Tag Archive for: billy

mountain goat, hunting, montana, wild

It’s now been over a month since I embarked on my first ever mountain goat hunt.  Since then I’ve spent a good amount of time elk hunting and every time there is high, rocky country my eye wanders looking for those white specs.  I’ve actually spotted about a dozen goats now in areas I’d never think of looking if it hadn’t have been for this goat hunt.  Each time I watch them I’m reminded of their sheer agility and willingness to live in some truly wild places.  Back to my hunt though.  The plan was to get on the mountain a few days before season, locate a billy I’d seen during scouting and fill my tag quickly.  The plan sounded good enough.

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Kifaru Markhor loaded for 5 days.

With a heavy pack and fresh legs we started up the trail.  The weather was clear and warm and we made quick time en route to our first glassing location.  Cresting the ridge two hours later and glassing down into the first basin revealed a billy working across the top of some large cliffs.  So far so good.

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A younger billy showing off in a maze of cliffs.

The next two days would be spent glassing from a large ridgeline, affording us a view into 4 different basins.  The closest basin was where I thought our target goat was living and sure enough on the first day we located him bedded under a rock edge.  Despite their white color the mountain goats were proving to be difficult to spot at times.

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Our target billy taking advantage of the topography. Well hid and shaded.

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The daily jaunt up and down the ridge to glass and then glass some more.

That night we watched him peel around the edge of the basin headed towards the easiest trail to access and hike in the unit.  With a day till season he’d surely not make such a silly decision right?

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The last sight of this billy. Around the bend into a bad zone for him.

The following day was one that didn’t build much confidence for the opener.  Our day began and ended the same, posted up along the ridge letting the glass do our walking.  Only a nanny and kid were spotted during the long day.

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Wondering where all the goats are at.

With all the nearby goats pushing further into the unit we hoped overnight we’d have a few work back into the closer basins.  The plan was to wake up first thing and look for our billy, if he didn’t show we’d make a long push along a ridge we believed was safe to travel along, leading us into a remote basin that seemed a sure bet to find a goat.

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Camped out with the next days ridgeline looming.

The next morning broke to more beautiful weather.  As soon as we could see we were scouring hillsides looking for white specs.  Thirty minutes revealed nothing and we knew we needed to make our push towards the remote back basin.

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Goat country doesn’t lack in beauty.

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The route better than anticipated. Still a “no-fall” zone.

The route proved doable and we soon crested over the top.  The basin sprawled out before us.  With game trails worn deep into the ridgeline we figured it would only be a matter of time before spotted a goat.  Unfortunately that afternoon only turned up a small group of sheep.  Disappointing but I guess that’s hunting.  We retraced our steps in time to take a last look for our same billy before we hit the tent for the night.  He was nowhere to be found and we got some needed rest before waking up hoping that the goats would reappear.  The next morning we quickly made it to our glassing point hoping a billy would be back into the nearest basin.  Nothing showed and the surrounding areas were devoid of goats as well.  Our move to test out new country in hopes of catching a billy off guard had proved futile.  We begrudgingly packed camp knowing today would be a long one.  A 1500′ drop would get us back to the trail and back up the mountain we’d go in the opposite direction.  As we crest the pass I got cell service and a text message told of a billy shot right off the trail where we now stood.  Apparently mountain goats can make easy and fatal mistakes.  With other camps on the pass we figured we’d drop elevation again to push deeper into the unit.  It wasn’t ideal but it would put us into some remote mountain goat country.  Three hours later we’d dropped to the bottom and climbed up to our next camp.  We were physically drained and took an hour to eat and take a short rest.  With rain in the forecast we knew we needed to push on and try to find a billy.

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More wild and vast country.

A look into a vast chuck of country only revealed one goat, two miles across the basin.  He’d be safe for now.  We quickly sidehilled across the ridge to the next saddle.  Only a few seconds into glassing a goat was spotted bedded under a rim of cliffs.  The spotter revealed he was a billy and we knew a move had to be made quickly.

mountain goat, hunting, montana, wild

Bedded for optimal visibility. Typical goat move.

With adrenaline fueling our legs we sidehilled hoping our remote movements wouldn’t be observed by our target.  His bed afforded a perfect view of all below him and a careful stalk would be necessary to get close.  A mile out we had to begin utilizing the small amount of cover we had.  Staying behind trees and small boulders got us to 1000 yards.  He was now up and feeding.  100-200 yard openings would need to be covered as he fed up the hill and not looking in our direction.  Some patience was necessary but eventually we got to 300 yards.  He was still unaware of our presence but with a rifle built for it’s light weight and ruggedness and not it’s accuracy I knew getting closer would make this stalk into a guaranteed kill.  Another sprint in the open with the billy feeding away put us underneath him and to our last zone of cover.  As I peeked up over the boulders my rangefinder told me he was 190 yards away.  With a good rest this would be a sure shot.  I eased onto my pack and chambered a round.  The view through the riflescope was utterly clear and somewhat unreal.  The moment had come, I looked at his horns and although I knew bigger existed on the mountain this day had been an experience that embodied what I wanted the hunt to be.  It felt right and I confirmed Travis had him in the spotter.  As he stood slightly quartering away I eased into the trigger until it broke and the last thing I saw was the goat flip over and begin a short tumble down the mountain.  The next few moments were spent riding out the adrenaline high and realizing that we now were deep in the mountains with lots of work to be done and darkness quickly approaching.

