Story and Photos by: Josh Miller
I have always had a fascination with mountain goats.
In fact, my love of mountain goats even predates my love of wild sheep. My work computer’s screen saver is a mountain goat, my truck’s license plate has a mountain goat, the number of mountain goat books and knickknacks found in my home and office sum more than I can immediately call to mind. A mountain goat hunt on Kodiak Island was my first “dream hunt” I had as a kid. My first out-of-state application was for a Utah mountain goat over 10 years ago. As you might guess, I was unsuccessful in that draw and for many after. In fact, I’ve been unsuccessful in western draws for so many years I finally got tired of seeing the word “unsuccessful” next to my name.
This year, I decided I wasn’t waiting anymore. With my wife’s support and encouragement, I set out on the daunting task to book my own mountain goat hunt. I talked to several outfitters from Alaska and Canada at Sheep Show. There are many to choose from but after talking with and getting a recommendation from my buddy Jim Warner, I decided to go with long-time Idaho Wild Sheep Foundation supporter, Craig Kiselbach of Terminus Mountain Outfitters in Northern British Columbia. Craig offers hunts for stone sheep, moose, mountain goat, caribou, black bear and wolves in an awesomely remote area once hunted by the legendary Skook Davidson. I knew I was in for one of the most memorable trips I could possibly imagine.
After the hunt was booked, the preparation began. I have hunted Dall Sheep in Alaska and Rocky Mountain Big Horn in Idaho’s Frank Church Wilderness. Backpacking in remote, rugged country was not foreign to me and gear was not a concern. Over the past decade I have acquired the best I could and continued to upgrade as I had funds available to do so. Luckily, I had all of the gear and equipment recommended on Craig’s gear list and only needed to replace a few articles of clothing from my closet. I’ve typically been a KUIU guy, but after working with Kryptek for the 2022 Idaho Wild Sheep Foundation Banquet, I decided to give Kryptek a try. Kryptek is an Idaho company and has been a big supporter of the Idaho Wild Sheep Foundation for years. This past year was my first year working directly with them and I was immediately impressed with Kryptek’s commitment to designs that allow customers to be comfortable and successful. For my hunt, I chose Kryptek's Altitude line and ordered the Takur rain gear, Dalibor line, and a few other articles of clothing.
With gear and clothing taken care of, my next priority was to get in better shape for the hunt. My daughter was born in 2020 and getting to the gym has been nearly impossible since then. My body showed it: by the time I booked my mountain goat hunt I had ballooned to 214 lbs. I needed to focus so I decided to try the MTNTOUGH fitness program and found the at-home program to be perfect. I was able to fit in my workouts at home around my family’s schedule, saving the 30 minutes of driving to and from the gym. It took a while to get into a groove, but once I did the pounds started coming off and I could feel myself getting stronger. By the time my hunt rolled around I was down to 190 lbs and feeling great.
The end of September finally arrived and everything was packed up. Having never been to Canada and wanting to see the country, I opted to drive to Fort Nelson, BC. A straight drive would have been 24 hours but I broke it into 3 days in order to drive through Kootenay, Banff, and Jasper National Parks. The trip was amazing. The views of glaciers, mountains and wildlife were second to none. However, those three days of driving were just the start of my travels.
Once in Fort Nelson, I jumped on a Cessna 206 for a 1.5 hour+ flight to the lodge. I was at the lodge just long enough to say hi to Craig and get my tags from him. I was then loaded onto a PA-12 float plane for a flight to a lake where I met my guide, Josh Hamilton and wrangler, Denny Spiers. While riding in a little skiff from the float plane to camp, Josh asked if I was a member of the Wild Sheep Foundation and Rocky Mountain Goat Alliance. I told him yes, and how I am currently the vice president for Idaho Wild Sheep Foundation (IDWSF). When he told me he serves on the board for the Wild Sheep Society of BC (WSSBC), I knew we were going to get along very well.
