"There's your goat," Layton said, "right where I thought he'd be."
"Where's he at?" I asked in a hushed tone.
"He's up on that bench beyond those last few sticks of dead timber. Do you see where I mean"?
I strained through the fog and drifting snow with my binoculars for only a few seconds when the clouds lowered like a curtain, and the heavy flakes wiped out the mountain before me. White-out conditions reminded me of another plagued goat hunt.
When I was 14, my brother, dad, and I hunted goats in Southeast Alaska. My brother won the coin toss for the first shot and collected a young billy on the first day of our hunt. My turn didn't work so well. It seemed every goat that we spotted saw us first. When we stalked one, the fog inevitably moved in and erased the goat from the mountain. The terrain was treacherous and grueling. We had to fear for our lives more than once while crossing snow fields and cliffs. The truth that "the mind gives up before the body does" was learned anew daily.
The failures of that torturous hunt only ingrained a yearning deep in my gut to one day get a billy. For me, there was not a more fantastic trophy in the world! I knew one day I'd return to challenge myself against Oreamnos americanus and his mountains.
After dreaming, sometimes nightmarishly, about climbing the goat cliffs for a couple of decades, I finally decided I wasn't getting any younger and booked a hunt in British Columbia.
This hunt was to be conducted in relative luxury compared to my previous alpine experiences. We would hunt from a cabin with woodstove heat and home-style meals prepared daily. What a change from a cold, damp tent and freeze-dried soup and oatmeal. The hunt was planned for mid-October, when the goat's hair would be long and shaggy.
We saw goats the first afternoon of the hunt. My guide Layton and I went to the spot for a few hours after getting our gear all situated in the cabins. Layton had hunted the area and knew the country well. "There's where we're going to get your goat," he told me. "There's a hidden basin through that pass you see. Almost every time I've been in there I've seen billies."
We continued to glass from a couple of good vantage points. I was looking in some nasty, goaty-looking country when a couple of white-buffalo shapes appeared in the gray rocks. After some study, we put the spotting scope on them and determined they were a nanny with her kid and a young billy.
When it became too dark to spot, we returned to the cabin to discuss plans. The weather report was grim for goat hunting.
The following day we awoke to soupy fog and rain. The low ceilings protected the goats from even the best optics. We decided to spend the day hunting mule deer at a lower elevation. Despite the soaking mist and fog, we managed to get a nice buck about mid-morning.
I was thankful for the deer but had the goat as my first priority. I wasn't going to celebrate a successful hunt until a goat was down or time ran out.
The following day there was rain and fog again, with snow in the peaks. It looked like another day for camp chores and working up my mule deer cape. Following the pattern of the day before, the clouds began to lift toward late afternoon. We started spotting again, and before nightfall, we located the usual nannies and kids and a potential billy off by itself. We rested that night with the encouragement that we had spotted goats every day of the trip. If only the weather would clear!
Finally, we awoke to a starry morning sky. We decided to head for Layton's hidden goat hotspot. We hiked in the crisp pre-dawn through the stunted sub-alpine timber, eventually leveling out on a game trail that side-hilled around the mountain and over a low saddle into the hidden basin. We eased out onto a timbered bench that afforded some cover for glassing. We'd only been there ten minutes when Layton spotted the goat he called "my goat".
But as quickly as he saw it, the snow came like a curtain across the stage and blocked it from our view. As the wet snow fell, all we could do was huddle around a little campfire we'd built and wait. Waiting and praying are excellent past times for hunting the goat mountains. I was exercising my skills at both.
Whenever the slightest break in clouds occurred, I glued my glasses to my face searching the rocky slope. Suddenly, through the fog, a goat materialized. It was lower on the hill, following a narrow ledge into some rocky cliffs. We tried to get the scope on him, but again a curtain of clouds ruined our attempt to evaluate his potential.
Through momentary breaks in the thick frozen vapor, we watched his progress. Eventually, we saw him bed on a small bench on the cliffs.
Layton asked, "How far are you comfortable shooting"?
I said, "I've practiced some out to 400 yards, but I'd prefer to be within 300 if we can get there. I'd be comfortable at that."
Layton thought if we side-hilled through the next couple of draws, we might be within range on the last ridge before the rocks. Maybe we could shoot from there. At least we'd be able to get a better look at him.
As we moved, the fog drifted in and out. Now you see me, now you don't. One minute and it was bedded. The mist closed in again, and when the fog lifted the next minute, the goat was gone.
We kept creeping along, stopping every few steps to glass and discuss our plan. Maybe it would come back out along the trail to feed on the slope again toward evening? Perhaps we could circle below and get a shot up through the rocks? Maybe we could climb into the rocks using the same ledge it did and get a shot at point-blank range?