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Life and death. A solemn and sobering moment.

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A beautiful location to end the journey.

A mountain goat tag is a very special thing to have.  That said mountain goat hunting doesn’t entitle you to a trophy or a goat, it only means you get to have an experience unlike any other and one you surely won’t forget.

Zack Boughton

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I guess I just figured I’d never get lucky drawing a Big 3 tag without a lifetime of points.  When I logged into MyFWP to check my status I stared blankly at the screen seeing a 2016 Goat License under the Successful category.  Travis was home and I quickly told him that I drew a goat tag.  He didn’t believe me, but one quick look at my computer brought him to life.  It didn’t seem real and for the next few days it still hadn’t set home that I’d be chasing mountain goats in some of the most rugged country around.  This year I would be able to say I was going mountain goat hunting!

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Montana’s high country. Beautiful yet rugged!

Once I started looking over Google Earth and planning my first scouting trip it started to set in.  I quickly realized I needed to get in better shape, learn more about mountain goats, and start making some phone calls.  Over the next few weeks I spent many hours dissecting my unit online and with maps.  A trip to the Forest Service office gave me the right maps that outlined open roads in the area and before I knew it I was packed up and headed for the mountains.

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Rocking and rolling our way up to the trailhead.

As soon as we climbed up out of the valley I realized this would be an epic hunt.  Huge basins, rocky ridges, huge cliffs and wild, vast country spread all around.  My legs burned as we climbed to 10,000′ crossing over our first big pass.  It was setting in and soon we had located the first group of goats.  A set of nannies with kids and one billy scrambled through a steep face with huge boulders and loose rock and dirt.  I was quickly reminded they feel at home in some of the gnarliest country around.

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Climb, climb and then climb some more.

At this point I’ve spent four days scouting my unit.  Not a lot by any means but enough to start learning the lay of the country and how to navigate to each zone that holds goats.  With only a handful of days in this unit I’ve definitely learned a few things.

Google Earth Is A Liar!

I knew this but always seem to forget this when I go somewhere new.  That ridgeline you though you could hike across, Nope!  That little knob will be a ten minute hike, try 45 minutes.  If you’ve used Google Earth you know the drill.  Everything looks smaller and easier than it actually is.

mountain goat, montana, high country, scouting, hunting, wild, hiking

Frosted scree makes for an interesting morning hike to the glassing knob.

Grizzlies Abound

Only a few hours into our first day on the mountain and we turned up six grizzlies in the same basin.  A sow and three cubs roamed the head end of a grassy meadow and about a 1000 yards away two juvenile bears fed on grass and wild flowers on a long, flat bench.  Living in Missoula the last 6-7 years meant we only really dealt with black bears.  Grizzlies are on a different level and made things interesting when we decided where to camp just across the ridge.  It’s time we de-list these bears and start managing them like we should be.

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Juvenile grizzly bears roaming the vast backcountry.

Glassing Is King

Again we know this but up here it’s very, very apparent.  Perched in the right spot in the country affords you the opportunity to glass a MASSIVE amount of country.  A good pair of binoculars, a spotting scope and a good tripod are must haves.  Finding a spot with little or no wind is key and being able to mount your binos to your tripod makes picking up small details and movements much easier.

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Searching and more searching on a brisk July morning.

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A few miles out a goat appears between passing clouds.

Mtn. Goat Scouting Isn’t Easy

When I first drew the tag I figured it would be real easy to locate most of the goats in my unit.  Get up high and glass the rocky open country and look for white.  We’ll it turns out they are elusive animals most of the time.  Sure sometimes they stick out like a sore thumb but during the summer when it’s hot they often bed in some shaded nook and finding them can be impossible.  They like to dip in and out of timber and if you’re not vigilant on the glass you might miss them when they hit the open areas.  I also found that they seem to move a lot.  Multiple groups have moved thousands of yards in a short period of time and a few groups moved to different basins entirely without being bumped.  Put a dirty goat on a hillside of huge tan and grey boulders and they can blend in with the best of them.

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This billy was in a low elevation zone I wouldn’t expect to see a goat. Staying alert and having two sets of eyes paid off here.

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Getting some photo & video for later review.

Moving In This Country Takes TIME!

With camp on your back travel is slow but add in big, rocky country and it can take some time to move from area-to-area.  With so much country to glass you often find yourself stopping to take a peak into new folds of the mountain and those first trips are a bit rough after a long offseason.  Back here you can’t travel in a straight line.  Sometimes working into a specific basin means you have to loop around multiple miles just to find a route that isn’t cliffed out.  When you do find a route, the vertical is enough to wear you down quick.  2,500’+ climbs are the norm when switching basins without a ridge connecting them.  As it should be, life just happens slower back here.

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Loaded up and putting the test to a new pack, the Kifaru Markhor. So far so good!

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Navigating a no-fall zone. Makes for slow going.

So far I’ve seen about 75% of my unit and found a couple billies that I’d be stoked to put my tag on come September.  Right now the plan is to make one more trip back into my unit and then pack the bow in for the opener.  It’s going to come quick and I can’t wait to be out there with the chance to get close and try to seal the deal!

Zack Boughton