From the lake camp, our next stage of travel was on horseback. It was a three to four hour ride to our base camp and another four to five hour ride to the hunting country. We saddled up - I was given a paint horse named Bolt - loaded the pack string and headed out. Every second in the saddle was filled with stunning scenery. Our trail was rutted quite deep; Josh indicated at the very least it was cut in the 1930’s. During the ride, we visited about the status of sheep in Idaho and BC. I told Josh about the six action plans IDWSF is implementing this coming winter and he talked about the 90 burn projects WSSBC started to improve winter range for stone sheep, the area’s biggest problem. We got to base camp just before dark, tended the horses and ate dinner around a campfire before heading to bed.
After breakfast the next morning, we mounted up for the remaining four to five hour ride to the hunting country. The views became increasingly more incredible as we climbed higher, turned around each corner and traveled over every ridge. We saw two grizzlies who both made the wise decision to change direction upon seeing us. We later came over a small ridge and saw a band of Stone Sheep in the trail. This was my first time seeing Stone Sheep and the encounter is burned into my memory. Further along, I looked below us to a large cliff face with a small patch of trees and grass below it. I hollered at the wrangler, Denny, and pointed to a white dot I thought might be a goat. With all our optics packed away, we only had access to binoculars, but we were able to at least confirm it was indeed a goat. We continued riding until we found a suitable spot to set up a spike camp.
The next morning after a quick breakfast, we hiked to a nice glassing spot. We glassed for a while and saw a group of three Stone Sheep rams, but no goats. A bit later we were back in the saddle to ride up a long valley to a spot where we could tie the horses and walk out to a ridge where Josh and Denny had seen several billies during Stone Sheep season. We spent the day glassing and hiking, looking down chutes and in crevices for a bedded billy.
About a mile away, we found a nanny and kid across the canyon and watched them feed. Josh spotted a lone goat further down the canyon. We both put our spotters on it and watched while it was bedded. It was large-bodied and alone, both very good signs it was a billy. Finally, it got up and turned. When the sun hit its horns just right, our anticipation grew. I was reasonably sure it was a billy but it was too late in the day to make a play on the goat. We just sat and watched while it fed and moved around. Then the goat squatted to pee and the wind was let out of my sail. A goat’s urination position is the best and most proven method to determine the sex of a goat: a billy will stretch out to pee whereas a nanny will squat. This one likely wasn’t a billy as we originally thought.
We began to plan for the next day. The big ridge where we saw the three goats seemed to be a good bet, but we wanted to know what the lone goat we saw while riding the previous day was. We decided to high-tail it back to the horses and ride back past camp a couple miles to see if we could turn that goat up close to where we’d seen it before. As we crested the ridge, Denny looked back and gave me a thumbs up - it was still there.
We rode to a good vantage point, dismounted and put spotters on the goat, now bedding on a rocky cliff. At 1200 yards, it had all the right signs of being a billy: it was alone, large-bodied, had horns with a gradual curve to them and the bases were bigger than its eyes. Beyond those features, the first thing I noticed was its hair: it had a really long beard and great chaps. Based on my experience, I was sure this goat was a billy. Both Josh and Denny agreed it looked like a good billy but both wanted to get a better look to try and determine his age. The only pre-determined criteria I had when coming into the hunt was I wanted a mature billy with good hair. In my limited experience with goats, this one looked exactly like what I was hoping to find. We didn’t have time that evening to get closer to determine age, so we rode back to camp, ate dinner and went to bed. Needless to say, sleep did not come easily for me that night - I couldn’t stop thinking about that goat!
The next morning, we ate a quick bite, saddled up and rode back to our vantage point. He was still close to where he was the night before. We made our way down a ridge where we figured I would have a good shot at him. The ridge was the most spruce-infested, dog-hair-thick, jumbled pile of trees I’ve ever had to walk through. We made it down to 430 yards across from him but there was no way I could shoot through the tangled mess of trees. We were concerned if we kept going, he would see or hear us and get nervous and leave. We quietly made a shooting lane by carefully removing branches and small trees from a small spot where I was able to sit with all three of our backpacks piled up for a rest.
