Classic Goat Hunt in the Rockies
I have had the desire to hunt mountain goats since I was a teenager reading outdoor life magazine. They have always intrigued me because of their beauty and the country they inhabit as well as the physical demands of the hunt. I was fortunate enough to book my hunt with Beaverfoot Outfitting and even more fortunate to have Troy Wolfenden as my guide. I have lived in Florida in the southeast United States my entire life at 2 meters above sea level and felt some trepidation about my ability to perform physically on this hunt. I was in good shape but still had my reservations as there is no way to prepare for the altitude on these hunts. The other folks in camp were Gabe Piselli from Philadelphia and his guide Warren Wolfenden. Both were solid guys and we had a great time all week. The first five days of the hunt we experienced horrible weather. We sat in the truck all but one of those days staring out the window at fog that covered all of our surroundings. We were unable to do anything as we could not locate any goats to consider stalking.
Day two started foggy but the weather broke and Troy located a single goat bedded at the end of a valley. We hiked up the valley several miles. When we got there he felt the goat was approachable so we started up. We climbed up through loose rock then snow and arrived at a narrow chute. It had snowed the previous day and there was water flowing down through this chute creating what appeared to me to be a waterfall. Troy’s plan was to climb up through this to the goat. I looked at the vertical slippery rocks disgorging a small river. I was sweating underneath my clothes and freezing on the outside. I had my backpack on with my bow lashed to it. I was intimidated. I couldn’t imagine myself climbing up into the face of a waterfall with all my gear and not falling or freezing. I looked at Troy and shook my head. I didn’t think I could do it. He was gracious and suggested that we hike around the base of the outcropping and approach from the other side. We did that and got to another area of slippery vertical rocks. Again I was doubtful of my ability to ascend and Troy offered to go have a look while I waited. As I sat there waiting for him I looked down at a high country lake that was crystal clear and up at rock peaks dusted with snow and felt the awe that big country always inspires in me. At the same time I was mentally crushed. Here I was on a hunt that I had looked forward to for years and was unable to make the climb to the goat. I got through it by reminding myself that other people had done this same thing and that I could if they could.
Troy returned with the news that the goat was gone. I’m fairly certain that the rattle of my knees knocking spooked him.
Bad weather persisted for a couple more days. We spent the time in the truck telling stories. The weather was supposed to improve for two days then deteriorate. Gabe and I both decided that we would carry rifles since half of our hunt was gone and the weather window was short.
On the first day of good weather we hiked up another valley where Troy had a cabin. The hike was good for me as it gave me confidence that I could do this. And my body needed the exercise. Between Suzette and Troy’s wife Claire cooking for us my pants were getting tight! We hiked up past the cabin and saw no goats so headed down. Gabe shot a nice billy so we were all excited. Hopefully tomorrow would be my turn. Gabe and Warren had seen 8 or 9 goats and the one they shot was not in that group so Troy decided we would hunt there the next morning.
It was a beautiful day- clear and cool as we hiked in stopping to glass for goats. I must pause here and praise Troy. He always spotted any goats we saw first. When we were climbing he would patiently coach me – how to place my feet and trust my boots. Where to step. How to lean and how to stop sliding. To keep me humble he counted how many times I fell each day. He also could study the terrain the goats were in from miles away and determine if they were approachable. Troy spotted two goats on the spine of a mountain so we set off. The hike in was nice- not too steep on a good trail. Troy decided we would ascend via an old avalanche chute. The distances and the time it takes to cover them in this country constantly astound me. Troy told me we would be at the top in two to three hours. It looked pretty close to me. Of course he was correct…
As we ascended the footing became more difficult. The vegetation gave way to loose rocks. When we got high enough that snow covered the rocks climbing became easier. We hiked down the spine of the mountain below its crest searching for the goats. They were not where we had seen them earlier in the morning. Troy peaked over the top and they were bedded on the other side of the spine on a ledge. Two billies. After assessing the terrain and their location Troy looked at me and stated that they weren’t in a great place but it was doable. It was eight days into my hunt and we were finally close to a mountain goat. The weather was going to deteriorate tomorrow. It took me only seconds to make my decision. Troy picked out the larger of the two billies and ranged him at 109 meters. He was bedded precariously close to the edge of a ledge and was looking away into space. He presented a quartering away shot. If I shot and he rolled I feared that he would fall into the abyss- if I squinted I could see the tree line far below. Troy’s rifle had a great scope so I centered the crosshairs between the shoulder blades and shot. He rolled slightly. Troy was telling me to shoot again so I took a rushed second shot. The billy didn’t budge. We observed him for several minutes to ensure he was dead. To my amazement the other goat never moved. He lay bedded 20 meters away staring into the distance. I was excited and couldn’t wait to get down to see and touch him. I don’t remember the climb down. The goat was incredible. He had a beautiful white coat and was broad-chested and stout. His leg shanks were classic mountain goat. He was larger than I had visualized. An amazing animal in rugged, beautiful country. The animal and its habitat are a perfect fit.
While taking pictures Troy chastised me to try to appear happy. I certainly felt elated yet as I surveyed my surroundings I felt apprehensive about our descent. Then came the skinning process. Troy skinned while I boned out the meat and in quick order we were finished. A golden eagle circled patiently waiting for us to abandon the carcass. Multiple avalanches added to the moment. They sounded like jets passing over as the snow rumbled downhill.
We began our descent. Troy would study the terrain and our options and make a plan. Whenever he used the phrase “ you won’t be happy about this” I cringed. I was definitely out of my comfort zone. I would stare at Troy’s footprints and put my feet in them to keep from having to look down the mountain. He offered to carry my pack and as embarrassing as it is, I consented. He would shoulder my pack and I would follow him for a short distance. Then my intrepid guide would leave me with my pack and retrace our steps back up to his pack and repeat the process. My respect for him only increased. Once we were below the serious rocks there was some vegetation which gave me comfort as I could measure our downward progress. It was still steep and I was keeping Troy occupied counting my falls. I was slightly concerned about getting down before dark as it was late in the day and I dreaded the prospect of descending in the dark. We cliffed out at one point and Troy navigated us through that easily. Once we were in the timber I knew we were home free. The walk back to the truck along the trail felt easy and when we dropped our full packs at the truck the feeling of accomplishment was overwhelming. Troy and Warren were the epitome of professional. They had great attitudes and never quit. They hunt hard in incredibly tough country without complaint. They were patient and helpful and respectful. I made lifelong memories and friends on this hunt.
Armon Blair DVM
Ocala Equine Hospital