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The Best Birthday Present

March 2022
Story by Nicole Carlisle
State: Idaho
Species: Mtn Goat

I got the call from my boyfriend, Jordan, while I was at work, “You drew mountain goat!” I thought for sure he was lying. I hadn’t yet received the confirmation email from Fish and Game. I logged on and saw a green checkmark that said “Successful.” I was almost in tears I was so ecstatic. This was the day before my 24th birthday, and I was sure that this would be the best birthday present I would ever receive.

Right away, Jordan and I started studying goats. We watched YouTube videos and researched goat identification tactics. Our expectation for this hunt was to kill a mature billy, so we wanted to make sure we knew exactly how to identify a billy from a nanny. It didn’t take us long before we were out scouting the unit. Over the summer, we went on four or five backpacking trips to different areas in the unit to find the goat we wanted to go after when the season opened.

October 1st was the day we chose to start the hunt. A couple days before that, we went over our checklists, making sure we had all our equipment packed. Though the season had opened in August, we wanted to wait until the weather got cooler, resulting in heavier coats on the goats.

I had a hell of a team heading into the field with me – Jordan, my boyfriend, Ben, Jordan’s uncle, and my brother, Justin. I have always looked up to my brother, being the avid sportsman that he is filming hunts for Top Priority Hunting. I was so excited that we would be able to join the hunt and catch it all on film. With his crazy hunting schedule, it had never worked out for us to hunt together before.

We got to the trailhead at 7 a.m. on Friday, October 1st. It was four miles to our camp that sat at 9,000 feet. After getting camp set up, we hiked to a higher elevation to find some goats. There were four billies above our camp at the very top of the ridge. The next day, we hiked to 10,000 feet through rock formations that scared the crap out of me! We spent most of our second day on top of a ridge where we could see into multiple basins. We encountered some goats at 200 yards, a nanny, a kid, and a young billy. It wasn’t until around 4:30 that we decided to get closer to the billies above camp. We wanted to see just how big they really were. After traversing down and then back up the ridge, we got to the same area where the goats were. We snuck closer to a big rockpile, peeked over, and saw multiple goats at 40 yards. Jordan, Ben, and I slowly left the rockpile to go around the ridge at a further distance to get set up with the rifle. I was in position; I had my crosshairs on a billy ranging 200 yards. Jordan and Ben were both saying, “It’s a nice billy.” I kept looking around the area where the goat was. A rocky, steep slope to his right, and I couldn’t help but think about where he could end up if I shot. The time read 7:30, and we were 30 minutes away from it being too dark to shoot. After looking and waiting, I finally decided I didn’t want to shoot this goat based off where he could land after the shot.

Walking back to camp in the dark, I kept running the scenario through my head, hoping that I didn’t just make the biggest mistake by deciding not to pull the trigger. I hoped I wouldn’t regret it and that I would get another chance tomorrow with my brother, Justin, there.

We got back to camp, and Justin had a fire going. We took off our packs, grabbed one of our freeze-dried meals, and discussed our day. We made the plan to hike the ridge to those same goats. I did not sleep at all that night as I was tossing and turning, running scenarios through my head. I was nervous.

As daylight came, we hiked above camp to glass up those goats and saw the same four we had been watching over the last couple days. Without wasting any time, we headed up the steep mountain to 10,000 feet. We made it to the same spot where we had those goats at 40 yards. We moved slowly and quietly with each step, keeping an eye out for a big white fluffball. We all sat in a group of rocks to rest, eat, and hopefully see a goat turn up. After hours of glassing and waiting, Ben spotted some goats at the very end of the ridge we were on. It was go time. We rushed over, stepping over rocks with light feet. I was so nervous because the terrain looked gnarly. We were headed to the end of the ridge where there was a nasty cliff face. My brother pulled me back and said “Nicole, we aren’t going to let you shoot a goat in a bad spot.” That calmed me down and helped me not worry so much. I was following Jordan’s steps. Soon, we reached the end of the ridge where we sat down to drop our packs and get out spotting scopes.

Jordan crawled out further to peek over the north side of the ridge. There were goats at 30 yards, right on the other side of the ridge. Jordan waved me over by him. I quietly crept forward with the rifle. We seemed to be on the only flat spot on the whole mountain. It looked like a spot where the goats traveled across each side of the ridge. I lay down, got comfortable with the gun, and inched closer to the top of the ridge. We looked up at Ben and Justin, and Justin pointed right below him, signaling that there were goats on the other side of the ridge. As we were waiting for them to show themselves, we looked further down the north side of the mountain and saw another goat. It was a billy ranging at 200 yards.

Justin got his camera set up and focused in on the goat we were looking at, and Ben got his spotting scope set on it. We looked back at them, asking if that was the same goat we had been watching earlier in the day. They weren’t sure, but they said they thought it was a nice goat. At that time, Jordan was on my left side, lying prone right next to me. I brought my scope close to my face and got the goat into my crosshairs. I told Jordan, “I have a good shot. Should I shoot?” My heart was racing, but I felt calm. He said, “Wait for him to stop kicking at the ground.” I could tell the goat was kicking at his bed and was about to lay down. The goat did a 180, lifted its head, and boom! I dropped the billy goat, and it started to roll. I jacked another load in instantly. I sat up on my knees, watching the goat roll. I heard everyone say, “Stop!” The goat went out of sight, but we could no longer hear it rolling. I turned around to see Ben holding one of the cameras on me with the biggest smile on his face. I heard my brother say, “You just killed a goat, Nicole!” It wasn’t until that moment that it sank in. I had just pulled the trigger on my once-in-a-lifetime mountain goat.

I hugged Jordan and my brother and high fived Ben. Tears were rolling down my face. I couldn’t help but feel somewhat relieved. We walked 90 yards down to the goat. He was unbelievably beautiful. His coat was thick and white, and his horns were a beautiful ombre of brown and black, 8 1/2" on one side. The other side had been a little broken off. We counted five rings, which indicated the goat’s age. Come to find out after taking him to the Fish and Game, the goat was 7.5 years old.

This day will forever replay in my head and will forever be a highlight in my life. I cannot thank my boyfriend, Jordan, enough for all the time he put in preparing us for this hunt. Thanks to my brother, Justin, for being there and experiencing this moment with me and also for filming the whole hunt and capturing incredible photos. And thanks to Ben for his time, effort, and support. It was so special to have this group of guys there with me. I will never forget the memories that were made on the mountain, and I cannot wait to watch it all on film and relive the best day ever. You can watch my hunt film on YouTube. It’s a Top Priority film called “Billy in the Clouds.”