“What’s the plan?” Bill asked. I told him we were going up to that bush under the rim rock and he was going to kill that goat. After an hour of hiking and crossing two scree fields, we got to the bush. Somewhere in the 45 minutes of controlled chaos trying to get Bill in a comfortable position to make the 160-yard shot, he informed me that he had not shot a scoped rifle since 1972. According to my friend, Beau, the look on my face was priceless.
I met Bill Madison on his birthday, March 4, 2000, and we became great friends from that night forward. He is like a grandpa, father, and mentor to me and Uncle Bill to my 16-year-old son since the day he was born.
This hunt actually started after Bill drew the tag in 2021. Months of planning came to a screeching halt with one lightning strike and the start of the Schneider Springs fire, which shut down the National Forest in Bill’s goat unit.
As we approached the September 1st opener, it became evident that it wasn’t going to happen. That week, Bill informed me that he had reached out to WDFW to turn his tag back in. I said, “You did what!?
His conversation went something like this:
Bill: “My mountain goat unit is closed due to the fire, so I need to know what my options are.”
WDFW: “Sure, Mr. Madison. We can reinstate your bonus points right now over the phone.”
Bill: “You don’t understand. I’m 83 years old, and I won’t live long enough to draw this tag again. I want the tag extended to the 2022 season.”
WDFW: (Dead silence)
Bill: “Are you still there?”
WDFW: “Yes, Mr. Madison. That will have to go through the Director and would have to be in writing before the season starts in five days.”
Bill wrote a letter, sent it certified, and we waited. When he received his $300 refund check in the mail, I didn’t think there was a chance they were going to give him his tag back. Fast forward 10 long months later to when Bill was able to purchase his mountain goat tag for the Goat Rocks Wilderness. Game on! Unfortunately, we only had two short months to put everything together. I’m a self-employed taxidermist, so getting the time off wasn’t a problem. We reached out to a friend and customer of mine who owns White Pass Outfitters, Cody Meeske. He has some of the best mules around, and we were able to book a drop camp with him, going in on August 31st.
Bill and I dropped off our gear at Cody’s camp the night before our ride in and then spent the night at Bill’s cabin, which was about 30 minutes from the Scatter Creek trailhead where we would meet Cody the next morning. Neither one of us got much sleep that night, and before we knew it, Cody and his wranglers were getting us situated in our saddles. Other than a couple encounters with some ground hornets, our over four-hour trail ride was uneventful and took us through some of the most beautiful country I’ve ever seen.
As we rode through the last saddle and into the basin that we’d planned to camp in, my heart sank when I saw someone sitting in a lawn chair next to his tent. When we got closer, I realized it was one of my best friends, Beau Olson. He had hiked in ahead of us that morning. He said, “I thought you guys might need some help.” What a huge relief! I knew it was going to be tough getting my 84-year-old friend on a goat, but at that moment, my mind was definitely at ease. Beau owns Wilderness Expeditions LLC in another part of the state and had a free week before his archery elk hunters showed up. He’s known Bill almost as long as I have, and he wasn’t about to let us have all the fun.
After unloading the mules, we got camp set up and relaxed a bit. Beau and I wanted to do some glassing before dark in another basin, so we hiked back up the trail and picked apart an area called McCall Basin. Other than a couple of grouse, we didn’t see a single animal.
Back at camp, I was checking in with my son at home. At 7:05, just as the sun was setting, I looked up and saw a big white blob come over the ridge and feed in the lush green grass. As we watched him until dark, we had no idea that we were looking at the only goat we would see on this hunt.
Sleep was next to impossible that night, and morning came real fast. When the sun came up, we were thrilled that the billy was bedded in the rocks within view of our camp. We had breakfast and hung out for a couple hours to see what he’d do once the sun hit his bed. Nothing. He wasn’t going anywhere, so we got our gear together and set out to try and get above him. Beau went on ahead of us, and I stayed back with Bill. We got about a mile up the trail, and Beau met back up with us. He had determined there was no way Bill could get up through the rockslide and saddle that would have put us above the goat for a 75-yard shot.
Now, that brings us back to the beginning of this story. We were 160 yards below Bill’s once-in-a-lifetime billy and he couldn’t find him in the 4.5-14 Leupold scope. Beau was trying to keep us calm, and Bill was half quietly yelling at me. I was quietly yelling at Bill. At one point, he threw a rock at me but insisted he was just moving it from under his butt. We’ll never know for sure. We finally got Bill dialed in, and no more than three minutes later, the billy stood, quartering away from us. I said, “Bill, he’s getting up. Shoot when you’re ready.” Bang! The .270 Winchester barked a millisecond later, and the goat took off to the left and stopped again, quartering the opposite direction. I said to hit him again. At this point, Bill was on autopilot, like he’d done it a thousand times before. He sent another 150 grain Hornady on its way. The goat reared up on his hind legs and ran about 20 yards to the left and disappeared. We couldn’t believe how fast it all went down. I dove onto Bill and gave him the biggest hug ever given in the Goat Rocks!
Once we gathered ourselves and our gear, Bill went down to the main trail and Beau and I made the 45-minute climb to the goat. We couldn’t believe how beautiful this animal was and the gorgeous country that he called home. We took some pictures and then made the decision that we needed to get this goat down the mountain whole for Bill to see 100% intact. That decision almost proved to be fatal as we had to take it over a small cliff and then 300 yards straight down an avalanche shoot. Two hours later, Bill was running his hand through the beautiful white fur and planted a big kiss on his forehead, thanking him for his life. More handshakes, hugs, tears, and pictures ensued until it got dark on us. Thank goodness we were only about 200 yards from the glacier-fed creek and another 200 from camp. That night, we enjoyed a Maker’s Mark “kill bottle” and relived the awesome day’s hunt.
We spent the next day breaking down the goat, enjoying the incredible September day, and dining on goat tenderloin and fresh Rocky Mountain goat oysters. Later that evening, we got word that a wildfire was moving towards our location and made arrangements for Cody to pick us up the next day. We awoke to an extremely smoky basin. Beau had left at first light, and Cody pulled into camp at about noon. The ride out was once again uneventful and bittersweet. It went by way too fast, but I wouldn’t trade anything for the four days I got to spend with my dear friend, Bill.
Thank you to Cody and his crew at White Pass Outfitters for getting us in and out in one piece. Thank you to my buddy, Beau Olson. We couldn’t have done it without your help. Thank you to my son, Garric, for letting Bill use his rifle. Sorry you couldn’t be on the hunt, son! You were definitely missed. And thanks to my wife, Julie, and Bill’s wife, Molly, for allowing us to venture out and act like little kids again.