Hunting & Fishing for Stories & Photos

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Colorado Mountain Goat

For some strange reason, I have been enthralled by mountain goats. When my brother started applying for bighorn sheep in Utah, I started applying for mountain goats...I'm now up to 11 points. I have read stories, watched TV shows, and listened with interest anytime the subject of mountain goats came up. In my home state of Colorado, I could not afford the upfront cash fee of $1600 for points so I have never applied. Now that I am back, I will start building my points!

Knowing I am so excited about goats, my friend Joel Harris called me as soon as he found out he had drawn a Colorado tag. I was jealous, but couldn't wait to help him on his hunt. All summer long, I would stop to spot goats along I-70 as I drove back and forth from Eagle to Denver. Even though they weren't in Joel's unit, I called him each time, just to rub it in that I was watching goats.

I also called a customer who I thought might be able to help us. John Legnard is with the Rocky Mountain Bighorn Society and since all those mountain hunters stick together, I thought it would be worth a shot. I hit the jackpot! Not only had John hunted the same unit as Joel's, his brother and another friend had also. John offered to help as long as he could bring Jeff Mees, who happens to give the goat hunting seminar each year for Colorado Parks and Wildlife. My simple inquiry turned into the best help a guy could ask for!

Scouting with the SWAROVSKI OPTIK STS-80 HD (background)
and the new ATX/95mm Modular Spotting Scope.

We found this 8" billy high on a ridge the day before the season opened.
We know it's an 8" billy because we met Ben Munoz who hiked in solo and shot him.
(Digiscoping photo with the SWAROVSKI OPTIK ATX/95mm, TLS-APO, and Canon XTi.)

The rest of the crew spent multiple days scouting, but I was only able to get over with Joel and our long-time friend John Cochran the day before the season. We skirted the unit in the pickup and found somewhere around 25 goats, only one of which was a billy. We met Ben Munoz, who we nicknamed "Interchangeable Ben" because he was set up with all SWAROVKSI glass and Outdoorsmans tripods. Due to work commitments, it was his first day scouting and he was hunting solo. After the hunt, he sent me photos of the 8" billy we had found while scouting. Unbeknownst to us, he spent a long day on the mountain - over 17 hours all combined - to shoot his well-earned trophy!

Goats in Colorado live above timberline in the 11,500-14,000 foot range.

Goat hunting...SWAROVSKI style!!

Joel, John C., and I met up with John L. and Jeff early on opening morning and proceeded to the trailhead. As we hiked in, we stopped periodically to glass and John L. was the first to find goats. They were way up at the head of a large bowl, but Jeff quickly found goats much closer. When we sat down to glass and everyone unlimbered their SWAROVSKIs, we found about 25 goats scattered around the bowl, again, only one of which was a large billy.

We decided to split up: Joel, John C., and I headed straight up while John L. and Jeff stayed down low to glass and give us hand signals. The billy was on the move, and there was just no way we could go up as fast as he could go around. He ended up mixing in with a bunch of other goats that all went up and over the top. A quick look down to our spotters confirmed we should climb back down.

The climb down was nearly as treacherous as the climb up. Loose rocks, uneven footing, and the sheer steepness were tough on both Joel and John, but were even worse for me since I had screwed up my ankle on an elk hunt the month before. I don't know whether I had a bad sprain or an avulsion fracture (where a tendon or ligament pulls off the bone) but I do know it hurt!

We found this small band of goats near a couple steep rock chutes.
(Digiscoping photo with the SWAROVSKI OPTIK ATX/65mm, TLS-APO, and Canon XTi)

Even kids (baby goats) are super agile!

Climbing up to the goats through loose rock, scree fields, and snow can be treacherous.

The Black Mamba - Joel's McMillan Rifles .30-.378.

The luckiest find...a matched set of billy horns from a dead goat!

On our way down, we relocated four goats that had not joined up with the others. We knew it was two nannies, a kid, and a small billy. Jeff climbed up to meet us halfway so we could discuss our plan. After much deliberation, Joel decided to shoot the larger of the two nannies. He got setup at over 300 yards, well within the range of his custom McMillan Rifles .30-.378, but since the goats were undisturbed, we decided to get a little closer. At 260 yards, Joel laid down prone and took the shot.

The goat nearly went down, but gathered up her strength, and slowly walked down into a chute and disappeared. We snuck to the edge, only to find her standing and facing us. Joel calmly shot her again when she turned broadside. She reared up on her hind legs, and then stood still again. Joel ran another 180 grain Barnes-X into her chest, which caused her to turn downhill and stumble deeper into the chute. After three shots into her chest, each of which would have killed just about any other animal on the planet, she was finally down.

Joel set up for a shot on his goat from over 300 yards, before we decided we could get a little closer.

Goats are tough - this nanny took three shots in the chest from his .30-.378.

Joel's nanny measured 8" and was aged at 13 years old.

A great crew of friends makes each hunt more fun and more memorable.

With lots of blood on the nanny's white coat, we spent a bunch of time cleaning her up for photos as best we could. Luckily, she fell near a small spring so we had plenty of clean, fresh water. I made Joel pose for a ton of photos, and then he and Jeff went to work on a full-body skinning. They accomplished the task without too many hiccups, so we split up the meat and gear, and headed off the mountain. Of course, Joel got the privilege of carrying the head and hide, which made us all jealous, but proud to be able to help.

Joel's new Outdoorsmans pack made the hike out much easier.

Goat hunting was everything I thought it would be: challenging, majestic, exciting. The country they inhabit is second to none, and to see them easily jump around the rocks and cliffs makes you appreciate the toughness of these animals. They spend their entire lives at elevations where most people can't even breathe, yet they survey their domain as if they're sitting on the beach. Sharing a hunt like this with ethical, dedicated sportsmen made it even more fun. Never had I gotten together so many guys who hadn't hunted together (heck, hadn't even met one another) who got along so well and had so much fun.

It will be a while before I draw a Colorado goat tag, but I hope to weasel my way onto to as many hunts as possible. And you never know, I might just get lucky pretty soon with a Utah tag, too!