By Trevon Stolzfus
Thorough research and rigorous training will improve your chances of arrowing the trophy of a lifetime on a high-altitude mountain goat hunt.
The rising sun found my father and me over a mile from the trailhead, working our way to an adjacent basin to glass for mountain goats. The wind had subsided through the night, giving way to a gentle breeze and setting the scene for a perfect morning.
After glassing extensively for over an hour, we moved to the next bowl. It was beautiful. Nestled in the crags 1,000 yards below us was a tranquil mountain lake. Though the spot was exquisite, it failed to produce a mature mountain goat. Frustrated, I motioned to Dad that we should get up and go back to where we had left our packs. Then I noticed he was frozen in his tracks staring back up the ridge. I followed his gaze to find a mountain goat loitering right next to where we had originally left our gear.
Throwing up my binoculars for a better look, I quickly realized it was just a young nanny that was enjoying licking the sweat from our backpacks for the salt content. With my pulse returning to normal and a smile on my face, we slowly worked our way back to the packs and retrieved our equipment.
The little goat wandered off, and we headed up a knife-back ridge to look into another basin. As we climbed a small outcropping on the ridge, we were surprised to see a herd of 16 or more mountain goats meandering about 250 yards in front of us. I stopped and pulled out my spotting scope to scan for mature goats. The lead goat, of which I only caught a quick glimpse, was much larger-bodied than the rest. I noticed that it was completely slicked off and clean of any of last year’s wool, an indication that it might be a male as the nannies tend to take longer to groom their old hair.
I watched as the herd disappeared behind another rocky knob further down the ridgeline. My adrenaline was pumping. In mere seconds, my mountain goat adventure had gone from discouraging to pure excitement.
Once in a blue moon, an opportunity comes along that combines a hard-to-draw tag, extreme physical challenge, public land hunting, family and pure adrenaline. I had that opportunity recently when I was one of the fortunate hunters to draw a coveted Colorado mountain goat tag.
When I first saw the results posted on the Internet, I freaked. Instinctively, I reached for the phone to contact my local Colorado Division of Wildlife office to clear up what I assumed was a clerical error or a very mean-spirited joke. After a lengthy discussion with the DOW—in which I asked the question “Are you sure?” at least a hundred times—the reality began to set in. I was going mountain goat hunting.
Research is critical for a hunt like this. My first move was to call various wildlife biologists, veteran mountain goat hunters, taxidermists and anyone else who had any knowledge of these mountain dwellers. One tip I got at this time would prove particularly helpful. Jeff Lampe, a fellow bowhunter and good buddy of mine, told me he had used an all-white suit and mask to stalk and kill a mature billy at 7 yards with his recurve bow in the same unit that I would be hunting. Whether the white suit had confused the sheep or simply camouflaged him enough to make his final approach, Jeff was convinced it gave him the time he needed to close the distance and strongly suggested I give it a try.
Over the next month I spent hours scouring maps and researching the various trailheads I would be accessing. It was important that I understood how to best approach each individual point of topography in order to efficiently hunt different locations.
After the snow melted away, I traveled up to my hunting unit to finally do some in-the-field scouting. During my scouting I visited all of the different trailheads and points of interest that I had located on the maps. The specific tag I had drawn was a second season rifle tag, although I would be carrying my bow. On my last few scouting trips I spent time locating various vantage points where I could glass the bluffs and cliffs that some quality mountain goats were frequenting. Finding mountain goats in this unit during the summer months was not difficult, but I was skeptical about how easy they would be to locate later on given the pressure of the first rifle season.
To make sure that I was capable of handling the physical challenges of this high-altitude hunt, I focused my training on increasing my lung capacity and muscle stamina. I added countless miles to my running shoes, mixing in some aggressive hill climbs on the bike to build leg strength. And of course my nightly archery practice took on a new intensity.
As the hunt drew nearer, I decided I wanted to capture the adventure on video. I called my father, who had run great video for me in the past. “You want to go mountain goat hunting?” I asked. He instantly agreed. Earlier that year, he had undergone a partial knee replacement surgery and assured me that this hunt was the perfect motivation to labor through the tough physical therapy. “There’s nothing like the prospect of having to film your spot-and-stalk archery mountain goat hunt to help push me back into tiptop shape,” he said.
The day to leave for the mountain finally arrived, and with excitement and wide-eyed anticipation, my dad and I headed into the high country to set up our base camp and try to spot a trophy billy before opening morning. We chose a spot well below timberline to call home. After we had gathered wood and organized camp, we were itching to scout the last few hours of the day.
Heading up to over 12,000 feet, we sat down and immediately spotted some goats on a distant ridge. The wind was blowing and the temperature felt colder than it really was, but spotting a mature billy and nanny gave us a shot of adrenaline that seemed to warm us to our toes. With a full 24 hours left to scout, we left the ridgeline eager and excited to glass more country the following day.
