2012 CO Mountain Goat Hunt

Gman

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Before I get started with the story - I want to acknowledge some people so it doesn't get lost at the bottom or in my rambling. Most of us here on this site are DIY (Do it Yourself) hunters. And many times, myself included, we take great pride in the "Y" part - yourself. However, what I've learned over the past year in preparing and executing this hunt is that no matter how solo you may think you are, there is always a big support team behind you -- whether it's your spouse, best frineds, hunting partners, family, strangers that are generous with their experience and information, and on and on. I have grown to be appreciative and thankful of those people that have entered my lives due to this great pursuit we all love. It's been an amazing and enriching experience. And to my wife -- who has never said "no" when it comes to taking on a new challenge even when it comes immediately after what was supposed to be "the last one for a while".

So thank you, thank you, thank you:

Aron Snyder - Dude, you are one of the most generous people I know, period. I'm honored to call you a friend. This season from mule deer, to elk, to mtn goats has been a blast. I'm looking forward to the next one!

Weber - we've been friends and on many adventures forever. Nothing else to say, thank you. You climb mountains like a billy goat. I'm always impressed.

Justin Davis - thanks brutha. Your photos are awesome and you should race Weber up a mountain. Not sure who would win. Looking forward to more hunting adventures together.

Sanchomas (Dan W.) - Great having you there on that first day. Thanks for coming man.

So with that out of the way - here's my story:

I started planning for this hunt about a year ago. I had made a decision, after many years of saving up points, to apply for a nanny only tag. Colorado has a very healthy goat population and the genetics of some of the nanny's are pretty amazing. Right from the beginning Aron Snyder and I started mapping out possible units and we had identifed one that had a couple LARGE nanny's - we estimated them to be at 10 inches on the conservative side. The thought process around the nanny tag was simple - I could probably draw now or wait for a billy unit and draw 15 years from now. I figured to live in the present v.s. the future and if I'm going to be old when I draw a billy what's another 5 yrs added on to the wait time for a total of 20 years. Besides, the average person can't tell the difference between a large nanny and billy anyway as they are so similliar AND I've met so many other hunters who had a billy tag but ended up taking a nanny either because they couldn't tell the difference or they couldn't reach the billies. So, with all that to consider, that was the logic in applying for the nanny only tag.

We debated which season to apply for and after much back and forth came to the conlusion that a later season had the advantage of better hair on goats but that the weather could get "squirley". When the hunt is 8 months away, it's easy to shrug your shoulders on squirley weather so that's what I did. Cue the ominous foreshadowing music....

I applied and like everyone else stated pinging the CO backdoor hourly as soon as reports of preference points missing popped up on the forums. When I saw that my mountain goat points went to zero I was shocked. I knew I had pretty good odds of drawing but there were only 2 tags in my unit so it was no slam dunk. I just stared at the screen in disbelief, took pictures of the screen, and started calling buddies like Aron and Weber. I called the DOW and they told me nothing was official yet and so for the next week I was checking the official results every ten minutes, trying to find books on goat hunting (there aren't many really) and just keeping my fingers crossed that this was for real. Finally the offical results posted and confirmed that I was going goat hunting. The feelings were a blend of excitement, disbelief, and "now what"? I hadn't known anyone to draw a goat tag so it was all new. Also when I started applying many years ago, I had always imagined my turn to chase a CO mountain goat would be some time in the distant future. But I had drawn the tag and re-architected my mindset. I was a goat hunter. I made my kids address me as "goat hunter" to reinforce the mindset. I was going to be ready.

Waiting for the snow to receed from the mountains I kept up my normal physical fitness routine. I'm in what I consider good shape - play hockey a couple of times a week, hit the gym at least 3 days a week in addition. I felt prepared on the physical front. We had a very light year for snow this year in CO so I was able to get out and scout in mid-June. Right where we had predicted, there were goats and they were high! While I glassed at 12,400 feet my wife read 50 Shades of Grey.


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The rest of my summer was pretty hectic and I was out of Colorado for most of it. In addition, the CO archery season opened the weekend before Labor Day. I was able to get in one other scout trip for goats but the rest of my time was spent scouting elk areas and hunting. Aron and I went on a mule deer hunt and then it was a week chasing elk. I had a small break in action for a couple of weeks and spent some time at home with the family.

