Follow along on Josh’s exciting, once-in-a-lifetime archery mountain goat hunt in Utah. Watch as he gets it done on opening day!
Follow along on Josh’s exciting, once-in-a-lifetime archery mountain goat hunt in Utah. Watch as he gets it done on opening day!
Scouting is hunting; it’s not optional. As rule of thumb, you should spend at least twice as much time scouting as you do hunting. With fewer trophy opportunities these days, it’s best to locate big deer and big deer habitat well ahead of hunting season. Simply put, the more days you spend scouting in the preseason, the less time you’ll waste during your hunt.
Scouting doesn’t mean just locating deer, but locating feed and water, bedding areas, escapes routes, game trails, and sign. You don’t have to actually see a big buck to know he’s there; just look for tracks and read the signs.
Once you’ve located or even patterned a buck, you need to devise multiple game plans. Bowhunting is a low-odds game which means you always need a backup plan, or maybe several. What do you do if you bust the buck on opening morning? Where do you go next? What if that doesn’t work? What if someone else shoots your target buck out from under you?
Effective scouting means always having a backup plan or even a backup buck. Whether I’ve found a great buck, or if I’m just hunting promising new areas, I always have plan A, B, C, D, and so on that will at least cover the first few days of the season.
Part of planning is to anticipate variables, like changing wind direction, and then figuring out the best time of day for a stalk. One method that works for me is to make a list of likely big buck areas and then assign the best time frame to stalk based on thermals, bedding areas, and other factors. For each area I’ll mark morning, evening, or both.
With modern technology, such as super-optics, trail cameras, GPS with topo maps, and 3D internet mapping, you can now scout anywhere in the country, 365 days a year, even late at night in your underpants.
E-scouting is great for locating promising new country, but nothing beats boots on the ground. Physical scouting accomplishes two important things: first, you’ll become intimately familiar with the terrain you’ll be hunting, and second, you’ll get plenty of pre-hunt exercise while enjoying God’s natural splendors.
Trail cameras are a valuable piece of scouting equipment. Not only do cameras tell me when and where the bucks are, but they also tell me where they are not. Any hunter with a limited amount of scouting time will benefit from setting up an array of cameras in likely buck areas.
The best locations to hang cameras are in prime feed locations, secluded water seeps, game trails, bedding routes, and water routes. Even better locations include pinch points, saddles, funnels, and trail intersections. A month or two before the hunt opener I’ll set up four or five cameras covering an area of about five miles. By the hunt opener I have a pretty good idea of the quality and quantity of bucks in my area.
Avoid bumping deer while scouting, especially in the weeks leading up to your hunt. Check your trail cameras during the day when bucks are bedded and less likely to notice you.
I can’t over-emphasize the importance of quality optics. Binoculars and spotting scopes open up the vastness of the mountain, and quality optics even open up the shadows during the critical morning and evening hours when big bucks are likely to be moving.
The strength of your spotting scope depends on the type of terrain you’ll be hunting. In thick timber country with limited sight distance you’d probably be fine with a 48x, or maybe just 40x binoculars. In this case it’s more important to identify big buck tracks and droppings than to actually see a deer. If you know what you’re looking for, you’ll find the deer.
In open or vast country I would recommend a high-quality, 60-power minimum spotter with a large objective lens that gathers plenty of light early and late in the day. Just beware that spotting scopes in this range can get very pricey and very heavy to pack around.
When scouting a new mountain, the first step is to locate prime feeding areas. Begin by searching south- and east-facing slopes, especially in areas adjacent to thick timber or steep bedding cover.
East-facing slopes tend to grow better feed than north and western slopes because they get more sun early, and then fall into shade later when the sun is hottest and thus hold more ground water.
Next, look for secluded stands of aspen trees. Aspens only grow where there is an abundance of ground moisture. Not only do deer love to eat aspen leaves, but the myriad of succulent forbs that grow in these areas as well. In the early season, aspen groves provide an ideal bedding area because the ground is cooler. In late fall as bucks get ready to shed their velvet, they spend more time near scrub aspens which they rub their antlers on.
While investigating likely feeding areas, scan the ground continually for large tracks and droppings. Also watch for areas with plenty of chewed-down vegetation. Once you’ve identified prime feed, follow any trails or large deer tracks leading in and out of the area. At the very least, these trails will point to likely bedding areas. Even if you lose the trail, you’ll still get an idea of which direction the deer are coming from or going. Big bucks have relatively small home ranges, so you should have little trouble locating likely bedding areas.
