How Not To Hunt for Mountain Goat In British Columbia
By Fred Moseley
I suppose that if you go hunting often enough, you are bound to have an experience that’s worth telling about. Sometimes though, it neither starts nor ends as you would have expected.
My friend Dave Parker and I like to go hunting together. We enjoy sharing tales of our day around the campfire at night, and talking about our guides behind their back before closing our sleeping bags. I don’t suppose we are different from most hunters. We have never experienced this tale a second time, either before or after it occurred.
It took us two days to get to the outfitter’s beautiful ranch in northern British Columbia. The scenery was everything we had hoped for, as we began our third day with yet another horseback journey. For a couple of city slickers, I’d say that we rode pretty well. It probably wasn’t until the second day on horseback that we started to wince. I confirmed later that the horses in mountainous B.C. are truly large specimens, with backs about as broad as the hood of a ’73 Buick. Being 5’7” tall, I found that when my feet were on solid ground, I was about eye-to-eye with the stirrup, not the saddle horn.
By the afternoon of the second day on the back of a horse, we reached the location for our spike camp, where we would seek to rid the valley from the fear of the dreaded mountain goat and maybe moose. We were at a campsite where no one had been in fifteen years. There was no wood, stacked neatly for our use. There was no hard-walled camp tent, and the trail for the last three hours looked exactly like what it was—a trail unused for many years. True, we were the first hunters to enter the valley in fifteen years. So, our excitement was mounting at the possibility of record-book trophies.
We pitched a couple of tents, set up a corral for the horses, gathered firewood, and generally made the site our home for the next few days. Early the next morning, we rose to begin our trek, only to find that the horses had decided to leave the corral for better scenery. There’s nothing like the crisp morning air, dew and frost on the grass, and the air filled with high decibel cursing and profanity as our guides sought to find and secure our mounts for the day.
For the first couple of days, Dave and I went separate ways but had pretty much the same type of day. We would ride our horses to a point in the valley, dismount and glass for game. Only my days were spent a little differently than Dave’s right from the start. I quickly learned that my guide preferred to glass for fifteen minutes and sleep for three hours. At first, I thought he was just tired from chasing the horses each day, but I later found out that he was truly a manic depressive. Just the quality you want in a wilderness guide–and carrying a weapon, too.
On my fifth day, I saw two goats high up on a ridge. I asked my guide if we should go for them. He rubbed the sleep from his eyes and checked them out. He said they were pretty far up there and asked if I really wanted to go for them. Silly me, I said “Well, yeah, I think that’s what I came for . . . .” We rode to the base of the mountain and found that the last horizontal 200 yards was in a bog. We tied the horses securely, and made our way to the base of the mountain and started up. If you think you have conditioned yourself, just go after a mountain goat and see what real conditioning deficiency is all about.
I had to literally pull myself along by reaching ever forward to trees or limbs to pull myself upward. As I got higher, I found I had to stop every so often and catch my breath. My guide would usually go on ahead, stop to wait for me, and have a cigarette. My lungs were bursting and he was smoking. Okay, so at least one of us was enjoying the afternoon.
After only 3 ½ hours, we reached the top or knoll where we could see the goats better. By this time, it was about 7:00 p.m., and the sun was drifting low in the sky. We crawled around the grassy top for a better view of the goats, as they fed on patches of grass against the side of a cliff. Of course, my best shot was 250 yards, upward at a good angle, directly to the west and into the sun. So, I had to wait for the sun to go behind a cloud in order to see anything in my scope.
