Bow Hunting the Mountain Goat

In my early years in Alaska I went on many mountain goat hunts.  I think the main reason was I could do them on weekends since the hunting area was so close.  I liked it because in Alaska it was very challenging.  I have heard that goat hunting in some of the western states with the flat top mountains isn’t as challenging.  They can drive on top of the mountains and hunt them from the top.  That's not the case in Alaska.  I can take a Topo map of an area that I haven’t hunted, that has a goat population and tell you where the goats are going to be because of the elevation lines.  For goats, the steeper the better. 

I would like to thank my good friend Chuck Berry for taking me on my first goat hunt and introducing me to a great area.  After taking a few goats with my .300 I decided that hunting them with a bow would be the ultimate challenge.  I used a Bear Kodiak Magnum 42# recurve bow with no sights and wooden arrows.  Follow me on two of these hunts in “Bow Hunting the Mountain Goat.”

  Standing in the pass between Gulch Creek and Walker Creek.

Standing in the pass between Gulch Creek and Walker Creek.

 As I slid my right knee down another foot closer the smaller goat turned and looked straight at me.  I froze.  It was spitting snow, my nose was running and I had two goats lying less than 15 yards from me.  He stood up keeping his eyes fixed on me.  He moved a couple yards closer then put his head down and started feeding on the sparse mountain grass and lichen.  It seemed like forever but was only five minutes or so before he moved back down with his buddy and laid back down.  I said to myself, “I’ve got you guys.”

After taking three mountain goats with my .300 Winchester Magnum, I felt it was time for a new challenge, so I decided to start hunting goats with my Bear Kodiak Magnum 42# recurve bow.  I had been practicing in the back yard using bales of hay as a back stop and shooting some at an outside range on Elmendorf AFB.  I felt I was ready.

  Looking at the pass going out of Gulch Creek.  We climbed up the snow slide.

Looking at the pass going out of Gulch Creek.  We climbed up the snow slide.

It was the third weekend in September 1970.  I had taken my first 40” ram with my .300 a couple weekends before and planned to hunt goat before the October snows made it impossible to get to my hunting area on the Kenai Peninsula.

  Looking at the start of the north ridge of Walker Creek.

Looking at the start of the north ridge of Walker Creek.

  Going down the snow covered glacier which can be dicey at times. 

Going down the snow covered glacier which can be dicey at times. 

All of my previous hunts for goats had been in the Gulch Creek valley.  Going in we followed Gulch Creek crossing it numerous times because of the alder-choked creek bed, until we reached the area in which I had camped on three other occasions.  This was known as my base camp.  Like normal we would hunt out of this camp.  The first morning Walter Burkett, my friend from high school who was stationed at Elmendorf AFB, and I headed for the old snow filled creek to use to climb to the top of the pass.  Once on top of the pass, in order to get into the bowl at the head of Walker Creek, we had to go down a small glacier.  It was covered with new snow so we were able to get some traction with our Vribram sole boots.  We cautiously worked our way down the 500 foot snow covered ice.  I followed this routine at least five more times over the next four years.  Each year the snow condition was different, sometimes better and sometimes worse.  Once in the bowl itself we set up our small visqueen shelter.  There we split up with Walter hunting around the back of the bowl and me climbing the north ridge face.  On my first goat hunt when we were on the northwest ridge of Gulch Creek I could see the goats scattered on the north face of Walker Creek and hoped one day to hunt that area.  Once on the ridge I followed it to the north.  This was a knife ridge that ran between Walker Creek and Falls Creek.  There was a goat trail on top that you could follow most of the time but there were numerous places that it dropped off with a 90 degree cliff.  You either had to go around to the left or right whichever was crossable.  To say the least, there were many dangerous areas but one good thing for sure, the goats were always below you.

  Slipping down to check him out.  Once you get on the ridge everything is always below you.

Slipping down to check him out.  Once you get on the ridge everything is always below you.

The weather began to deteriorate and it looked like I was in for some snow.  The stiff north wind had quite a bite, especially since I was wearing poor gear, blue jeans and a white hooded cotton sweat shirt.  I carried my O.D. military rain gear in my pack.

