Mountain Goat-My First Big Game Animal

Since mountain goats are cliff dwellers I feel they are the most dangerous big game animal to hunt in Alaska, especially if you are hunting them with a bow.  I have been in more precarious spots climbing after goats than I have climbing after sheep.  That being said I have been in on more goat kills with my friends than any other big game animal.  A total of 36 goats between the Gulch Creek area and another area we hunted.  Even though it was dangerous it was a quick cheap hunt for my military friends and me.

Some of the pictures aren’t the quality of the ones in my other stories.  I was using my wife’s Kodak “Brownie Hawkeye” camera that her parents gave her when she was in the 8th grade back in 1958.  That was our only camera the first four years of marriage.

With that, let’s go goat hunting!

 

I was climbing hand over hand in a creek bed on a mountain side.  It had now turned into a small chute on a rock cliff so I was beginning to wonder what I had gotten myself into! Was I even going to make it up to where I could see that mountain goat?  As I pulled myself up to what looked like the top I could see he was still lying in the shale slide only 75 yards from me.

Chuck Berry, Gary Wadkins, Phil Sun and I started planning this hunt in the spring of 1966.  I had just become a resident of the great state of Alaska and this was going to be my first mountain hunt.  I had been dreaming of this hunt ever since I got my assignment to Alaska.  All of us were in the Air Force and Chuck was our mentor.  He had taken goat, caribou, moose and black bear on previous hunts.  The rest of us hadn’t killed anything in Alaska and were eager to learn anything we could about hunting here.

Chuck had taken a goat the year before in the area we were going to hunt and had been told that there had been sheep in the area in the old days.  We could hardly wait to get on the mountain.

  Me on the swinging bridge on a hunt in the early to mid 70's.  One of the top cables is gone.

Me on the swinging bridge on a hunt in the early to mid 70's.  One of the top cables is gone.

We left Anchorage early the morning of August 11th for the Gulch Creek area in the Kenai Mountains.  When we arrived at Gulch Creek we had to cross the East Fork of Six-Mile Creek on a swinging bridge.  I’m not positive who built the bridge, but I think it was the gold miners in the area.  It had four steel cables strung across the creek.  The two bottom ones were thicker than the top two.  Wooden planks were attached to the two bottom cables and then ropes were strung between the bottom and top cables.  You could hold on to the top cables for support as you crossed.  The 75 foot gorge below was filled with raging water that was rated as class IV rapids.  I crossed that bridge many times on later hunts.  On many of those cold September and October mornings there was a slippery frost on the planks to make the crossing a little dicey as the bridge swayed.  This however was not one of those mornings.  It was a beautiful warm morning.

After crossing the bridge we decided to go up the northwest face of the mountain.  We worked our way through the lower birch and spruce trees then around and through the alder as we climbed up the mountain.  As I remember, at my young age of 22, it wasn’t that bad the first five or six hours but as the day wore on and the higher we got all of us was getting pretty tired.  It took us approximately eleven hours to climb about 3,000 feet and walk about 4 miles on the ridge where we set up camp.  This was the first and last time I would climb this ridge.

  Getting our visqueen camp set up.

Getting our visqueen camp set up.

We set up our visqueen shelter using stacked rocks for the corners or just pulled it over us.  I used this type shelter for the next four or five years.  We used G.I. air mattresses and G.I. mummy sleeping bags which we carried on a G.I. pack board.  We used no stoves and ate cold G.I. C-rations.  Raisons, nuts, candy bars and those delicious Vienna Sausages rounded out our foods.

The next morning we hunted on the ridge to the back of the valley.  We spotted goats almost immediately but no sheep.  We continued walking and spotting from the ridge.  Since we didn’t see any sheep we decided to try to get a goat.  Most of the goats were a long way off in Walker Creek.  We could see four or five on the opposite side of Gulch Creek.  That meant we would have to drop to the bottom and cross the creek and then climb the other side.  Our plan was that I would drop down and climb the other side and make a stalk on the single one closest to us and they would stay on the ridge working to get to the back of the valley.  That might get them close enough for a shot at the others and we would have them caught between us.

I dropped down, crossed the creek which was still covered with snow at that elevation and started climbing the other side.  This is where I started this story.  I could now see the goat.  I used my 8x30 Bushnell binoculars to look for Chuck and the others on the ridge.  I didn’t see them but I hoped that they were close to the head of the valley.  I got set up for my shot and waited for the goat to get up.  As he was scanning the area with his keen eyesight he spotted an unusual white object.  I had brought a cheap plastic hooded rain jacket to go over my white sweat shirt.  I had read that using white clothing when hunting sheep and goat in Alaska helped you get close enough for a shot.  I am a believer in wearing whites and later when I hunted with my bow I took a goat at 10 yards and one at 12 yards.  I also took a sheep at 20 yards so I know wearing white works.

  My 1st mountain goat with my Winchester Model 70 300 Winchester magnum. 

My 1st mountain goat with my Winchester Model 70 300 Winchester magnum. 