I also had some WY antelope tags. The WY season opened the week before my goat hunt and due to some other obligations I wasn't sure when I could get out. So I headed up there on a Wednesday night, got a small buck on Thursday morning, hunted with Weber (he got a doe) on Friday and drove home Friday night to coach my daughter's soccer game on Saturday, do some wash, drop the antelope at the processor, and get some rest. I was to pick up Aron early on Sunday morning.

I didn't sleep much Sunday. The vision of the upcoming hunt was bouncing all around my head. It was a fairytale of a vision. We had set a plan of hiking up a ball buster of slope - about 2000 vertical feet, straight up to get to approximaely 12,500 ft (the ridgeline would vary a couple hundred feet either way depending on location) locate a large band of 60 or so goats who would be sitting on a high but grassy slope (this had been the experience of other hunters so not totally unrealistic). We would then spend time pouring over them in the spotter, debating which one was the best and upon choosing our giant nanny we would formulate a plan for an archery stalk. We were to bivy out on the ridge sitting on our goat and in the morning I would make the stalk and there would be high fives all around by 9am MT. We would then dress and cape out the goat in the bright sunlight on a fairly flat part of the mountain. We had 5 guys so the pack out would be super easy and I'd buy everyone dinner in town on the way home. That was the vision.

Here's what actually happened.

I picked up Aron at his house and we were pumped and ready to go. He had just gotten back from hunting with Bearhunter and helping him take a record worthy billy in WA. Our spirits were high. We met Weber at a gas station along the way. Before heading to our planned camp we took a detour and drove up a 4WD road looking for goats with the spotter. It was a classic Colorado fall day. Sunny but cold. The wind was picking up and weather was blowing in. We spotted a couple of small goats in the cliffs but nothing worth getting excited about. There had been some snowfall and the snow dappled mountains made spotting goats much more difficult than during my scouting missions. With no snow they just POP out of the mountains. With snow, we were probably passing over several goats at every glassing session.

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We drove out and made our way to base camp. We set up the 12 man tipi and large stove. The wind started to kick up and it was getting really cold.


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photo by Justin Davis

With the weather picking up I made the decision (at the urging of my companions) to abort the bivy plan. We were running out of daylight and the basin we had targeted was not the type of place you just ran up for a couple of hours -- it was a commitment. Justin and Sanchomas arrived and we got to chopping fireword, stoking the stove, telling stories, and dreaming about the hunt on opening morning.

We set ground rules with Aron that he could NOT wake us up before 4:00am. If you've ever been in the field with Aron you know that an alarm clock is not necessary. If you've ever been in a tipi with a stove with Aron you also know that you'll be awoken early but warm as he always gets a nice fire going in the stove. I didn't sleep all that well as I was so excited and just as I felt I was falling asleep I was awoken but the rustling of what sounded like a large rodent. It turned out to be the elkreaper stoking the stove and so it was hunt on!

Here's theElkReaper taking his position as Grand Pubah at the front of the stove.

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Gman

Gman

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We all woke up that morning, ate a quick breakfast, threw down our wakeup drink of choice, and headed up the road a bit. We dropped Weber's truck below us incase we came out an adjacent drainage and continued up the trail. Just as we parked on the side of the road, Weber realized he left his binos in his truck so I spun around and we drove back to get them. Back at our entry point we started the long hike up by headlamp. I had my bow on my back, Weber had my rifle "just in case", Aron, Justin, and Dan had an impressive array of optics and tripods.

We arrived at 12,500ft and quickly realized that the weather had indeed blown in. When we could actually hear one another as the wind was so loud we joked that the only thing seperating us from Everest was that we were not all rigged together by climbingh rope. We traversed the top of the ridge shivering and looking for goats but couldn't find any. We were prepared to bump them the moment we crested the top and the reality of not seeing any was shocking to us all.

Cresting the summit. Kifaru packs doing some work! That's me chasing the two billy goats (Weber and Justin Davis) Photo by Aron Snyder.

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Cold but all smiles. Me ane Weber. Photo by Justin Davis.

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Reaper glassing for goats. Photo by Justin Davis.

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Me hunkered down. Glassing. Photo by Justin Davis.

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No goats yet. But still all smiles. Make sure you choose the right hunting partners! Me, Weber, Dan (clipped on the right) and Aron Snyder aka TheElkReaper. Photo by Justin Davis.