It’s always possible that your traditional hunting area will go downhill or be lost to the crowds. So you need to be adaptive and mobile, always searching for promising new areas. If you didn’t draw a tag this year, or you just have extra time on your hands, it’s always a good idea to investigate other units or new areas just to see the potential. You don’t need a tag to scout, so get out there and do some camping and hiking. You never know what you’ll turn up.
Scouting is hunting and should be taken seriously. Just drawing a decent tag is quickly becoming the hardest part of hunting. So when it’s your time and your tag, don’t waste valuable hunting days looking for deer that you could have found during the long preseason months.
When I first started hunting turkeys, someone said they were very similar to elk. This sounded absurd considering the two animals are practically complete opposites. However, nine years later I have to admit that turkey behavior during the spring rut is very similar to elk behavior in the fall.
What this means is that any hunter transitioning from turkey to elk, or elk to turkey, will already have many of the necessary skills and knowledge to hunt the other creature.
In this article we’ll explore both the similarities and differences between the two animals.
Now that we’ve examined the various similarities between elk and turkeys, let’s take a look at the major differences.
On the surface, turkeys and elk might seem like completely opposite animals. But hunting them can be very similar. Hopefully the above comparisons will help you transition between the two animals. The majestic bull elk are considered by most hunters to be the most exciting animal to pursue out West, but any dedicated turkey hunter will argue that the lowly thanksgiving bird ranks right up there with him.
Sooner or later every bowhunter will have to deal with a poorly hit animal. An ethical hunter must do whatever it takes to follow-up and recover wounded game. Arrow-hit deer rarely go down immediately, so every hunter needs to understand the basics of blood-trailing. In this article we’ll look at some tips and tactics for tracking wounded deer.
An arrow kills a deer differently than a bullet. Bullets rely more on shock and devastating tissue damage, whereas an arrow kills either by massive blood loss due to arterial damage, or through asphyxiation by deflating the lungs.
A third and much less effective method is septic shock. Septic shock, or blood poisoning, is the result of gut-shot animals slowly dying as their stomach contents and bacteria gradually overwhelm the blood stream. Basically the deer dies from a full-body infection over the course of several hours or even days. Oftentimes the animal is lost because it bleeds very little and covers lots of ground.
Unless the animal goes down within sight, you need to give it some time to die. Even if you’re confident in a heart or lung shot, you should still wait a half hour minimum before tracking.
If you suspect a gut shot, wait at least two or three hours before tracking, and then proceed very cautiously while glassing ahead. If it’s very cold out, it would be probably be fine to leave it over night.
Whatever you do, don’t go barreling in on the deer. Arrow-shot deer sometimes don’t realize they’ve been hit and will only run a short distance before bedding down. You do not want to bump the animal, but if you are able to stalk close enough, try to get a second arrow in the animal to put it out of its misery.
You do not want to leave a mortally hit animal sitting for several hours in hot weather. Even a marginally hit animal will slow down and stiffen up within a few hours, so possibly bumping him is still better than letting the whole animal spoil overnight. Just use your best judgment based on the conditions you’re dealing with.
In rainy or snowy weather you should hasten your tracking job. Water will quickly wash away any blood, and snow can cover it up.
Immediately following your shot, mark the spot you shot from with orange tape, and then mark the place where the deer was standing. Next, see if you can find your arrow and inspect it carefully. Bright red, bubbly blood is usually lungs. Any green smears or foul smells indicates stomach, and very dark blood can anything from muscle to heart or liver. Heart shots are obvious as they tend to bleed profusely.
Once you’ve determined the quality of your hit, try to pick up the blood trail. The secret to successful animal recovery is moving slowly, as if you are still-hunting. Make very little noise and glass ahead frequently. If at all possible, move with a favorable wind.
While blood-tracking, plan on following both blood and tracks. Sometimes a deer will bleed completely internally, in which case you will rely more on tracking than blood-trailing. Fortunately running deer tend to leave very deep and obvious tracks accompanied by torn-up ground.
Inevitably you’ll get stuck with a very sparse or problematic blood-trailing job. If the blood trail is very light, you should follow these guidelines:
Contrary to popular belief, wounded animals don’t go directly to water, nor do they run directly downhill. Rather their first inclination is to put as much distance between you and them as possible. Given enough time the animal will eventually seek out water, but don’t count on it.
