Please if you know where any of these spots are, keep it to yourself. Otherwise I will ask that the thread be deleted.
Short story very long:
Like every hunter, Dad and I were always looking for a “secret” trail or an easy trail to hunt off of that no one knew about. We spent more time exploring and looking for old forgotten trails than we did hunting when I was growing up. Don’t get me wrong, I loved every minute spent in those horrible, mosquito infested swamps. We didn’t kill a ton of animals but the memories we made together are priceless. As the seasons passed we never did find that mythical trail.
In 2011, my brother in law Ben and I decided the easiest way to get away from people is to work harder than most are willing to. Wait, the easiest way is harder? Leaving motorized vehicles behind, we decided to hunt moose by walking into areas a four wheeler couldn’t go. That year we tipped over a 57” bull 12 miles from the truck. It was 4 miles from kill to camp and we packed all but one load to camp that day. The following morning we woke early and finished getting the meat to camp. Thankfully my Dad made the trip in to help us get the moose out. That final day was 24 miles for Ben and I, for my Dad it was 32. The mileage wasn’t as big of an issue for those two since their hobbies include running in the Alaska Mountain Race series. Having trained very little, my knees had enough of my shenanigans. The last few miles were more stumbling than walking as it felt like my knee caps were separating. To date, that is the most grueling thing I have ever done. I paid for that hunt with crippling soreness for several weeks. I actually had to walk down stairs backwards because it hurt my knees so badly. Vowing to never let that happen again, my training regimen has increased vastly. I still won’t subject myself to mountain races for just t-shirts though.
In the summer of 2002, in one of our secret spot areas, we decided to explore an old miner’s trail up an “unnamed” creek bed. Mom decided she would tag along with us for the day as it seemed like a good opportunity for a hike. It was easy walking but the creek crossings quickly had our feet numb. The day was very hot and we had packed sandals to cross not knowing how many times we’d have to cross that creek. As the elevation rose, so did the banks of the creek as they quickly turned into cliffs. That day we decided it wasn’t the easy route we had hoped for. In 2014, with fresh perspective on hunting and what it takes to be successful, I decided to revisit that creek route. That summer even though there was bear sign everywhere, I didn’t kill anything on either trip into the area but I did see a big billy. He was all alone, 600 yards away and couldn’t have cared less that I was watching him. It wasn’t the species I was after but it definitely grabbed my attention.
Last fall during the State of Alaska Mega Millions Lottery, I added a DG tag to my list of hopefuls. The good Lord blessed me and I drew that goat tag the very first time I applied. If only I could have a similar blessing on buffalo, going on close to 20 years trying for that tag. With nightmares of knee pain still in my head, I knew better than to underestimate a goat hunt. I began hiking Lazy three nights a week after work and on weekends. Being married with two kids, running a bait stand, working full time in Anchorage (I live in Palmer), and trying to get in shape for a goat hunt, I was a busy fool for several months.
My bait stand turned out to be a second full time job but it was a good investment of my time. My solo customer had been a griz for over a month. It was fun looking at the pictures on the game camera of its movement through the evenings and nights. On one particular Sunday evening my grandma called and informed me she had a grizzly in her trash can behind the house, I threw everything in the truck in burned out to find nothing but scattered trash and the neighbor skinning a small grizzly in his front yard. Apparently it had wandered just down the road into the wrong yard. As I was sourly cleaning up trash for my grandma I saw movement out of the corner of my eye on the airstrip. It was a large coyote trotting along, I dashed into the house grabbed my gun and cracked off a round. It was only after that I remembered I was packing a .300 RUM loaded for griz. Needless to say, it dropped in its tracks with a messy spray behind it across the grass. The hide didn’t fare well but the moose calves will thank me.
Close to the final weekend of baiting, I was going through my ritual when I had an uneasy feeling that I was being watched. I slowly turned my head to see a black bear sitting 50 feet away watching me. I slowly turned and grabbed my gun off of the four wheeler, which still blows me away that the noise hadn’t scared it away, the bear briskly started walking towards me literally as I was clicking the safety off. I had planned on using my bow and having my daughter in the stand with me but the bear had other ideas. I cracked two shells into the bear quickly and watched it lay a short distance away for what seemed like hours. It was very surreal how the whole thing happened. I called my wife to break the news and heard my daughter throw a fit in the background. She was hacked off that Daddy didn’t wait for her. She loves hunting squirrels and was with me when I got my caribou last fall.
With the bait stand down and cleaned up, training was in full swing and going well. Ben and I decided to hike up the dubbed “Goat” Creek for a weekend scouting trip. The weather was beautiful and even sunburned my shoulders. It was great being up in God’s country again, I love the high mountains. If one never left their computer screen or their concrete jungle, I can see how the existence of God could be questioned. Step into God’s office, if you will, and tell him you don’t believe. The beauty and power of the mountains are amazing and well worth the price of admission. We didn’t spot any goats that day but taking my nephews into that country made the trip.
