Three Once In A Lifetime Memories
As I sit here in Anchorage AK on a work trip the week before Thanksgiving I find myself reflecting on the hunting adventures that took place this past fall and I’m reminded of just how lucky we were to draw 3 once-in-a-lifetime hunts within my family. All of which were in Utah. After multiple years of acquiring points I guess you could say it was the perfect storm and we were caught in the middle.
It was May and I was sitting at our cabin in Montana after bear hunting that morning. The phone rang and it was my Mom letting us know that not only had she drawn the Rocky Mountain Big Horn Sheep tag but that my brother-in-law had drawn the Wasatch moose tag as well. My Mom had been putting in for 21 years and well deserving of the tag. My brother-in-law Andrew …..well I’m afraid if I tell you his point total you’ll quit reading my story so I’ll leave that minor detail out. We were superstitious about checking credit cards in the past since it had usually been bad luck, but with the days good news I decided to throw caution to the wind and looked up mine. What would be the odds that I would draw the Mountain Goat tag as well with 8 points? Turns out the odds where in my favor because my card had been hit for the appropriate amount. I jumped up and shouted a few explicit words in pure joy and called my wife to tell her my great news.
I started scouting my unit in the Uintas in July and went on multiple hikes with my sister Candise. It became very clear very fast that I was out of shape and I didn’t own a helicopter. I reached out to my buddy Johnny and we took his horses on a 25-mile adventure that was an extremely wet and foggy day which left me feeling like we were starring in the movie “Man From Snowy River” or ‘Lonesome Dove”. We were only able to locate one Billy Goat when the clouds cleared who was a mile up in the cliffs working his way around the rim and out of site.
After several more scouting trips throughout my unit I made the decision to start my hunt back into the area where Johnny and I had ridden several weeks prior since I had some good intel from previous successful Billy Goat hunters in years past. My buddy Chase offered to take his mules and we started the trek late in the afternoon. As the sun was setting we stopped riding and put camp up which ironically was the same spot where Johnny and I had spotted the lone goat several weeks prior. It was just before dark so we did some quick glassing and was able to spot two Goats which we named Bill & Ted. We believed Bill to be a shooter but would need a closer look. The next morning we had a game plan and hiked way up into the ledges and sat waiting for “Bill & Ted” to show themselves which they must have warped into a different time zone because they never did. That afternoon we watched a goat work his way through the cliffs and into the bowl across the canyon from us. He laid behind a rock where we could size him up and we determined he was a great respectable Billy but we needed to minimize the distance for a shot. We called him Lucifer since he was the mighty tempter making us move into a more dangerous spot for a better shot. As we closed the gap he used his eagle eye vision spotting us and quickly moved back out the same direction he arrived. We spent another day riding all over the country and not seeing anything comparable to “Bill & Lucifer”. One thing about the Uintas is that the weather can change without warning. That trip went from hot beautiful weather to spending a night in the tent where the wind and rain was blowing so hard it kept pushing the top down into our faces …….far from a dreamy night under the stars.
On the next trip I decided to hunt the south end of my unit that was accessible by Jeep and where I had previously seen goats on a scouting trip with my buddy also named Wade. My Dad spotted a nice Billy that we decided to make a play on but as we got closer a smaller goat appeared and then disappeared as they do. In short, the good Billy gave us the slip and we went home empty handed.
By this time I was feeling exhausted and overwhelmed. I had been giving maximum effort and I didn’t know how much more I had in the tank. After much contemplation I knew what I had to do, and it wasn’t going to be easy. I needed to hike back in 10 miles where Johnny and Chase had taken me on horses and mules. I was able to get a few recruits in my buddy Ryan, his sons Shane and Colby along with my Sister Candise. On the morning of September 22nd we left the house at 1am in order to make the 3-hour drive to the trailhead and give us enough time to get where we needed to be in the morning. I knew crossing the river a couple times would be tricky but we managed, well most of us did. My Sister’s old boots decided to come unstitched and left her with no choice but to keep moving to stay warm. Once we made it up into the bowl we spotted a Billy laying down way up in the ledges. We decided to leave the current spot to check and see what was in the adjacent bowl and located another Billy which we determined to be much smaller. We decided to make a game plan to go after the one still laying in the ledges. As soon as we started moving his direction across the rockslide he got up and began moving quickly into the area we were headed. He was headed out and taking the same escape route I’d seen him do twice before……Lucifer is that you? Ryan and his boys were like Mountain Goats themselves and ran up this steep boulder filled rim to where it leveled off. I did my best and was clawing and pulling myself up and over every rock until I reached the top. Out of breath and what felt like almost out of life I pulled out my range finder and determined he was 750 yards. I did my best to steady myself and my breathing but shot over him. I continued to shoot and miss. Shayne took the range finder and told me 650 yards as he was working through the cliffs. I dialed my scope into the correct yardage and pulled the trigger. This shot connected and ultimately did Lucifer in. I can tell you that the feeling of relief, excitement and exhaustion was overwhelming, and I may have lost my breakfast on the adjacent rock.
Mountain Goat hunting is not for the faint in heart. It was a great reminder that perseverance, persistence and determination are key for success. It was indeed a wonderful opportunity and privilege to hunt the Mighty Billy Goat in all his majesty at 12,500 feet and an experience I will never forget. (Story continues in “Around The Next Bend”)