If you have been following my blog, you know that the first animal that I harvested in Alaska was a mountain goat. After that I was hooked on hunting the rugged but gorgeous mountains of Alaska for both goat and sheep. I went on more goat than sheep hunts and before I started guiding, my friends and I had taken a total of 28 goats all in the Kenai Mountains.
When Brent and I obtained our Wrangell Mountain area we knew we had a great sheep area with the possibility of taking a few moose each year along with a grizzly or so but we weren’t sure about mountain goats. The Wrangell’s aren’t known for having a great goat population so when we started spotting goats in a few different areas we were pleasantly surprised. Ken Bunch, the previous owner of the area, told us that there were a good number of goats in the area so we hoped that we could take at least three or four per season. Brent had only taken a couple of goats as a resident hunter and wasn’t as excited about goat hunting as I was.
Goat season opened September 1st in the Wrangell’s but we waited until our fourth group of hunters Phil Alward from NJ and John Kliegl from NY arrived to go after them. The first day of their hunt, we rode horses up Canyon Creek. We crossed it many times and at times, because of the steep canyon walls we had no shoreline, so we actually rode in the creek. After going about as far as we could go or even wanted to go, we found two Billy goats lying on a ledge of a sheer cliff about 300 yards above the creek. John made a well placed shot and his goat rolled off the ledge and fell down the cliff hitting some of the jagged outcrop as it fell 900 to 1000 feet. Phil only wounded his goat and continued to fire his .300 Magnum until he ran out of shells. He yelled to John as loud as he could because of the noise of the roaring water, “Bring me some more ammunition!!” They were both shooting .300 Magnums. I shouted to Phil that I would knock the goat off the ledge with my .375 H&H Magnum. As the 300 grain Nolsler Partition bullet hit him he rolled over the cliff taking a tremendous fall. If the goat had not rolled off the ledge there was no way we could have recovered it.
Considering their bad falls, the goats really weren’t damaged much. John’s was a 9 incher and Phil’s was a 9 6/8th incher. Phil’s had 3” broken off on one horn but it still scored 49 B&C points missing the record book by only one point. Not a bad start for our first two goats. Phil harvested a 38” ram later on his hunt.
Our next two hunters were from FL, Rowlett Bryant and John-Edward Alley. We decided to ride the horses over to the east front face of the Hawkins Glacier. We had spotted goats on that mountain earlier in the season. It didn’t have quite as many cliffs as Canyon Creek and looked climbable.
We set up camp that evening just about a half mile from the base of the mountain and formed a plan of attack for the following morning. I found a good place to access the mountain but as we were climbing, we could tell both hunters were out of shape and that this was going to be a very long hard climb for them. The plan was for me to stay ahead with John, who was in better shape, so that Rowlett would be encouraged to keep going. It worked and both harvested goats late that evening. We ended up sleeping on the mountain without sleeping bags, see the post “Cold Nights On The Mountain.”
After getting off the mountain the next morning, we rode the horses back to our Bryson Bar base camp. Later in his hunt Rowlett took a small grizzly, our first, and then John shot at a couple of wolves but didn’t connect.
Our last goat hunter was Mike Dobransky, who had taken a 40 ¼” ram on his August hunt. Since Mike lived in Anchorage, we felt he could drive back up to Chitina and we would do an October goat hunt. We didn’t know what the weather would be like but if it was good, we knew the goat hair would be super long.
It was a very successful hunt. We rode the horses about half as far as we did on the last hunt and hunted the west side of the front face of Hawkins Glacier. We made a good climb and a prefect stalk. Mike made a great shot at about a hundred yards with his .300 Weatherby anchoring a beautiful 9” Billy. It never moved an inch. As I was going up to recover his goat, I ran into a 10” Billy that was lying out of sight. That was the largest goat that I had ever seen. We told Mike he needed to book another hunt and come back for the big boy. Mike had a great year with us taking a 9’3” brown bear, a 40 ¼” ram and his 9” goat. It doesn’t get any better than that.
On September 1st of our second year we had two combo hunters come in. Matt Caldwell from IL and Tim Orton from MN. Brent guided Matt to a 57 ½” moose, then he had Paul Claus take Matt to Paul’s dad’s part of the Hawkins Glacier area and Matt killed a beautiful 9 6/8” Billy. I took Tim up on Canyon Creek Glacier where he ended up shooting at a big 40+” ram and then later he harvested a nice 9 2/8” Nanny.
In ’86 our goat season went very well. Each goat was apparently competing for the longest fall. Jim Cabela’s goat took top honors falling and rolling around 3,000’. Now that is an all-time record in my book. Out of six goats only one didn’t break off at least part of one horn. The horns averaged 9” overall.
That same year my first hunter was Carroll Lilly from TX who was on a combo hunt for sheep and goat. After taking a heavy based 36” ram I took him up the front east face of the Hawkins Glacier and we climbed around into the Barnard Glacier area. We made a great stalk to within 50 yards of a super heavy based 9” Billy. Carroll made a good shot but the problem was the goat fell into a cliffy gorge that was not accessible from the top. The next morning, I hiked about a mile up the Barnard Glacier and climbed up through the gorge and finally found him stuck on a rock ledge. It took about four hours and some fingernail climbing to get to that point. I wouldn’t have found him if a Golden Eagle hadn’t been sitting on him. The eagle didn’t fly until I was about ten feet from him. There wasn’t much left of the goat, so I took the edible meat plus the horns and worked my way off the mountain and back to our spike camp.