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Gman

Gman

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More pictures:

Aron trying to "will" goats out into the open.

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Sanchomas aka Dan. Photo by Justin Davis.

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Photo by Justin Davis.
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This is where you're trying to find goats. They like those cliffs on the far side of the basin. Photo by Justin Davis.

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Justin Davis. Not sure who took this!

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Gman

Gman

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Photo by Sanchomas.
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We sat up high as long as we could but everyone was shivering and getting cold. We decided to drop down into the main basin and work our way out. As we were crossing a boulder field, and I hate boulder fields, Aron shouts "goats"! We get the spotters out and locate a group of about 10 goats feeding up high and a fairly grassy slope above the scree.

That's alot of distance!

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After examining the goats the word "monster" came out. A ten inch nanny was spotted. Aron and Weber were so excited they tore off up the hill without me. I didn't even realize they had gone at first. I scrambled my way across the boulder field, much slower than Weber and Reaper, and made my way up the hill. They goats were about 315 yrds away. Typically no problem with my Remington 700, .300wsm. I was breathing hard and located the goats through my scope. The nanny was a monster and I decided I was going to take her. Reaper was shouting out commands as he watched through the spotter. "Hurry, our window's closing!" I lined her up and squeezed the trigger. "Miss!" shouted Reaper. I was confused. I never miss with my trusty .300. "fire another one!" and so I did, miss just low. The goats ran out and over the ridge. I was beyond bummed. I couldn't figure out why I had missed. I knew my gun was on --

What I later realized, and will take this as a major learning point for all future hunting endeavors is I simply wasn't mentally prepared to take a long range rifle shot. I had the skills, but in my mind I had been prepping all year for an archery shot. It had been a while since I had hunted with my rifel (much differnet than static distances at the range) -- I hadn't consulted the ballistic/reticle chart I had taped to my rifle stock and after rethinking what had happened I should have shot low. I just forgot to compare the range distance to my chart and blew what would turn out to be my best opportunity.


Photo by Justin Davis.

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As I sat there getting madder and madder at myself I saw the band of goats running, like white buffalo, along the top of the ridgeline. They were coming back and moving into the cliffs. Aron, Weber, and I scrambled across the boulders and scree to try and close the distance. As I was rushing across a set of loose boulders I lost my footing and went down hard. I slammed my forearm but other than pain was okay. My rifle made a sickening "CLUNK". I gathered myself up and looked at my rifle. There was a giant chunk on top of the scope. Not good I thought. Weber looked at me with a sick to his stomach look. But there was no time to lose. We continued scrambling up. Reaper and I ditched our packs and closed another 50 yrds or so. Aron was bounding up the mountain like it was nothing and I had to stop and put my hands on my knees I was breathing so hard. I kept yelling at myself to get moving but I was out of breath. I pulled myself together and met up with Aron. I got a rest on a huge boulder but the angle was so steep it was difficult to get a good rest and sight. We located the huge nanny and I was confident this was the shot. I pulled the trigger and Aron called out quizzically "6ft high?!". What I thought? Oh no, it must be the scope. I tried to offset the hight by aiming super low, so low that the nanny was almost out of my sight picture. The bullet shattered the rocks below. At that point we decided the rifle was off.

To compound the matter, a year or so ago I had the rifle dipped in a Creokote-like dip called "Bearcoat" that's provided by a local gunsmith. Short version is I wouldn't recommend the coating or the smith to anyone. Ever since the coat job the magazine door never fit right. I took it back to the smith and they told me that's just the way it was from the factory. However, I never had an issue with it before the dip job. With a full mag, 3 shells, the pressure of cycling rounds through would cause the magazine to pop open on the 1st or 2nd shot dumping my remaining ammo. I was contending with this as well on the rockey slope. As I'd shoot the mag would pop open and I'd hear my ammo "tink, tink, tink" down through the rocks into unreachable places. We're talking boulders as big as Volkswagon's all stacked ontop of another.

