Getting lucky for a mountain goat
A good friend of mine, who is a very successful hunter, once told me, “If you don’t put your name in the hat, you can never win.” That saying hit home very hard this past year.
Morning wake up notification
It was about 5 a.m. on February 27 when my girlfriend got up to go for a morning workout. I was in quite a daze and reached over and clicked the power button on my phone to see what time it was. I sometimes tend leave my phone “on duty” mode from my work at the fire department, so it's likely to wake up to several notifications from the previous night's calls.
This time it was different. In my haze of waking up, I had a Facebook post from a friend of mine which read, “You better check the Hunting Expo drawing results. I won't spoil it, but you're going on a great hunt!” I instantly clicked the link and began to scroll, looking for my name in the results.
I had attended the Western Hunting and Conservation Expo earlier in the month and like my good friend, Brendan, had told me, I put my name in quite a few raffle hats for Utah tags. I finally scrolled and saw my name: Cody Wetmore — Once-in-a-Lifetime Willard Peak Goat-Early Hunt. In disbelief I started yelling to my girlfriend, who is not much of a hunter, and she came running in the room thinking something was terribly wrong only to find me sitting up in bed pointing at my phone.
“What does that mean?” she asked.
Unable to find words at this point, I replied, “I drew a goat tag! Remember the tags I put in for at the show — I drew the goat tag!” She was very excited, mostly because she could tell how much this meant to me.
As this amazing news began to sink in, it was clear that I wasn’t going to fall back to sleep. I was on shift that morning so I began to get my things ready to go to work. I called all the usual suspects to tell them the news, but of course no one picked up at 5 in the morning. With nothing really to do that early in the morning, I sat by my phone waiting for one of my friends to return my call. As they called back, I told them one by one about my good news and from that minute the planning began; we were going to make this once-in-a-lifetime tag count.
After the honeymoon phase of drawing the tag wore off, the work began. This was a tag I had only ever dreamed about and I was going to make this opportunity count. After several phone calls and conversations with people who had previously held the tag and some long nights spent on goHUNT.com’s INSIDER membership, it became very apparent that there was no shortage of goats in the area. Willard peak, which is in the unit I drew the tag for, was the original release point for a goat reintroduction to the northern Wasatch Range in 1994.
As I began to research the unit in more detail, it became very clear that this was going to be an amazing experience. The goats are plentiful, the access is great and it has harbored some of the best goats Utah has to offer.
As the summer passed by, I learned a good friend of mine who serves as the president of the Rocky Mountain Goat Alliance, Pete Munich, had done a goat survey of the unit. This proved to be of great help as Pete pointed me in the right direction to some great billies. He had photos and more information than I could possibly remember.
Summer drew to a close and it was time to make a game plan. I had three of the best friends a guy could ask for that were willing to go help me find the goat of my dreams. We all sat down a week out from the opener and Pete dialed us in on what he thought would be a great place to start.
Scouting trip before the hunt
Friday morning came and it was time to head out. We made the drive from Bozeman in record time with excitement I had never felt before. As we finally made it to the parking area at the Inspiration Point trailhead, we were excited to find no other cars or a person to be seen. The plan was to get out on the mountain and put some glass on a billy that we wanted to kill and camp on him until opening day, which was Monday. The first night we hiked out a ways and glassed up a lot of nice billies, but they didn’t look like those Pete had showed us in pictures.
It was the morning of the second day when we found a pair of billies which were exactly what I had in mind: one slightly longer than the other and the other slightly heavier. We got in tight and decided that these were the goats we came to find.
We set up camp off the southeast side of Willard Peak and began the waiting game. From our tents we could glass the entire basin where we had seen some really nice billies. As the days went on more people began to show up. I had taken both my bow and rifle, but I was hoping to connect with an arrow. As more hunters showed up, we began to talk to them about what their plans were hoping not to be all hunting the same goats. We had found quite a few billies spread out, more than enough to go around, for the number of hunters on opening day.
As the days went on, every hunter we talked to was stoked to let me try and kill one of the billies we found with my bow. “Good luck. We will go around them and try to find one out of your way,” was the response from nearly everyone. We bedded the billies for the night and hunkered into our tents.
