I stared dumbfounded at the screen telling me I was successful in drawing a mountain goat tag in Montana. I had been applying for tags in Montana for the last 16 years, so I knew my time had to be coming soon, but I could not have been more grateful for the timing of this tag. For the two years prior to this, I had become sick with a mysterious illness and had been travelling back and forth to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota every three to six months. I had been formally diagnosed with seropositive Rheumatoid Arthritis, but despite being on treatment, I had daily persistent fevers of up to 103 degrees, rashes, joint pain, and debilitating pain that felt like knives coursing through my veins. Having this mysterious illness drastically changed my life from being a very healthy, vibrant person to becoming someone I no longer recognized. When the time came to apply for tags, I told Robert that I had given it a lot of thought and that I would like to start knocking out my bucket list of difficult hunts sooner rather than later, knowing that Rheumatoid Arthritis is a progressive disease and that my body may not be capable of tough hunts down the road. I asked Robert to put me in for tags where the draw odds would be in my favor and the hunt would be doable for me in my current physical state.
We planned to leave in early September for the hunt, with a backup plan that if I wasn’t successful we would go in with horses later in the season. My dad had also agreed to come along, as well as one of our dear friends, Kip Knapstead. I had a trip to Mayo in August, and because I was still so sick on medications, the rheumatologist thought it would be a good idea to take me off of all medications and have me return in three months to work me up again from scratch to see if they could figure out why my body was still so angry and inflamed. I would eventually be diagnosed with Adult Onset Still’s Disease, which is an auto-inflammatory disease that attacks the innate immune system along with Rheumatoid Arthritis, an autoimmune disease which attacks the adaptive immune system.
In the meantime, I had this goat hunt which I was minimally prepared for and now I was going to have to do it without medication. I had been trying to hike at least three days a week, but it became a delicate balance of trying to build muscle without throwing my body into an even angrier state than what it was already in. I felt ill-prepared, but I had the mindset of the lyrics from a country song by Toby Keith that says, “I ain’t as good as I once was, but I’m as good once as I ever was.” Those words became my motto for this hunt!
We spent the entire first day hiking and scouting, looking for any kind of goat sign. It felt amazing to be disconnected from the rest of the world and distracted from my physical woes. Nature has a way of putting things into perspective, grounding us, bringing healing to our minds, and rejuvenating our senses. Although we hadn’t seen much sign indicating active goats in the area, we were in prime goat territory and remained optimistic that they were there somewhere.
I awoke the following morning and nudged Robert beside me in the tent to let him know that I was going to get up, go pee, and get ready for the day. He decided he wanted to sleep in a bit longer and told me that I should go glass the cliffs surrounding the lake first and then I could go pee. I trudged with a full bladder to the lake to glass. As I approached, my dad was already sitting on the rocks, enjoying the morning solitude. I asked him if he had seen anything, and as he replied no, I caught movement at the top of the rocks. There were several goats! I ran back to the tent to get Robert, and he jumped out in his underwear, threw on his boots, grabbed the spotting scope, and ran down to confirm what I had just seen. Indeed there were several billies and one nanny in the group. Robert told me to grab the gun as there was a shooter in the herd.
I am sure we made a comical sight as we rushed around camp gathering our things, me chasing Robert around trying to get him to put on his pants. I was really regretting not peeing before I glassed because now it was too late. We had a goat to go after! A few short minutes later, the four of us were off in pursuit of the goats. My first shot sent the large billy rolling down the steep mountain and over a cliff edge. As he fell, one of his horns broke off. He stood, and I was afraid he would fall and start rolling again, so I shot a second time and he never moved after that. I had my goat, and now I could go pee!
We hiked over to where the goat lay, and I couldn’t believe how big he was. Not only his horns, but also his body was massive. Once back at camp, we packed up our tents and gear and started on the pack out to the truck. I have to give a shout out to Kip and my dad because their packs were so laden down with gear and meat that it is a wonder they were even able to get them off of the ground. Having them on this hunt made it so much more special, and I am eternally grateful that it wasn’t just Robert and me trying to pack everything out.
As we drove home that evening, my heart was full of joy and satisfaction. Even if I hadn’t harvested this beautiful goat, the hunt would have still been a success because I had pushed myself physically and mentally in ways I had never had to before getting sick. Harvesting this amazing creature was just the icing on the cake.