I shouldered my rifle and all 5 of us headed down the mountain and back to the trucks. We stopped off at camp for a quick reorg and then ran into town to find a gunshop. I had the scope tightened down and boresighted. With daylight fading, we drove back up an adjacent road looking for goats and then found a long spot off the road to sight the rifle. It was very inconsistent and we took turns to eliminate shooter variable. We were making huge adjustments, while cursing the ever-popping magazine. We got it close and it held aim at 250 yrds for about 3 shots so we decided that was as good as we were going to get it. To say I was not confident in the rifle is an understatement.

We headed back to camp in the dark. Weber and Dan had to return to work and headed home. Reaper and I went back to the tipi with plans to meet up with Justin in the morning. It was a restless night as the weather continued to pick up. I thought the top of the tipi was going to rip off in the middle of the night. That coupled with my internal dialogue of how I screwed up those first shots (I wasn't killing myself about the second opportunity. The scope was severely off and that's just part of hunting) made for not much sleep. That was the end of day 1.

It takes serious optics to spot goats in these conditions. Good thing we had a Vortex Razor with us.

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Gman

Gman

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The weather seemed to be steadily going downhill. We awoke in the dark, sore but optimistic. Justin met us at the tipi (he smartly drove back home and then back in the early morning). We decided to drive up a sketchy 4WD road that was so narrow, Justin's Tacoma was on the edge for most of the journey. The "edge" was a sheer cliff drop and I will admit I was scared. But the truck was warm and as we crested the summit -- a known area for goats, a can't miss area we were almost blown off the mountain from the wind. And no goats. We were really starting to scratch our heads. We had collective knowledge of this entire area and we had always seen lots of goats - even during hunting season. This was turning out to be more challenging that we had thought it would be.

We drove down the mountain, frustrated but committed to gettting this done. We went back to our original spot and decided to hike in to the valley floor, not all the way to the top like the morning before. We stopped at the spot where we had spotted the goats the day before and spent several hours glassing. Justin volunteered to go check out the other side of an adjacent ridge and Reaper and stayed to glass.

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I bit into my almond butter, honey, and bacon bagel sandwich and almost gagged. I couldn't stomach another one of these. I had been eating them for lunch exclusively when in the backcountry since August. I made a comment as such and Aron offered to switch sandwhiches. He had a roast beef, with havarti, mustard, and cream cheese on a roll. What a guy! It might sound like a small thing but that sandwhich perked me right up and lifted my spirits. I was good to go.

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After a few hours we couldn't find Justin in the optics and we had agreed that we would all make our way out as Justin had to get back to town by a certain time. Aron and I decided to go up top again, but this time it was over boulders, scree, and lastly a super steep rock laden tundra slope.

The wind was ferocious and the lack of goats was getting to us. It was getting dark in the way the afternoon does when a snow storm is brewing over the mountains. I was certain we were going to get blown off the mountain. Aron and I sad down on a rocky slope and glassed. We were trying to figure out where all the goats had went. We theorized they went low into the bristlecomb to get out of the nasty weather. No sooner that we figured they were low we spoted a group of 6 goats on the cliffs across from us at 13,200 feet!!! We couldn't believe it. There was now way to get to them - maybe after a two day hike and that just killed us.

Aron started fiddling with his phone as this was the only place we could get service. At the top of the world. I was getting cold so I stood up and walked to the other side. As I crested the ridge I saw 3 goats on a grassy basin feeding up! I was so excited I ran back and waived Aron up. I then went back to the goats and crept into position trying to get a prone shot lined up. As I was doing this the goats saw me and started to run. But they ran lower and towards me. We gave chase booking down the mountain. The goats stopped for a moment and lined them up in my signts as I conferred with Aron on the goat we wanted and to ensure it was a nanny. Once we were in agreement I pulled the trigger. The goat lurched but didn't go down. The shot was off, to the right. The same problem we were having when sighting in. "Hit her with another" Aron said. I put the crosshairs on her and pulled the trgger "CLICK!" WTF?! I thought. Then I looked down to see the magazine door dangling. I felt sick to my stomach. Aron was on his hands and knees picking up ammo. He handed it to me, I loaded the rifle, and put another one in her. The goat tumbled at least 250 yards, maybe more, down a scree slope and piled up.


