The ultimate mountain goat hunting adventure

My legs felt like jelly and seemed to be losing strength by the minute. Night brought colder temperatures and the snow we were walking on was changing texture rapidly. I was on a long walk to the truck with Bob Milligan the rig behind me and his son Bobby in front of me. We crossed a muddy rock slide and moved towards the river’s edge to avoid a wall of thick oak. I watched the snowshoes ahead of me spin and edge around the sprawling bushes pushing out and over the river on a snow shelf. I tried to imitate the steps and movements of the sure-footed young Bob. However, on the second step along the deep snow bank, the snow shelf collapsed into the flowing water.

Mountain goat hunting in Canada
To hunt mountain goats, you have to go to a really wild place. Brad Fenson

I gripped the tight grips and hung on for dear life, listening to the sound of the water below. I didn’t dare look down and concentrated on pulling myself up. I rocked my snowshoes hard and wide, desperately trying to get them back onto the stable snow bank. Each effort took more energy from my arms and body. After a few minutes, I hung up to rest – and as I did so, I couldn’t help but think about the two beads in my pocket. I asked them to bring a little more luck, to help me get home.

Bob was behind me and couldn’t do much but watch. In the tense situation, he did not say a word. He watched intently as I mustered all my strength to pull my body up into the alder, then roll to the precarious edge of the snow. Somehow, I had gotten out of my predicament. Soon I was back on the trail as if nothing had happened.

The three of us were on a relentless march out into the remote country after a long day chasing a mountain goat. There were already 16 hours of high adventure behind us, with unknown hours ahead of us back to the truck and civilization.

Eighth time is a charm?

You don’t have to be crazy, but it helps… This adage seemed apt for my last-minute decision to book a late-season mountain goat hunt in the coastal cliffs of British Columbia. I had about six weeks to prepare and knew from previous experience that there is no such thing as an easy goat hunt. The season was open until the end of February, and I would have the last hunt of the season with Bob and his son Bobby of Milligan Outfitting Ltd.

Bob has more than 30 years of mountain goat hunting experience and has led nearly 1,000 successful mountain trips. Bobby has a youthful exuberance with the strength and stamina needed for long, heavy packs. As rushed as the trip was, I was excited to book the hunt, as killing a mountain goat has been a goal of mine for a long time. None of the seven goat hunts I’ve done in the past ended with a buck in the backpack.

I spent a month in the gym and on the range shooting my Browning X-Bolt rifle in .300 Win. Mag. I knew goats could be very tough, so the choice to shoot a .30 caliber bullet was an easy one. Bob had informed me that 300-yard shots were not uncommon, and that the steep and unforgiving country often offered a shot that would require long-range accuracy. Federal Premium Terminal Performance 200-grain bullets resulted in accurate downrange with regular practice. I also ordered a custom turret for my Leupold VX – 6HD 3–18×44 scope, with elevations and temperatures to match coastal conditions. Shooting out to 400 yards with softball sized groups gave me confidence, but there was still a nervous tension that is hard to explain.

My twin daughters could sense the excitement, even though they didn’t want me to leave the house. Maya rushed to hug and kiss me as I loaded the last gear into the truck. Addy walked over to me with a serious look and held out her closed hand to me. I held out my hand and she dropped two green and pink plastic beads into my palm. “These will bring you luck, Dad,” she said.

Good luck hunting charms
The author’s daughter gave him two lucky charms before his hunt. Brad Fenson

Trekking in the country of goats

My truck headed west and, 17 hours later, I arrived to meet Bob the day before the hunt. We woke up early, had a quick breakfast and set off on our first day with the quad tracked on the truck trailer. We climbed the steep logging roads and hit a few patches of ice that made for some tense moments, but we continued to climb until we got off the road – at which point, we loaded up the quads and headed further up the mountain’s winding trails. When we were about three-quarters of the way to the top, we came to an opening overlooking a wide valley. We stopped, got out the dictation armpits and went to work looking at the craggy mountains and rock slides along the valley.

off-road vehicles for hunting mountain goats
The crew loads the quads to continue up the mountain. Brad Fenson

Bob said early on that it would be a day behind glass as snow, fog and clouds rolled in and out of the valley. We hid when conditions permitted and waited patiently when the weather prevented us from seeing more. It didn’t take long to spot the goats and the Milligans knew right away if they were looking at a potential shooter or not. We took apart every rock, tree and sheep before starting to take it apart again. Then Bobby uttered three words that thrilled us all.

“I have it.”

He had seen a giant goat that had been seen on the mountain on a previous scouting mission, but had moved further into the valley. I watched as my seasoned guides pointed to the far edges of the valley, miles from where we sat. There were two smaller bulls in the group, and Bobby thought one was older, but not as heavy. We sat on the mountain until the sun began to set.

using dictation objects on a goat hunt
Mountain goat hunting takes a lot of time after dictation facilities. Brad Fenson

I fell asleep thinking how tomorrow would play out. Bob was prepared to be patient and look for the right conditions to make a game with an animal. If the conditions changed, it meant we wouldn’t be able to see the animals – even if we were within the firing range. It can often mean spooking critters and making hunting more difficult in the days to come.

