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September 2020
Story by W. Dustin Boatwright
State: Utah
Species: Mtn Goat

It’s hard to describe the feeling of planning, packing, traveling, pre-game glassing, and finally ascending the mountain to fill a tag. Nervousness, anticipation, excitement, and pain are just a few of the emotions that hit as we start up the mountain to set up a base camp. On this particular hunt, my accomplice/ pro backcountry navigator/photographer extraordinaire, Austin Bousman, and I knew there was zero water on the mountain. The only option was to pack in as much as we could, so off we went full of emotion and energy up the trail.

We arrived at the location where we planned to set up base camp at around 2:30 p.m. after six and a half hours of hiking. After setting up camp, we prepared for an afternoon hunt. At 4 p.m., we started our ascent to the summit of Loafer Mountain to put glass on the cliffs below. Austin made it to the 3/4 mark from the summit and sat glassing, waiting for me to arrive to game- plan the next move. Upon arriving at his location, Austin was busy glassing across the canyon. I was breathing hard and had no interest in putting the binoculars to my face until I caught my breath, so I was scanning the areas in close proximity. Suddenly, I picked up white movement less than 50 yards from our location upwind. I quickly grabbed Austin’s attention. His eyes got big with excitement followed by instructing me to get ready.

After watching the group of 12-15 mountain goats slowly feed towards the summit, we decided my location was in the wide open and I quickly adjusted up to Austin’s side. We spent the next 20 minutes or so trying to get acclimated to viewing and determining which goats were nannies and which were billies.

Shortly after the group fed out of sight, we decided to backtrack and ascend the mountain on the west face since the goats were feeding towards the east face. The hope was to cut them off near the summit. Our plan worked beautifully. Near the summit, we peeked over and the group was roughly 30 yards below us with the wind still in our faces. We watched them for the next 15-20 minutes and determined there were at least two young billies in the herd.

The next morning, we awoke and glassed from camp but to no avail. After packing for a day hunt, we started the ascent up the mountain. Just over the crest of the summit, Austin spotted a lone goat on the next mountain peak over. With the wind in our faces, we dropped down into the shaded timber, slowly making our way to the lone goat. On arrival, we realized the lone goat, which was a nanny, was not alone. The cliffs of the next mountainside were loaded with goats from top to bottom with just about every size of goat imaginable. One of the nannies was an absolute giant. Her horn length had to be 10-11" with minimal mass.

On arriving back at camp, we realized the sustained winds throughout the day nearly took out our tent. Fortunately, we spent time fixing and reinforcing the tent setup before eating and getting some rest.
The next morning, we glassed the mountainside from camp at first light. While reviewing Google Earth, onXmaps, and reflecting on the previous day’s hunt, we decided to drop down 600 feet of elevation and come up the ridgeline to the summit of the mountain. We knew going in this was going to be a long hike on rough terrain. However, it was the only option. The place we had set up the previous day was a dead end of cliffs.
Austin and I left camp mentally prepared for a long hike and confident we had found our target. The wind was blowing hard, but the day was absolutely breathtaking. We started the ascent up the ridgeline. The climb started out along a fairly mild grassy prairie but quickly transitioned to rocky, steep terrain. Upon arriving at the summit where the goats were hanging out the previous day, we soon realized they were nowhere to be found. After spending some time behind the glass and looking in the nooks and crannies of the cliffs, we were able to find several of the goats from the day before. We decided to focus our attention on the next drainage to the east to see if we could spot a mature billy. We spotted two goats sitting in the sun on a cliff nearly 800 yards away. After pulling out the spotter and seeing two more goats in the timber below the cliff, we decided to get a closer look.
Luckily for us, we had several factors working in our favor. First, the wind was blowing at least 40 miles per hour, which helped conceal our less than graceful movement in tough terrain. In addition, the goats movement was generally in a downward direction while the wind was generally blowing upward, directly into our faces. Also, the sun was shining brightly over our shoulders, directly into the eyes of the goats.

After cutting the distance in half traversing scattered downed timber, we caught glimpses of white through the timber approximately 400 yards away. After putting glass on them, we could tell the goats were generally heading our direction. Between us was a narrow rise in the landscape. We were roughly 100 feet below the top of the ridge and decided to use the terrain to our advantage by traversing back to the top and dropping down on top of the billies. After reaching the top and cutting the distance in half again, we decided to drop down to get a visual on the billies. After dropping down and looking through our binos, we concluded we had spooked them. All of a sudden, we looked straight down less than 100 yards and saw a white body resting beside a tree. After determining it was a shooter billy, we decided to make a move to get a shot.

Upon reaching the point where we thought we could get a shot, we popped over and saw what we thought was the billy in the wide open but facing directly at us at 125 yards. I quickly got into a prone position and kept the crosshairs on the billy, waiting for him to move. Austin was approximately 10 feet above me watching the goat through his binos and taking photos. The sun was directly behind us, completely blinding the goat of our movement. After about 20 minutes of this, Austin looked at me and said, “Are you sure that’s the billy we saw below us. Where are the others?”

I responded, “Who cares. I’m shooting this one. I’m not being greedy and eating tag soup this time.”
Finally, Austin’s type A personality got the best of him. He got my attention and told me he was going to sneak back up and try to get a visual on the other goats. He was certain the one we put eyes on earlier was a bigger, more mature goat. After giving me several instructions, I calmly told him, “Do what you want, but I’m shooting this one if he gives me the opportunity.”

Austin laughed and headed uphill. Moments later, I looked uphill to see Austin with big eyes and his hands making the motion of “BIG, BIG, BIG!” I calmly looked up and mouthed, “I’m shooting the one I’m set up on.”
Austin looked at me bewildered and motioned me to hold on a second before disappearing again. Not a moment later, all hell broke loose when the billy I was set up on went to a full sprint with zero time for me to react. The next 30 seconds consisted of me doing all I could to get the crosshairs on the billy to get a shot. During this time, I was panicked and almost squeezed the trigger several times as the billy crossed less than 50 yards below me and then disappeared from my life forever. Not a moment later, Austin came busting through the brush behind me saying, “Did you see the big one?” I no more than got “No!” out of my mouth when I caught movement directly left of Austin at less than 30 yards away. The giant old billy majestically crested the rise. He was undoubtedly an absolute giant compared to the billy I was prepared to shoot. I swung the gun to my shoulder and shot all in one motion. The giant billy instantly went out of sight, and Austin quickly made his way over to see if the billy was down. A big smile and a thumbs up later, the real work began.

We were fortunate that we bumped into a young man with horses who helped us pack out our gear, meat, and hide back to the truck. Our big takeaway from this hunt was horses are very handy and can make a hunt more enjoyable where they are allowed. Happy hunting!

Utah Mountain Goat