As he slowly stood up, with the crosshairs resting right behind the shoulder I squeezed the trigger.   He dropped and rolled only a few yards.  My 180 grain 300 Winchester Magnum Power Point bullet made a clean kill.  I couldn’t believe I had just taken my first big game animal in Alaska.  Mountain goats were supposed to be one of the hardest animals to take, mainly because of the terrain they live in.  The next thing I knew, I heard shots from the ridge.  The other goats were moving up the mountain away from me and toward the saddle on the ridge.  I spotted my buddies moving fast on the ridge toward the goats.  They fired a few more shots but I didn’t see anything fall.  Of course I had no idea which ones they were after.  The shooting stopped and it looked like everyone was about 600 yards from me and almost to the saddle.  I made my way over to my goat and couldn’t believe how big his body was.  Here I am by myself on the mountain side with a dead goat and I have never field dressed anything bigger than a rabbit.  I had read enough books and knew what I was supposed to do but reality was setting in.  I took a couple pictures and dug out some of the shale to make it as flat as I could on the side of the mountain and started gutting.  I kept thinking that one or more of my buddies would come down and help.  I thought I had cut everything loose inside the cavity but nothing was coming out.  I couldn’t figure out what is holding them in.  I took hold of the esophagus and pulled hard, blood was everywhere but everything was still hanging inside.  I stood up and yelled for Chuck three or four times but no one answers or I didn’t hear anyone answer so I went back to work.  Somehow I had missed the back of the diaphragm and as soon as I cut it everything started rolling out.  I cleaned everything out and started to skin, quarter and debone the meat.  I loaded all the meat, full skin without the hooves and the horns on my pack board.  I struggled to get the pack turned around so I could sit down and get it on my back.  As I sat down and put the straps over my shoulders, I attempted to stand up a couple times with no luck so I rolled over on my knees and then stood up.  I wasn’t ready for this and I sat right back down.  I asked myself, “What have I gotten myself into!!”  Then I thought, you can do this and I rolled over on my knees and stood up again.  I’m sure my pack weighed 80+ pounds and I had to climb up the mountain to the saddle which was at least a 1,000 foot climb on a 60 to 70 degree incline.  I don’t know how many breaks I took but there were many.  As I got closer to the saddle I could see Chuck and everyone working on a goat.  I finally made it to them and flopped down.

They told me their story.  They had lost sight of me when I was climbing in the chute but they continued moving on top of the ridge.  They never saw me again until I shot.  They were sitting on the ridge but were too far away to take a shot.  When I shot it made the other goats go their way.  They ran farther down the ridge to get closer and stared shooting.  Phil had hit one and it fell and rolled into the opening in the snow at the top of the saddle.  They had to lower Phil down about 10 feet into the hole in the snow with a rope so he could tie another rope onto the back legs of the goat.  They pulled Phil out and then they all pulled the goat out.  That is why no one came to help me.  What a story for my first mountain hunt.

  Phil Sun's 8 1/2" nanny goat.

Phil Sun's 8 1/2" nanny goat.

  My 8" billy goat.  Check out those rubber boots.

My 8" billy goat.  Check out those rubber boots.

We divided everything between the four of us and were on our way back walking the ridge to our camp.  It was almost dark when we started and the wind was whipping from the North.  I had ripped the sleeve out of my cheap plastic rain jacket and had ripped the seam out of one leg of my old jeans while climbing in the chute.  I was trying to hold my jeans together as I walked to keep from freezing.  The heavy packs and the darkness made for a long walk.  We made it back to camp about 11:00 PM.  I did something that I had never done before or since.  We had carried a couple of beers in with us and had covered them in a left-over snow field by our shelter.  We were already cold from the wind but had been sweating from our long night ridge walk and were thirsty, so we decided to drink them.  They were ice cold.  I immediately started shivering like crazy and got an instance headache.  What a dumb thing to do and I didn’t even like beer and still don’t.  First and last time for that!!

The next morning we got up late, took some pictures, broke camp and packed up to leave.  We decided not to go back the way we came in.  We would drop off the ridge and side hill out and down.  My right knee had been bothering me during the walk back to camp the night before and was really killing me going down the mountain.  In some areas with the tall grass I would sit down and slide on my butt to take the pressure off my knee.  That worked for a while but that was hard on my behind.  My knee had hurt similar to this after track meets in high school when I ran too many races.  I knew if I was going to do mountain hunts I had to do something to keep this from happening again.  The walk out wasn’t as long but it was much harder because of the weight and my knee. 

  Gary's 9" billy goat on a later hunt.

Gary's 9" billy goat on a later hunt.

When I got back and started back to the gym I started doing lots of squats with weights.  I would also run a set of stairs in the gym with a 100 pound bar bell on my shoulders.  I have to say, fifty years later, it hasn’t given me a problem since that goat hunt.

As you can see we didn’t have good equipment and most of it was furnished free by the Air Force.  I had a cheap pair of rubber boots which was crazy to be using for climbing mountains.  I had an 18 power Mayflower spotting scope that really didn’t help much.  Being young and in the military made money tight but over the years I have continued to upgrade my gear little by little.  My point is with determination you can do almost anything.  It just works much better with the proper equipment.

  I'm looking down from the saddle in Gulch Creek sometime in the early 70's.

I'm looking down from the saddle in Gulch Creek sometime in the early 70's.

I continued to hunt with both Gary and Chuck and hunted Gulch Creek twice a year for at least 10 years. We harvested 27 goats in that area.  I ended up taking six of them.   Phil gave up mountain hunting after our first trip.  He said it wasn’t worth the pain.