by Bill Rose
“Stop! Don’t move. Lay down right where you are.” I did as my guide, Joe Boucher of Horn Fork Guides, instructed. He had somehow seen the horns of one of the three mountain goats we were stalking sky-lined above some rocks to the south of where we were walking.
“I don’t think they saw us,” Joe said as we both lay prone on the top of a wind-swept ridge we had just spent all morning climbing. “That was close. Another five steps and they for sure would have spotted us.” “I can’t believe you saw those!” I exclaimed as I spotted the goat’s horns through my binoculars. Fifteen yards to his right was another goat facing directly at us. His eyes were just below the skyline, preventing him from seeing us. A little more glassing revealed the back of the third goat barely visible between tow rocks a little further to the right.
We proceeded to lie on our stomachs for the next hour and a half waiting for one of the goats to come off of the bench they were bedded on. During that time we were able to watch as each of them took turns standing to stretch and then lie back down. As they did so, we determined that the middle goat was the only one that did not have a broken horn. He also seemed to be the youngest. The goat Joe originally spotted had the tips broken off of both horns, but had the heaviest bases. He looked to be the largest animal and seemed to have the best hair. The remaining goat had one tip that was broke off on his horns also.
As we lay there, we quietly ranked them from the most to the least desirable. I determined that if the shot presented itself, I would take the animal that had the heaviest horns, even though both horns were broke off. Joe felt he had the best hair and that was the most important factor to me.
The wind continued to blow throughout the entire time we laid on the ground and, after about an hour we both were starting to shiver. Fortunately, it was not long before the middle goat stood up and came off of the bench toward us. Both he and the “shooter” goat had spotted us a few minutes before, but neither knew exactly what we were. He warily moved off of the bench and began to feed. It was not long before the others followed with the “shooter” being the last to do so.
With Joe watching through his binoculars, I took aim with my Browning 7 MM, which was laid across his pack. He presented a nice standing broadside shoulder shot at 243 yards and I squeezed the trigger. My rifle roared and down he went with one shot. Interestingly enough, the other goats just stood there looking at their fallen friend. It wasn’t until we stood up that they began to move away slowly.
As we approached my first Rocky Mountain goat, I was stunned at how large of an animal he was. His hair was awesome and I was definitely pleased with our choice. We had taken the most mature of the three billies and he most assuredly had the best hair of any of them.
It was 1:30 pm and after taking pictures, we quickly began the process of dressing and preparing for the difficult packing process that would take us down the mountain to our horses. Two-thirds of the way down the 1400-foot ridge, the weather changed and it began to snow. We reached the horses at around 7:00 pm and began our ride out about an hour later. We rode in a heavy snowfall nearly all the way back to the truck and horse trailer. Our day that began at 3:00 am ended shortly after midnight as we crawled into our sleeping bags at camp. My three-day goat hunt had taken five days to complete, but it was worth every bit of the time and effort. I had ridden and hiked some of the most rugged, picturesque country on earth and had harvested a truly magnificent trophy.
I had also learned some important lessons that will benefit anyone who might be planning to go mountain goat hunting.
Lesson One-Train Hard
As I noted earlier, my hunt was a three-day hunt that took five days to complete. My outfitter and guide, Joe Boucher, told me at the conclusion of the hunt that he specifically schedules goat hunts for three days because they are so grueling, physically. To prepare for my hunt, I walked, jogged, lifted weights, and rode my bicycle. I worked out at least five days a week for five months.
My training included a regimen I found on the Orvis website. It recommends that you find a hill that can be walked up and down in six to eight minutes (it should be noted that it does not matter how steep the hill is). The goal is to work up to 10 repetitions (up and down the hill) in sixty minutes. The regimen also recommends pushups in between each time you walk the hill. I utilized this workout a year earlier, prior to my 2006 Bighorn sheep hunt and again this year prior to my goat hunt. I also did some hiking in the mountains in advance of the season, along with going on a muzzleloader elk hunt, which I specifically did to prepare my feet and legs for the climbing and side-hill walking that I would do.
I thought the hardest hunt I had ever been on in my life was my 2006 sheep hunt until I went goat hunting. It is critical that you get yourself into the best shape possible if you want to have any chance to harvest a quality animal.
Lesson Two-Hire an Outfitter
I strongly recommend that your hire an outfitter if you are going to go goat hunting. In the last eight years I have been on two sheep hunts and a goat hunt. I harvested animals on two out of the three. On the hunt I did not harvest an animal, you guessed it, I did it myself. Don’t misunderstand, I know lots of hunters who have harvested a Bighorn sheep or a mountain goat on a do-it-yourself hunt, but I believe your odds are greatly improved if you hire an outfitter. It will cost you a significant amount of money to do so, but in both my cases, it was worth every penny. Here’s why…
Scouting plays a major role in the success of any hunt. Generally, the outfitter you will hire lives next to the animal you are going to hunt. They scout year around. They know where the trophy animals are, their habits and patterns, and how to get to them. Hiring a good outfitter will reduce the amount of scouting your will be required to do to have a successful hunt.
Utilizing an outfitter who specializes in goat hunting will automatically give you the advantage over most do-it-yourselfers. It takes years to draw a goat tag (it took me seven years to draw mine) and as such, the typical hunter has no idea what he or she is getting themselves into. An experienced outfitter hunts goats with their clientele every year. They know goat hunting and can prepare you for what to expect prior to the hunt. They also knows what a trophy is and can help you make informed decisions during the hunt. One of the most enjoyable parts of my goat hunt was when we were laying on our stomachs while waiting for a shot at one of the three goats we had spotted. Joe’s advice definitely helped me to take the best animal.
Outfitters have horses and pack animals that can take some of the physical challenge out of a goat hunt. A good outfitter also utilizes quality optics, such as binoculars and spotting scopes, to help their hunters be successful. It they have them, it’s not as critical that you have them.
My experience has been that hunting with an outfitter has increased my overall enjoyment of the hunt. Spending so much time together with my guide has allowed me to get to know him in a very personal way. We have swapped hunting stories and tips and, the overall experience has increased my hunting knowledge and made my memories of the hunt even better.
But perhaps the most important, intangible I have discovered, is how driven a good outfitter is to make their hunters successful. It is in their best interest to send you home having filled your tag. In both cases of hunting Bighorn sheep and mountain goats with Horn Fork Guides, I scored on the last day of each hunt due primarily to the “never-say-die” attitude of Joe Boucher. That definitely made hiring an outfitter all worth it to me.
The Ultimate Lesson- Mountain Goats are Great Trophies
When it was all over, the best thing I learned from my 2007 mountain goat hunt was, what a thrill it is to hunt them. I am a sheep fanatic through and through. When I drew my goat tag, I was happy, but not near as much as I would have been had it been another sheep tag. It wasn’t until I began my hunt, and got to see those magnificent animals in their habitat, that I finally became excited to claim one of them for my own. I now believe that taking a mountain goat is truly one of the most outstanding trophies to be had. That said, I cannot wait to get my mount back from my taxidermist.
My 2007 goat hunt turned out to be one of the truly great highlights of my life. It provided me with enough memories to last a lifetime and I am thankful I was able to experience it with a great outfitter, and now good friend, Joe Boucher.
Horn Fork Guides (Joe Boucher) was Bill’s Guide & Outfitter on his Colorado Mountain Goat Hunt.