We motored the same trail the next day at sunrise. Bob and Bob pulled out the spots and as I prepared for a long lay down while looking at the mountain, Bob found the goat. Billy was still lying where we had seen him the day before. We quickly finished things and went down the mountain, as close as possible to the river. We would leave the frames and continue on snowshoes, down the valley and across the river. It would be a march up the valley for miles before climbing more heights to where the goats lived.

Hunter on a mountain goat hunt
The author takes a break while hunting. Brad Fenson

My heart was pounding and when I reached into my pocket, my fingers found two beads that my daughter had presented to me. I was hoping they would help break the weed I had with mountain goats.

Bob has square, aluminum-framed, custom-made snowshoes with built-in lugs for traction on ice and steep terrain. We strapped on our shoes, headed through a clearing, into the mature forest, and eventually made our way along the edge of the fast-flowing river. We crossed a log, as if it were a tightrope, to cross a tributary stream. Afterwards, we took off our snowshoes and waded across the river in a fast-flowing riffle.

For the rest of the day, we negotiated mature forest, massive logs on the forest floor, rock slides, and the river’s edge, and continued to climb or descend to avoid problem areas. It was a steady march uphill and up the valley. In the early afternoon, we came to a small hollow along the river and Bob dropped his pack to clear the rocks above. The steep terrain and mature trees had prevented us from knowing if the goats were standing in the correct spot. Bobby had barely brought the binoculars closer when he said the three goats were running down the mountain and headed further into the valley. Being in the right place when the goats decided to make a move was strange luck. Perhaps the beads held more power than expected.

The Moment of Truth

hunter shoots at a mountain goat
The author gets into position for his shot. Brad Fenson

It was getting late in the afternoon and the days were short in February. We walked, rested, ate to stay fed, and finally got to where we could climb a steep place. Snowshoeing required careful foot placement. I’ve occasionally lagged behind seasoned mountaineers, but I’ve never been far behind. At last we came to the edge of a broken slide, and Bob dropped his pack and hid on the edge to watch the mountain. We had no idea where the goats were; they might hide in rocks, timber, or a slip within a mile of where we stood.

The three billies were on a ledge above the rock slide. We would have to be careful and continue climbing without being seen. We plunged up through the forest until we almost ran out of trees. We all took a moment to catch our breath, then put on white to look like goats. I readied my rifle for a possible strike. Bob waded into the slush scattered on the rock, found the goats, and listed them in 360 yards. Bob looked me in the eye and asked if I could do the shot. I said sure I can.

hunter finds a dead mountain goat
After seven unsuccessful hunts, the author finally got his goat. Brad Fenson

I got into the slide while Bobby brought his frame pack as a break. Two goats were near the lower ledge, while one stood above. I got them in the field when I got behind the rifle. Bob let me know that the goat in the lead was our target. I found the bilyu in my scope, adjusted the net and waited for the animal to step out from behind the only tree on the steep slope. As if ready, the goat took two steps forward. I asked the boys if they were ready.

I glanced crosswise over the goat’s vitals and slowly squeezed the trigger. The years of waiting for this moment flashed through my mind and helped me compose for the photograph. At the report of the rifle, the goat backed away.

Bob shouted, “You got it!”

I saw a quick apparition of the goat in my scope, rolling and scrambling off a rock ledge and down an avalanche slide. I was overcome with emotion. My hands started to shake and I felt a lump grow in my throat. I kept quiet and tried to soak in the moment and what had just happened. I ran my fingers over the outside of the pocket and knew that my special beads from my daughter had changed decades of fruitless goat hunting. I had flashbacks to previous hunts and tried to replay the seconds that finally turned out to be successful. It all felt surreal.

hunters break a goat in the hunt
Bob and Bobby start breaking the goat to get out of the pack. Brad Fenson

Bob, Bob and I took a minute to savor our success before starting down the incredibly steep avalanche slide we had entered to make a clear shot up the mountain. The goat was less than 300 meters above us, but it took more than an hour to reach her. We discovered that the goat had slipped into a second avalanche gully parallel to the one we were traversing as the sun went down the mountain.

Decades of dreams had culminated in the success of the mountain goats. I rolled my lucky beads between my bloody fingers as I warmed my hands in my pockets. I couldn’t wait to get home and share my adventure with my girls and let them know their special hugs, kisses, and beads were like a superpower to be successful in a challenging but rewarding hunt. They would be as excited to feel the thick, warm white hair and run their little fingers over the smooth black horns as I was on the distant mountain.

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