It was somewhere around 4 PM when I spotted two goats about the same body size laying together overlooking Walker Creek.  They were only about 300 yards down and to my right.  I got out my Mayflower 18 power spotting scope and could see by their bases they were both billy goats.  The wind was right and it looked like I could stay behind cover for the first 200 yards.  At this point it was spitting snow and I had already started to get cold.  I slowly made my stalk.  Once I was in the open I moved even slower.  Both goats continued to look out and down.   I was on a 60 to 65 degree incline so at about 30 yards out I started to set back and move with my left leg out and right leg bent under me.  This would allow me to draw my bow without standing up.  Now back to the start of the story.

I was so cold I started to shiver but now at 12 yards I felt I was ready when the biggest goat stood up.  I slide my left leg forward another foot or so and the big goat looked at me and rose from his bed.  I drew the bow and anchored the string on my cheek and let the wooden shaft arrow fly.  It hit its mark a little too far back and passed completely through the goat somewhere around the last rib.  He moved as fast as a goat can to my right and I sent another arrow over his back.  Because of the cliff below him he had now moved around and up about 40 yards and I had shot my last two arrows missing both times.  I was using a cheap plastic attached bow quiver that only held four arrows.  The goat went out of site and I was in hot pursuit.  As I was climbing after him I found two of my arrows.  Both had the Bear razor blade insert broad heads missing.  When I came around the corner I could see him lying behind a large bolder.  He couldn’t get up.  I knew I had to finish him off, but neither arrow had a broad head on it so I pulled out my pocket knife and started to sharpen the end of the wooden arrow.  Once sharpened I tried to shoot him with the arrow but the thick hair kept the point from penetrating.  I then pulled out my Colt Python .357 Magnum and finished him off.  I knew that using the pistol voided my entry into the Pope & Young record book, which is for animals taken with a bow, but I had to finish him off.  He gave the old goat dying kick and rolled over the cliff.  He had rolled about 50 feet and was lodged between the snow and a rock chute.  It was almost dark and I was close to half way down the mountainside but I had my goat.

  My first goat with a bow.  He was a 8 1/2" "Billy"

My first goat with a bow.  He was a 8 1/2" "Billy"

I didn’t realize it had started snowing harder and I knew that was bad.  I took a picture and skinned and boned out the meat.  I loaded my pack and started down the mountain.  I had lost most of the light and the next thing I knew I slipped, fell and then rolled down about 15 feet.  In the process because of the heavy weight of the pack it broke the top pin loose from the pack frame.  The alder had stopped my fall and possibly saved my life.  I had to stop for the night.  It was still very steep but I was able to lay the pack bag with the meat in a hole and tie the frame to the alder and lay on the frame for support.  I used the wet goat skin to lay over me.  I knew it was going to be a long cold sleepless night.  The snow had changed to a light rain which I’m sure was better.  I laid there shivering for most of what was the worst night of my life.  Thank God, at least I had the goat skin to partially cover me.  I don’t think I could have made it without it.

As soon as I could see I got up repaired my pack with some rope, loaded up and worked my way off the mountain.  They say that shivering saves your life but it also makes your upper thighs so sore that you can hardly walk.  I would love to say that was the last night out without a sleeping bag but it happened at least nine other times.  This one by far was the worst.

  Back at camp at the back bowl of Walker Creek with my wet goat.

Back at camp at the back bowl of Walker Creek with my wet goat.

Once back at the head of Walker Creek I met Walter, who had not killed anything but did sleep in his sleeping bag.  We walked out.  Once at our base camp we met up with Dick Millem and Russ Ludke, who had both killed goats.  We all packed up our heavy packs and walked out.  That wasn’t that bad!! Right!

  Going up the snow slide on the second hunt.  Russ takes the lead as I take photos.

Going up the snow slide on the second hunt.  Russ takes the lead as I take photos.

Fast forward one year to September 25th 1971. I needed to take a mountain goat without using my pistol.  I had upgraded to aluminum shaft arrows and a bear bow quiver that held six arrows hoping that would do the trick.  Now my good friends and co-workers Russ Langston, Harold Spurgeon, Bobby Butler and I were headed up Gulch Creek for another three day goat hunt.  Russ had just taken his first ram in August off of the south face of Organ Mountain so he was pumped to take a goat.  It was a beautiful day and the trip in was as good as it gets when you are climbing mountains.  We set up our visqueen shelter in Walker Creek, ate our Tea Kettle freeze dried dinners and called it a night.  Day two we woke to another cool beautiful September morning.  After our normal oatmeal breakfast we were all climbing the north ridge face that I had climbed the year before.  As we were slowly and causally working our way up and across the face we came to an old snow filled ravine.  For those of you who have crossed these hardened snow/ice areas you know how dangerous they can be.  This one was on a 50-55 degree incline and was about 50 feet wide.  I was in the lead kicking foot holds in the hard packed snow.  It was tiring and slow going.  About two thirds of the way across I heard someone say, “Oops” and then I heard a metallic bouncing sound.  I turned to see Russ recovering from his rifle slipping out of his left hand and almost going down himself.  I saw the rifle disappear over the crown of the snow slide.  We finally made it across and took a well-earned break.   Russ told us to go on and that he would try to retrieve his rifle and go back to camp.

