An Empty Quiver: Chapter 17. Two Old Goats

 

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Preface

By: Dr. Dave Samuel
By: Dr. Dave Samuel

I’ve always been fascinated with mountain goats, and planned to bowhunt them as soon as I retired.  The expense prevented me from doing it early in life, so when I neared retirement, I gave it a shot. My first attempt was in British Columbia in 1998, and the guide fee was around $5,000.  Not cheap, but something I could afford.  That first hunt proved to be most difficult.  I was in good shape and had been jogging and hiking for months to get ready for the hunt.  But on the very first climb up the mountain, I became ill, and almost passed out.  I wasn’t sure whether it was the altitude or the flu or what.  But it affected me every time I climbed, and that severely restricted my ability to get to where the goats were.  I’d later learn that I was in atrial flutter, a problem where the heart beats over 200 times a minute.  When that happens, the blood pools in the heart and strokes caused by blood clots can result.  I pushed hard for ten days on that goat hunt and my doctors later told me that it was a miracle that I didn’t die.  That failed hunt didn’t dampen my enthusiasm for goats. 

 For years I’d applied for a goat tag in Colorado.  Finally, in 2002 I drew a goat tag for Colorado and a friend there took me on the mountain for two days.  We got close to goats, but no shots and then he had to depart.  You couldn’t hunt on weekends there, so I lost those days.  Then the second week I had to go to Nevada to receive a national award from The Wildlife Society.  I’d have loved to skip that event and just hunt goats but that would not have been the professional thing to do.  My wildlife profession was honoring me for my work and I had to attend.  In so doing I lost three more days of hunting.  I returned to the mountains and ended up missing a 42-yard shot, steep uphill, at a big goat.  I was crushed.  Getting drawn for a goat tag and not scoring was hard to take. 

After retirement from my wildlife professor job, I searched for a good goat hunt and ended up with Harro Obst of Moon Lake Outfitters in August, 2006.   As you will read, the hunt was awesome but very physically demanding, especially for a 66-year-old desk jockey.  Even so it is one of my best bowhunting memories and an adventure I will always treasure.  

I’d dreamed of bowhunting for mountain goats all of my life but the expense was always a negative.  My first two hunts showed me how tough goat hunting was and I also learned the importance of having a knowledgeable guide.   Now, I was back to give it another try and this time I was sure that I’d selected the right outfitter—Harro and Helga Obst of Moon Lake Outfitters out of Atlin, British Columbia. 

Founded during the gold rush and hidden in the northwest corner of British Columbia about 100 miles south of Whitehorse, Atlin is a small town of about 450 residents.  The Atlin area has a rich gold rush history which I learned about from Harro and Helga before and after the hunt.

Until the 1940’s, no roads led to Atlin, so 20,000 hardy gold rushers came from Skagway on paddle-wheeler boats up Tagish Lake and through Graham Inlet to the Atlintoo River which flows out of Atlin Lake, the largest freshwater lake in Canada.  The river is a torrent and was impossible to traverse so a 4-mile railroad was built to the shoreline where passengers boarded another paddle-wheeler to make the crossing to Atlin.  Yes, the gold diggers worked hard just to get to the region. 

The paddle wheeler’s burned a cord of wood every hour and they could only carry 20-30 cords, so saw mills were built every so often along the hundreds of miles of lakes and rivers.  Harro and Helga took me to several of these old saw mills and we investigated the intriguing engineering they used to cut cord wood for the boats.  

Although learning local history is always an enjoyable and largely inescapable part of my bow hunting travels, on this trip I was focused on taking a goat.  I knew getting up and down the mountains would be tough and I had some health concerns. An irregular heart beat that had started seven years earlier on my first goat hunt; a torn tendon on the pinky finger of my right hand, damaged one-month earlier, which would make it difficult and painful to use a climbing pole and a bad burn on my ankle, sustained a week before the hunt.  Yes, this hunt was going to be a serious challenge, especially while wearing low hiking shoes instead of ankle fit boots.  I’d pay dearly.     

