By Dave Dillon
MT, Mtn Goat
As a child, I used to read outdoor magazines and dream about how I might partake in some of the amazing adventures that the wild had to offer. After a lot of dreaming and hard work, this small town northern Michigan kid has been blessed to live out some of those dreams. Just this past summer, I was blessed with the birth of a son. I had told my wife that I had no intentions of drawing a tag, so I hadn’t checked my email for potential draws where I was unable to apply for points only. As I arrived home the evening of August 30th, I noticed that I had a missed call from Montana. To my surprise, it was the Montana Fish and Game telling me I had drawn a mountain goat tag and had until the next day to claim it. After some sweet-talking and a little negotiating, my wife agreed to my next hunt-of-a-lifetime.
Quickly, I was into “find a guide” mode and called the Huntin’ Fool team who has yet to let me down. The next day, I was on the phone with Greg Neal of Broken Hart Ranch Outfitters. Greg was very hesitant to schedule me and mentioned several times that he would likely be short on horses and mules. I impatiently blurted out, “What’s the need for all the horses and mules?” I learned that the normal plan would be to have a base camp with an assistant guide/camp cook in addition to the primary guide. I insisted that all I needed was a tent and dehydrated food. Fortunately, after a few days of selling myself, I was lined up to go mid-October with one of the very best goat guides in the west, Tyler Johnerson.
The first day started with a beautiful 10-mile ride from the trailhead. Nearly to where we would eventually set up camp, we stopped at the base of a steep, snowy mountainside. I nervously asked how we were going to make it up, to which Tyler replied, “Ride.” Nearly to the top, I heard Tyler’s horse grunt and fall over with his feet facing uphill and Tyler trapped under him. The horse rolled over Tyler in order to get his feet pointed downhill. To my surprise, neither the horse nor Tyler were injured. I got off my horse a little shaken and started to tentatively walk it the rest of the way up. Within 20 yards, my horse did the same thing. As it turned out, we had gotten into a soggy area with a spring. Later, we made our new home in a stand of pines and settled in for a warm Mountain House and some medicine for my elevation sickness. Not until now did I really stop to think about how my dream goat hunt had nearly ended before it had even started.
The next day found us riding the horses up to the base of an intimidating mountain range. After finding a spot for the horses to spend the day, we began to posthole our way up through the 12-18 inches of snow. After a nearly 1,500 foot gain, we found ourselves on top of the world at 10,000 feet. Unfortunately, the morning was spent looking at one big nanny and a lot of empty, snowy mountaintops. Tyler knew the goats would be in the area and suggested we be aggressive and hunt hard to find an area where the snow had either been blown or burnt off.
We worked our way across a long saddle about a mile and a half to the next mountaintop. There, we discovered a large basin with much less snow and plenty of exposed ground. We immediately started to spot nannies, kids, and small billies. Eventually, we found a group of four shooter billies and a fifth that we called “The Loner.” He was big and looked like a white tank on the side of the mountain. After working across some steep, snow-covered terrain with sheer drop-offs not more than 20-30 yards below us, we made it to within about a mile of the beautiful beast. It was clear that there was no way to get to him before it got dark, so we backed out, eventually making it back to camp around 9 p.m. Once we got settled back at camp, the altitude got to me again, making me sick to my stomach with a pounding headache.
The next day broke with a new air of excitement. In short order, I found myself nervously leading my horse while working down a steep mountainside. Every time we changed direction, the horse would end up above me and I prayed that he wouldn’t slip and fall like he had the first day. We eventually made it to a peak overlooking where we had originally spotted the billies. After some empty glassing, Tyler decided he was going to take a quick hike over to another peak even closer to where the goats had been the day before. He told me to stay put and if he saw something he would wave me over. It seemed like he wasn’t gone more than 10 minutes when he popped up about half a mile away and gave me the sign. I quickly packed up with my heart in my throat and worked my way toward his location.
Once I reached Tyler, he relayed that he had spotted a set of big tracks in the snow and had spotted The Loner. He warned me that we’d be close and that we had to be extremely quiet and careful not to be seen. With great anticipation, we worked down the side of the mountain, eventually to the side of a blow down near the edge of a cliff. To my amazement, we could see the big ol’ billy only about 100 yards away, bedded down in a perfect location on top of a chimney of rock nearly encircled by a sheer drop-off. I slowly worked my way into the blow down and silently lay in the snow, ready for the billy to expose himself. He was situated behind a rock that was covering his chest, so we simply had to wait. Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, he shifted and I got the go-ahead from Tyler. A few moments later, the big bruiser lay there motionless.
After a quick celebration, we worked our way over the spot where the goat had taken his final nap. The Loner ended up having 9 1/2" long horns with 5 1/2" bases. More importantly, he was 9 1/2 years old with beautiful, long hair. While I don’t know nor do I care what his score is, I know my billy is a trophy animal by anyone’s standards.
I want to thank the team at Broken Hart Ranch for taking me on as a client with short notice and trusting that I would be capable of happily dealing with a minimalist hunt. Tyler Johnerson is a great guide whom I could not have asked any more from. Finally, I want to thank my beautiful wife, whom I love so much, for having the patience to deal with a Huntin’ Fool and being as understanding as she was with this unexpected tag. This truly was a hunt-of-a-lifetime.