 to 500 yards, we decided to start making a game plan on how to hunt them. We wanted to wait and let them continue to feed in closer as the sun got lower. As they moved in, they fed into grass that ranged from 6 to 8 feet tall. With a tall male goat standing at about 30", we realized this wasn’t going to be as easy as we thought. Even at our elevated vantage point, we quickly lost the goats in the grass.
An hour before sunset, we decided to get aggressive and go after them. We quickly descended several hundred feet. It was nerve-wracking dropping in from above their last known positions but not being able to see where they were. We knew there was a tribe of about 15 billies in the grass below us. Of the 15, five of them were definite shooters.
Once we reached a point where we didn’t think we could go any further without falling down the hillside and spooking the goats, we looked for a position to set up. I found a nearby boulder and wedged myself onto it. Casey piled up his and Danny’s packs to use as a rest. I ranged the grass at 180 yards but 131 yards after the angle elevation. While the shot was short, it was steep. This was a challenge. On top of that, Danny warned us that these goats are notoriously skittish. When the first crack of a rifle went out, they would line up and quickly move out of range.
Since Casey had shot the last pig, I was up to take the first shot at a goat. We made sure each other was ready to shoot, and then the search was on. I searched for a shooter in the grass through my scope. A beautiful brown ibex style goat stood broadside with only the front half of his body exposed. “Casey, I’m firing.” The deafening crack of my rifle was met quickly by the familiar sound of bullet impact. Not two seconds later, a second rifle shot rang out as Casey squeezed his trigger. Again, a second impact sound. Danny exclaimed that two goats were down!
With daylight quickly fading, we made our way down to the goats. Once we found them in the grass, I became even more impressed by them. They’re built perfectly for the harsh landscape that they have called home for hundreds of years. On top of that, they are beautiful animals. After a few quick pictures, we began the treacherous hike across lava fields, boulders, cliffs, and tall grass back to the truck. Being able to look over hundreds of animals and doubling down on two of the finest specimens we found all while overlooking the ocean was a pretty special experience. It was one for the most action-packed, fun hunts I’ve ever done. By no means was it a gentleman’s hunt. If you’re looking to extend your hunting season and for an adventure, look no further than Hawaii.