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March 2024
Story by Zack Morton
State: Colorado
Species: Deer - Mule

In April 2023, I received notification that once again I was unsuccessful at drawing a Colorado sheep tag. However, no word on mountain goat. That night, I logged into CPW’s website and noticed my 12 goat points were at 0. My first thoughts were that they had made a mistake and instead of adding a point they zeroed them. The following day before making a call to CPW to see what the problem was, I was checking emails and saw a $2,542.29 charge to my credit card from Colorado Parks and Wildlife. After 12 years, my number finally came up. I drew a G6 goat tag in the Eagles Nest Wilderness of the White River National Forest. 

Now my top priority was finding an outfitter. I live in Arkansas, so scouting was not an option. I immediately went to the March 2023 issue of the Huntin’ Fool magazine and went to the Colorado mountain goat information page. The name Geneva Park Outfitters kept showing up, so after a few phone calls, I got in touch with owner Rick Smith. He answered all my questions and told me what I needed to hear. My 2023 mountain goat hunt was set. 
I left Arkansas September 1st for a 19-hour drive to Rick’s ranch in Bailey, Colorado. I arrived the afternoon of the 2nd and met with Rick, his wife, LaDane, his son, Colt, and Tom the wrangler who would be packing us in.

Season opened the 5th, so we were going to pack in on horseback on the 3rd to set up camp and glass for goats. My guide, Lloyd Tucker, who we would meet at the trailhead, had hiked the eight miles in the week before and spotted goats. 

On the morning of the 3rd with horses and gear loaded, Tom and I made the two-hour drive to the Elliot Ridge Trailhead in the Gore Range. We met Lloyd a couple miles from the trailhead as the road was too rough for the horse trailer. Tom saddled horses and methodically packed all the gear into the panniers, and we set out for my once-in-a-lifetime adventure. 

We reached the trailhead with no issues, but soon after, things got a little crazy. Two large boulders had been placed at the trail entrance just wide enough for a horse to pass through and to keep ATVs out. Tom was first in line leading the pack horse with the biggest load and I was right behind him. When the pack horse tried to go through, the panniers hung up on the large rocks and he stopped. Tom said to give him a swat and make him go through. I moved up behind him and swatted him with my hand. He reared up and jumped forward, scattering gear, but he made it through. I was next in line, so I moved forward and realized my stirrups were going to hang up. Not being an avid horseback rider, I pulled my feet out of the stirrups and raised them up to clear the rocks. To my surprise, my horse decided to do the same as the pack horse. He reared up and lunged forward, causing me to lose balance from my feet not being in the stirrups. It pitched me backwards, and I landed on my head and shoulders in the rocks. 

After assessing the damage, I had busted my head above my left eye, skinned my shoulders, and had a pretty nasty hole in my left leg and right arm but nothing was broken. We got me bandaged up and the bleeding stopped and then saddled back up and headed for goat camp. That was not the end of the rodeo, however. Before leaving the truck, Tom had suggested putting our rain gear in our saddle bags because it looked like rain coming. As we were crossing the highest point of Elliot Ridge, the wind was blowing at least 40 mph and it started sleeting. I pulled my rain jacket from my saddle bag, but not gripping it tight enough, the wind blew it over my horse’s head. He was already nervous from the pelting sleet, and this just set him into panic mode. A seasoned horseman could have salvaged the situation, but once again, he tossed me. My left foot did not come out of the stirrup right away, stretching my leg and tearing my hamstring. Tom and Lloyd managed to get me on the horse Tom had been riding, and we rode the remaining two miles to our campsite. 

We got our tents set up, and I tried to rest while they glassed for goats, but it was difficult even trying to get comfortable laying down. The following day, I was sore. My entire body hurt, but I wasn’t about to throw in the towel. We wrapped my leg really tight with ace bandages, and I could actually walk stiff-legged. I glassed from camp as Lloyd went higher up the ridge for a better view. He spotted three nice billies about three miles away in some really rugged cliffs. The odds on this hunt were definitely stacked against me. 

Later that afternoon, I spotted three goats, a young billy, an older nanny, and a kid, about two miles from camp in some milder terrain. We decided to try for the younger billy, so we made a plan for the next morning’s hunt. We left camp at 3:30 a.m. since we were not sure how long it would take to get me into shooting range, if it were even possible. Most of the walking was downhill to the valley floor, which made walking for me much easier. We reached the bottom well before shooting light, set up spotting scopes, and waited. It was still so dark that I could hardly see anything. Then Lloyd said the magic words, “I see them, and they have dropped halfway down from where they were last night.” That was great news as we could move a few hundred more yards and maybe get a shot without climbing. 

We slowly worked our way to the base of the mountain but lost sight of them due to the rock outcroppings. We backed out and spotted them bedded at 260 yards. All we could see were their heads, so we got me set up and once again waited. After only about half an hour, they stood and started walking to our right, which would put them in a perfect spot for a shot. I had my rifle set up on our packs, and I was steady but not comfortable. The position I was in had my hamstring cramping, so this needed to happen quick or I would have to move. The nanny came through first, and she had 9 1/2 to 10" horns, but she had a kid, so shooting her was not an option. This was an either-sex tag. The billy came through next, and after a 100% conformation from Lloyd that it was the right one, I slowly squeezed the trigger. The shot hit him hard but did not put him down. He dropped down about 40 yards and stood at the edge of a 500-foot drop. I had to completely readjust, and my leg was killing me at this point. I rushed the second shot and hit the rocks right over his shoulder. The third shot was true, and he went straight down only inches from the cliff’s edge. My biggest fear on this hunt was him falling into the abyss and breaking his horns. I had watched too many goat hunting videos. He wedged in some rocks and stayed put. 

After high fives and hugs, we sat down and took in the moment. Lloyd had done the impossible. He got me on a goat in the shape I was in and we made it happen. Lloyd is a genuinely great guy and a true alpine expert. He was patient with me and never pressured or rushed me. He offered to retrieve my goat while I waited at the bottom, but that was not going to happen. I had to put my hands on it right where it lay. It took some time, a lot of time, but he got me up to the 11,500-foot mark where my prize awaited me. He was a beautiful specimen with a really nice coat for that early in the year and sported 8 1/2" horns. He was a young goat, later aged at only 2 years, but I could not have been happier. It was a true blessing that I got to hunt at all, let alone take such a nice goat. My body was in bad shape, but I got it done and managed to take a 6x5 bull elk with my muzzleloader a few days later. This is one trip I feel that I honestly beat the odds.