After drawing a once-in-a-lifetime California bighorn sheep tag last year in Idaho, I was restricted from applying for a Rocky Mountain sheep tag for two years. I had a few options, either apply for a non-OIL tag or apply for mountain goat. Even with the low odds, I decided to throw in a goat application with very little hope that I would actually draw. When the results came out, you can imagine my disbelief when I received the email that read “Successful” for mountain goat.
Having only been on one other mountain goat hunt, a friend’s tag, you can say that I was going in fairly green. The next four months were a blur as I learned as much as I could about mountain goats and the hunting unit. It was now time to put boots on the ground, learn access points and camping spots, and hopefully spot my adversary. Four scouting trips later, I felt like I had a pretty good idea of what I was in for. I set a goal of taking this animal with archery equipment, preferably a billy with long hair and with high hopes it would qualify for Pope and Young, which for my area was a lofty goal since there had not been a goat with a horn length of at least 9" taken in the last 12 years and the success rate had hovered around 50% during that time as well. Oh yeah, those were rifle odds.
My first actual hunting trip would be in late September. This was going to be more of a scouting trip rather than a hunting trip. A couple concerns in my mind were short goat hair and poor visibility from the record fires Idaho was having. This made hiking and glassing miserable, to say the least. In those three days, I saw a grand total of one goat, but fortunately, it was an old billy. It was my first stalk on a goat, and I was staring at an absolute beast at 35 yards. I was so close I could count nine annuli, and to top it off, he seemed to have good hair. I was in such a conundrum that I was going crazy. Do I shoot this absolute stud of a goat that would accomplish my goals or wait? I made the decision to pass and pulled out my camera instead. I snapped some amazing pics as he stood in the smoke-covered landscape. I’m not one to end a hunt early in fear of missing out, but this one really had me questioning my sanity. As I showed the pictures to my friends, they had the exact thought I had that I was bonified crazy.
My first extended trip in October yielded a handful of goats but no mature billies. I spent three full days specifically hunting one very large billy I had found early on in my scouting endeavors. He had either moved on, or he was zigging while I was zagging. Regardless, I needed to move on. The next four days were much of the same but with many adventures thrown in, including an incredible find of a 100+ year old miner’s pickaxe on a cliff face, wolves called in to 40 yards with no bowshot, and a lot of beautiful scenery. The miles were adding up, and I was starting to regret my earlier decision.
Three days spent with the family was a much-needed break to clear the mind and heal the body. I was ready to tackle another week in the high country. The plan was to head back into the area where I had passed on the big billy from the first hunting trip. That break must have been what the doctor ordered because my first evening yielded four mature billies. I now had at least three shooters and a lot of time to watch, learn, and wait for the stars to align.
On the second day, it was looking like it might come together. The biggest one, which I called “Gorilla,” was working his way to the top of a distant ridge. I had one mile to loop around and try to meet him on top. Online mapping sure looks different once you’re standing there because passible country became unpassable fast. As I made my approach, I caught a glimpse of Gorilla’s partner. He was 60 yards away bedded and unaware of my presence. For the next two hours, I inched closer while looking for my target billy. As much as I tried, I could never turn him up. Even after bumping his buddy, I never saw him again. He disappeared into thin air.
At this point, I had two hours of light left. I made the decision to work my way down the ridge to the other two shooter billies. I was going in blind and hoping they were close to where I last saw them earlier that morning. As luck would have it, they were only 200 yards from that very spot. With the steepness of the terrain, I didn’t get eyes on them until I was already in range. The first one I saw was a very respectable 8" billy. I wanted a look at the other one as I had previously guessed his horn length at 9"+. I knew he was close but couldn’t move in fear of spooking the younger billy. After what seemed like forever, I caught a glimpse of the second billy making his way up the face. He was all I thought he was, so it was time to be patient and wait for my chance. Luckily, it wasn’t much of a wait as he worked perfectly broadside to my position. Everything became automatic, and I watched a perfectly-placed arrow hit home. As the shakes came over me, I watched as he walked a short distance and expired. I accomplished the seemingly impossible and checked off all my goals I had set. It was an amazing hunt.
Lucky for me, I have some awesome friends. With a quick inReach message, the next day I was standing next to my longtime buddies Oscar Williamson and Neil Adams. With camp, meat, and a billy on our backs, the eight-mile trek out was a breeze. Having endured 21 days in that unforgiving country will make this hunt a memory I won’t soon forget.