Fair warning, I did not notch my tag. So if all you read these stories for is a kill photo, you are in for a long, boring hunting story. This is a recount of the billy who got away.
I started out with an 11 mile trek back into the area I had been doing some scouting in during the summer. I knew there was one big billy in the area who had been hanging out all by his lonesome. I just had to locate him. I got to the base of the mountain I intended on climbing by 1400. Upon reaching this point I pulled out my binoculars and did some glassing before starting up. Much to my surprise, the first goat I spotted was the billy I had come for. I could not fathom my luck. He was below tree line, and I did not have to pull out my spotter to confirm that it was him!!
My spirits were extremely high; I sat down to compose myself and devised a plan to get above him by the end of the afternoon. I decided to take a little bit of time on the front half of the stalk to plan a route up to him in hopes of saving time. By then it was just after 1400 and darkness was rapidly approaching. Maybe, if I was lucky, I'd have him anchored before sundown!
A long, arduous trek to the billy ensued. I'll be the first to admit: It was not fun! As the story goes, the alders were much thicker than it appeared from below. The empty expression on my face communicates it all.
It had taken me longer than I anticipated to get above tree line where it was easier to pick my route down to the billy. By the time I reached tree line it had crept up on 1600. I had four hours or so of daylight left, but I knew the sun would creep behind the ridge to the west around 1845ish, and that is when the chill would set in. I took a moment to devise a plan and basked in the glow of the mountainside before I continued onward and upward.
I was (roughly) above the billy around 1800. I had not located him at this point, but before I started up I had marked on my GPS about where I thought he was milling around. I used my waypoint to judge about where he should be and scoured every opening beneath me and across the drainage. The wind was out of the south at about 15-20 mph. I was not overly concerned with the falling thermals as they took my scent downhill. However, I had made sure to circle around, probably way farther than necessary, to the north so I could work back to him with the wind in my face. Circling to the north probably took 30-45 minutes of daylight away from me, but I easily justified it. Being meticulous is something in which I pride myself. By now it had closed in on 1900, and I really wanted to find the billy before dark so I could either: 1) Put a round in him or 2) Put him to bed and devise a plan for first thing the next morning.
I moved quietly through the spongey, unstable moss-covered rock outcroppings that the hillside consisted of. Spoiled blueberries were EVERYWHERE; I would have had a great feast on them had they not been soft and mushy. The site of the former stage of bear manure rightfully brought my bear senses up from content to tingling. Luckily no run ins that night.
Just before I was ready to climb back up to find a flat spot to make camp, I decided I would sit on a ledge and glass until I could barely see anymore. The spot I chose had a jagged ridge just behind me to keep me from being sky-lined, and a steep drop off below me so I had a wide range of view directly below me and down the hillside across the drainage. Perfect. This picture is in route to this little ledge. As you can tell daylight had departed and the clutches of darkness had settled in.
Just before I decided to call it a night, I saw something. I figured it was my eyes playing tricks on me, you know how it goes. As day turns to dusk, you start turning rocks into animals, at every outcropping you look at. Luckily, this same darkness allowed me to pull out the spotter and tripod and get all set up.
There he was 450-600 yards out and a couple hundred feet below me, totally unsuspecting of the nimble-footed hunter peering at him through the darkness. I watched him for 20 minutes as he worked his way toward me. Up and down the whole way, it looked as if he was searching for the perfect spot to spend the night. Of course, he found it. 300 yards from me on a sheer cliff with escape routes up and down.
I put him to bed and headed up to make camp. I had dinner and hunkered down for a long night of restless sleep. All I could think about was that billy on that ledge below me. Would he move in the night? Would I be able to discover him before he uncovered me the next morning? Would I have company in the middle of the night? I had seen a lot of bear sign. Would the wind ever stop? Would it turn to rain? Or worse, freezing rain? If that happened it sure would have been nearly impossible to get off the mountain. Everything would turn to ice; **** I sure was missing my micro spikes I left at home.
My thoughts raced for a few hours before I finally nodded off. I woke up about every two hours through the night. The wind was still howling out of the south, which was good because I camped north of the billy. It took years for 0400 to come. But it finally had. I donned my head lamp and boiled up some coffee. I sat there devising a plan while I stuffed my pack full of everything but my Kifaru tarp and pulled out my spotter. By then I had dilly dallied long enough that it was past 0500 and the sun was beginning to rise. I pulled the east side of my tarp up and glassed the opposite hillside up towards the peak of the mountain. Maybe I'd find another billy or a barren nanny. I'd hate to spook goats that would be easier to get to than my already located animal.
I did not see anything, so I packed up and cautiously headed down towards the billy. I did not want to move before daylight because I feared he might have moved in the night. I would have hated to move in the dark in fear of letting him get a whiff of me or catch me closing in a final stalk before I could locate him. So I played the still hunt game as I hopped from ridge to ridge.
On my way to my eventual glassing spot, I had a slight run in with a sow black bear and her two cubs. They came into view at 15 yards. Momma saw me, and I saw her right about the same time. She let me rack a round into my rifle and slowly back away. I watched her, and she watched me until I had worked my way off of their ridge and out of site. Thankfully, that was the end of that encounter. Onto the billy goat. I eventually got to a great glassing spot across the drainage from where I had last seen him. I hunkered down and started to glass.
