image.jpgIn the spring of 2016 we decided to go on a spur of the moment goat hunt with Kodiak Combos. Jeff is a great guy and we had a lot of fun and the opportunity to both take goats, but having not hunted the terrain before we hesitated to shoot for fear of not being able to retrieve the animal, a decision we discussed and decided in the same position we would repeat the choice being ethical hunters and not wanting to waste a killed animal. We knew next to nothing about hunting them and were definitely not in goat shape. We got lucky and connected with a decent billy but went home with the desire to get my hunting partner a goat. My hunting partner got lucky a drew a great tag on the Kenai peninsula and we started asking a lot of questions and learning as much as we could.
The only time we could go was the end of August so we scheduled an air taxi and started preparing for what was supposed to be one of the easier goat hunts in Alaska. Lesson learned, don't believe all you hear on the Internet. 8 weeks before the hunt I had to have a thyroid surgery, then got back to work and blow out a hernia, having quick surgery 4 weeks before the hunt, we thought it was over. Amazing doctor and surgery, and I was fully released and ready to roll, albeit not with near enough exercise. Suck it up and let's do it!
We were dropped on a Upper Hazel lake and flying in saw no goats within several miles of our drop and a tent right where we had planned on getting dropped. Quick change of plans, and off and running. After setting up camp we decided to scout the area and see if we could see any goats for the next day when we were legally allowed to hunt after flying. Nothing in sight after a couple hours of hiking and scoping every nook and cranny of the valley.
Waking the next day, we headed up the valley hiking up to the glacier and traversing several snow slides to get a good view of the back side of the mountain. Nothing. On the return trip we stopped on a large knoll and laid down behind some boulders and started scoping the lake end of the valley. We spotted one big billy about a mile away and one unknown goat about 3 miles away, both at the top of the peaks and above terrain few sane people would attempt without dedicated climbing gear. Walking back towards camp we encountered a hunter with a spotting scope looking at the big billy. His partner was several hundred yards up the mountain laying in wait for the billy to get in a position to allow a shot. We informed the hunter that we would avoid that area and wished them luck.
After discussing our situation in camp, we decided there was too much pressure in the valley and we needed to get out away to increase our odds of harvesting a goat. We decided that odds were the lone goat on the ridge we spotted was a billy from our limited experience goat hunting, and decided it was only possible from the back side of the mountain. We then decided to take a spike camp and set it up when we achieved a decent elevation to eliminate constant climbing. So that night we packed up our gear we had included for this situation and settled in for some good rest.
The next morning found us up before sunrise and off before the sun rose above the mountains. We got to a good vantage point and studied the possible routes up, all of them on steep ridges between waterfalls and creeks, covered in vegetation and alders. After studying the routes we decided to try a narrow ridge that looked reasonably bare of alders and a fairly short route. After fighting through the alders, we came to an extremely narrow area, about 36" wide with 50' sheer drops on both sides, with a couple big alders right in the middle. We discussed it, and both agreed that with the weight of our packs, trying the get through the alders without slipping was more risk than we were willing to take. So at 3/4 of the way up, we turned around. By this time it is getting hot. We planned on all weather conditions but hot sun and blue skies. We attempted 2 other routes to the top, both cliffing out at about 3/4 of the way up, we figured around 1000 feet of ascent/descent each time. It was mid day by this time and we were beat, frustrated, and hot. The decision was made to head back to camp and regroup. From about half a mile away, we thought we spotted a possible way up, memorized it in our heads by "up those two knolls to the yellow bush, up to that lone boulder, turn right through the alders, emerge on the edge of the ravine, then straight up through the alders for about 100 yards until we clear the vegetation then it's just steep open country". In camp we focused on intaking as much water and calories as we could, and scoped the lake valley the rest of the evening. We decided to cancel the spike camp, run super light, not much more than rifle, trail mix, water, and a knife. Also an emergency SOL bivy just incase we didn't get down before dark.
The next morning once again finds the sun beating down on us. Just before this trip I had read Stid's sheep story and kept repeating his quote in my head, "If you don't want to quit at least twice, you are not hunting hard enough". About 10 AM, after fighting alders, parsnip, raspberry bushes, and grass 6 feet tall, my partner was getting frustrated, rifle caught in the alders, losing ground getting untangled, slaps and cuts all over. He was about to the quitting point. As much as I hated that part too, I knew if I said any negative thing we were headed down. I started saying how close we were, maybe 100 good steps until we cleared the vegetation. It wasn't long and we made it. Wanting to quit number one survived!
We threw off the packs, got some calories and water in us and cooled off in the breeze that was nonexistent in the alders. An hour later we are looking over the spot we had saw the goat from the other side, a spot we called the gunsite from the way it stuck up. There was water in the backside and a beautiful grass area. We found a great overlook and lay down to cool off and set in for the long wait. About a half hour in, I was glassing the slopes across from us, look up and a white back is showing above the horizon. Panic set in, did he walk over the peak and spot us and had just turned around? Did we just waste all that work? We began peeking on the backside of the peak thinking if he spotted us he would sneak off that way. All our worries were unfounded, a while later he stood up again and began walking towards our position at about 300 yards. He was extremely close to the edge, and we knew if he didn't drop immediately he was gone. My partner was in the prone position, watching, waiting. Several times he turned towards the cliff, but then after a few moments of panic he meandered down towards the grassy area, which we had ranged at 160 yards. He finally got far enough from the edge that if a second shot was necessary, there would be plenty of time. At 190, he was comfortable with the shot, a perfect broadside was offered, boom. He never took a step, rolled downhill in the gravel a bit, and stopped in a washout. Fist bumping, hugging, and finally breathing again started. It was a great moment and just like you plan it to happen though it rarely does.
We decided the slide was so steep we would empty packs of everything but water, knives, and game bags, leaving our rifles on top of the ledge as it was hella steep and going to be tough coming out on the loose gravel. We were cleaning him and Jeremy looks up, says there's a bear. There is a black bear angling towards us a couple hundred yards away, and there we set with a goat and 2 knives. We started yelling and waving, finally after staring at us awhile he decided to head out, making us happy. We made it to the top with not too much trouble and just a little puckering.
The trip out was that mix of cloud nine and it's miserable in this heat and alders. On the way down it was my turn to cuss the alders and reach my breaking point. I'm 6'5", and downhill is my arch enemy. I can go uphill all day, but aim me down and I start wobbling like Bambi on ice. This time it was my partners turn to be positive, worked out great to have the opposite partner being positive when you were about to explode. We made the valley dripping sweat from the heat and out of water. Stopped to filter a Nalgene bottle each and got to moving. One mile of slight incline, maybe 10-15 degrees, and we are home free. We limped on our borderline blistered feet, burning and on fire, leaned heavy on the poles and kept moving. Made it to camp at around 7 PM, a solid twelve hours of work with about an hour off while laying in wait. Before we even removed our boots we cared for the meat, it was so hot we decided to put the meat in a super heavy duty plastic bag and submerge it in the 45 degree glacier runoff for the night. It worked great and cooled right off. We then soaked our feet in the stream, and reminisced on the amazing day we had just finished.
What a great hunt for an amazing animal that has nothing but my respect and awe. We both managed to take a goat this year and we are officially retired goat hunters with them checked off the list. He ended up being an 8" billy and we were more than thrilled with him, a hard earned animal. We'll leave the rest for others.