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Twice in a Lifetime

March 2020
Story by Tyler Lewis
State: Idaho
Species: Mtn Goat

After moving out west at a young age, I quickly began to realize that the high country held a very special place in my heart. The first few years of archery elk hunting, my father and I always seemed to run into mountain goats, and a lot of them. Through my young eyes, they were by far the most fascinating critter. Oddly enough, the very next year, a family friend had a tag for the very unit these goats were in and asked us to join in on the hunt. A rather short hunt later and we had just been a part of an amazing goat harvest. That moment forward, I knew I would eventually have an opportunity to harvest my own.

Fast forward to nearly a decade later. On a quiet spring day, I caught wind that the Idaho big game draw results had become available, and to my surprise, a green checkmark and the word “Selected” highlighted the computer screen. After refreshing the page probably a dozen times, it soon sank in that my own once-in-a-lifetime adventure had begun!

Knowing the unit and having been part of a goat hunt already was a great benefit as I had a great idea on where to start. Many days of Google Earth provided some strong evidence that I was in for a great hunt. Being a few hours away from home, I jumped on every opportunity to be in the unit as I possibly could.

The first scouting trip, we found goats on the same cliff faces where we had seen them for years. It took a lot of time to look them over before we could begin to figure out the characteristics and how to tell one apart from the other. As we progressed into the summer, temperatures were rising, as was my anticipation. We soon realized that the unit was so heavily timbered that by the time the sun peaked over the crags, the goats were bedded up into the timber and wouldn’t show themselves at all, making it extremely difficult to find goats, let alone a good, mature billy.

As mid-August came, a buddy and I went into a new canyon that I felt held a good billy. Mid-morning, I spotted three goats. “Those have to be billies,” I quickly told him as I put the spotter on them. With good curves, nice mass, and big bodies, there was no doubt in my mind. They soon bedded in the shade, and one stood out from the other two. He looked like he owned the hillside. We were super excited to have found these goats, but at the same time, they were in an inaccessible spot to shoot one. I was on the fence about whether to try and find others in a nicer spot or wait this goat out until he made a wrong move to have a chance at him.

Opening day arrived, and my dad drove down to base camp. I was checking my phone for the occasional update as to whether he had located the billy. Needless to say, it was a long-awaited weekend. Upon his arrival back home, I found out he had actually found the same three billies. With tons of footage and pictures, we knew this goat was solid. Dad had set up camp and left it as we were to return just two days later.

We arrived Wednesday morning and were pleasantly welcomed with a herd of nannies, kids, and a smaller billy right above camp. We decided to go to our glassing point and watch for the evening. We spotted a few other nannies, a smaller billy in the lower end of the basin, and eventually picked out the three billies we had been focusing on. Of course, they were still in the same hole they had been in for nearly a month.

Half an hour before dark, the biggest of the three began moving. This billy got up and traveled all over the entire basin, probably covering four miles in less than 20 minutes. We were dumfounded. It was almost as if he was making sure all the other goats knew it was his basin. With too little time to make a move on him, I had to make the hard decision of just watching him. After a month of being in a solitary crevice in the basin, he was finally in a killable location and I couldn’t even make a move! He managed to move into an opening, and I got the best look I had on him the entire summer. I quickly knew he was everything I was looking for. Right before dark, he was on the move again right back into his hole, but higher this time and solitary away from his two counterparts. We put him to bed and hiked back to camp.

At this point, I knew it was early in the hunt, but watching the goat cover so much ground in such a little amount of time, it had me worried that he could just disappear like so many critters have the ability to do. It was a fairly sleepless, uncomfortable night.

As first light appeared, I could make out a white goat in the same spot where we had left the billy the night before. He hadn’t moved! I sighed a little relief. Dad glassed up a new goat down lower that was possibly worth getting a closer look at. We hiked down the basin only to find out it was a younger billy. I looked back up to where the billy we were watching had been, and sure enough, he was up feeding, moving to the right. He was headed toward the stuff where we could possibly make a move on him.

“Let’s go!” I quickly said. I had made up my mind that we had to go for it. We had to try and make it count.

The billy was by himself as he had left his two buddies. We started back up the basin, and every step got steeper. The goat was 2,500 yards above us, and by the time we were about halfway up the mountain, we had lost the angle and couldn’t see him anymore. There was a little bench about three-quarters of the way up that I wanted to get to. By the time we made it, it had taken us two and a half hours. The sun was up, but we were committed and getting closer by the step. A few hundred yards later, I spotted him. He was still feeding and was still 800 yards above us. We needed to get closer. We climbed, waiting to see the billy at any minute.

“Right there!” Dad whispered excitedly.

The billy was 200 yards directly above us. All hell broke loose as we were gathering our gear. With nothing but a frontal shot, we were trying to get a clear view and really see what kind of billy he actually was. The whole time, I was in the gun. No matter how much you practice, nothing prepares you for a near vertical 200-yard shot. I had trouble getting steady, and the excitement level didn’t help out either.

“He’s mature with a good hide, nice curve, and solid mass. I think you’d be happy. Here, take a quick look,” Dad said.

One quick look was all I needed to see. This was my billy! I settled back in and slowly pulled the trigger. It was high. I racked another shell, and the goat had turned and was paralleling the cliff. He slowed to a stop, and I settled in and let another fly. Almost instantaneously, the goat disappeared over the rocks. He was headed right back for the hole he claimed as home. I quickly rushed over the hill only to see the billy lying down. The red spot on his bright white hide was obviously in the sweet spot, but he was back on his feet. One quick shot and the goat took one roll and landed perfectly in an old bed, never moving again. My dream had become a reality.
The goat was across a ravine, and it took us well over an hour to traverse the cliffs to get to him. We took a lot of field photos, scenery shots, and enjoyed the moment. With a storm blowing in quick, we made our way down to camp.

I checked the goat in with the Fish and Game and was informed that it was a very nice goat for the particular unit I was in as the past years had had very little billy harvest. Hunts like these doesn’t come easy, and I have the honor to say not once, but twice in a lifetime.