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Thread: Baranof Billies, 2007

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    Member 8x57 Mauser's Avatar
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    Talking Baranof Billies, 2007

    I've really enjoyed the stories folks have posted of their hunts the last couple of years since I started up with the forums. So, I thought I’d write up the mountain goat hunt my father, brother, and I took this year, and share it with you.

    We flew into a lake on Baranof Island – same place we went last year. We used Harris Aircraft Services for our flyout. They’re nice folks, they’re professional, and they’re safe. Last year the weather was classically Southeast – constant blowing rain and low ceilings – and we held up in Sitka a day before flying out. They made it very clear last year that if the weather isn’t safe, the plane wouldn’t go. I appreciated that. This year the weather was abnormally beautiful almost the entire trip.

    We flew in the night of 7/30 and got our gear sorted at base camp. My brother climbed way, way up the trees, and hung pulleys so we’d be ready to go if we got meat. I’ve never seen a meat hang so high – the bottom of the lowest game bag ended up being about 12’ up, and 4’ off the closest tree. We felt like when we got back, we'd be as bear-safe as possible.



    After a night at base camp, we hiked the morning of 7/31 for the spike camp. We’d sorted out the best routes the year before, so there was a minimum of brush-busting and alder-wrangling. The stream banks were still no fun with spike camp and four days of food on our backs, but it sure beat thrashing through as much devil’s club as we had the year before. There was a light mist all day, so we wore our raingear. We wouldn’t have gotten too wet from the mist, but the damp brush would’ve sogged our clothes right through. Let’s hear it for Impertech!

    We made our spike camp at about 1300’ elevation, on a saddle where the deer tracks gave way to mountain goat tracks. 1100 calories apiece got us ready for bed – we’d lugged an awfully big tent up to spike camp.



    Opening day dawned with bright, blazing sunshine. Given last year’s constant rain, that was a really nice surprise. We boiled water for breakfast, filtered some for our water bottles, and got out the binoculars. Glassing the ridgelines to either side of us found no goats, so we decided to head north, where we could climb to a peak that would let us glass further ridges. No sooner had we finished eating than another sweep with the binoculars found goats working a ridgeline in the other direction. Sometimes plans change like that…

    Out came the spotting scope. The season is open for either sex, and only the taking of nannies accompanied by kids is prohibited. Our priority wasn’t taxidermy – we were looking for legal animals to eat. Thus the question to be answered with the spotting scope was whether the four goats we saw were a nursery group, nannies who hadn’t reproduced (or who lost a kid), or a bachelor band.

    Time here for a mea culpa: I’ve suggested in the past that while a spotting scope is worthwhile weight to pack on a mountain hunt, a tripod may not be necessary. I take it back. Nestling the spotting scope on my pack worked well enough to get a good look at the goats, but it was a giant pain in the neck (and one elbow). It’s worth an extra pound or so to bring a lightweight tripod.

    After a good look, we decided it was a band of four billies – there were dark stains on all their rumps, gradual curves to their horns, close-set horn bases, and none of them were kid-sized, although one was pretty clearly in his first summer with the big boys – different enough in size to give us a few minutes’ pause.

    We beat feet for the peak.



    By the time we got up there, picking our way among the boulders and scrub hemlocks, the goats were in their beds. We crept quietly around the mountaintop for a while, and stalked the ridgeline peering carefully down to try and see them bedded below, but the goats were in hiding.

    Around three in the afternoon, Dad decided to make for spike camp. We set a check-in time to turn on the walkie-talkies and make sure everyone was OK, and my brother and I agreed to radio Dad when we started back down. He offered the great luxury of getting food ready for our return, and we weren’t about to turn that down.

    Then came the discussion. My brother was sure the goats had gone in one direction to bed in a certain area of cliffs. I was convinced they’d gone another. We talked it over and figured out there was a spot on the mountain where we could sit about 30 yards from one another and each see the area we thought the goats were most likely to come from when they got up for an evening feed on the high slopes.

    We worked out a signal in case the bachelor band formed up again. Each of us had a good-sized rock we could drop to alert the other – in hopes we might each get a goat. The area we were hunting was so steep it had many naturally-occurring rockfalls each day, and we figured a falling rock wouldn’t spook the goats, as long as it wasn’t followed by immediate scampering by the other hunter. The plan was to sit still for a minute if you heard a rock, then look for an opportunity to join the other guy.

    By 3:30 we had each settled in – my brother on a flat space between two large rocks, and me in a dirt bed the goats had kicked out.



    That's a Model 70 Classic, for anyone interested, with a Leupold VXII on top - 3-9x40.

    (To be continued...)