The mind wrestles at times like this. The "maybe's" and "what if's" and second-guessing are frustrating. Perhaps because I'd flown out on Friday the 13th and a black cat had crossed the road in front of me, I should just quit!?
What to do?
We determined our best bet was to swing under the rock ledges and see if we could spot him from below.
Stalking goats from below is usually a fool's errand. With their eyesight and climbing ability, below isn't the best place to be. But it seemed our best bet considering the terrain and circumstances.
We began slowly crossing the open slope toward the lower end of the rocks. After we'd traveled about 40 yards, Layton suddenly hissed, "Get down! Get down! Don't move. Up there's that goat we saw this morning. We're busted!"
While we'd been cat-and-mousing with another goat in the rocks, the first billy had been in the same spot, bedded and hidden by snow and cloud all day.
Layton pulled out his scope and trained it on him. "Oh yea, he's a nice billy," he whispered. "But, he's got us pegged. We're busted big time." Through my glasses, I could see the billy curiously peering at us. He was a fine-looking goat with the dark glands of a dominant billy at the base of his horns.
After a few minutes of stare down, Layton said," I'll tell you what. He doesn't look too spooky. I'll try to keep his attention, while you belly back into that last draw. Make sure you're out of sight and climb as fast as you can up behind those rocks. You should be able to shoot from there. Do you want to crawl over here and have a look at him through the scope?"
"Should I look at him or go get him?" I replied with a smirk.
"Go kill'em," Layton said, grinning.
I hunched over and duck-walked across the slope. Just before moving out of sight, I took a last look with my binoculars at the billy. He was sitting on his butt, dog-like, looking down at us. I moved into the draw and out of sight.
Then I began the grueling race up the mountain. Unaware of how cagey the goat might be, I wanted to cover the distance as quickly as possible. I found the slope grew quickly steeper and the air thinner. I struggled for breath and struggled for balance.
I'd trained hard for this hunt, but now it felt like I had the lung capacity of an overweight asthmatic smoker. Gasping like a fish out of water, I climbed fast as I could, step by step. Three times I actually thought I was going to throw up. But I wasn't stopping. I needed a break, but the thought of the goat climbing away in the rocks girded me upward; two steps, two breaths, two steps, and two breaths.
After about 45 minutes of climbing as fast as I could, I reached a vertical rock face that I couldn't negotiate if I continued around the back side of the ridge. I decided to top over the ridge and see where I stood.
As I poked my nose over the ridgeline, I immediately spotted a goat standing on the rocky cliffs across from me. This goat, a smaller billy, had been hidden from our view behind a jagged fold of rocks. Unfortunately, as soon as I spotted him, he looked back at me. I had about 25 yards to cross before getting out of sight behind an up-thrust of rocks. If I could make it to those rocks, I thought I'd be able to see the bench where the big billy I was after had been.
Out of options, I had to risk spooking the goat across from me. Trying to look harmless, I crossed the open space and got behind the rocks, scuttling as quickly as I could up behind them. I peeked over the rocks. The smaller billy was still there looking nervous. I could see part of the bench where the bigger billy had been. But of course, he wasn't where I'd left him.
I might have to try this consolation goat. I put a round in the chamber and stepped up to rest the rifle over the rocks. With that step, I leaned forward over the rocks bringing the rest of the bench into view. A quick glance to the left brought the original goat into view.
This was the goat that I was after. Immediately I recognized the large glands behind the horns of the billy. He had moved closer to the rocks I was using for cover, and now he was bedded only 60 yards away.
When I poked up over the rock, he saw me. I swung my rifle as he stood. I hesitated until he was on his feet and aligned my sights above his brisket.
At the shot, the goat bucked and started a stumbling run across the slope. A second shot hit it through the shoulders, and it was down. It held for a second and then slowly began to roll like a sack of potatoes.
Almost in slow motion, the goat tumbled over and over down the slope. It rolled nearly 1000 yards, one slow turn at a time.
When the goat dropped, I was overwhelmed with a sense of accomplishment. The dream I had when I was 14 had finally been fulfilled. I was overcome with emotion, remembering the hardship and struggle from the hunt in my youth. There is something about these mountain hunts. They are physically and mentally exhausting, but that makes the experience and reward great.
Layton was whooping it up below, where he had caught my rolling goat. I was anxious to get my hands on it, and I was skidding, climbing, and tobogganing down the mountain in the wet snow.
Layton kept repeating, "He's a dandy." He was a mature billy with the visible glands behind his horns and the long hair of October. His horns measured nearly 10 inches. He was everything you would want in a goat.
We completed the skinning and quartering chores and packed back to camp. We arrived after dark, sore, tired, and happy as hunters can be. We relaxed by the warmth of the woodstove in relative luxury. With the stories of the hunt shared with others in camp and the weariness of the day growing heavier, I still fought the exhaustion and heavy eyelids aching for sleep. It was one of those days that you don't ever want to end!