I asked my guide which goat was the better. He looked them over through his binoculars and said the one on the right was the better of the two. I used my backpack for a rest in front, and I extended my rifle across it to line up the shot. As the sun went behind the clouds, I squeezed the trigger for a shot. Dust flew in the rocks just over the goat’s back, as I realized I had missed him. I operated the bolt to engage a second shell and wiped the considerable sweat from my eyes so I could see. It was then that I discovered that I had been bitten by my scope. My guide looked over at me and calmly said, “Holy sh*t, what did you do to your face?” When I looked at my hands, all I saw was blood on my palms and the front of my shirt—not sweat. We hurriedly wiped away the mess, compressed my forehead for a minute, and I took another bead on the goat. Of course, he was not very concerned by all this and continued to feed in the same spot. I shot another round and saw my bullet hit him in the rear hind quarter. Now, the goat continued to graze and drag his left leg with him as he ate. Not only that, but I had hit myself in the head again with my scope. I now had, not only a nice half-moon between my eyes, but I had added another one to it. I would find out later that the two cuts made a nice “X” on my forehead, sort of like “Dummy Here”.
I wiped myself clean again, but I was running out of surgical gauze at this point. Over the next fifteen minutes, I shot the same goat five times. Only after the fifth shot did he stop his eating long enough to collapse and die. He never moved more than ten feet from where I first shot him. I have dropped a 1,300 pound brown bear in one shot, but I had to shoot a mountain goat five times in order to distract him enough for him to quit feeding and die. I told my guide to go and get him. The goat was on a ledge about 250 yards away, but the guide had to cross a saddle to get there, down and back up again. I was too tired to walk. I’m guessing it was the blood loss.
As I saw the guide approach the goat, lying on the ground, I observed the guide take off his hat and throw it on the ground. He stomped around the pile of white hair on the mountaintop a couple of times, and I heard the same cursing to which I had grown accustomed in the early mornings. The, he picked up his hat, left the goat, and started back towards where I sat. As he got closer, I asked him what was wrong. He said he had really screwed up good, this time. My 7 ½”-long horned goat had turned out to be a 5 ½ “goat. I asked him as politely as I could how he could make such a freaking mistake, when he had been hired to make the call on a “shootable” animal. Well, I had just used my goat tag to harvest a goat just big enough for a trophy pot-holder. He said he would come back tomorrow and pick up the goat, but that we needed to start back down the mountain. We needed to get to the horses before dark.
Well, if was already 8:00 p.m., and dark was almost upon us, as we started down. My guide made pretty good progress, but I was little less experienced, a little more tired, and a lot more disappointed. It was steep coming up the mountain, but it was just as steep going down. He got farther and farther away from me in the closing darkness, and I called to him to stay closer. Soon, darkness completely covered the mountain, and the dark sky showed only stars and no moon. By the time I reached the tree line, I stepped into a gloom that enveloped me. I was tired, sore, cold, depressed, and my guide had stopped answering my calls. I continued down the mountain, with one hand out in front of me so I wouldn’t fall into too many trees. When the guide finally answered my call, he was far off to my left. I had been climbing down the mountainside for 3 hours at a diagonal, but corrected my descent by heading back sharply to my left. Sure enough, there he was at the bottom with the horses.
Since we were about 3 ½ hours from our spike camp, we headed back down the valley for one of the outfitter’s base camps that was about 2 hours away. It was about 11:00 p.m., and it had started to rain. I later found out that the reason we headed in that direction was that the horses would sense that they were “going home” and could more easily find their way in the dark. We spent the night on the floor of the camp cook tent, under horse blankets. I kept the fire going, while my guide slept. I was hoping that he would reward me with a good tip, when the hunt was over.
The next morning, we started back to our spike camp, along with the base camp cook and his assistant. While the assistant took me on to the camp, the guide and the camp cook went up the mountain to dress my trophy goat.
As I rode into our spike camp, about 36 hours after I had left it, Dave came bounding out of his tent to lecture me about not calling in to say I was going to be late. We shared some laughs that night, as I shared with Dave my growing fondness for my guide.
The next day, Dave and his guide set off again. They had seen some goat, but had not been able to get very close. They had been monitoring the goats’ habits and were prepared to ambush them as they fed that afternoon. I glassed the mountainside opposite our camp, and I saw a good moose in the tall grass up the slope. So, my guide and I started out for the moose. The mountain was steep, but we were on our trusty horses, which were up to the challenge. But, only for a while. On a particularly tricky spot, my horse lost his footing and went down. The trouble was that he went down on my leg and ankle. The horse got up, but I didn’t. My ankle had taken a pretty good turn, and after resting about an hour, we headed back to camp. I later learned that my guide had given me one of the “guide horses” by mistake. The guides were never to allow a hunter to ride on a “guide horse”. I think I know one of the reasons.