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    Member 8x57 Mauser's Avatar
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    Default Continuation...

    We carefully chose spots where we didn’t leave a silhouette against the sky. We reapplied bug spray to hands and wrists, cinched our head nets down around our necks, and settled in to wait in the warm sunshine, light breeze, and clouds of blackflies and whitesox. Naturally, the enterprising ones climbed up my pant legs and bit above my socks.

    Still, by 5:00 or so my mind was wandering. I didn’t need binoculars to spot goats on the slopes I was watching, but I glassed slopes across the valley, and what I could see of the ridgeline my brother was watching. We didn’t really expect them to come uphill for another couple of hours, so sitting still and quiet was the only job.

    Until, of course, I put down my binoculars and there, 40 yards below me on a flat rock that was my lower horizon, was a billy goat. I hadn’t seen him climb up there, but he clearly saw me. He stood, chewing a little and watching alertly as I slowly closed the bolt on my rifle and raised it to my shoulder. His ears were twitching something fierce – the bugs had pretty clearly driven him out of his bed.

    I knew there was some distance down below him before the real cliffs got started, but didn’t relish the thought of shooting him head-on. It’s not an ideal killing shot, and mountain goats have a reputation for durability. Besides, there’s no doubt that 180-grain Kodiak bullets doing 2760 fps from my 30-06 would penetrate far enough to make the field-dressing job awfully messy if I shot him from front to back.

    So, for half-a-minute or so, the goat and I stared at each other. Then I heard, from the direction where my brother sat, a series of bangs and thuds. Why, I thought, is he dropping a rock? I knew he could see me looking through my riflescope. I knew he could see the goat from where he was sitting. Was he trying to spook it so it would turn? I have to confess I thought some uncharitable things as I held the crosshairs on the goat, which luckily acted as though he hadn’t noticed the noise.

    After a few more seconds, the billy decided to move on. Whether he planned to graze in a different direction or walk back down to the cliffs, I wasn’t sure, but he wasn’t panicked. As he turned almost broadside, I pulled the trigger. The billy flinched, but didn’t take off at the shot. I put another round in the chamber and watched through the scope. At just 40 yards, I could see where I’d hit him, and settled the crosshairs a little farther forward. The goat stood for what may have been 15 seconds, or may have been a minute (I was excited, and time has a way of dilating and contracting when a hunter’s adrenaline gets pumping.) Then the goat got ready to leap off his rock, and I pulled the trigger again. He fell sideways off the rock, and I jumped to my feet, racking the bolt once more.

    I saw the billy kick his legs and get back up, but I was already moving down slope to my left – the safest way to descend toward him. The goat’s lower elevation after falling made it impossible for me to anchor him from where I stood. Moving as fast as I could on the steep, slick slope, I got down a little further and looked down and to my right for the goat. I couldn’t see it.

    Surely, I thought, he can’t have sprinted for the cliffs that fast. My brother was bounding down to the right of where the goat fell, and I continued down slope as fast as I could, thinking only that I might need to shoot the goat once more to keep it from the cliff below. I periodically looked back up, to see if I’d passed him, but saw nothing. We went down another 60-80 yards past where the goat had been, and I really started to worry. There was no sign of the billy, and all that stood between us and about an 1100 foot drop was a dense patch of scrub hemlocks. I started lowering myself down along one edge of them, hoping to find the billy in his final bed. When I could go no further, I plunged myself sideways into the hemlocks. I took 20 minutes to crawl up through about 30 feet of twisted, gnarled branches with my rifle, but there was no goat in there. When I emerged at the top, my brother told me he’d navigated down the other side to the edge of the precipice – and saw nothing.

    It’s a terrible feeling when the realization hits you that you’ve lost an animal. There’s no question it was dead. I had shot it twice in the vitals. But I wasn’t going to get to care for the meat. I wasn’t going to get to feed it to my children. I had pushed myself into the cycles of life in this area, and wasted an animal. The bottom of my stomach dropped slowly to my knees. I tried to comfort myself with the bromide that nothing is truly wasted in nature – that the carcass would feed ravens and insects and weasels and voles – but it didn’t really help.

    My brother went up toward his pack to radio Dad and let him know what happened. I made my way laterally across the rocks to one last scraggly patch of shrub where the goat might, possibly, on the longest of outside chances, have hung up. Making my way over to the shrub along a crack in the sheer rock, I realized I’d have a hard time getting goat meat out of there, but I had to look.

    No goat.

    Making my way back I reached a decision: I was going to run up over the mountain peak, back down the other side, go right past spike camp and down around the base of the mountain to where I could bust brush up to the base of the cliffs and search by headlamp. If I went flat out, maybe I’d find the goat before a brown bear did. I estimated it would take four hours to get there and start looking.

