Before my September hunt in British Columbia, my hunting career consisted of day hunts and a few weekend retreats, drives to hunting lodges and ATV rides to blinds. If you don’t lease land in Texas that’s how you hunt. While I usually took home the game I was after, the adventure was always lacking. So a mountain goat hunt in British Columbia sounded interesting.
I met Dennis Smith of Bear Paw Guide and Outfitters when I attended a local hunting and fishing show. “If you’re in reasonably good shape we can get you a goat,” Dennis told me.
While there were lots of hunting opportunities at the show, Dennis convinced me think this would be the real thing.
The hunt was booked about a year and a half in advance, and I looked forward to it everyday. With 3 months remaining before my trip, I started training more seriously. Running and stair climbing became part of my daily routine. By the time I left for Canada, I was running 60 to 100 flights of stairs per day. I was ready for a goat climb.
Three flights and 12 hours later, I was in Prince George, Canada. Dennis’ wife, Irene, picked the other hunters and me up at the airport. We arrived at the first base camp after an 8-hour car ride on dangerous logging roads. And after 22 hours of traveling I thought hardest part was over.
The next day started early as we prepared for our trip to the second base camp. We spent the morning carefully weighing and putting saddle boxes together. I wasn’t sure why so much effort went into getting the equipment weighed. But I soon found out that saddle boxes that aren’t balanced end up sliding off the horse and down a steep mountainside. By noon we’d arrived at the horse coral and started packing up the horses. Because 14 horses and 10 people make a lot of noise, I didn’t expect to see any game. But in the midst of all this commotion, a large 6-foot black bear crossed the road and stared at us for a moment. Other than television and movies I’d never seen a bear. By the time I found my rifle and loaded up the bear had sensed my intentions and was long gone. It was probably fortunate, though, a rifle blast near 14 partially saddled horsed might not have been the best idea.
Having never ridden a horse before, I was more than a little nervous about a 6-hour trip. Freckles would be taking me to base camp, and luckily she was the most gentle of the lot. The long line of horses started out down a smooth logging road. Looking at the scenery, I thought the trip would be easy until we hit the hills and the road ended. I was amazed that such a large animal could negotiate the shifting rocks, mud and tree roots. Still, the steep hills and rushing streams were difficult on the nerves, but the river crossing was definitely the apex of my anxiety. My initial horse-riding instructions were to jump off if I felt uncomfortable. But the river crossing produced a new set of instructions-don’t let go or get off of the horse. Freckles was the only horse that preferred swimming to walking, but I did what I was told and got across the river. When the horse ride ended and I was a little wet, but still alive and on my horse.
The last leg of our trip was by boat. We enjoyed an 8-mile ride in a 14-foot aluminum fishing boat while our guides led the horses around the lake to base camp. The cabins at base camp were very nice, and with our gear was stored we could eagerly anticipate the next day’s hunt. Fog and rain greeted us on the first day of our hunt. In the mountains of British Columbia the sun could be shining one moment with fog and rain the next. My goat hunt would have to wait for better weather. Luckily, I had four other tags, including moose and black bear. My guide Bill Sydney decided we should look for a moose. We took the boat and trolled around the lake, glassing the shoreline and mountains for moose. After only a half hour we spotted a bull moose by the shore. We banked the boat and stalked the moose for an hour before I fired my shot. It was a small, 2-point moose, but it was pre-rut and the only bull moose we saw during our 10-day hunt. The next two days were spent caring for my “trophy” and enjoying him at dinner.
On Day 4 the fog broke. Our hunting party had divided into two groups. Two hunters went to a higher tent camp, leaving Dane Huels and I at the cabin. Even though Dane and I weren’t as close to the game, our accommodations were much nicer than a tent. It tends to rain a lot in the high country, and grizzly bears seem to like tents full of people food. But staying at base camp meant that Dane, our guides and myself would take daily horse rides in order to get close enough to make stalks. Dennis, Bill, Danny, Corrie, Dane and I made a 4-hour horse ride on Day 4 up to the tree line. We spotted a small billy goat that I was reluctantly talked out of taking. Dennis asked me if I’d like to make a “speculation climb” for a goat on another mountain. The mountain looked small enough from the bottom and I’d climbed all of those stairs at home, so I figured why not. The climb lasted about 2 hours, but it seemed like 2 weeks. The stairs I climbed weren’t very steep and they didn’t shift under my feet with each step. I was gasping for every last oxygen molecule. We didn’t see a goat so we hurried back down the mountain to get back to our horse and camp before dark.
The next morning I felt like I’d been run over by a train. I prayed for fog so I wouldn’t have to get back on a horse or make a climb. Nature obliged, and I spent the day fishing with Dennis’ grandson Tylor Hein. We easily caught our limits of rainbow and lake trout. No one else seemed to think catching those fish was a big deal, but those were my first trophy-sized wild trout.
After my day of recovery and fishing we set out for another mountain. This was a long and difficult 6-hour trip through very rugged country. From a beautiful alpine meadow we spotted a goat, and after watching him for over an hour we decided he was definitely a “shooter.” There wasn’t enough daylight left to make a climb, so we headed back to camp with plans to return in the morning. On the way back to camp, Dennis spotted a black bear in a clear-cut area. My first shot was a nervous, clean miss. Luckily, I missed by so far that the bear didn’t even move. After I caught my breath, my second shot bagged a nice 5-foot black bear. It was getting late, and we quickly skinned the bear so we could complete the final 4-hour horse ride back to camp. Our horses weren’t too thrilled with our new scent and there were a few tense moments before we made it back to camp.