I elevated my foot for most of the day, but it was pretty uncomfortable. My guide did all he could to stay out of my way by sleeping most of the day in his tent. I did get up, late in the afternoon, to try out the ankle. It was sore, but I had kept my boot on all day, and the swelling was down. Out of sheer boredom, and after six hours of lying in my tent, I decided to try splitting kindling. Of course, the hatchet was very sharp, and of course I was not very experienced at splitting kindling. It had looked so easy. Without boring you with further tales of bloodletting, I will just say that I used the remaining gauze and tape in the camp to compress the bleeding on my left index finger, where the flesh was now missing. It hadn’t been a good day.
That night, Dave and his guide didn’t return. It was a cold and wet night, and they were on the mountain. They weren’t in camp by morning, and I left with my guide to look for more game. When we returned–still no Dave. Finally, Dave and his guide showed up in the late afternoon. They had spent the night outside, in the rain, with no sleeping bags or heavy jackets. They had no extra food, so they had killed a porcupine with rocks and cooked it for dinner.
I can’t imagine how it tasted without ketchup, but Dave said that he was not very fond of it. They returned the next day to the same spot, got the goat, and brought back their trophy that next night. At least one of us was getting rewarded for the effort put forth.
We had been in the spike camp for about seven days now, and we were running low on food and patience. Dave was still after his sheep, and I was plotting how I could get away with shooting my guide.
On our last day in camp, as it would turn out to be, my guide and I went to the end of the valley and up a side valley to look for game. We stopped on the base of a shale slide, and my guide asked me to wait there while he climbed up over the ridge to see if he could spot anything. I saw that it was about 1:30 p.m., as I watched some young rams play on the cliffs across from where I sat. I glassed for some time, as I waited
for my guide to return. As my watch approached 7:00 p.m., I was on my feet, having shoved my rifle into the scabbard, and had one foot in the stirrup to saddle up and head for the camp (about 2 hours away), when I saw the guide coming over the ridge about 100 yards away. Lucky for him, I had already unloaded my rifle. When he got within shouting range, I asked him where he had been. He said he was at the top, looking for sheep. I politely reminded him that I was not on a sheep hunt. OK, “politely” might be a stretch, but I was out of patience. He finally admitted that he had sat down and gone to sleep. We rode back to the camp in silence, and arrived well after dark.
Out of food, low on morale, and in an area where the outfitter later admitted he had not scouted prior to our arrival, we headed back to the base camp the next morning. The outfitter was in the camp, when we rode in, and I could tell by his eyes when he saw me that he had received the note about my guide, that I had left for him, written during my last late-night visit to the camp. The outfitter and I agreed that it might be best if my guide and I were separated, so I spent the last two days of the hunt with Dave and his guide. We still didn’t see much, but we were able to work on our sense of humor.
The outfitter was convincingly embarrassed by the whole series of events. He agreed he shouldn’t have sent us to an area that he had not scouted. He should have given our guides clearer instructions as to when to bring us out, if game were not found in a finite number of days. He should have searched a little farther for a guide who was not manic-depressive, on medication, and who’s idea of glassing a hillside was to inspect the inside of his hatband for three hours at a time.
Dave and I seem to always have a good time hunting. Each hunt is memorable for its own unique reasons. Dave got a truly excellent mountain goat for his efforts, and I got a double “scope bite” scar between my eyes, a sprained ankle, a lesson in kindling preparation, and a wealth of experience in human behavior. But, God has truly painted a majestic panorama for us in British Columbia. The mountains reach for the sky and are clothed in color and texture you cannot see elsewhere. The air is clear, the water is cold and crisp, and the nights are wrapped in stars like cotton candy. We agree, God willing, we would be back to take it all in again. But, I want to ask about the guides next time.