    With my teeth set, I started back up the slope toward my pack. I’d taken about ten steps when I heard my brother shout a word I won’t post here. He followed it with “It’s right here! Your goat’s right here, and it’s definitely a billy!”

    I let out a whoop of joy and felt 10 lbs of weight leave my chest. I scrambled up slope as fast as I could and arrived at the goat, panting like crazy from the exertion. The mountain goat may have taken a step or two after struggling to its feet, but not many. It fell, rolled perhaps once or twice, and flopped onto its back where its horns hung up in the rocks.



    My brother and I ran right past it on either side.

    In the time it took me to get upslope, my brother had radioed Dad. When he reported we’d gotten a goat, Dad replied, “Great! Then we have two!” It turns out; my brother hadn’t dropped a rock at all. That was Dad’s shot from the other side of the mountain, echoing off the various cliffs and peaks nearby. We’d shot our billies fewer than 60 seconds apart.

    Here’s mine – the same picture I posted on the ‘hunting photos’ sticky.



    My brother and I dressed and skinned the goat, each taking half the weight back to spike camp. As the sun sank lower and lower toward the distant ocean, we tied meat and hide onto our packs and headed back over the mountaintop. As we worked our way down, and were beginning to lose light, my brother dug out his headlamp. I took off my pack and reached into the pocket where I keep mine, only to find it missing. The compass was there. So was the bug spray. But no headlamp. I always keep my headlamp in that pocket. I checked the other pockets to no avail. The last 4-500 feet of elevation got hairier and hairier, until we finally reached a long snowfield where we knew we could walk without turning an ankle or stepping off an edge. Two guys coming down heavy in the dark with one headlamp is a slow, scary endeavor.

    A little ways above camp was another convenient snowfield. This one was at least a yard deep, and the sun melted a 20-inch gap between the uphill side of the snow and a jutting rock. We had a lightweight tarp with a reflective side, which we hung vertically against the rock. We lowered the goat and hide into the gap. Then we folded the tarp over the goat and staked it to the snowfield, reflective side up to ward off the sun’s rays. Four to five hours after we got it, the goat was in the fridge.

    There are other stories from the hunt – several of them center around not locating my headlamp until three days later when we hiked up to break the spike camp (it had fallen out the back door of the tent and rolled under some bushes) – but this post has been long enough.

    After the meat spent half a day in our packs, then hung more than two days in 70 degree weather, we used the satellite phone to call in a Cessna for meat. With three more days to hunt deer, and no change in the weather forecast on the VHF, we didn’t want meat to spoil. We also had one set of game bags that didn’t do their job. (Rinsing meat in the lake and picking off the remaining fly eggs with my fingernails is not my idea of a good time – maybe they don’t have blackflies in Cedar Rapids, Iowa...)

    Harris air took good care of us there, too. Their Cessna pilot works as a guide later in the season, and was really stoked that we cared enough about our meat to spend an extra couple of hundred on a meat flight. It’s not often you see a pilot first worry about keeping his plane clean because his next charter is a bunch of flightseeing tourists, then grab your game bags and give ‘em a hearty sniff. He came up with the biggest grin, saying “It smells great, guys!” The end result was, three days later (after we’d struck out on deer), we flew back to town and took a whole lot of solidly frozen goat meat home, thawed it overnight, and cut it up.

    Three year-old billies are tender mountain goat meat. And August 1 mountain goats are still grazing grasses and succulent plants. There’s nothing gamy or powerfully flavored about this meat, like you might get once they’ve been browsing shrubs and hemlock needles for awhile in the heavy snow. August goats may have shorter wool, but my brother did a good job fleshing the hides back at base camp, and we’ll be proud to tan them and drape ‘em over the back of the couch, or spread them on the bed on a cold winter night – especially with a belly full of mountain goat steaks.

    But the best part of it all? Better than getting game, or kudos from the pilot, better even than the feeling when my brother found the goat I was sure I’d lost? The best of all was spending time with my father and my brother in the wilderness – hunting an area where there wasn’t a crumpled beer can to be found on the ridge, or even a boot print we hadn’t made. Together. Nothing in the world can equal that.

    I can’t share that part with the forum, but I hope you enjoy the story. We sure enjoyed the hunt.

  3. #3
    Member broncoformudv's Avatar
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    Thats a great write up 8x57! Thanks for sharing your hunt with the rest of us. Any hunt spent with family is a good hunt but being successful makes it that much better!

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    That is one of the finest hunting stories I've seen posted 8X57, thanks for sharing it.

