A Return to Idaho
By Gabe Hamer
ID, Mtn Goat
My first western big game hunt was Idaho elk in the Frank Church Wilderness in 2008. I was inexperienced and ill-equipped on this first adventure, but we returned to Michigan with a cow elk. Exactly 10 years later, I returned to Idaho once again, but this time with a once-in-a-lifetime mountain goat tag. There were only four goat tags for this unit and I was the only non-resident, about a 2% chance of drawing. After many western hunts under my belt and being much better equipped, I pursued this self-guided, public land, backcountry adventure solo. I talked to biologists, the Forest Service, and prior hunters in this unit and gathered a lot of valuable intelligence on where to go to find mountain goats. This was my first hunting trip involving a flight, which added a lot of logistical challenges to plan for.
I arrived to my unit midday on Friday, September 21st and glassed along the road on the way to the trailhead and spotted one bedded goat. Once the road ended, I launched with my entire pack loaded for several days of hunting from a spike camp. I glassed both sides of a timbered ridge on my way in, trying to find goats that would influence the location of my spike camp. I saw one solo goat feeding across a slope about a mile away, and as it turned out, that was the same ridge and perhaps the same goat that I would harvest the next afternoon. That night, I set up spike camp near a high alpine lake that had a nanny and kid feeding above me.
In the morning, a solo goat was directly above the lake at about 450 yards. It was too high for a shot and the goat would have tumbled very far, so I moved on up the alpine basin. I glassed four goats on the far side of the basin nearly a mile away that were a little lower on a grass-covered scree, so I moved quickly knowing they were in more of a shootable location. By the time I got there about a half hour later, all four, two adults and two kids, had walked straight up and out of this basin and I caught them on their departure. It was amazing to see these animals traverse well over 1,000 feet up a steep cliff as a casual part of their morning routine. Meanwhile, I had invested a lot of energy to get there, so I had to backtrack around to the other side of my spike camp to the slope that had the goat from the evening before. I got there closer to 11 a.m., and as I walked up a sparsely vegetated draw, heading to a saddle, I glassed a goat on the side of the basin. They were in a rocky area with small shrubs, so it was hard to get a good look at all three, but after several angles, I determined they were two nannies and a kid. I didn’t realize it until reviewing photos later, but it turned out the billy I shot was bedded in the shade a couple hundred yards above those nannies and I never saw it until later when I was at a better angle at higher elevation.
I proceeded to the saddle, which based on my scouting, was my planned approach that would allow me to get up on top of the ridges. It worked, and from there, I could glass an incredible amount of country. The only problem was that the ridges I wanted to traverse to glass from above and shoot down were incredibly steep and risky. At this point ,I came to the realization that this country was almost too big to spend more time in given how many of the goats were inaccessible. I was planning on heading back to load up my spike camp and head to my plan B area, which was more gentle country that held goats. Not long after dropping off the saddle, I was glassing that same hillside with the nannies and spotted a bedded goat in the shade. I put my spotting scope on it, and at 475 yards, I could tell the bases of the horns were larger and closer together, which is indicative of a billy. Game on!
I was at about the same elevation as the goat but needed to close the distance, so I dropped out of sight as I crossed the loose rocks to the next rocky outcrop. I resighted the goat still bedded and was at 275 yards, which was a good distance for my rifle. I took my time getting set up and tried to catch my breath as my heartbeats were rocking my rifle crosshairs. I got my camera set up on the tripod, and then right as I was getting ready for the shot, I looked up to see the goat on its feet and heading up and away. My patient shot quickly turned into a rush. I hit record on the camera, loaded a round into my action, and within a few seconds, I sent a round through the front shoulder. I could see the goat drop and slide back to its original bed. It stayed there, but I could see continued movement, so I eventually had to take a second shot. With another chest shot, the goat tumbled about 100 yards down the hill before coming to rest. I dropped down to the goat, and as I approached, I could see both horns were broken from the fall. I was happy to confirm that indeed it was a billy.
I shot at about 1 p.m., so I proceeded to butcher the goat and packed all the deboned meat, head, and all my day hunting gear to the truck, which was about two miles away and about 2,000 feet lower. The harvest location was at 10,009 feet. The load was huge, and I realized I couldn’t make it the whole way in one trip, so I stashed my heavier items (spotting scope, food, misc. gear) under a fallen tree, marked it with GPS, and proceeded to get the meat and head back to the cooler on ice that night. It was very slow going, and I was completely spent when I finally arrived to the vehicle near dusk. The next morning, I woke up and had coffee and tenderloin sautéed in butter for breakfast before heading back up to get my tent and stashed gear.
On Monday morning, I checked the goat in with the biologist and was surprised to learn that the billy was 6.5 years old with 5" bases. She said it was the perfect goat to harvest as it probably only had one more year of breeding in its life. It was an incredible adventure that ended quickly, allowing me to get back to family and work. I’ll never be able to hunt mountain goats in Idaho again, but with four young kids, that means a lot of names in the hat some day.
Video of hunt can be found on YouTube at https://youtu.be/lug95un2Unc.