  The pass is the little notch on the right side.  Looking at the photo we angle from right to left coming in.

The pass is the little notch on the right side.  Looking at the photo we angle from right to left coming in.

Russ was able to recover his rifle about a 1000 feet below in the rocks at the end of the snow chute.  The stock on his Parker Hale rifle received a few nicks and his Leopold scope only had a chip out of the eye piece end and a small chip in the eye piece glass itself.  The next day, after we all got back to camp Russ placed a small paper box as a target about 25 yards away and shot his rifle.  His scope was still on target which was unbelievable.  The next scope that I purchased was a Leopold and every one thereafter.  They are great scopes.

About an hour after Russ dropped over the mountain Harold shot his first goat, a small Billy.  I took pictures and left him and Bobby to skin the goat.

  Coming down one of the 100+ chutes that run off the north ridge.

Coming down one of the 100+ chutes that run off the north ridge.

I continued on the knife ridge and went about a half mile further than I did the year before.  To this point I had spotted lots of nannies and kids but no lone billy’s.  Then I spotted a large bodied goat on the right side of the ridge or the south side of Falls Creek.  He was about 500 yards down lying on a thin spine ridge.  It looked like I could go down to that ridge and work my way down to him.  It worked great and I slowly came upon him at about 15 yards.  He was staring out in the valley and lying straight down below me.  I took one more step and he jumped to his feet looking up at me.  I came to full draw and released the arrow. The arrow hit him in the spine and down he went rolling over the cliff.  I made my way down to him as he lay in a rock slide.  He was a huge bodied “Billy” with a 9 1/8” horn.  The Bear razor blade insert broad head was lodged between two vertebrae’s cutting the spinal cord.  After pictures, skinning and boning I loaded up a very heavy pack.  The pack weighted at least 80 pounds.  To reach the top I climbed up about 1500 feet.  Because I was on the back side of the ridge the sun was gone and I was losing light fast.  I had to be on top before dark.  It was a brutal climb but I made it at last light.  On top of the ridge I found a semi-flat grass knoll.  I laid my small piece of visqueen down and got the goat skin out of my pack.  The stars were sparkling and the temperature was dropping.  I was in for another cold night.  As I looked off the ridge toward camp, I could see a small light.  It was a fire that looked a million miles away.  I learned later it was Harold who didn’t make it back to camp either.  Later, back at work in the break room I would see Harold rubbing his knees and he was always telling me he could still smell the burnt green alder from the fire that had penetrated into his sinus cavities while hovering over the small fire.  He however, was warmer than me that night.

  My 9 1/8" "Billy" that I shot in the spine.

My 9 1/8" "Billy" that I shot in the spine.

I did jumping jacks most of the night to stay warm as the frost settled on me and the visqueen.  Another night to remember.

The next morning I made it back to camp about the same time Harold did.  We were both sore but happy campers because we had our goats.  Neither Russ nor Bobby had taken a goat on this hunt but both did in later year hunts, another story.  Another beautiful day made the walk out much nicer.

  (L to R) Bobby, myself, Russ and Harold going home with Gulch Creek in the background.

(L to R) Bobby, myself, Russ and Harold going home with Gulch Creek in the background.

My goat scored 46 P&Y points and placed sixth in the Pope & Young Records.  However, when the first record book was published two years later it was in twelfth place.

I truly believe that because of the rugged terrain goats live in, goats are by far the most dangerous animal to hunt.  As I look back on my life I think I have had more opportunities to injury myself or worse while goat hunting.  You ask yourself why you put yourself in these positions.  Well, I really don’t have an answer.  I guess I thought it’s just goat hunting.

 Even with all of my dumb decisions, God has taken care of me for a very long time.   Thank you Lord!