The next morning found us unable to glass as a thick fog bank sidelined us in camp. But once the sun burned through the fog and we could see past 40 yards, we again made it above 12,000 feet and began dissecting the distant ridges for woolly, white goats. We glassed hard for most of that morning and into the afternoon, but we failed to turn up any mature mountain goats. Apparently the mountain goats weren't fond of the bitter wind and were tucked away in the cliffs, shielded from the icy gusts.
That evening, back at our base camp, Dad and I ate a quick dinner and discussed our options. Based on my prior research and scouting I knew the area held a good number of goats and a few mature billies. Unfortunately, they were very good at keeping out of sight when they wanted to. Finally, after much discussion, we made a plan. The following morning’s sunrise would find us with our packs loaded for the day and hiking to a few distant bowls in order to locate the missing mountain goats we knew called this ridgeline home.
That’s how we found ourselves hustling to keep tabs on the small herd of mountain goats I mentioned at the beginning of this story. Less than 250 yards later, at an elevation of 13,200 feet, we found ourselves out of breath and peeking over a large boulder. Much to our satisfaction, the entire herd was bedded less than 70 yards below on a small, flat bench.
The nearest cover from which to approach the bedded goats was over 50 yards away, and the largest goat in the herd was bedded over 70 yards from the last boulder I could use to hide my approach. After a few minutes of scrutiny and examination through my binoculars, I decided that the lead goat we had seen earlier, now strategically bedded in the middle of the napping herd, was definitely worth pursuing. I also knew that I would have to get creative in order to get within bow range and make this low-percentage stalk work.
Recalling Jeff Lampe’s advice, I pulled on the all-white suit I’d brought with me, thinking, “This idea is so crazy it just might work.” This was the perfect time to think outside the box because the lack of cover gave me very few options.
I set my dad up with his video camera on a tripod in perfect view of the bedded goats. I worked off the edge of the rocks, trying to get the wind in my face so I could approach the herd from the downwind side of the ridge. As I worked my way around the rocky rim and toward the edge of the ridge just out of sight of the bedded goats, I looked up to see my dad giving me the thumbs up sign signaling that the video camera was recording. Realizing I would soon be in sight of the goats, I nocked an arrow and bent over with my rangefinder in hand. I was doing my best to look like just a calm mountain goat out for a morning stroll.
To my amazement, as I closed the distance on the herd I got no reaction from the mountain goats. As I walked into the bedded herd a small nanny—who was less than 6 yards away from me—opened her eyes, lifted her head and looked at me quizzically. Then she returned to her nap. “It’s working!” my brain screamed at me, which in no way helped me control my surging adrenaline.
I glanced up from my crouched-over “goat” position to see the largest goat in the herd stand up in front of me. Quickly, I ranged the large white body as the rest of the herd started to get to their feet. I could feel my heart pumping in my ears as the culmination of all my hard work was coming to a climax. I knew this was the goat I had come to this magnificent elevation to harvest.
My rangefinder read 15.5 yards. As I came to full draw the rest of the herd stood, looking at me as if I had suddenly appeared out of thin air. The big-bodied mountain goat took three steps, giving me a clear broadside shot. I settled my 20-yard pin low behind the shoulder and sent the arrow home.
Mountain goat pandemonium ensued as the confused goats scrambled for the cover of the waiting cliffs beyond. My arrow found its mark, and the wounded goat stopped momentarily, quartering away from me at what I estimated to be just over 30 yards. It was then that I realized that the goat of my dreams now teetered a mere 20 yards from what would be a 1,000-foot plummet to the cliffs below. Not wanting to see my trophy mountain goat take a plunge, I drove a second arrow home. Holding my breath I watched as the beautiful mountain goat dropped its head and crumpled to the ground.
I exhaled a sigh of relief as the mountain goat lay motionless in the snow. This was the pinnacle of my short bowhunting career. I had taken a beautiful Colorado mountain goat on a public-land, do-it-yourself archery hunt; stalked within final bow range using a somewhat unconventional method; captured the whole event on video; and, best of all, shared the experience with my dad.
As I approached the glorious white beast I was shocked to see that it was not a billy, but a very large nanny with massive bases. Honestly, it didn’t matter. This Pope and Young Colorado mountain goat was the trophy of a lifetime and my greatest bowhunting achievement to date.
Overwhelmed with emotion I laid back in the snow and looked up at the brilliant blue Colorado sky. For a moment all was quiet as I replayed the events of the hunt in my mind. All the years of applying for the tag, waiting on the draw results, researching, scouting, working out and practice had been well worth it. I was king of the mountain—at least for a day— in the mountains of Colorado.
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