This renovated trapper’s cabin made a great home base for my goat hunt.
This renovated trapper’s cabin made a great home base for my goat hunt.

The hunt began as Petr and I drove two hours from Atlin to a large unnamed lake.  A 30-minute boat ride brought us to the base of a mountain where a renovated trapper’s cabin served as our very comfortable home for the next few days. 

With no time to climb the mountain and bowhunt before dark, Petr cranked up the boat and we motored up the lake to scout.  Using a spotting scope we quickly located numerous billies.  At the lower altitudes we spotted younger billies; higher up were middle aged goats; and near the top of these huge mountains were the old billies, living in areas that were sometimes totally inaccessible.  Petr told me that many billies were so inaccessible that they lived their entire lives without ever seeing a human being. Wow! We counted 21 billies that afternoon, and I knew that I was in the right place.  The question was whether I could make the climb.   

I took this photo about one-third of the way to the goat.
I took this photo about one-third of the way to the goat.

In one area we spotted a goat high on the mountain, bedded on a huge rock overlooking the lake.  Petr indicated that we would begin our hunt here the next morning.

As we pulled our boat to shore the next morning, Petr spotted a billy bedded high on the mountain.  It appeared to be that same billy we spotted the day before.  So it was with some promise that we began our hike at 7:30 A. M.  Petr had a climbing pole for me to use and right away I learned a trick to climbing.  Holding the pole in both hands, I would dig the top of the pole into the mountain to hold me when my feet slipped and then lean into the hill while walking to the right a bit.  Then turn around, switch hands, plant the pole, lean into the mountain again and ease back.  Using this technique, I zig-zagged my way up the mountain.  It was a bit tricky to learn but once I got the hang of it, things went fairly well. 

A climbing pole is essential when hiking these steep mountains. My goat died at the base of the cliffs, high in the background of this photo.
A climbing pole is essential when hiking these steep mountains. My goat died at the base of the cliffs, high in the background of this photo.

But my hand hurt and within an hour, my ankle was bleeding.  Three hours later I was beginning to wonder whether I should be doing this but Petr was patient and encouraged me to continue.  At 11:45 fresh goat droppings indicated we were in goat country.  As I grabbed a much needed drink, Petr took a quick walk to check the area for that goat we had seen early in the morning.  A minute later he rushed back, he’d found him still bedded less than 100 yards away.  Talk about good luck! 

Thick cover allowed us to get fairly close.  The billy was bedded on a flat, rocky outcrop, and as we were deciding the best approach, the billy got up, stretched, then walked over the cliff and out of sight.  We ran to the spot where he’d disappeared. 

After slowly creeping to the edge, we peered over, looking for the goat.  The bad news was that I’m afraid of heights and it was a very steep drop-off.   As I peeked over the edge, I jumped back.  What was I doing here?   The good news, moving five yards in another direction and peering over the edge, I spotted the billy feeding at 30 yards.  After regaining my composure, I motioned to Petr, kneeled down and with Petr holding my belt, I leaned over the cliff to shoot.  Due to my excitement and inexperience, I didn’t account for the extreme shooting angle.  The arrow glided right over his back (it may still be falling for all I know).  The wind was blowing hard and the billy never heard the shot so I quickly nocked a second arrow, readjusted for the shooting angle and this time I did not miss.   

The billy walked off along the base of a cliff and I could see that it was a liver hit rather than lungs.  Just a tad too far back.  He traversed some very rough and steep country and bedded about 400 yards from where I’d shot him.  I’d heard that billies were tough critters and this was proof.  We waited an hour then Petr went on ahead of me.  He found the goat dead then returned to help me negotiate two steep and treacherous shale slides.  Indeed, getting to the goat was rough for this old West Virginia grandpap.  My bad ankle really slowed me down and it took well over an hour to get to him.  After photos, Petr caped and boned-out the meat.  At 3:30, we loaded up the packs and started down the mountain.     

The white monarch of the mountain presents real challenges for any bowhunter, especially a 66-year old desk jockey. Getting this mountain goat was the culmination of a dream of many years.
The white monarch of the mountain presents real challenges for any bowhunter, especially a 66-year old desk jockey. Getting this mountain goat was the culmination of a dream of many years.