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We raced down and claimed my goat. I had that bittersweet feeling of taking such a beautiful animal. But I was proud as well. We had accomplished our goal. We took some pictures and got to work. It was late in the afternoon and going to be dark in an hour or so. We caped out the goat for a full body mount and got all the meat. We kept sliding down the loose rock and probably ended up 25-30 feet below our packs when it was all said and done. It started to spit snow and then suddenly the sun set behind the last ridge turning everyhting black. We went to get our headlamps and I had that instant, sickening flashback feeling when I went to the pocket where I normally keep mine. I realized instantly I had left it in the truck from the morning's adventure. I had been keeping a cheap, single LED clip light in my possibles pouch for an emergency so this is what I had. I couldn't believe it.


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Aron and I hiked out in the pitch black with one headlamp, one single LED, all our gear, cape, and meat. When we got back to the truck we found this note from Justin on the windshield:

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We got back to camp, stoked the stove and passed out. That night was also brutally windy and a tough night's sleep. When we awoke the ground was covered in snow and the area we had been hutning looked like a frosted cup cake. I was so thankful we had taken that goat and were off the mountain. The weather plus my rifle troubles had made very appreciative that we were able to take any goat let alone this one.

Aron and I stopped off for a hot meal and then I took him home. I took the goat to the DOW and had her checked. They measured her at 8 1/8 and aged her at 6yrs. A very respectable goat by Colorado standards. She may not have been the 10 inch monster I had been after but she is a trophy to me.

At least that's the way I remember it all.
 

Schism

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Great start so far, with the story at least! I can't imagine how the voice in my head would be cursing me after day 1. I am looking forward to reading how the rest turns out! Thanks for sharing this with us!

-Schism

Edit: You finished the story before I could post. Great write-up! Sounds like a hunt you won't soon forget! Congrats!
 
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sanchomaes

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Feb 26, 2012
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Lakewood, CO
Marc,

Hey man I was more than happy to have spent a few days with you guys chasing goats! Congratulations on filling the tag. Those fourth season goat hunts will test the grit in any man.
 

BuckSnort

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Awesome hunt and story, Congrat's.... You may want to consider using that rifle as a tomato stake...lol
 
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Gman

Gman

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Colorado baby!
Awesome hunt and story, Congrat's.... You may want to consider using that rifle as a tomato stake...lol

I almost threw it off the mountain at one point - no kidding.

I already made a reasonable offer for the rifle to him. Offer still stands Marc.

Dan - I very well may. Once things settle down I need to figure out what I'm going to do that rifle. I may sell it and if so - it's yours. Or I may use the action and build upon it. But I'll save that for another post.
 

Becca

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Awesome write up and photos Gman, thanks for sharing your story! Goat hunting is some of the hardest work I have ever done, they are tough critters in even tougher terrain. Are you doing a full body mount then?
 
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Gman

Gman

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Awesome write up and photos Gman, thanks for sharing your story! Goat hunting is some of the hardest work I have ever done, they are tough critters in even tougher terrain. Are you doing a full body mount then?

Thanks Becca. I hear you about the hard work and totally agree. It's actually addictive though which I'm guessing you're feeling as well. I want to do it again and go back. So hard in the moment so glorious in the memory -- or something like that. I am getting a full body. Just dropped it at taxidermist. I'm pretty excited to put it mildly. It will be a downslope form with a head turn and the front paw stepping up (that will help cover some of the shoulder damage on the other side).
 
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Gman

Gman

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Becca - BTW I got a good portion of it made into chorizo -- just about the rest put into sausage products as well. But the chorizo is for you know what. My family can't wait!!
 

Becca

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I do know what you mean about mountain hunts feeling addictive...I think for me it's the sense of accomplishment after working so hard for something. Waiting for the plane on both my sheep and goat hunts this year I felt a strong mix of emotions. Relief---at coming out safely, with an animal in my pack, and that the work (at least for this trip) was over....but also sadness---that something I had anticipated, planned for and generally looked forward to was drawing to a close. Hardly even finished cleaning up the gear, and we are making plans for next season.

Becca - BTW I got a good portion of it made into chorizo -- just about the rest put into sausage products as well. But the chorizo is for you know what. My family can't wait!!

Awesome!! Let me know how the goat sausage comes out. Ground goat meat is one of my favorite meats, because it takes flavors and seasonings so well. For this reason, I bet it will make excellent sausage. Actually having nanny burgers at our house for dinner tonight...might post a photo if I think of it.

Congrats again, and I look forward to seeing pics of your mount when it's finished!
 
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