After 10 minutes or so I turned him up. He was still on the same ledge, just chewing on some foliage, peering downhill. I had gotten closer than I intended because in the dark everything feels farther than it is, at least in my experience. My mistake. What I thought had been 450-600 yards had been half that distance! I was within 300 yards where I sat right now. The perfect ridge directly lay between us. If I snuck down to it that would put me within 200 yards easily. A chip shot.
If I wanted to slip down to the crest between us I would have to back track and find a route onto the ridge. When he was facing the other direction I made my move. It was a solid 15 yards to get back behind cover. I did it slowly and hunched over. I made the mistake of turning my back to him, but it was the only safe way to make the maneuver on the slick mossy rock face. When I got behind cover I checked on him. Still looking the other way. Thank God.
I scampered down to the ridge, slipped my pack off and drug it behind me to use as a rest. I peered over the ledge and saw the white mountain monarch sitting on his perch. He still had his escape routes, up and down. It was just the beginning of the day so I figured for sure he would work his way up seeing as it was the shortest route to flatter earth and a good food source with water. The escape route down was steep and narrow, even for a goat. I could have easily shot him where he was, but I would never have been able to retrieve him. It was far too steep to get down to him, and if he took a fall off his ledge, well if I did ever find
him in one piece, I would have had plenty of goat burger waiting for me at the bottom. Thus, the waiting game began. At least I had a good view.
I posted up in a position where I could see his back and I had a tree blocking his head. I would for sure see him whenever he stood up, but I had ample cover so if he did stand up I wouldn't be given away. I mentioned I was lying on a ridge, by now I worked my way down a little further and used the trees between him and me as cover, this would make my shot more flat and provide me with more ability to move around. A win-win.
I sat on that rock all morning. He would reach out to one side and gather his morning meal for half an hour or so, then he would lie there watching below him, chewing his cud for the next hour or so. He would repeat the entire process a few times. He did this from the time I got to him which I can only figure was about 0715-0745ish, until sometime in the 1000 O’clock hour when he finally stood up. He looked uphill; this had to be my opportunity. I lay down with my pack as my rest, found him in my scope and waited. He picked his way partway up the cliff, almost to the ledge where I could anchor him and begin my route to my sought-after table fair.
As luck would have it, he ate there for a few minutes eventually returning back to his ledge!! I could not believe it. I had waited hours! I wanted to scream at him for toying with my emotions, but instead I hunkered in for a long afternoon.
He went about his day, milling around on that tiny ledge like he knew I was watching him. I had the steady south wind so I knew he could not have scented me. Maybe he had seen me? I was beginning to doubt myself.
However, I hoped that patience would pay off, so I sat there, and sat there, and sat there. A few cups of coffee and Cliff bars later, and as I knew he eventually would, at 1630 he finally stood up again. Now this time I knew for sure he had to move off that freaking cliff! Joke’s on me, AGAIN! He spun around to face the other direction....
That tipped me off; was the wind beginning to change? Had I gotten complacent and quit paying attention to the wind? I was on his level instead of above him because I wanted to be more comfortable. STUPID ME!
Never give in to your un-pleasantries.
I had an ideal rocky face behind me and I had gotten so caught up in when this guy was going to stand up that I had quit paying attention to the one thing that could give me away, the wind! I poked my head up and felt the north breeze stiffen. I knew there was some expected weather to roll in a few days into my hunt, but I did not expect it to roll in this early. I had a choice to make. Wait the billy out until dark in the impending rain and hope that the temps did not switch to freezing, or start home while I could still navigate safely... I chose to wait as long as I felt safe. If I moved at this point, he would see me and the gig would be up. With looming weather on my back and the wind nowhere close to being in my favor, I hunkered down and hoped the goat gods would be on my side just this once. I knew my scent was probably swirling around with the lay of the land, but I might be just elevated enough to be in the clear. Luckily my scent never got down to him. He laid right there in the nasty blowing rain.
Sadly, about 1845 the rain turned to sleet, and I knew what that meant for my decent. I was cursing myself for leaving those micro spikes at home. Luckily, I found a route to back out without being seen. I carefully slipped off of the ridge and backed out not spooking the billy of lost hopes and dreams. He lived to see another day.
I made my way back down the mountain with no time to feel regretful as it was slicker than snot. I had a few instances where I was not sure if I was going to stop sliding on the icy rock faces, and of course the only thing to grab was devils club. I am still picking the festered pieces out. I eventually made it down with a few bumps, bruises, and splinters, but thankfully in one piece. I look back and wonder what would have happened had I fired off a warning shot to try and get the billy to move off his perch. I am regretful that I did not try that, but my gut was telling me to let things play out and not force my hand.
Sadly, things did not work out in my favor. The unit closed days later due to emergency order before I could get back after my long lost cotton ball of a billy. Success is defined differently by each man. However, when undertaking a solo goat hunt, my number one priority was and always will be coming home in one piece, which thankfully I achieved.
The goats won this round, but I will be back next year for my showdown with the big billy. God willing, I will stumble upon him again next fall. Happy hunting.
Can't shoot 'em where they ain't.