As for direction of travel, I’ve seen mortally wounded animals run uphill or downhill. But more often they side-hill or slant downhill over very long distances. Once again, every shot situation is different, so use your best judgment.
On rare occasion a deer that seems mortally hit will escape and make a full recovery. This happens a lot with high hits in “no-man’s-land,” as it’s sometimes called. Other times the arrow may have only contacted muscle tissue. Either way, you’ll likely never catch up to the animal. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try; it just means there are times when you must throw in the towel. Only experience can tell you how to proceed.
It’s often said that one should spend as much time researching taxidermists as they do researching their hunt. That’s because a taxidermy mount embodies the memory of your hunt for a lifetime. A quality mount is not cheap, but neither is your hunt. While your hunt will soon be over, the memories will remain. So isn’t it worth investing a little time and money in a quality mount? In this article I’ll guide you through the process of selecting a quality taxidermist.
Before we begin, I should mention that I’m a professional taxidermist living in Southern Utah. My business is Nate’s Taxidermy and I’ve been mounting big game animals for ten years. I’m not seeking to score more business with this article, but rather help fellow hunters figure out how to get professional quality mount.
One reason I became a taxidermist was the vast unprofessionalism I encountered in the industry before I became a taxidermist. Turnaround time was always delayed, craftsmanship was questionable, and professionalism was unheard of. Calls mostly went unanswered and any guarantee of quality was non-existent. With this in mind, here are my top suggestions for anyone searching for a taxidermist.
First off, visit as many taxidermy studios as possible. Every taxidermist should have a well-lit showroom with a variety of species to inspect. The goal of taxidermy is to bring the animal back to life…or close to. Do the specimens look “alive”?
Begin by asking what skills and methods separate them from their competition. When touring showrooms look for things like symmetry in the face, especially the eyes and ears. Watch for drumming (places where the skin has pulled free of the form). This usually occurs in highly detailed areas like the face, inside the ears, and around the legs. Drumming indicates low-quality glue or cutting corners.
Another place to inspect is antler bases. Make sure there aren’t any gaps or separations where the hair meets the horn. Also, take a close look at habitat bases. If you see something weird in your wanderings, ask about it. A real professional will be honest and friendly, and value you beyond the money you’re spending.
Unless you are in a big hurry with your mount, don’t base your decision solely on a fast turnaround time. That being said, your mount should be finished within a reasonable time, say 8 to 12 months. Good taxidermy takes some time, but not years.
Most high-volume taxidermists use commercial tanneries, which are better than in-house tanneries (in my opinion). But most commercial tanneries are currently 8 months out due to supply-chain and staffing issues. As of 2023 you can expect completion times can to be a little longer.
Once the hide is back from the tannery, it shouldn’t take more than a month or two to complete. If your taxidermist keeps extending the time he quoted, or making excuses—like blaming the tannery—then beware. A taxidermist who accepts too much workload is more likely to cut corners on your mount.
Most people would be hard-pressed to distinguish whether cheap materials and high quality ones were used in the final mount. But there is a difference. Just like a food recipe, the quality of the final product depends on the culmination of ingredients. It would behoove you to ask about various materials used.
Start with the tanning process. Was the hide professionally tanned, or just “dry preserved?” Dry preserved isn’t really tanning, and in my opinion should never be used since it will drastically decrease the shelf life of your mount.
Next is the glue (aka hide paste). Hide paste is what holds the whole mount together. There are a variety of glues on the market, but many taxidermists are still using dextrin-based glue simply because it’s very inexpensive. Dextrin works, but it’s also a food derivative (from corn starch) which can attract bugs. Modern synthetic glue is much better. Some glues even contain bug-resistant additives.
Synthetic glues are more expensive, but they’re necessary for the long term survival of your mount. So be sure to ask about the glue! There are many other materials used as well–things like eyes, ear liners, paint, etc—but most are visibly apparent. Basically, if the mount looks cheap, it probably is.
Anyone working in the dead animal business is gonna be a little strange (myself included). Still, no business can survive without some basic customer service skills. Why should taxidermy be any different?
Let’s start by answering the phone. Simple, right? Nope. I recently tried to call a fellow taxidermist for a month straight before giving up. Apparently it’s still a problem in our industry. If your taxidermist does answer the phone, is he courteous and helpful?
What about paperwork? In the past I was given a little, scribbled receipt showing little more than my deposit was paid. When I opened my own taxidermy business I started with the paperwork.