My next client was George Snyder from DE. He hunted with us in ’84 and ‘85 and became our banker. He loaned us money to buy an airplane and one of our guide areas. He was a retired roofer who as he got older, became afraid of heights. When we climbed, I had to climb behind him which was a problem for me to find the best way having to tell him which way to go. We rode the horses to where the Canyon Creek breaks start and then began our climb through the trees and stayed in them as much as we could. Once we got above the goats, I couldn’t get him to look over the cliff to shoot his goat. I finally got him to sit down and I held onto him using his belt while he barely looked over and pulled the trigger. His Billy fell about 1500’ down the cliff into the Canyon Creek bottom. We had to go all the way back the way we had come up and then ride the horses up the creek to recover his goat which was floating in a back eddy. Luckily it didn’t land in the main part of the creek itself. It was a nice 9” Billy with one horn broken.
Next, I helped Dan with our four-specie hunter Les Scaramella from CA. Dan had already guided Les to a 53 ½” moose, and a 36 ½” sheep. We took Les up the west side front face of the Hawkins Glacier. We made a good stalk to within 150 yards and got Les setup on my pack. I told him to make sure he had his chamber and magazine filled before he started to shoot. Les turned and looked at me and said, “This is a .300 Weatherby Mag!” With that he shot his three shots and the goat ran around the mountain out of sight. I joking said, “So much for a .300 Weatherby Mag.” We went around the mountain and found the goat and Les finished him off. His Billy was an 8 ½ incher. Later in the hunt Earl Boucher guided Les to an 8’ grizzly. Four for four, in just fifteen days, now that is a successful hunt.
Our final goat hunters that season were Jim Cabela, one of the owners of Cabela’s and Gregg Severinson, who was in charge of the new Cabela’s booking department. We all rode the horses to the east front face of the Hawkins Glacier. Dan and I climbed up using the same trail we had used on three other occasions. We stalked to within 75 yards of a nice 9” Billy as it lay in the grass overlooking the Chitina River valley. If Jim shot him in its present position, the goat would have fallen and rolled further than any other goat that I had been in on. I decided to move down below everyone and come back up below and in the goats view hoping he would get up and move toward Jim which was flatter and maybe Jim could anchor him. Instead, the goat moved into a near vertical chute climbing higher. I yelled for Jim to wait until the goat moved into some large boulders above it and when there was one below it try to nail him. Jim shot too soon and when the goat went down, it missed the boulder and disappeared into the chute. Dan and I worked our way over to where it had disappeared. When we looked down it was a sheer 90 degree 1000’ drop into a rock chute that went all the way to the glacier’s lip. Using my binoculars, I could barely make out the bloody form of the goat. He had fallen and rolled at least 3000’. That was the longest fall that I had ever witnessed. We worked our way back down the way we had come up and Gregg shot his goat which also fell into another chute. However, I felt we could drop into the chute but Dan was reluctant to try so we backed off hoping to find a way to access the chute further down the mountain. That didn’t happen, so I decided that Dan and I would come back the following morning to recover it.
Jim’s goat was turned into hamburger along with breaking both horns. Brent ended up mounting it and had to make two new horns and sewed for days on the holes in the skin made by all of the jagged rocks it hit on the fall. The goat looks great and is on display in the Cabela’s Nebraska store.
Dan and I went back up the following morning and jumped into the chute and recovered Gregg’s goat. It had stopped a few feet short of rolling over another 500’ cliff. Once we made it back to spike camp, we headed back to Bryson Bar.
As much as I loved goat hunting, goat hunting in the Wrangell’s proved to be way more dangerous than in the Kenai Mountains. On the Kenai about 50% of the ones we shot rolled over cliffs or rolled maybe 300 to 500’. In the Wrangell’s 75% rolled over or off cliffs with some rolling like Jim’s further than the total elevation of the Kenai Mountains. I have always said you have to wait until the goat gets into an area where you can recover him if he falls. However, when you have a client who has paid big bucks for a goat, sometimes they don’t understand that and you usually do what you really don’t want to do. I recovered all 40 goats that I have been involved in as a resident or as a guide.
I did one more goat hunt in the Wrangell’s in October ’88 when we were shooting the AAA promotional video. It had snowed around six inches which made for tricky climbing. The clients were Tom Carmody and Bill Shreve from CA. We got them on one goat and Bill the shooter couldn’t find the goat moving in the snow and Tom couldn’t get into position fast enough for a shot. You can see the footage in AAA’s video. It should have been a slam dunk and the goat wouldn’t have fallen very far. It was disappointing to say the least for all of us.
Brent nor I were in the Wrangell’s after ’88 during goat season because of our commitments in our Western Alaska and the Alaska Peninsula areas. It was all up to Dan. Dan and our guides harvested twelve more goats over the next ten years and then in ’98 we stopped taking goat hunters because of the danger of trying to recover them. I also felt it was unfair to have a client see goats but not be able to shoot them.