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    Great story!!!!!!!!!! thanks. J.

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    That was a great story. I could feel the excitement and the let down when you thought you lost the goat, great ending. Good job and congrats...

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    Wow, really good write-up, Mauser. And such beautiful country! Thanks for sharing and glad you got out with your bro and dad; that's what it's all about.

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    Thats Awesome!!! Congrats to you guys Hopefuly our goat hunt will have as much success as yours did. It'll be me and my wife and the father inlaw this year on a group hunt for Goats here in British Columbia.
    There is a fine line between "Hobby" and "Mental Illness." Some of us may have crossed the line.

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    Default goat

    Congrats!

    I've done three of those Baranof goat hunts.

    Way to navigate the high country obsitcal course.

    Suggestion:

    Bring your pulley and line system up the mountain. I've had to chase bears out of camp on a high country hunt.

    Bring a line too for lowering goat filled packs through really rough steep hillsides. Also a line may be nessessary to anchor a goat to a steep hillside after shooting.



    Last year right after shooting my goat I went back to high camp and got my partner upon returning to the goat about 500yds below the goat was a brownie working up. We managed to scare it off with a deer call of all things, thats a whole other story.

    Good story and Its a pleasure to share in your sucess, thank you!!!!!!!

  10. #10

    Default Wow!

    That was a real "page turner"! Thanks alot for the pics and narrative. You will have memories for a lifetime-long after the last steak is eaten.
    Well done.

  11. #11
    Member 8x57 Mauser's Avatar
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    Thumbs up Yep, the bears go up high.

    Thanks for all the kudos, folks.

    Bighorse is right about bears up high, that's for sure.

    Going up the next day to get Dad's goat (he'd shot it across a big snowfield, and 'refrigerated' it 100 yards or so from where it fell) we went up that same snowfield above camp that saved my bacon when I was coming down heavy without a headlamp (on the right in the photo of the peak.)

    At the top of that snowfield we found bear tracks that couldn't have been more than 2 hours old at most, since the sun had already erased our tracks from the previous night, and we could see the claw marks on the bear's tracks. They were pretty small - likely a 3-year-old from the size of them, but enough to give a fellow pause. Luckily for us, the tracks were headed down toward the cliffs below, not up toward the gutpiles.

    What causes a small brown bear to walk down off a mountain after scenting two gutpiles above him? It's possible we spooked the bear off the mountainside when we started up to get Dad's goat. My brother's theory strikes me as more likely, though: The small bear went down because of the bigger bear already on one of those gutpiles. Happily, if my brother was right, the bigger bear was on the leavings from the goat I shot -- we got Dad's goat without incident, and without any further bear sign.

    A few days later, hunting deer, I spotted some interesting activity on a high slope above the cliffs roughly 2 miles' travel from where we got our mountain goats. A full-grown brown bear was sitting at the bottom of a little snowfield. From time to time one of the 3-5 ravens milling about would get closer than the brownie liked, and it would take a swipe at the bird.

    All that day and the next, that bear stayed in the same spot, doing the same thing. More interesting still is that about 400-450 yards away was a mountain goat on a snowfield. I know for certain that the wind shifted at least twice during those two days - probably more often - so each had to know the other was there. I didn't get out the spotting scope, but this goat didn't have any dark spots on its rump. My best guess is that the bear took a kid, and the nanny stayed nearby until the bear either moved off or threatened her. I hope you'll all forgive me for not hiking up the ridge to check...

    The ADF&G biologist for the area once warned me that brown bears can follow mountain goats into areas hunters can't go, and it's not uncommon for bears to hide in the high rocks until a goat gets close enough for a short charge. I know on our way down from spike camp we found some very old bear scat that was mostly made up of white hair.

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    Supporting Member bullbuster's Avatar
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    Best posted story award.

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    Default Solid information

    Just read the Bear Man of Admiralty Island and you will see how frequent brownies go up into the high country.

    I once spent three days packing into an area deep into a river valley on Baranof, climbing a steep ridge and accessing a known goat wintering area only to find fresh bear sign and goat tracks heading in every direction.

    Its always kept me fully aware when up high and traveling through those large boulder outcropings, you know what I mean. The ones that leave hidey holes everywhere.

    I've found a mud pit of sorts where it appeared a goat and a bear squared off at some point. That was truely wild!

    You start talking to the local goat hunters, pull up a chair, the bear stories will start a-rollin.

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    This is an amazing account fo your hunt, brilliant stuff!

    Frank (The Actor)

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    Default Thanks

    I love reading the stories that members take the time to share in detail. They mean alot more and are greatly appreciated. Thanks for taking the time to share it with us.

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