I settled in and started making some dry-fire practice shots while the billy was bedded down. Josh and Denny got in behind me and set up the spotter. Josh studied him the best he could, but with poor lighting, he couldn’t see rings yet. The light finally spotlighted the goat and Josh could see seven or eight rings, a good range as 10-13 is often the max they live, 13 being ancient for a goat. Josh estimated him at 9” and 5.25-5.5” bases. I told them this billy met my criteria, especially for my first mountain goat hunt.
From then on, it became a waiting game for the billy to stand up and give me a shot. I sat there and kept making practice shots on him to calm my nerves. Finally, he stood up. I put a round in the chamber and waited for both a broadside shot and Josh’s ok. He turned, Josh said “shoot,” and I squeezed the trigger.
Solid hit, but he was still on his feet.
I chambered another round and hit him again. The second shot didn’t feel good - Josh confirmed the second shot hit further back but the first shot hit lungs, right behind the shoulder. We watched and waited, losing sight of the billy as he moved behind a cliff face.
We waited a few minutes to see if he would roll down the mountain. When he didn’t, we started leapfrogging down the hill, leaving one person to always have eyes on the last place we saw him. We got to the bottom and ravens had already started showing up, which I took to be a good sign. We started up the steep face to where we had last seen the goat but it was an incredibly steep 300-yard climb up from the bottom. As we got near the top, we still hadn’t found the billy.
Suddenly, a big, white mass stood up. We put three more rounds in him to try to anchor him before he went off a cliff, but he was determined to go off a cliff. I ran to get out of his way as he took his last step. Sure enough, he fell off the cliff and started rolling down the hill. We all held our breath, as a rolling goat is the last thing anyone wants to see. Often, they break horns or damage their cape, or worst of all, they get hung up in an unretrievable spot. Luckily, he stopped in some brush just below us and had relatively little damage. The fall had only added a few character marks on his horns and a small chip off the top of one horn.
We confirmed eight annuli, making him nine years old, 5.5” bases, and 9” on his longer side. His hair was magnificent and I couldn’t have been happier with my first goat. We cleaned him up a little, took pictures and had some celebratory sips from my flask of Bighorn Bourbon. Then the work of caping and deboning him for the pack out got underway. The pack out wasn’t terrible. Steep and thick, but with three of us, we made it out to the horses in just a few hours and back to camp before dark. We spent the rest of the evening reliving the day, eating dinner and telling stories.
The next morning while packing up to head back to base camp, I was filled with conflicting emotions. I was ecstatic to have my goat but sad my time in the field was coming to an end. I only had a few hours left in goat/Stone Sheep country and just a couple days left before returning to civilization. I guess that is the duality of hunting: you want to be successful in the hunt, but the consequence of that success means leaving the country you love.
The ride back to base camp was miserably windy. Luckily, good rain gear with a down jacket and pants kept me warm. Once back at camp we took care of the cape and got it salted. Josh also owns a tannery, so he took excellent care of the cape - much more efficiently than I could have. We cooked up some bacon-wrapped tenderloin as an appetizer and one of the back straps for dinner. I have eaten mountain goat once before but this one definitely tasted better, more tender and with excellent flavor. We polished off a bottle of Willies Devil’s Brigade whiskey to celebrate the successful trip and to making new friends. The ride back to the lake was a fast trip with just my gear and goat in the pack boxes. While waiting for the float plane, we talked about possible projects WSSBC and IDWSF could collaborate on in the future and I was able to recognize where we had hunted on the float plane back to the lodge.
Once at the lodge, I was greeted by Craig and his crew. I hung my goat up to dry on his cape poles next to a lucky hunter who killed a huge wolf a few days earlier while moose hunting. We ate pizza and talked about the season until the next plane showed up. As we were flying back to Fort Nelson, I looked over the vastness of the BC wilderness. My trip included 3000 miles of driving, four airplane rides, and 20-24 hours on a horse, and yet I only saw a postage stamp of what BC has to offer. I could feel a sense of the need to return beginning to grow on the last plane ride and it continues to grow as I type this. I know I’ll never forget the trip, the sights or the people I was with throughout the hunt. I can only hope to return someday.