Sunday morning found us on the same vantage point watching the same two billies not 100 yards from where we left them. We glassed them all the way into their beds. With the waiting game for opening day eating at me, I was extremely anxious to try my luck with these guys in the morning.
A new challenge thrown into the hunt
As we were glassing that day, we ran into two new hunters: an older guy with a younger guy. As we talked over our game plan, he had a smirk on his face. I could tell something was up. He had seen the billies we were after and he wasn’t going to be nice about it. I explained I had been watching them for two days and wanted to kill one of them with my bow; this was the same spiel I told the last 12 guys whom we ran into. He replied, “I will be there at first light so good luck…” and walked off, not very pleasantly.
My game plan just took a 180-degree turn. Instead of trying to hunt this goat with my bow, I now had some competition, and I wanted this goat badly. I told my friends, “I don’t care if I have to shoot it with a gun. I want to go home with that heavy billy.” We made a plan to leave early in the morning with the hopes of being right on top of the goats at first light. As we ate some dinner and watched the billies until dark, I knew it was going to be a long sleepless night.
I woke to my alarm well before light. It was finally the day to make all the preparation and hard work pay off. I knew I had to make it count because I had some elk hunts to guide back home in a couple of days and the pressure was on. Our plan was that my friend, Matt, and I would take both my bow and rifle and get up to where we had last seen the billies. Jackson and Ryan would sit on a high point cross-canyon and walk us right in on top of the goats with hand signals we had devised.
As we got on the trail, we knew we had to hustle to get up on the goats before the other hunter. Matt and I got about half-mile toward the goats when I got a text from Ryan saying the other guy was headed up behind us. I knew we had the upper hand being the first ones up, but the pressure was still more than I could bear. As we hit the peak and started to glass, it was still pretty dark, but we could make out some possible “white dots.” As it began to lighten up and we began to see goats, we slid down on a group of goats where we had seen the billies. I had a nice billy at 40 yards with my bow, but he wasn’t the one.
As it became lighter, I began getting more and more anxious. Where were the billies? Even Jackson and Ryan couldn’t see anything. As it continued to get lighter, I called the guys and told them to leave their vantage point so that they could meet Matt and me. The billies were nowhere to be found. We sat and waited and glassed, but still nothing.
Finally, Ryan and Jackson appeared from the horizon on the trail. They were waving their arms. I picked my stuff up and ran over to meet them. They told me the two big billies were standing on the trail when they walked up and that they had fed down right below us. I couldn’t see them from where I was sitting, but I knew that they must be right below us where I had seen them the previous few days.
We put a sneak down a knife ridge and spotted the billies. I yelled at Matt to tell me which one was the heavy one. He told me to calm down; they had no clue we were there. I knew that we didn’t have much time as the other hunter was somewhere cross canyon from us.
Matt told me which billy was the bigger of the two. I ranged him at 123 yards and decided I was better off shooting the goat I came for with my rifle rather than possibly not getting an opportunity with my bow. I squeezed the trigger and before I could even think, the gun went off and the billy hit the ground. I looked up at my buddies with a huge smile. We had just pulled it off. We killed the billy that we had been watching all weekend. I can’t even put into words my feelings when everything comes together on a dream hunt such as this.
We made our way down through the steep cliffs to the goat. He had barely moved from where I shot him.
He was perfect: long and very heavy, exactly what I had come to Utah looking for.
As we took pictures, I grabbed my phone and called Brendan. I had sent him pictures all weekend asking which goats he thought were worthy of shooting. He answered and I told him I had killed the heavy billy. He was stoked.
Brendan was the one who has really instilled the drive in me to hunt like I do and it showed on this hunt. All the work that went into this hunt and the final result was something I had only dreamed about.
In closing of our phone conversation he said, “See what happens when you go and get after it, sometimes it all comes together.” On this hunt it most certainly did. You can’t kill anything sitting at home and you certainly can’t get an opportunity if you don’t put your name in the hat.
This was an amazing adventure that will never be forgotten.