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Booting-Up for Goats
By Wade Nolan – Bowhunting Biologist
Jul 24, 2008 – 10:41:51 AM
My favorite Alaskan animal is tough to photograph. Many days I have spent eight or more hours climbing high above the valley floor in Girdwood Alaska. I’d gladly expend that energy and risk to spend an hour or so with the animal that reflect the soul of the Chugach Mountains. For some unknown reason, Mountain Goats are almost always found on mountain tops that face salt water. Their preference is for the most broken, steepest and rugged terrain in Alaska. Any goat guide will tell you that goat range is usually void of Dall Sheep because the sheep are afraid to venture onto rock faces that steep.
Mountain Goats are found from Southeast Alaska all the way to Kodiak Island and prefer rugged slopes.
Once in a while they walk out onto glacier moraine, like these goats above Exit Glacier in the Harding Ice Field above Prince William Sound, and you can approach them. They calculate danger by the time they need to get onto steep of difficult terrain. They will often allow a predator to approach them to what we would think is way too close, only to move 20 or 30 yards onto some impossible precipice or slope and be totally out of danger.
Mountain Goats are bigger than you think. 200-250 pounds is common. The long winter coat is shed by July and the new coat begins to grow. My friend, Brent Paulik shot these pics in mid July.
These goats are shedding their unique and heavy winter coat that protects them from 6 months of fierce winter storms. They are the most adapted animal I know of and their physiology is a marvel among animals. Their hooves are designed to both grip ice and rocks by using their rigid outer margin plus they can add grip like squeezing your pointing finger and thumb.
Goats prefer slopes that are exposed to the fierce winter winds. These slopes are often blown clear of snow, exposing the dried grass and alpine tundra plants that nourish them.
Their coat is made up of two very different types of hair to shield them from the wind and rain. Even the hair on their rump and hams are designed to be used as a snow brake if they should begin to slide down a steep avalanche slope. They are always comfortable adjacent to glaciers and will quickly escape onto the glare ice or steep terrain if a predator shows up. Their hooves are uniquely designed to grip ice. One researcher discovered that avalanches are a prime cause of death among Mountain Goats as few predators ever climb up there into their haunt.
This skull from a female Mountain Goat was found at the bottom an avalanche chute in the Harding ice field after the snow melted away one summer 23 years ago. This goat was a victim of an avalanche.
One spring day above Crow Creek in the Chugach Mountains, while filming goats, I witnessed a major avalanche roar down a chute only 25 yards from a band of goats that were barely out of the avalanches deadly path. The shaggy and confident goats just stood there and watched thousands of tons of churning snow and debris pass them by, between bites of grass. They weren’t even bothered by eminent death only a stones throw away. Mountain Goats are my favorite animals in Alaska’s mountains but getting up to spend time with them can pose a real problem if you don’t have the proper boots.
I have strong suggestions to address that issue, listen up. First you need a boot with real ankle support. I prefer a 10 inch boot. Even though they are pricy I wear Danners. My selected boot does have a Gortex liner and breathable side ports. I have worn these boots on 14 day sheep hunts deep in the Chugach and have never had them let me down. I have watched other guys end up with 14 days of wet feet and watched soles separate from new boots. Once we had to tie together a pair of new boots that had failed, with wrapped parachute cord. Not the best of scenarios when balance and foot power is what you need to get out of the mountains in one piece.
Take care of your boots and they will take care of your feet. Too many guys ignore their footwear and complain that their boots don’t last more than one season. The solution is to do boot maintenance yearly.
The secret to my reliable footwear is two fold?buy the best and take care of them. Right now in mid summer is when I do my boot maintenance. Here is what I do. You have probably heard of Atsko’s product, Sno-Seal. It’s been around since dirt and it is still the best treatment for leather in the world. Don’t get sold a bill of goods and buy some oil product for your boots. Oil migrates out of the leather and leaves your feet wet after one good soaking. Sno-Seal is made from a proprietary blend of bees wax and it will work for a year with one application.
Here is how you apply it. Clean your boots with soap and water. I use Sport-Wash as my soap as it will rinse off totally. Dry them in the sun. Next get a hair dryer from your wife and set the boots up on your work bench and heat them up. Blow the hot air right into the boot.
By heating the inside of the boot, the Sno-Seal will be drawn into the leather.
Next smear Sno-Seal on the boot over all of the leather. I use my fingers. Don’t be cheap. Put a good coating on the leather and work it into every seam and welt.
Smear it on with your fingers. Work it in, and then add heat.
Now add heat on the outside of the pre-heated boot. The wax will be sucked into the leather?and it will stay there. Now you have waterproofed your boots and preserved the leather. The Sno-Seal will not affect the performance of the Gortex. Your boots can still breathe. Unlike oil treatments the Sno-seal will not migrate out of the leather.
Melt it into the leather. You’ll be surprised how much Sno-Seal the leather will suck up.
If you’re walking the farm fence line looking for cottontails or climbing in Alaska’s rugged Chugach Mountains after Mountain Goats you still need boots that you can depend on. The above treatment is the final word in boot preservation and performance?you have my word on it.