I expect to do this as a three part series, it was inspired by a blog post I recently did over at Outdoors International.
Working as a hunting/adventure consultant I speak to a lot of hunters. More specifically I speak to a lot of hunters who say they want to go on a mountain goat hunt. For those of you who have hunted Mountain Goats, you know the challenges, physical, mental, weather and don’t forget the goats. But for those who have yet to experience the rigors of mountain hunting, I have found that many are enthralled by the picturesque ideal of hunting mountain goats as compared to the grueling reality of what it really takes to hunt goats. The reality is that Mountain Hunting is flat out tough! Even “easy” goat hunts are extremely tough when compared to the hunting that most of us have generally available to us.
Why do I say that many people like the idea of goat hunting as opposed to the reality? Well first off, you have a very limited number of areas where you can even hunt mountain goats, and even fewer still where you can hunt trophy goats. So, you say “I don’t care if I get a “Trophy Class” goat because any goat is a trophy”, well you are right! But, once you have committed yourself to pursuing a goat hunt you are still faced with the daunting task of playing the lottery in the lower 48 in hopes of drawing/winning a tag or you are looking at paying a fairly substantial amount to go on a fully guided hunt in Canada or Alaska. Well there is a lot more to either approach than most people realize. Lets start with those of you who want to do it yourself and play the lottery.
So you are tough, smart and skilled and want to do it yourself. Where do you start? First you have to decide if you just want to draw any old tag (which don’t get me wrong is still a challenge and if successful a great adventure), or if you are going to be dedicated and focus on the chance to draw a tag for a mature trophy class billy. Ok, you have made your decision, now let the homework begin. Its time to start researching which state(s) like WA, ID, MT, CO and UT you are going to focus on. As part of this process you need to consider how their draw systems work, preference points, draw costs (do you have to front your tag and license costs, what do they refund if you are unsuccessful, etc), unit draw odds, unit trophy potential, hunt dates, weather, what is the terrain like in a given area, what logistics will be required if you draw a tag, how far in is the hunt area, can you do it yourself or will you need help and on and on. These are all things you have to consider because each and every piece of information and decision you make will determine how long it may take to draw, how much time, effort and money you will expend to draw, let alone what it will require if/when you do draw.
But, this is just trying to figure out where to apply, it may be years and years, if ever before you draw a coveted tag, what then? Now you have to worry about physical preparation (people call goats the poor man’s sheep hunt, well I have hunted sheep and goats and I can honestly say that they are both incredibly demanding, but Goats definitely take the cake when it comes to living in the steep and nasties, so when it comes to hunting goats there is no such thing as being in too good of shape), pouring over topo maps and google earth, talking to wildlife biologists, game wardens, past hunters, figuring out real world logistics (gear, food, time, access), scouting, figuring out what gear and equipment you need, researching gear and equipment, purchasing gear and equipment, finding out you have too much gear and equipment, rethinking and repacking gear and equipment, because believe me every ounce matters when it is just you, your back and your two legs versus mother nature. You are not alone if you find this a little daunting and even overwhelming, especially if you are not an experienced backcountry/mountain hunter. Don’t get me wrong, I am not trying to discourage you, I just want you to be aware of what it takes to undertake a true backcountry mountain hunt. I believe that anyone who is focused, disciplined and committed can successfully take on a mountain hunt, but most people who don’t live and hunt this type of terrain on a regular basis just don’t realize how much preparation goes into this type of hunting.
In the second installment of this article I will go into more detail about preparing for the hunt and in part 3 I will be looking at what to expect during the hunt and see if I can get a couple of other people to weigh in on tips and tactics. But, my goal with this first installment is to help you understand the challenges that go into planning a Backcountry Mountain Hunt and in particular a Mountain Goat Hunt so for those of you who have always dreamed of chasing these amazing animals can figure out what the best option is for you and your adventure of a lifetime.
So on to option 2, hiring an outfitter. This can be just as overwhelming and nerve wracking as trying to do it on your own, you are trading out some risks and work (like logistics, pouring over maps, researching draws, scouting, talking to biologists, etc) for other risks, mainly spending a goodly amount of your hard earned money to end up on a hunt that doesn’t live up to expectations or worse that just flat out sucks. So instead of having to research hunt units, draw odds, etc, you will need to research outfitters, what kind of animals are they taking, what style of hunts do they provide (horseback, back pack, vessel based), what kind of accommodations (lodge, boat, cabins, tent, spike tent), what time of year do they hunt, what is the true - total cost of the hunt, what is included, what isn’t included, don’t forget to check with the Outfitters Association to see whether or not they have any violations (if they even disclose that information), how do you reserve your hunt, what happens if you have to cancel, calling references (which still are no guarantee, as one person can have a great hunt while 5 others had terrible hunts) and on and on.
Once you have done your homework, you have a short list of outfitters, they all sound good, they had great references, what do you do? Most likely you go with the one that you connected with the best on the phone. Which personality of the outfitter is a big deal, but more often than not you are hunting with a guide, not the outfitter. Oh wait, did you ask about their guides? How long have they been working for them, do they have a specific style of hunting or a specific species they specialize in? Were you honest with the outfitter about your physical capabilities, if you are not a mountain climber, did you make sure that they have guides and areas where they can still get you on a goat? Because I know a number of great goat outfitters, some of them can truly get just about anyone a goat on a rifle hunt, while others there is no getting around the need to be in shape and able to traverse extremely rough terrain. So as you can see just like with the DIY hunts there are a lot of factors you need to take into consideration before you book a guided hunt.
Once you have booked a hunt, you have the same requirements as the DIY guys when it comes to getting prepared. Physical fitness, gear and logistics still come into play when on a fully guided hunt, and the more prepared you are the more successful and enjoyable your adventure will be.
So not matter which route you take to pursue these monarchs of the mountains you can see that there can be a lot of stress, time, effort and cost that goes into a hunt of lifetime like Mountain Goat. However, there are a couple of things you can do to make things somewhat easier on yourself. If you are looking to draw a tag and do it yourself, more power to you, but you may want to look at using a resource like Al2itudeoutdoors.com and their community of hardcore hunters, Eastman’s Hunting Journal and their MSR hunt research, or Garth Carter and the Hunting Fool. These guys combined have a wealth of experience and knowledge and have all spent a ton of time, money and effort breaking down the different draw units, draw odds, trophy quality, etc., and a site like Al2itude or a service like the Hunting Fool can usually help get you in touch with prior hunters, packers, etc to help you more quickly and successfully prepare for your DIY adventure.
If you are more inclined to go the guided hunt route, one of the best ways to find great outfitters and take a lot of the stress out of booking what for most of us is a once in a lifetime hunt, is to use a high quality Adventure/Hunting Consultant. These companies spend tens of thousands of dollars and thousands of hours researching outfitters, vetting them and making sure that when they book you on that hunt of a lifetime it will be just that. Not to mention, they have a wealth of knowledge on the different hunts, the weather, the best gear for a particular hunt, physical preparation and more, so the best guys will keep working for you even after you have booked your hunt.
So, you are going goat hunting! Preparing for your goat hunt. Physical Fitness and Gear
Hunt Hard, Shoot Straight.
Outdoors International/Got Hunts www.outdoors-international.com