In 1991 Rocky Mountain goats were successfully transplanted on Revillagigedo Island, at Upper Mahoney Lake in the mountains of eastern Ketchikan, Alaska. In 2006 the first opportunity to hunt these animals was offered through a special drawing, so I threw my hat in the ring. An excited and animated call from a hunting partner informed me that I was successful in drawing one of the coveted tags in 2007—I knew from research this hunt was an opportunity to harvest a potential record-book goat.
As I planned the hunt, I knew I would need help. My longtime friend, David Pope, volunteered to come along for the adventure. We opted to hunt in August, in hopes of favorable weather, although we knew the goat hides would be better in later months. We ultimately decided to hunt the week of August 19, and I chose my custom .54 caliber Hawken muzzleloader as my other companion on this hunt.
On Friday, August 17, I took an opportunity to fly over the hunting area and scout the goat distribution and hopefully locate a concentration of billies. I saw many goats from the air, and made an educated guess about where they were holed up. Bad weather kept David and me grounded on Saturday, so with a forecast of better weather for the next few days, we waited.
On Sunday we drove to the trailhead. The trail winds from the forested valleys up to the alpine, climbing more than 3,000 feet in less than 5 miles. After a 5-hour climb, we set up camp Sunday night and scouted and glassed for goats. We enjoyed watching the local herd of nannys and their young behind camp.
Going For The Goat
In the morning we hiked down the valley below camp and climbed up the backside of John Mountain. We spotted a large goat on the southwest slope and planned a stalk. As I crawled into muzzleloader range, I crested the hill and came upon eight large billies bedded across a snow field; the closest was more than 100 yards away—and the waiting began.
The billies eventually stood and began slowly feeding over the ridge. One of the largest goats finally fed to a range I thought was close enough for a shot. I carefully took aim and quickly fired. He hardly reacted. Actually, none of the goats reacted. They slowly walked away and fed over the ridge, taking my unharmed intended target with them. There was no sign of the billy being hit—no blood on the snow or on his body. I wasn’t exactly sure what happened. Later I confirmed I’d cleanly missed the goat by misjudging the distance.
Once all the goats fed out of sight, I stood, reloaded and followed them. They crossed 80 yards of snowy field then turned uphill onto a snow bench along a cliff. I followed, trailing about 300 yards behind. I ran around the top of the mountain to cut them off. When I came over the top, four billies were already half way up the next slope and there were more goats—more than 20, but mostly nannies and their young in the saddle below me. Even though they saw me on the skyline, none of them panicked and all continued about their business.
One large billy got out of his bed and began to follow the other goats over the next slope. I thought I saw blood where he was laying and on his side, though I later discovered it was fecal matter, and knew this was my chance to make good. The goat stopped at 125 yards; I aimed low to account for the angle ... and fired. The shot landed under him, directly below where I was aiming.
At the shot, the hillside erupted, and goats ran out from beneath the cliff—literally at my feet. Then out came this white buffalo—a huge billy—and he was easily twice the size of the others.
Of course I was unloaded. I dropped back from sight and reloaded as quickly as I could. Next, I crept forward to see all the goats staring up at me. The big billy was at about 80 yards directly below me. He began to slowly walk away, stopping at about 100 yards, quartering-away hard. I dropped to one knee, aimed where the neck and shoulders met, and fired. The goat flipped over backward, never regaining his footing, then rolled downhill into a small pond where he promptly expired. I reloaded and navigated the cliff to where the goat rested. I waded into the thigh-deep water and pulled him ashore, all the while in awe of his size, horn length and mass.
I climbed back up the cliff and met Dave, who was coming with the packs. We returned to the goat and celebrated our success in taking such a great animal with a traditional muzzleloader. We de-boned and caped the beautiful goat on the mountainside, as the fog and other goats casually came and went.
I thought my GPS broke during the stalk, since it said 1 mile back to camp —and it took nearly 5 hours to get there! The terrain we had crossed to get to the goats was challenging with loaded packs. We collapsed into bed, but were promptly brought from sleep by the early morning ptarmigan alarm. We got up, had breakfast while enjoying the sunrise, packed up and began our 9-hour hike out. For some reason, the trail down seemed a bit harder than the trail up, even with gravity in our favor. The country was fantastic, with spectacular sunsets and sunrises, and I left with a lifetime worth of memories.