Seventeen days of cliff climbing redefine the meaning of "success."
After two hunts and 17 days in the field, I was never so happy to collect an animal with my bow.
AS THE PLANE WAS landing in the Kalispell, Montana, airport, I thought, I can't believe I'm back here to try my luck at hunting the mountain goats of British Columbia for the second time. The four-hour drive to base camp of Total Outdoors Adventures gave me time to think about my previous hunt in 2003.
I'd always wanted to take a mountain goat with my bow. My home state of Idaho has mountain goats, but drawing a tag for one of the limited permits can take years. So I started looking for an outfitter who had a good area and was bowhunter friendly.
After I'd talked with five outfitters several times, one stood out to me. Total Outdoor Adventures owner Vince Cocciolo ex-plained that he had never had a bowhunter for goats, but that he would put every effort in helping me get a long-haired billy.
Arriving in October at Vince's base camp in the heart of the Rocky Mountains, I was impressed by the first-class accommodations. Gun season for elk was open, and I would be sharing camp with six other hunters. From camp we could see goats feeding along the cliffs. Best of all was the bluebird weather with temperatures in the 70s. I couldn't wait to get hunting.
The next morning, we awoke to clouds and drizzling rain. We could not even see the mountains. The second day was similar, but we headed into the mountains anyway and two hours later spotted a large herd of goats on a long ridge. We decided to get above the goats and hunt down the ridge.
We soon encountered snow, which made climbing slick and dangerous, and the higher we went, the deeper the snow got. Leading the way, my guide finally reached a spot where he could not move.
"Stay put!" he warned. At that time I was thinking, I really don't want to cripple myself or, even worse, die, for a goat . When he finally returned to safety, we agreed not to take that kind of chance again.
This gloomy weather -- snow, rain, and fog -- lasted the rest of the hunt. I had one close encounter with a goat, only to have a large grizzly ruin the stalk. In all, I'd seen over 100 goats but had failed to get close enough. Bad weather, cliffs, and sore muscles were burned into my memory.
THREE MONTHS LATER, I talked with Vince again and arranged to give the mountain goats another try. To give myself a better chance with the weather, I would start hunting September 1.
It was exciting to see the country again and meet the hunters in camp. Archery elk season opened the following day, so spirits were high. That night, Vince teamed the clients with guides. My guide would be Wayne Byram, who was my age and was also a traditional bowhunter.
The following morning, when we arrived at the trailhead at first light, Wayne pulled out two six-foot-long walking sticks and offered me one. "It will make climbing a lot easier," he said. I declined the stick but regretted that decision later. For the rest of the trip, I accepted it.
My goat hunt was based out of a first-rate camp.
Two hours later, we sat glassing the cliffs and ridges but could see no goats, so we hiked another two hours to a valley I'd hunted on my previous trip. While eating lunch, we watched a band of nannies and kids high on the cliffs. Climbing higher, we ran into a good billy with several nannies. Oblivious to our presence, the billy and nannies fed and the kids played. I was making a good stalk when a crafty old nanny busted me. Quickly, she led the entire group into the cliffs. With great weather and lots of goat action, day one had been a success.
Over the next three days I was unable to get within bow range of any billies, and on the night of the fourth day, Vince suggested we hike into one of his remote spike camps. Each remote camp, reached by helicopter, consisted of a metal cabin fully equipped with bunks, sleeping bags, food, and a wood stove. Vince said it would be only an hour's hike. After a three-hour hike, we were glad to see the little green cabin.
We spent day five glassing for goats, and because I had an elk tag, we also went after a bull elk, but we had little luck with either venture. That evening, as we glassed the jagged mountains, several elk were bugling in the lower timber, and we could see them feeding in several small meadows. But the elk were safe for now -- we were focused on finding a goat for the following morning. Unfortunately, we saw only a nanny and a kid, and the following morning went much the same way -- lots of bugling elk but no goats.
That afternoon we headed back down the mountain to Wayne's Jeep to figure out a game plan for the next day. Back at base camp, one of the other guides told us where he'd seen a billy on a grassy slope that morning, so we headed out to find the goat. Just before sundown, we spotted the goat bedded in a small bowl. He looked stalkable. We watched the goat until dark. We would return at first light.
Early the next morning, we found the goat right where we had left him and headed up the mountain, being careful to stay out of the billy's sight. As we climbed higher, we got confused in the cliffs and took the wrong route, forcing us to backtrack. As we got back on track, we noticed a billy running on a ridge across a large canyon. We hoped this was not the one we were after, but when we finally reached the right spot, his bed was empty. He had winded us.
After the five-hour hike, we were very disappointed. Still, maybe something good came of it. Glassing the mountain where the billy had gone, we could see two other big billies feeding in the jack pines where I could stalk them. It was late and we were tired, so we headed back to camp. But we had high hopes for the morning.
ON THE LAST DAY of my hunt, we awoke early.
"You ready to go get your goat?" Wayne asked.
"Of course, let's do it," I said.
In the back of my mind, I wasn't so confident. The climb to our spot didn't seem all that bad; probably because it was the last time I would make that climb. Relocating the two billies bedded in an open area surrounded by shale, we sat and watched them for about an hour.
"I'm running o
ut of time," I said. "Let's get up there and make something happen."
After we'd glassed the mountain for a safe route, I headed up while Wayne stayed at the bottom to watch the goats and to guide me with hand signals. When I arrived at the top, a large billy walked within 30 yards of me, not even looking my way. Unfortunately, to free both of my hands for climbing, I had tied my bow on my back. Frantically I tried to untie it, but by the time I got it free, the goat was gone.
So I moved on toward the two goats we had glassed earlier. Because they now lay in the open next to a cliff, facing different directions, I could see no way to get close for a shot. The time was about noon, so I decided to wait them out.
About 4 p.m., one of the goats got up and walked out of sight. As the other remained napping in the sun, I decided it was time to stalk. I tried several routes but could find no way to stay hidden. Well, this hunt's over, I thought. In last-minute desperation, I walked straight at him. He simply dived into a ravine and disappeared.
It was over -- another year without a goat.
Or was it? As I made my way down the mountain, I spotted something white in the timber. It was the other billy!
With the wind perfect, I took my time and crept within 25 yards of the feeding goat. Then, as he fed closer to me, he noticed me leaning into the hill and gave me the stare-down. Finally, he turned his head to feed, giving me a 20-yard broadside shot. I raised my bow, drew, and let go. The goat turned so quickly I wasn't sure where the arrow had hit, but the shot had felt good.
Several seconds after the shot, I heard thrashing, and following the tracks, I found him piled up in some jack pines. He had run only 30 yards. I couldn't believe it. Even after I'd pulled him out of the pines, the event did not seem real. I looked at my watch -- 5 p.m., on my last day.
I waved Wayne up. We both admired the big goat. I was Wayne's first client, and he was elated about our success. The heavy-weight goat had thick hair and 93„4-inch horns. Wayne hurriedly skinned the goat while I removed the meat. It would be dark soon, and we needed to get out of the cliffs. We reached the old Jeep at around 10 p.m. After two hunts and 17 days in the field, I was never so happy to collect an animal with my bow.
Author's Notes:I used a 60-inch Schafer Silver Tip recurve and Modoc broadheads. If you're interested in hunting goats without backpacking, this is the hunt for you. The base camp is first- class, and the well-equipped spike camps sit near the tops of the mountains. The elk hunting is also excellent. I saw several 300-class and bigger bulls. The area also has many big Shiras moose. Contact: Total Outdoor Adventures, (250) 887-3444.
When the author isn't chasing big game with his recurve, he can be found at home in Nampa, Idaho.