By the time goat season finally opened up I felt like a kid on Christmas morning. I had been planning and dreaming all summer about this trip. We missed the first week due to work and the Lost Lake race for Ben and my sister. They needed to scout the trail for the race the following weekend. When the hunt started I finally felt calm for the first time in a month. All the planning and preparations that went into this hunt, the 13 years prior heading up into this beautiful country that planted the seed, all those trips up Lazy, I have never felt more prepared for the task. We hiked that day with high spirits not knowing what the mountains and God had in store for us.
By the eighth mile with camp on our backs we were getting close to where the goats should be. It was approaching darkness and we were looking for a place to camp when I spotted a white rock that looked out of place. Dropping my pack, out came the glass. There was a lone billy perched well above everything watching the valley. We glassed him for fifteen minutes before deciding on a suitable tent site and dragging our gear out. After camp and a quick dinner, I grabbed my binos and headed up to a perch. The goat had decided to take an evening stroll across the mountain face. Staying out of reach he worked his way hopping from ledge to ledge with ease. As the evening progressed, he began to work his way further down the rock face, zig zagging back and forth he got lower and lower, getting very close to a rock scree that looked doable. I dropped low and scurried down the hill to the tent to let my partner know it was time for a walk. At this point Ben was near sacked out in his sleeping bag trying to catch up on some much needed sleep. I grabbed my .270 WIN and quickly mumbled something about a goat dying tonight. As Ben stumbled out of the tent trying to make sense of the situation, I ran head long up a part of the hill that the goat couldn’t see. Running up the hill had me sweating horribly so I shed a few layers and left everything unnecessary in a pile with rocks stacked on top because it was howling (more on that pile later). All those trips up Lazy really paid off when it came time to cover that elevation and meet the goat at the scree chute. Being now level with the goat, I began to stalk across the hill towards where I had last seen it. At 200 yards, that little white head poked over a small ridgeline and busted me. I completely froze, in the wide open, no cover for 20 yards. He stared at me for what felt like hours as my legs began to tremble from being in half crouch. I can only attribute this to my gear, dusk was upon us and he could not see me. He had heard the rock I clumsily kicked loose while traversing but decided after a good look, that the hill was still his. Calmly he turned his head and looked back out across the valley. I made my move and scrambled to cover, he definitely heard that but I was well hidden with only a barrel and a bump sticking above the rock I was behind. To get a better look, he took the exact steps needed to give me a shoulder. I waited for his head to clear the shoulder and squeezed one off. He dropped out of sight as I reloaded and watched the rocks above to see if he was able to escape.
Ben had moved to where I had been glassing from and was hunkered down behind the spotting scope. I could make out Ben’s silhouette but he wasn’t moving from the glass. My stomach began to turn as I watched him, I didn’t want to rush across the hill for fear of giving the goat one last burst of energy but I knew he wasn’t dead. Slowly I crept over each ridge until I saw the goat, standing on a small ledge with his head hung low. Lying down, I prepped myself for a second shot, this time at over 400 yards. The second shot felt true but the goat walked to a point of the rock face I couldn’t see. Again I turned to Ben and watched him, he hadn’t moved from the glass. Doubt began to creep into my mind regardless of how hard I tried to stay positive. It was now too dark to see Ben very well and I knew I needed the gear I had left behind.
Setting my gear down proved to be one of the poorest choices I have made while hunting, that pile included my puffy coat, rain jacket, binos, and headlamp. I walked that hillside over and over looking for my gear. Sitka gear under a stack of rocks? Now I knew why the goat couldn’t make out my shape. By the grace of God, I found my stuff. Turning on my headlamp and pulling my coat on was a great feeling but I still had that goat to address. I pulled my binos up and glassed Ben, I refuse to point a rifle scope at anyone even if I know the gun isn’t loaded, to my surprise he had broken down the tripod and headed back to camp. Was the goat dead? Was it running into the next valley? Only someone who has hunted knows the feeling I had in that moment. Ben briskly marched up the hill away from my direction, scrambling I caught up to him hoping for good news.
He was grinning from ear to ear and high fived me, “Great job man!” The feeling of relief that rushed over my body was heavenly. After my first shot, the goat had slowly walked over to the ledge and stood unmoving. My second shot rang out and pushed him just around the corner. What I couldn’t see from my vantage point was that he was swaying back and forth until finally in a last dying effort, he leaped from the ledge, bounced off another and crashed into the hillside below. The whole time he was recounting his point of view I floated, yep floated, over to that goat. Laying my hands on that incredible animal was amazing. I silently said a prayer of thanks and began cutting. Now completely dark, we worked by headlamp to remove his guts. It was cold and I felt confident leaving him there overnight. Sleep came quick but so did sunrise. We hiked back up to the goat and finished skinning him into game bags. With packs loaded we trudged back to camp which broke down quickly.
The trip out was uneventful, we pushed until 7:00 PM that day and decided to camp for the evening. Coming down the final hill in the dark wouldn’t have been a smart move on wobbly legs. We woke early to the sound of rain on the Hilleberg, broke down camp again and headed out. By the time we reached the truck, the creeks were dryer than we were. It was comical watching the water run out of the bed of the pickup which was covered by a canopy. With the heater blasting, we headed back to Palmer. On the trip back I reminisced about all those trips with my Dad. Without him I never would have been on this hunt.
Take your kids hunting, they’ll never forget it.