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Understanding the Love of the Sport

February 2020
Story by Debbie Payne
State: Utah
Species: Mtn Goat

In the early 2000s, we had been out on the Paiute Trails riding ATVs. We stopped to stretch our legs and have some snacks, and up on the rocky hillside, we watched a herd of mountain goats feeding along on the grass tufts that speckled the ground. The goats were beautiful! I mentioned that if I were to ever hunt anything, a mountain goat might be fun. I wasn’t a hunter. If I went hunting, it was just to be out in the woods enjoying nature and watching my husband in his happy place.

Ever since that day, my husband, Scott, got the idea to try and get me hooked on hunting and had been putting me in for the once-in-a-lifetime draw for mountain goat. Since the Paiute Trails, I had a few cracks at being a hunter, but I never had a good experience. Fast forward to early spring 2019 when I got a phone call from Scott. He told me congratulations on drawing my goat tag. Soon after that, I got a text from my oldest son, who shares his father’s passion for hunting. “Congratulations on the goat tag! I’m excited for you! We will make it fun, I promise!”

I was thinking about turning the tag in, but my son, Dalton, said, “It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity!”

A lot of times, your children teach you a lesson, and this was one of those days. It was only a text, but I could tell he was dying inside thinking that I didn’t want to take advantage of this. My husband and my son were so beside themselves with joy when I decided I was going to try and not disappoint them. I was going to try and understand how important this was to them. I was determined to make this a better experience, as were they.

September rolled around, and we took one trip out prior to the hunt opening to see if we could spot any goats. We got out there and didn’t spot even one. Thoughts went through my head of calling it while I still had the chance to turn my tag in for a refund.

We had only one weekend in September that was possible for us to get out there and hunt, and I had made it a goal to harvest my goat that weekend so we didn’t have to spend all of October out there too. We got out too late to hunt on a Thursday night. Cold weather was moving in on Saturday, so my fairy tale idea was to shoot the first decent thing I saw Friday morning.

Friday morning came, and Dalton went one way and Scott and I went the other. We ended up on the very top ridge on opposite sides of a steep, cliffy canyon. Dalton set up a spotting scope and spotted three goats. Now this was starting to be exciting! Dalton lead us in from his standpoint. We snuck over the series of hills and spotted them at about 700 yards. Scott wanted to get me in a little closer, so we continued sneaking over the bald-faced hills. We got to a rocky outcropping and found a good place for a dead rest for my gun at about 230 yards. Scott recognized right off that it was a nanny with this year’s baby and last year’s tagging along behind. At least I got the experience of sneaking in and getting set up for a shot.

Friday afternoon, Dalton’s father-in-law, Mike, joined us. Saturday morning, we sat in the falling snow and didn’t get in much hiking. Saturday afternoon, my confidence and hopes of harvesting on that weekend were dwindling. Scott’s hunting instincts told him to go look at a cliffy area where he thought seeing mountain goats would be logical. Driving up to this area where he wanted to glass the cliffs, I was totally losing interest. My mind was going back to getting home, and reality was swarming in my head. Scott got out, had a look through his binos, and said, “Come look at this!” I was jolted back into hunting mode. I got out and saw white specks out in the trees above the cliffs. I put up my binos, and there stood a herd of goats! We counted about 10 of them feeding through the trees. Too late in the day to start in on them, we decided to head back to camp and try it in the morning.

Sunday morning, we had a plan. Scott, Dalton, and I were going to hike along the top ridges and work our way into the pines above the goats. Mike was going to go out to the other side of the canyon where Scott and I had been when we spotted them. From there, he could guide us in and let us know when we were on approach.

It was about two and a half miles in when we heard Mike radio that we should be coming up on the goats soon. We started to sneak through the trees, and my nerves started to engage. Scott stopped suddenly and looked to the right of a bunch of trees and then to the left. I knew he had spotted them. He took a few steps back and found a tree limb with a frighteningly small nub for me to rest my gun on. There were three together, walking broadside away from us to our left. The first one had already passed by the little clearing I had to shoot through. I had the second one in my scope, and I hesitated a half second too long and my chance passed. Here came the third one, and I saw a decent amount of shiny black horns. Clicking the safety forward, I took a deep breath and let it out as I touched the trigger. I could tell I had made a good shot. It was all of 50 yards. I reloaded, and Dalton was coaching me to get another one in it. I had to reposition to another branch before sending off the kill shot. The only shot I had was at the ridge of its back. I had a hard time with the second shot mentally because I could see it was going down. I struggled with thoughts of shooting too much and turning it into a slaughter. I touched the trigger again and sent the goat flying off the ridge. Congratulations and hugs were thrown around, and we all set off to find it.

Luckily, the goat had rolled down about 15 feet to the base of a tree that prevented it from going down any further. Relief flooded over me. Scott and Dalton were so proud, excited, and gratified! I was finally with them in their happy place, and they could tell I was glad to be there. My son expressed his feelings by saying, “This is my once-in-a-lifetime mountain goat hunt too!” I had done what I had set out to do. I had not disappointed them, and I finally had a complete understanding of their love for this sport.

My son’s wife, MaCee, got word and was able to make it up to the trailhead just as we were hiking over the last hill. MaCee is usually there with me on my hunts as the female counterpart. She and I were both struggling with her not being there this time. She and her mom, Kristy, and my granddaughter, Kimber, were there waiting at our side-by-sides. From a distance, I couldn’t tell who it was. Then I heard Kimber’s little 3-year-old voice calling out, “Gramma Deb!” Realizing who it was, I was so grateful that MaCee had been able to come out for the grand finale. As I got closer, Kimber ran up to me like a scene in a movie. I welcomed her huge hug, and she said, “Gramma, you’re a rock star for getting that goat.”

Utah Mountain Goat Hunting