Washington Mountain Goat

Safari club International had always been portrayed to me as a group of elite rich guys getting together and going on safaris.  I found this to be far from the truth.  Several years back a friend of mine invited my wife and I to an annual Christmas party that was taking place at one of our local SCI chapter members homes.  That’s where I got my first eye opening education on what SCI really stood for and the great people from all walks of life that unite and organize to run a very solid hunting and conservation group.   That night I became a member of SCI and to this day it has became one of the most positive things I have done in the hunting community.

Every year here in Washington, SCI has an annual Hunter Convention and dinner, were they raffle off guns and auction hunts and other great items.  This year I attended with my good friends Drew and Julie Heimbigner.  Just before dinner Drew talked me into going over to the Wild sheep foundations booth to check out the card game they were putting on.  After listening to the guys tell me how their luck of the draw card game worked.  I was pretty much sold, realizing that by spending $100 for a playing card I had a 1 in 53 chance at winning $5000…. To me that seemed like the best odds in the house, so I picked through the deck until I found a Joker and I knew that was the card I wanted.  After Drew and I bought our cards we went back to our table and ate a great dinner while waiting for the live auction to commence.  Prior to the auction they did the drawing for the lucky cardholder.  Sitting there with only high hopes of winning such a great prize, I watched as the auctioneer pulled the other half of what I soon found out to be my lucky joker from the hat.  I flew out of that seat like a coiled spring, let out a huge cheer in celebration then made my way towards the stage to reveal my winning card.  After validating that I truly was the winner I went back to my seat, and to tell you the truth I was pretty nervous, excited and shocked all in one.

Finally after relaxing a little reality set in and so did the rules, the rules were simple.  I had to spend the money at the show on anything of my choice.  There was absolutely no question in my mind, I knew how much and how bad I had wanted to hunt mountain goat in my home state, and this was my opportunity.  I wrote down a pre-determined maximum bidding amount on paper that I was willing to spend from my own pocket to try and acquire the Washington state mountain goat auction tag.  After that I quickly called my wife and excitedly laid the whole scenario out to her and my plans for the auction tag, she gave me the green light and I was off and running.  About ¾ the way through the live auction it was my turn, and the bidding commenced. I was about ready to throw the towel in and let someone else have the tag when I made one final bid which landed evenly on my predetermined number.  A long silence and shortly after the only thing I really recall was the realization that I was going to be mountain goat hunting in my home state and on the very mountain I grew up hunting.

I spent all spring working out at the gym, running, and competing in several local foot races. I quickly shed 35lbs and strengthened my lungs to the best shape I had ever been in.  It’s amazing how much motivation a man can muster up with a goat tag in your back pocket.  I had a lofty goal in mind and that was to kill a new archery state record, which would also be high in the books for the largest goat taken in the lower 48.  With never having hunted goats before, I knew right away to succeed in this endeavor I was going to have to read everything about goats I could get my hands on.  I quickly came to the conclusion that by far the toughest animal to judge trophy quality is the billy goat.  So I poured over live photos, videos and studied dozens of fellow hunters’ photos until I felt comfortable identifying a billy over a nanny and I was decent at judging for trophy potential.

My wife, kids and I started early spring accessing snowed in logging roads by foot to get to various vantage points, all while pulling my two boys in their sleds so they too could be part of the experience.  The first trip out we spotted 31 goats with several great looking billies in the group, along with an orange collared nanny that we ended up keeping track of all season because she rarely left the original basin we found her in.  There was a record snowfall last winter so the snow base was huge and it was obvious that first trip out that it was going to be early summer before truly being able to access the goats.  Many weekends were spent up on the mountain and all through the summer studying the goats, finding their water sources and mineral licks, noting anything of importance on maps and digiscoping all the good billies we found.

The scouting trips were also about fine tuning my backcountry gear, as I was preparing to spend up to 2 weeks on the mountain in early October.  A few alterations were made to my Kifaru Timberline pack to shed some weight from it.  I also swapped out my base camp water filter bag for a MSR pump filter as we would be on the move most of the time. I tested several shelters to accommodate different weather conditions and the plan was to bivy out most of the hunt unless the rain forced us into using the Kifaru Megatarp.