My bear won’t make the Boone and Crockett record books, but I consider it a trophy. The next day in camp was spent getting the bear ready for the taxidermist, so my goat climb had to wait. By the time my bear skin was in the salt shed it was Day 7. The day started out with rain and fog, but within an hour that had lifted and it was sunny. We decided to try to get my goat. Bill and Danny both went with me. I wasn’t sure if my legs could take another climb, but my guides assured me that once I saw the goat my legs would feel better. Unfortunately, they also told me this climb wouldn’t be “easy” like the first climb; we would have to start at the base of the mountain, not the tree line.
We spotted the goat around 10 a.m. Despite very good conditions, we looked for almost an hour and couldn’t completely decide if it was a good goat. Having seen thousands of “goat rocks” over the last few days (and pointing out all the white rocks that looked like goats to my very patient guides), I assured Danny and Bill that this was the goat I wanted to go after. We decided that Danny would climb with me while Bill would keep watching the goat and hand signal us any changes in its position. The climb took about 4 hours, but this time I kept up well and it seemed like only 15 minutes. We reached the same elevation as the goat and went just a little higher. Bill pointed us toward where the goat was resting and indicated that we’d climbed high enough, so we started moving across the mountain face to reach the goat. The excitement was building as we neared closer. A large ridge separated us from the goat, but Danny and I hadn’t seen it since we started the climb.
At the crest of the ridge Bill gave us signals that the goat was 300 to 400 yards away, but horizontal distances when measured from the base of mountains aren’t very accurate. When we peeked our heads over the ridge the goat was only about 70 yards away. I ducked behind the ridge and tried to catch my breath and control my excitement. With a bullet loaded into the chamber I poked my head back up over the ridge. The goat was still there, and it hadn’t sensed our presence. I watched that goat for what seemed like hours-I still couldn’t tell how big its horns were, but I knew it was a shooter.
My first shot didn’t hit its front shoulder target-it struck too low. The goat stood up but didn’t run. The second shot hit the chest and the goat stood there motionless. It took us about 20 minutes to cross the ledge and reach the goat. Danny and I still couldn’t see the goat well, but Bill’s expressions seemed to indicate that I had my prize. Once we reached the goat, however, it was still standing even though the second shot had caused severe pulsatile bleeding from the chest. Surveying the landscape, it was clear that the goat need only take a few steps to become difficult to recover. A third close-range shot with my 300 Weatherby sent the goat down the mountain.
The goat tumbled about halfway down the mountain before stopping in a shin tangle of low-lying coniferous plants. We scrambled down the mountain after the goat. Danny walked while I mostly slid down on my backside. Going down a mountain might not be as exhausting as climbing it, but it’s certainly nerve racking and dangerous. When we reached the goat we could tell this was a nice trophy, with over 9-inch horns that amazingly weren’t broken.
We took a few pictures before the goat was cleaned, butchered and packed on the steep cliffs. The job was slippery and we managed to hold our footing while cleaning the 250-pound animal. When I’d left for this trip it was August, and 100 degrees in Texas. When we started cleaning the goat it began to snow. The sweat from our climb combined with the wind shift and snow made for a cold two hours. Coming down a mountain is dangerous. Coming down a mountain loaded with goat flesh and hide, while it’s raining and snowing is even more dangerous. One bad decision and either one of us could have fallen 1000 feet. This wasn’t like climbing stairs.
Danny and I were both exhausted and decided we’d really like to make it back to a warm, dry camp before nightfall. It was nearly 6 p.m. by the time my goat was packed and it turned pitch dark by 10 p.m. We were halfway up the mountain and still had a 4-hour horse ride to make it back to camp, so the numbers weren’t adding up very well. We knew we’d have to at least make it back into the tree line to survive the night. We did better than that and made it all the way back to Bill and the horses. Bill had already made a fire and some hot coffee; a horse tarp was fashioned into a makeshift tent that would keep most of the rain off our backs; and the warm fire dried our clothes despite the persistent rain and snow. I was glad to have two people who possessed survival skills.
Although the mountain was grizzly country, we decided that riding horses down a steep mountain at night would be more dangerous than staying the night. Plenty of wood was available and we all agreed to stay awake all night and make noise to keep the bears away. The rains stopped and the coffee helped-thank goodness Bill anticipated an over-nighter. I desperately wanted to keep my prize goat in my lap (with my loaded rifle) to protect it from any grizzlies. Danny and Bill both agreed it was a trophy, but not one that was worth fighting a grizzly for in the middle of the night. Usually the customer is always right, but Bill and Danny weren’t going to have the goat in our tent. The majority ruled and my goat spent the night 50 yards away; my gun spent the night with me.
We survived the night and headed back to camp at first light. On the way back I started thinking about how vulnerable I was if my guides had been hurt or lost. I’m not sure I would’ve been able to start or maintain a fire. How would I have found my way back to camp? I never realized how much faith I put in my guides on an adventure hunt. Wilderness survival skills aren’t easily obtained when you live in a Texas resort town.
The next three days were spent fishing and spotting for caribou. I was foolish enough to also get that tag. Although a mountain caribou was spotted on Day 9, A 3-hour climb with some very tired legs produced no caribou and my hunt was over. The ride out of camp was more enjoyable. It turns out you get used to riding horses when you do it for 10 days. My first real hunting adventure was a huge success. I still don’t know what Dennis meant by “reasonable shape,” but I managed. While the trip was far more than I’d bargained for, it was a great deal of fun. I made some good friends and some great memories.