Almost every year during the 70’s and the early 80’s I went mountain goat hunting the third weekend in September. For some reason that weekend was usually cool, crisp and invigorating. There were a few exceptions with brutal storms that I have already written about. We were never really prepared for those storms but we survived. Overall I went on as many goat hunts as sheep hunts but some of the sheep hunts in the later years were much longer in duration so I spent more days in the mountains chasing sheep.
My last two goat hunts were in a new area down the railroad tracks from Trail Lake. We started hunting that area in ’78.
It was a beautiful fall day in September 1981 when I headed down the tracks with Mike Herbert, Scottie Bailey and Earl Boucher. I had hunted with these guys before and enjoyed their camaraderie. You need hunting partners like them in the rugged Alaska mountains; people you can count on to have your back. After the long thirteen mile hike in we set up camp in our usual area at the bottom of the alder chocked cliffs about 800 yards from the glacier. It was a super nice place for a camp. We decided to split up the next morning with Scottie and Earl hunting to the left of the main valley and Mike and I headed back toward the glacier.
Mike had never taken a goat before and was up for the challenge. I knew this because we had worked out together during our lunch hour at the base gym and then sometimes we ran the Hillberg ski slope which was close to our office. I always knew I could count on Mike. We climbed the same rock chute to access the mountain that I had used on two previous hunts. Once out of the chute we climbed higher than I had ever climbed before. We spotted a really nice “billy” in the grass below the major rock cliffs. Mike made a great shot and the goat fell into one of the numerous rock chutes. We were able to access the chute to recover the goat. We took photos of the goat and skinned and boned out the meat. It was the largest bodied goat that I had been in on. His long 9 ½” horns were also the largest to date. It was truly an outstanding goat. We loaded our packs and worked our way out of the chute and then headed for our main access chute. Once we were safely there we knew we had it made. Our packs were heavy but we could take our time and we had numerous places to take a break. We made it back to camp not long after dark. Earl and Scottie were already back and Earl had taken his largest goat, a super nice 9” billy. That night it snowed a couple inches so the next morning we packed up for the long hike out. The extra weight is always a killer but as we say, “that’s part of hunting.”
The following year Earl and I were back hiking down the tracks looking for a larger billy for Earl and of course I was looking for that B&C record book goat. It was another gorgeous fall day to be in those beautiful and rugged Alaska mountains. Before we dropped off the tracks to bust the brush we glassed the valley to see if we could spot any goats. This always gave us a good idea of which slope we needed to hunt. After five hunts I knew that the second slope in was where the majority of the billies spent their time away from the nannies and kids. It was the most rugged with numerous cliffs. It was their sanctuary but I had discovered an access that would put us above them. We spotted the main herd which consisted of about twenty-five nannies and kids along with a couple of young billies on the main face and a couple of billies high on the second slope. We decided we would go after the two lone ones using the access chute that we had used in the past. We dropped off the tracks and headed for our normal campsite. It seemed to go fairly fast since we knew which areas to avoid keeping us out of the numerous patches of devil’s club and thick alder. It still wasn’t fun. Whenever we got hung up in a bad patch, someone would always ask, “Are we having fun yet?”
Once our camp was set up, we did a little glassing and ate a Mountain House freeze dried dinner. I still love those things for our backpack hunts.
The next morning after a good oatmeal breakfast we loaded our packs for a long day’s hunt. We headed back toward the glacier. As we were walking by the cliffs and alder chocked hillside I said to Earl, “We never want to shoot a goat above that area. It looks impossible to navigate.” He agreed and we headed for the access chute which was about a half mile further up the valley. We climbed the chute as far up as we could and worked our way out of it. Once we were out of the chute we continued to climb. Once we were on top or as far as we could go, we found it was covered with snow surrounded by rock cliffs and glaciers. We decided to drop down a little checking the cliffs below us as we moved slowly around the steep mountainside. After an hour or so we spotted a lone billy lying below us on the edge of a cliff with alder below and to the right of him.