I knew it was going to hurt and indeed it did, much worse going down than coming up.  I was exhausted and there were frequent stops on the way down.  Pain and pleasure.  Anybody who hunts the high mountains knows that these two feelings are inseparable.  For me it was legs burning and ankles bleeding on nearly every step of this goat hunt.  While this hunt proved blessedly short, climbing over this incredibly steep country while negotiating dangerous snags of brush and sharp rocks, took its toll on me.  As I look back, I’m sure my guide, Petr Zidek wondered just who he was hunting with as I groaned my way down the mountain that first day.    

But make no mistake.  Even with all the pain I was elated because the mountain goat horns and cape crammed in my pack represented a bowhunting goal that dated back many years. 

Petr got to the boat long before I did (then again Petr got everywhere before I did) and he helped remove my backpack.  On the hour-long boat ride back to the cabin I reflected on two previous and unfulfilled goat hunts and the satisfaction that I’d just completed the hardest day of hunting in my life.  I’d remember this day forever.  After 54 years of bowhunting and at age 66, I’d taken a billy and I’d done it on the very first day of my hunt.   

Petr and I spent the next day, caping out the skull, fishing and resting around the cabin.  During the late afternoon I set up a spotting scope and spotted a grizzly and two cubs on a far mountain.  Petr did the same and soon we were watching something few men have ever seen.  This sow grizzly started up a trail several hundred yards behind two big mountain billies and food was on her mind.  One billy took off over the ridge but the second seemed relatively unconcerned as the grizzly closed the gap.  Finally the two squared off.  The grizzly circled the billy several times then they faced each other and charged.  In fact, the billy actually charged the sow at close range and appeared to butt her with his horns.  She quickly retreated to her cubs and was later seen eating berries on the mountain.  It was a rare event to witness. 

We then returned to the Obst home in Atlin and spent the rest of the week fishing and taking in the history of the area.  Harro, Helga and Petr were wonderful hosts and helped me appreciate that part of the world. 

The hunt was a great adventure, one I wished I could have done when younger.  It was a challenge that I was thrilled to accomplish. Those who bowhunt and know the mountains will understand that a billy with a bow . . . well, just being able to make the attempt was a once-in-a-lifetime experience, especially for this old goat.   

Postscript

I look back upon this hunt as one of my greatest adventures.  It was very tough, and I got very lucky.  Had I not gotten a goat that first day, I could not have gone up the mountain the second day.  My tank was dry and my legs were just not up to it.  But I could have gone up the third day and I’m sure I could have gone up other days as well if need be.  In fact, I booked the hunt for twelve days just to be sure I’d get up to the goats on most days.  The outfitter, Moon Lake Outfitters, was excellent.  Though he didn’t take many bow hunters (not that he wouldn’t, he just never had many make the attempt) he knew what I needed and he produced. 

Another thing I liked about Harro Obst  of Moon Lake Outfitters was that he is a small operation, and only takes 4-5 goat hunters per year, gun or bow.  The guide fee was $10,000, but for a good goat hunt today, you are going to have to pay that amount or close to it.  A hunting license is around $200, plus a 5% GST tax.  At the time, the goat tag was $371 and the government royalty fee was another $150.  My goat scored around 45 2 inches net putting him somewhere in the middle of the Pope and Young record book.  I didn’t have space for a full mount, so I had Marcus Zimmerman from Zimmermans Wildlife Art in Martinsburg, Pennsylvania do a pedestal mount of the goat.  It sits on a three foot walnut octagon shaped pedestal, with the shoulder mount sitting on snow, ice and rocks with moss on them.  It looks super and as I write this, he sits just off my left shoulder.  Just the sight of that majestic animal takes some of that pain away and makes all of the pleasure of the hunt return.   Indeed over my lifetime of bowhunting, there have been many great adventures.  This one just might top them all.    

 For more please go to: The Future of Hunting

For more also go to: Straight Talk Interview: Dr. Dave Samuel