Thursday, December 8, 2016

Mountain Goat

Oreamnos americanus, Rocky Mountain Goat.  Elusive, smart, hard to hunt.  Really hard to hunt.

I was visiting a friend in Fort Worth who had just received his trophy Mountain Goat head for the wall above his fireplace.  It was beautiful with its white fur (hair?), beard, and those 11-inch horns.  I stared at it all evening as he told me about his hunt in the Rocky Mountains in Canada.

I had never trophy hunted, but it was interesting to look at this beast and think about what it took to harvest it.  My friend described the hunt as a short hike to a lush green meadow where the guide pointed out which goat was to be taken.  A few days camping and enjoying the outdoors in northwest Canada and a plane flight home.  What could be easier?  I liked what I was hearing, and soon I was in contact with my friend’s guide in Terrace, B.C.  We arranged a time, and the hunt was on. 

I had business meetings in Anchorage and Juneau to attend, but as soon as the meetings were over, I flew into Terrace where I met up with “Fuzzy.”  He took one look at me, gave a low whistle, and commented that he had never seen this much fat on a lazy pig.  I had just spent a year getting into the best shape I had ever been in, but apparently it wasn’t good enough for him. We threw my baggage into the back of his truck and drove a number of miles to a ranch house where his horses were stabled.  A few hours later we were entering a camp high in the mountains where it was cold, beautiful, and late in the evening even though the sun was still well up in the sky.

The camp cook, “Stew,” tended to my horse and pack while I changed out of my business clothes and into something more suitable for hunting and camping.  Afterwards we chowed down on a hearty stew and camp biscuits with some good strong coffee.

It seems guides and camp hands are all in possession of a name that doesn’t always make sense to me—or maybe it does.  Stew’s name was Robert, but the only thing he could or would cook was stew.  I had an Apache guide once named Horace.  Horace?  Another guide was Rhonda.  One time I called him Ron, but I quickly learned not to do that again.  Flatfoot Mike did everything while running as fast as he could.  Dipper could never cross a stream without stumbling and taking a dip.  It took me a couple of days to find out why Fuzzy was called Fuzzy.   He was clean-shaven and the name didn’t fit—until I found out his last name was Knutz.

About 3am the next morning I was awakened to start the day, and by 4am we were on the trail.  My horse was named Un.  I quickly found out it was short for Unpredictable.  At times he would break into a gallop, and then stop on a dime.  No warning about the start or the stop.  He also loved to crow hop about every 15 to 20 minutes.  Joy.  Only once have I ever been tossed from a horse, and it wasn’t going to happen again, but I never quite convinced Un that his antics were useless.  Time for another crow hop.

About 6am we tied off the horses to some bushes and continued on foot.  Up.  Up.  Up.  I was beginning to remember the description my friend had given me of the lush green meadows with goats everywhere.  I vowed to get even when I got back to Fort Worth.  The narrow rocky trail soon faded to just rocks with no trail to be seen anywhere.  Up.  Up.  Up.

We hiked along the edge of a small stream.  Well, maybe it was some 80 to 100 feet below us, but we kept it on our left side and we moved forward.  Finally we stopped.  Fuzzy commented that he didn’t expect me to keep up with him, and if I had realized sooner his expectations, I might not have done so.  But too late.  We were at the hunting grounds.

For 4 hours we searched the area until finally Fuzzy saw a white speck in a shadowed crevice on a cliffside in the distance across the stream.  “Take that one.  It looks to be at least a 10-incher, and it’s only 800 yards away.”

As hard as I looked, I couldn’t see it.  “Where?” 

Fuzzy looked at me as though I was nuts.  “Right there!” 

He pointed at it, and I strained to see it but no luck.  And I was using binoculars—he wasn’t.  Finally I dialed up my scope to the full 10x and spotted it.  And it was just a spot.

“Take him Now!  You’ll never get an easy shot like this again.”

I thought about the fact that my old .30’06 had a 39-inch drop at 500 yards, and I had never dialed it in beyond that.  Just how much would the drop be at 800 yards?  Then I remembered a lesson from my 7th grade band class, “If you haven’t practiced it, don’t try to perform it.”

When I said I’d pass on this shot, Fuzzy came uncorked.  “I thought I was guiding a Hunter!”  He also said quite a few other things as we hiked back to the horses.

Two more days we hiked back to those same grounds only to find nothing.  “I told you that was the easiest shot you’d get.  Your own fault if you don’t take down a goat.”  I still had two more days paid for, and I decided to use up all of it.  If a goat happened, it happened.  If not, oh well.

On the morning of the fourth day, about half an hour after tying off the horses, I noticed a goat slipping over the edge of the cliff just as we came into his sight.  Fuzzy didn’t see it, but he took a look over the edge and there was that goat about 25 feet straight down standing on a ledge about 1-inch wide.

There was no way to take a shot straight down, so we decided to go back downstream and cross over so we could take him from the other side.  The hike was not easy, but about 45 minutes later we drew up to where the goat should have been visible.  Slowly we crawled to the edge and looked across, but there was no goat.  We looked all up and down the area, but all we could see was an empty rock-face.

For some reason, Fuzzy decided to look straight down, and there was the goat below us again.  He had crossed over the stream just as we had done.  Well the only thing to do was to cross back to our original spot.

Again it took about 45 minutes to cross back, and again there was no goat.  Without hesitation Fuzzy looked straight down and there was the goat.  He had crossed back.

Fuzzy decided to cross back over the stream by himself, and as he worked his way across, I watched the goat cross back to the far side.  Now he was mine.  Fuzzy appeared just for a moment to let me know where he was, and then he backed away to safety as I sighted in and squeezed the trigger. 

I watched as the goat fell into a tight hole among some large boulders, and I hoped the horns were still in tact.  I started working my way to where he fell and arrived about the same time as did Fuzzy.

It took a few hours to bring the goat back to the horses, but it was worth all the effort.  The horns measured just under 11-inches, and the coat was beautiful.  Fuzzy estimated the weight to be about 240 to 250 pounds, and he said that was just about as big as they get.  “Good job.”

I was still in shock over Fuzzy’s comment when we arrived back in camp.  Stew had our stew ready, and after dinner, Fuzzy finished preparing the goat for transporting back to civilization. 

Back home I had just about finished eating the last of the goat when the mounted head arrived from the taxidermist in Terrace.  I gave it to my friend to hang beside the one he already had, and the pair made a fantastic display above his fireplace.  It was the only time I had ever taken a trophy, and I don’t expect I’ll ever do it again.  And I still haven’t gotten even with my friend for his description of the hunt, but his time is coming.

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