My plan was to take off a couple weeks in early October when my good friend Aron Snyder was flying into town from Colorado to hunt with me.  Aron is a very accomplished hunter and is seasoned at sizing up goats.  By then the goats would have started to put on their winter hides and be a bit closer to coming into rut, hopefully tempting some of the isolated billies to come out of the timber and mingle with the nannies.  Waiting until October to hunt Mt. Baker brings heavy risk of fog stacking up in the mountains rolling in from the San Juan Islands.  Early snow could also make the hunt a lot more difficult this time of year, but I was willing to take the chance in hopes of a finding true trophy with a nice full coat of hair.

With the tag in my pocket I just could not stay off the mountain.  By early September I decided it was time to make the first actual hunting trip up on the mountain.  My two friends Drew and Dave accompanied me on this hunt, we made the 1 hour drive from my house and hit the trail until we got on a razor back ridge that ran us all the way up to the base of Mt. Baker and its’ shifting glaciers.  It was a beautiful morning with the sun out and temperatures warm.  We got to a predetermined vantage point, in this new area that we had not previously scouted.  After setting up the Vortex and Swarovski Spotters we quickly found a small band of goats with no billies in the group.  A few more minutes of picking the snow-laden mountainside apart we found what looked to be a good billy.  He was isolated from the group about a ½ mile away and at the very top of a snow-covered peak.  The goat was definitely unapproachable from where he was sitting, especially with only my bow in hand.  So we sat there all day watching the herd, and another group across the canyon.  A total of 65 goats were in sight from our camp and vantage point.

It was starting to get late in the day and the billy finally stood, stretched and then quickly made his was down the mountain to mingle with the herd.  He was a lot closer now and even better looking than before.  Drew and I quickly agreed that we needed to get closer for a better look.  Bow in hand we hurriedly traversed down threw a cliffy area, that’s where I first learned that this hunt was not going to be easy.  Goats live in tough country and the ridges of Mt. Baker are not for the timid of heart.  Every handhold and foot placed has to be calculated and precise otherwise the consequences could be severe and this was one of those areas.  Drew filmed me coming down threw a section of cliffs that made me thank god for the good life I’ve had. Finally getting to some semi flat ground we were within 200 yards of the 13 goats as they disappeared over the edge into the fog.  We went down to where they disappeared in the fog and split up, Drew stayed back to film and I eased down the draw, I quickly froze in position as a couple of the goats reappeared through the fog headed in my direction.  Before I knew it all the goats were within 50 yards of me on relatively flat ground, the billy was the closest at about 25 yards, which gave me a great opportunity to size him up.  He was so tempting to shoot, I drew on him at 30 yards guessing he was 9.5” to 10 “ then let down, He would surely have scored high in the book but the tag was more than that, I wanted a hunt and I just could not get myself to notch my tag on the first hunt out.  I watched them until dark then we headed back up the ridge to our camp.

That night laying in our bivy’s, we were constantly awakened by the loud noise from shifting Glaciers.  It rained all night and when we woke we found a thick bank of fog, which kept us from seeing anything.  By noon that day it still had not lifted so we packed up and headed back to the truck and the other side of the mountain.  We spent two more nights up in a couple of areas that I had not scouted previously and seen a total of 135 goats in three days, all of which were nannies and small billies.  The next few weeks leading up to Aron’s arrival were spent filling my cow moose tag and Colorado elk tag.  All I could think about during these other hunts was goats, and it was a long wait for October….

Aron arrived at the airport Sept 30th.  We headed to my house went through both of our gear and consolidated everything so we did not double up.  The next morning we were off and running to the mountain.  Parking at an all too familiar trailhead that I had spent all summer scouting from, the reality of the hunt was setting in.  It was go time and we were determined to find a record goat.  It sounded so simple, but after 7 miles with packs loaded for a week I quickly realized we were going to earn this goat!  We set up camp on a ridgeline with one small cutout, really not a flat area for camping but it was going to have to work.  A group of 31 goats were below us and several long horned specimens were within the group.  After hours upon hours of glassing we found that the herd was all nannies and kids, with a couple of the nannies pushing the 12” mark with heavy bases.  Several nannies were very deceiving and could definitely be confused as billies without the appropriate studying.  We spend 3 nights in this particular spot, all the while I was sleeping on the hard ground because my Thermarest pad got punctured beyond repair in several spots.  Though not getting quality sleep I still managed to make it up early every morning and move about the mountain in search of the right goat, but unfortunately we could not find the one.