We got the spotting scope out and looked him over. He looked like a nice goat somewhere around 9” but I didn’t like where he was lying. If he were to fall over the cliff it was hard to tell where he would end up and that was in the area where I had said we sure didn’t want to shoot a goat. As we were looking at him Earl said, “I’m sure I can put him down with one shot and he won’t roll.” I was leery but knew Earl was a really good shot. It was only about a hundred yards at a 70 degree angle. The spot where he was lying was flat and about four foot wide. I said, “If you think you can keep him down go ahead.” With a slow steady squeeze of the trigger of his .300 Winchester Magnum the goats head hit the dirt. Earl did it. The goat was down. I said, “Great job!” I looked again at him through my binoculars and asked, “Is he breathing?” And then he started moving his legs just a little. I said, “You better shoot him again.” Earl put another 180 grain Nolser Partition bullet into him and all of a sudden he stiffened up his legs and rolled over the cliff. We looked at each other in amazement and disappointment. We knew this wasn’t going to be good.
We carefully worked our way down to where the goat was lying and looked over the cliff. We could see where he had rolled down through some alder but couldn’t see the goat. This was bad country and the only good thing about it was all the alder around the cliffs. Normally I hated alder but in this instance it was lifesaving. It gave us something to hold on to. If the alder hadn’t been there as hard as the ground was and the sheer steepness we couldn’t have made it down to the goat. Once we made it to the goat we knew with the extra weight that would be in our packs, we would have to go down because there wasn’t any way we were going back up that mountain. We took pictures, skinned the goat and boned out the meat. He was a nice billy just shy of 9 inches. It was getting close to dark so we loaded our packs and started working our way off the mountain. It was brutal and very dangerous. We only made it a couple hundred yards lower before we had to stop because of the light. I looked above and spotted a black bear about 50 yards above us eating crow berries. I jokingly said, “You want a black bear?” Earl replied, “No way!” We tied our packs to some alder to keep them from rolling down the mountain or over a cliff. There were no flat areas. It was now dark and we got ready for a long cold night. We ate a candy bar and put on our coats and rain coats. All we had was one of those emergency space blankets. Not the good ones but the little see through 5’ by 6’ ones. We sat and kind of leaned back against the mountain touching each other. Earl was holding on to his side of the space blanket and I was holding on to my side of the space blanket. It was like a fight, as he turned over it pulled the blanket away from me and vice versa. Sometime early in the night it started to rain. I’m sure neither of us really slept any. It was a long cold night. If not the worst night that I had ever slept out, it was tied with number one. I could hardly wait for just a ray of daylight so we could start moving. We were both shivering almost uncontrollably.
As soon as we could make out the dangerous terrain we loaded up and continued dropping off the mountain and I mean that literally. We were able to use the alder by backing down the cliffs holding on to the alder to lower ourselves down. At one point there wasn’t enough alder so I tied a rope to an alder bush and used the rope and the available alder to lower myself down then Earl lowered our packs down to me and then he lowered himself down. That was the worst part of it and it was only about 300’ to the bottom from where we had spent the night. Right at the bottom there was a large pile of loose rocks and as Earl was going across them he fell and broke his glasses. It was hard to believe he had made it all the way down to the bottom without a problem, then fell. Of course that was the best since he didn’t get hurt. Once we were down we made it to camp, ate some oatmeal, broke camp and headed home. After that ordeal the thirteen mile walk out was a piece of cake.
That was my last personal goat hunt before I started guiding. My buddies and I ended up harvesting 28 goats over the years. Most of them under dangerous conditions. Goats live in the worst terrain and if you are going to be successful you have to deal with it. That’s why I say your hunting partner must be someone you can always count on. I have always been fortunate to have great hunting partners and we have shared many fond memories of goat hunting. But, I’ve also heard prayers for God to put a “hedge of protection” around a person or place and I definitely know he did that for my friends and me or we wouldn’t be here today. So from this old white guy, “thank you Jesus!”