Rugged, steep and dangerous
I feel that the pursuit of mountain goats is the pinnacle of mountain bowhunting. For as long as I can remember, I have dreamed of pursuing mountain goats with a bow. Maybe it’s the experience of the rugged mountains they call home, or perhaps it’s the difficulty involved in getting there.
Getting within range of a mountain goat requires perseverance, much the same as sheep hunting. Mountain goats might not draw the same attention as the thick horned sheep of the Rockies or the long thin-horned sheep of the northwest, yet their splendor and solitude at the top of the rugged peaks throughout the year is truly something to behold. At the same time this magnificence can challenge hunters by forcing them to take unsafe routes up a mountain for a shot opportunity.
This particular hunt, which had been merely a dream of mine, quickly became a reality one Christmas morning when my parents presented me with the gift of a hunt for mountain goat and moose the following fall. I was overcome with emotion and could barely believe their generosity, and I immediately began my training and preparation for this hunt of a lifetime.
Like all hunting trips, this one started off with a long road trip, and this time our group, which included my dad, was headed for the northeast corner of British Columbia.
We ended up roughly 35 miles into the backcountry, with the majority of that having been spent on horseback.
Upon our arrival to camp, I couldn’t help but grab my camera and binoculars and scan the surrounding mountainsides. Taking advantage of the unseasonably warm and sunny weather, we would start off the hunt by trying to fill my mountain goat tag before the snow and rain started to accumulate.
After a short night’s sleep we were treated to some freshly brewed cowboy coffee and after a quick bite to eat we were off on horseback.
Two hours later and we were glassing for moose and goats. I attempted a stalk on a bull moose mid-afternoon, only to get busted in the noisy alders as I attempted to close the distance. As we made our way back to camp that evening, our guide Barrett looked to the mountain south of camp and spotted two mountain goats. The spotting scope verified everything we needed to see — these goats deserved a closer look in the morning.
Early the next day, we were back with the binoculars and spotting scopes looking for the goats. Our scan returned no signs of the goats, but we decided to still make the climb just in case they were out of sight. Although we were fairly confident that the goats from the prior evening should be close to the spot we put them to bed, there was still uncertainty, as they could have easily moved into the next drainage. Knowing that we had a difficult climb ahead of us, we were fully prepared to spend the entire day on the mountain, hunting from drainage to drainage in search of these goats.
The terrain where the goats were last seen was filled with vertical craggy rocks with multiple switchblade ridges — terrain all too familiar for a mountain goat, but extremely challenging for their pursuers.
To reach these goats, we would need to break free from the jungle mess of alders and ascend a large unstable mountainside, teeming with large jagged talus. These ridges created a glassing dilemma due to the many places a goat could hide completely out of sight.
Red and yellow leaves shimmered in the morning light, announcing fall’s arrival as we made our way up the mountain. As we crested a tangle of alders, we navigated to an avalanche chute to avoid another section of alders. This stair master chute was steep yet welcomed when compared to the bushwhacking of the past few hours.
We finally made our way into the alpine zone and started to traverse over to the basin where we hoped the goats would be spending their day.
Barrett and I were the first to reach the edge of the cliffs, and we began to glass the upper portion of the basin. After a few minutes with no sightings, I decided to glass down the drainage. As luck would have it, a nice goat was bedded 200 yards below us on a steep black shale saddle. Quickly I signaled to Barrett that there was a goat below us, and we moved out of sight so we wouldn’t spook the goat. I gave hand signals to my dad, and our wrangler, Eric to let them know what was happening.
The goat was bedded below an extremely steep cliff, so it seemed like a shot would be possible above the goat. It was going to be a tough shot due to the extreme downward angle. We decided that it would be best if I attempted the stalk by myself with my guide trailing closely behind me as required by B.C. law.
As I made my approach, I constantly checked the wind with a squeeze of my wind detector. Luck was on my side — the wind was consistent with the midday thermals. The cliff edge made for a perfect stalk because I could remain out of view and stay relatively safe navigating the cliff bands. I neared the edge of the cliff where I thought the goat was.
Slowly, I peered over the edge to get a visual, but the goat was nowhere to be seen. Instantly I panicked and thoughts of a failed stalk started to race through my head. Did the goat see us while glassing and escape up the cliffs to safety? Did it change bedding positions?
I signaled to Barrett that I couldn’t see the goat, and he worked his way back up the rocks and let me know it was still bedded in the original spot. I sighed in relief, I picked the wrong spot and would need to go around another rock outcropping and drop a little lower on the ridge. As I reached the next ledge, I knew this had to be the spot the goat was bedded below. I crept to the edge at a snail’s pace and I dropped down to my hands and knees and slowly worked toward the rock cliff with my rangefinder in one hand and my bow in the other. Carefully, I glanced over the edge and there in front of me was what I had climbed up here for — a white object was lying in its bed, totally unaware of my presence.
I would need to shoot from my knees due to the dangerous straight drop below me, so I inched my way a little closer so my cams would clear the rocks at full draw. Placing my knees in a stable position, I carefully got a range on the goat and moved my slider sight to 35.4 yards after accounting for the yardage cut of 30 yards due to the steep angle. A lifetime of dreams quickly flashed through my head — all the time spent away from family and work, the hours spent tuning my bow to create the perfect mountain setup.
I rose to my knees and eased the limbs back, allowing the string to come to rest on the draw stops as I anchored the release against my jawbone and settled the level on my sight. I let out a breath, attempted to calm my nerves, and sent a well-placed arrow hitting the bedded goat in the vitals. Once hit, the goat got up on its feet and raced down to my left and out of sight. I knew the shot was solid, but I wanted to be sure the goat was down since I feared its final steps might take it into some inaccessible terrain. As I crept lower on the ridge, I saw the goat bedded and again grabbed a range and came to full draw. My second arrow hit the goat hard sending it tumbling down an avalanche chute where it came to rest 750 feet below me. The dust and rock slide settled — I had my goat and instantly began to shake.
The feeling of accomplishment took over, and I dropped to my knees and then onto my back. I was flooded with emotion, the type that many successful hunters experience after accomplishing a dream.
I ran back up the mountain to signal to my dad that I had made a perfect stalk. When he finally reached me, we celebrated with a handshake and then a giant hug overlooking some of British Columbia’s most impressive terrain.
My dad kept saying that he couldn’t believe I shot a mountain goat with my bow! I am so glad he made the climb up with us to go after this goat. Sharing the excitement with him made the experience that much more memorable.
We carefully picked our way down the avalanche chute to the goat. The steep scree slope turned to hardened gravel, making things a little complicated.
Words cannot describe how it felt to place my hands on the goat for the first time! The goat ended up being a very old nanny that was past her breeding prime. She was a true monarch of the mountains.
I will forever cherish the memories from this hunt. We experienced truly pristine wilderness and mountain bowhunting at its finest. In the fading afternoon light, we finally made our way off the mountain and back to the valley floor.
The backcountry to me is a very special place — a place where one can get lost in the splendor and soak up the images and sounds of the mountains. I savored this special moment for a while, and then I began anticipating the challenge of punching my moose tag in the coming days!
Each day I get to look back on this mount and relive the time spent with my dad. I can't wait wait to share more hunts with my dad and give back to him someday.