On day 4 Aron made the suggestion to move locations by about 3 miles and find some new goats.  This idea sounded good to me so we worked our way across a crevasse laden glacier field and into a new basin were we found a total of 6 goats.  One decent billy, and once again a tremendous nanny who possibly was 12+ inches, she was so tempting to shoot but I had my heart set on a heavy horned billy.  We setup camp, and glassed until just before dark when Aron spotted a black bear, I had a bear tag in my pocket so we quickly went after him.  At 360yards I told Aaron we were close enough, as I laid my bow down he unstrapped the rifle from his pack. With the video camera rolling I managed to make a perfect shoulder shot and put him on the ground.  We made quick work of deboning him and getting back to camp after dark.  We headed out the next morning to get the meat in the freezer, regroup at my house and spend the next few days in a new area.

Over the next four day period we spotted 145 goats with 12 billies two of which were great billies that I blew stocks on.  We were once again tired, in need of showers and a day to restock food and gear, and devise a new plan.  The weather had been tremendous over the last week with no fog, clear skies and zero chance of rain.  After getting home we checked the weather report and it was calling for a rain snow mix and more than likely fog in the next couple days.  It was definitely time to get it done!

My Friend Shane Vander Giessen who spends endless amounts of time on Mt. Baker watching the goats gave me a lead on a new area that usually holds some great billies.  We decided to give it a try, Ben Rawls accompanied Aron and me on this hunt, and he was hoping to get the opportunity to take a bear while with us.  We packed in 4 miles and setup camp and started to glass.  Right below us about 100 yards out was a 10” nanny all by herself, her hair was glistening in the sun and she looked so beautiful and snow white.  My attention was redirected from her as I caught some movement on the other side of the ridge.  I looked over and to my amazement there stood a great billy about 300yards away.  Quickly getting my Vortex spotter on him I soon knew this is a goat that I need to go after.  Aaron agreed and said if I don’t take that goat I’m crazy.  We figured him close to 10” with great mass and a beautiful hide.

Aron stayed back with the camera and filmed while Ben and I stalked in on the goat.  The Billy went around out of sight and I fully expected him to be standing directly below use when we got down to a small knob the he disappeared behind.  To my surprise he was not standing there at all, instead he was bedded there!  The hunt was all coming together, I eased back from the edge and told Ben he was right there and I was going to range him.  I ranged him at 46 yards on the dot then slowly pulled my Bowtech Destroyer back and inched my way to the cliff edge were I settled my 45yard pin right to the magnificent animals shoulder and squeezed the shot off.  Immediately I knew the Carbon Express arrow hit its’ mark and he wasn’t going far.  The Billy got up from his bed in lighting speed and ran a total of 35 yards before piling up hard in a shale ditch between two ridges.  I had just accomplished what I trained and work so hard for throughout the entire year. I was at a loss of words as were my two good friends.  After a short hike down to him I had my hands around the first Mt. Goat I have ever touched.  His coat was so magnificent and we could definitely tell that he was king of the mountain.

We took hundreds of pictures and spent a ton of time truly admiring this beast of the white mountain.  We made quick work of skinning him for a life size mount and boning all the meat out.  We then distributed it between the three of our Kifaru packs totaling about 100lbs each and hit the trail well after dark.  Four miles later we were at the truck just after 11pm.  The next morning we threw a quick tape on him and he gross scored 51 inches even, putting him 1inch over the current archery state record.  We had accomplished the goal as a team that was set forth, and I am so truly thankful for the opportunity to hunt with my good friends on the mountain that I had always dreamed of hunting goats on.  Dreams really do come true if you go after them hard!

I would like to thank the Safari Club International and the Wild Sheep foundation for helping an average guy like me fulfill a lifelong dream and a special thank you to my wife and children for putting up with my absence during hunting season!

3 years ago
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