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April 2022
Story by Bransen Krebs
State: Montana
Species: Mtn Goat

I was lucky enough to be born in the beautiful state of Montana. As a Montana native, we are lucky to have a giant state full of wild places and wild animals, including the mountain goat. They live in the roughest country, making them one of the hardest animals to hunt and one of the hardest tags to draw in Montana. It’s always exciting looking at draw results and imagining having a tag in your pocket, but year after year, it’s another unsuccessful portal. However, that wasn’t the case in May of 2021 when I checked my results. After 13 years of applying for mountain goat in the same unit each year, I saw the magic word "Successful." It wasn’t until the tag showed up in the mail that it hit me, I was literally holding a tag-of-a-lifetime.

Planning the hunt had me nervous because my dad and I are hunting outfitters in Montana. We had hunters booked years in advance, and all of our September was filled up with archery elk and deer hunts. The only dates we had open were the beginning of October, which would be pushing the chance of blizzard conditions in that mountain range. As we started September off with our hunts, all I could do was count down the days and pray for good weather until my expedition started. Time was flying by as October was creeping upon us, and still, we were having warm weather. Finally, I could see on the 10-day weather forecast that October 1st would be sunny and in the high 60s. I was more than happy to see the whole week we were planning to hunt had nothing but sunshine in the future.

Joining me on the trip was my dad, Jammin, my brother, Karsen, and three good buddies, Matt, Brent, and Nick. Laying everything out the night before the journey, it looked like we had enough food to feed an army and enough gear to start our own KUIU retail store. We had to pick and choose wisely since we were hiking instead of riding horses to our desired camping spot.

Morning came quick, and we headed off to the trailhead in high spirts as the sun beamed over the mountains on a cloudless blue- sky morning. It took us half the day to hike in seven miles, stopping every hundred yards to try to glass up the first mountain goat of the trip. After climbing out of the valley and opening into a giant cliffy basin, we started glassing up goats in every direction. It was hard not to get excited and start climbing up after one, but we needed to claim our spot and get camp set up before nightfall. After camp was set up, we got out the spotters and started picking through the cliffs, looking at different nannies and billies. I couldn’t believe how many different goats there were all around us. As nighttime fell and millions of stars came out, we fueled up on Mountain House meals and prepared for another great day.

The next day was another beautiful morning. Waking up, opening the tent zipper, and seeing those sun-tipped mountains was breathtaking and one of those moments you tell yourself, "This is why I hunt; this is what we live for." With nothing but time and sunshine in the future, we spent our time sorting through the goats in the valley and really trying to decide what was a good billy as they all seemed very similar in horn length. Two of them stood out in body size, and being all by themselves in the most difficult spots to get to made us think these were the smartest, oldest billies in this canyon. We hiked over one of the cliff passages looking into another huge basin overlooking a lake to make sure we weren’t missing anything. We ended up spotting more mountain goats, just nothing that caught my eye in size comparison to the other two in the basin we were camping in. None of us had had much interaction with mountain goats up close and personal, so picking the biggest billy out was tough. After a while looking of at their horns, it all came down to pure body size. We hiked back and got the spotters back on the two biggest billies. We started doing calculations on how difficult it would be to get a shot on one versus the other, how the pack out would be, and other scenarios leading to the final result.

My dad, being the leader of our expedition, came up with a game plan as we went back and forth on the two shooter billies. We decided on going after one that was above two lakes below us that we had hiked by. Knowing there was water and good level ground to camp on, we packed camp and headed down the drainage. We got camp set up quickly and still had plenty of daylight left to go after the target billy. Knowing it wasn’t going to be an easy hike up to him, we had Nick stay at the lakes and keep eyes on the billy while we gave it our all climbing up a nasty avalanche chute. Starting up a rockslide, we had a lot of small shale rock to work through, causing a lot of little slides that kept tumbling into our legs and making it hard to get footing in. When we got into the avalanche chute, it was a lot tighter than it looked but had bigger rocks for better footing. We stayed on each other’s heels so the rocks wouldn’t pick up a lot of momentum and smash the guy behind us. It got steeper the higher we climbed, but there was enough adrenaline to keep us charging up the chute.

As we neared the top of the chute, we could see our point that we had visualized would be our shooting spot and guessed it would be around a 400-yard shot. Staying as low as we could, we emerged from the chute and etched across the face into a more level shooting area. With the angle we were at, it was difficult to see the billy as he was hunkered into a thick patch of junipers, making us think he was gone. At our position, we couldn’t see Nick down at the lake for hand signals to tell us if the billy had left or not, so we got set up, pulled out the spotting scopes, and started picking apart the junipers. Soon after, we spotted him tucked deep in the junipers peering down on us. My dad got a range on him, and I dialed my scope for 432 yards.

Not having a good place to lay down for the shot, I had to find a rock that was bench- like to get set up on. All the movement and rearranging caused the goat to get up on his feet and start moving through the thickets toward the rockslides. He wasn’t moving very fast, but him seeing us and nervous. As he cleared the junipers, coming getting nervous made me to a broadside stop, I put the crosshairs on his shoulder and squeezed one off at him, hitting way left in front of his chest. I chambered another round and redialed my windage. The elevation was perfect, but the wind got the best of me on the first shot. Having a suppressor on my rifle got me a second shot opportunity as he climbed to a cliff ledge and looked back down at us. This time, I squeezed the trigger and he reared back on his hind legs, falling completely backwards off a small cliff, rolling and tumbling until he came to a halt after about 25 yards. The level of excitement and shouting we all had at that moment was a blur of "Holy cow! That actually just happened!"

Hiking up to my billy was a surreal moment I will never forget, running my hands through his long, beautiful white hair and touching his black shiny horns with the big, chunky glands behind them. I couldn’t have felt more on cloud nine. I had just fulfilled a hunt of my dreams with my favorite people by my side with the most incredible views and a story that will last a lifetime. I couldn’t have done it without the help of my dad, my brother, and my good buddies. I hope to be on many more goat hunts in the future, but until then, I will continue to reminisce and cherish this hunt for the rest of my life.