When a client brings me a project, they receive a signed agreement with various details including balance of account, turnaround time, guarantee of quality, desired mount position, and even measurements taken from the carcass. When they pick up their finished piece they receive a “care sheet” for the long-term maintenance of their mount.
Professionals should also have a decent website with updated photos, contact info, and other helpful information.
When you visit the taxidermy shop, is it clean, orderly, and well lit? Or is dark, dingy, smelly and cluttered? Similar to a mechanic’s shop, working conditions often reflect in the quality of service. For example, taxidermy requires a myriad of specialized tools. How can a mount be done properly if the taxidermist can’t find the right tools?
Cleanliness is also vital in a shop. A sanitary workspace prevents insect infestations, as well as bacterial cross-contamination from one project to another. I once visited a shop with a huge bison skull rotting under a table. It smelled so bad I could hardly breathe. The taxidermist didn’t seem to notice, but it didn’t help my confidence any.
One of the first questions to ask a prospective taxidermist is which animals they specialize in. This can usually be discovered on their website, if they have one.
Some taxidermists are generalists while others are specialists. Some guys specialize in birds; others specialize in big game (myself included). There are also specialists in skulls, fish, African game, and small game.
A generalist does everything–fish, deer, skulls, etc. This is fine and dandy, but such a broad spectrum of work requires many more years of training and experience. African big game–which includes vastly more animals–is more specialized than North American big game and also requires more specialized training.
In the end, just make sure you’re not dropping a deer off at a fish guy with little experience in big game.
Be sure to ask about experience and training. How many years has the taxidermist been in business? How many times has he mounted the specific animal you’re interested in? Where did he get his training from? Did he go to a specialized taxidermy school or was he trained as an assistant? Both are fine so long as he’s acquired the requisite foundation in his field of taxidermy.
Experience matters. Every animal and every animal manikin (form) is unique, and thus requires some level of customization. Only specialized training and experience will guarantee the accuracy of your mount.
It’s a good idea to request a reference list of previous customer phone numbers from your prospective taxidermist. With a deer or duck you might be fine with just visiting his studio. But with an especially large or expensive mount (e.g. life-size grizzly bear, bison or musk ox) you’d be best making some calls.
A few key topics to discuss with past customers is turnaround time, customer service, and quality of their finished mount. I would also ask long-term customers how their mounts are holding up over the years, and whether or not they would use that taxidermist again.
That’s about it, folks. I know these are mostly common sense items, but you don’t want to take chances with your once-in-a-lifetime memories.
Taxidermy is as much an art as science. Science says your mount should accurately recreate the living creature. A good taxidermist will ‘bring the animal back to life.’
Art, on the other hand, is subjective. That’s where finding the right taxidermist with the right style comes into play. Style varies from artist to artist, so your goal should be to find the taxidermist who reflects both the “look” you desire and an accurate representation of your trophy.
My bow is my best friend and woods companion. It goes everywhere that I do, sometimes for weeks at a time. It hangs freely from my fingertips, never strapped to my back. It’s tough being my bow, constantly getting banged up and snagging on brush. Sometimes I break parts off of it, but it never complains or fails.
My bow has seen the most amazing things: Trophy bucks beyond imagination, breathtaking sunrises, the glowing Milky Way galaxy on a moonless night. It once protected me from a man-stalking cougar. Another time it was nearly struck by lightning as it hung from my hand during a freak thunderstorm. And yet another day, me and my bow were caught in a freak wind storm that blew down eleven trees into flying splinters around us with nowhere to run.Over the course of a year my bow gets soaked by rain, covered in dirt, and caked with snow. Despite the elements, my bow is 100% accurate with every shot. Whether it’s 100 degrees, or well below zero, my bow always shoots true. When an arrow misses the bullseye I only have myself to blame.
My bow is absolutely quiet, even when it snaps off an arrow at 300 feet per second. A deer might hear the arrow whiz by, but not the whisper of the bows release.
At first glance my bow looks like any other aluminum-framed, modern compound bow. But it’s not. My bow was designed by a certifiable genius-engineer by the name of Mathew McPherson. Since the 1990s, McPherson has led the charge in bow technology, quite literally reinventing the modern compound bow over and over again.
Excalibur III is my third serious hunting bow. But in the end it’s still only a tool, and so I usually just call it, well, “My Bow.”
Since 2017 my bow has killed three P&Y deer, one trophy mountain goat, three javelina and several non-trophy animals. It’s the primary provider of meat for me and my family.
Shortly after returning home from a long hunt, I feel an emptiness by my side, like I’m forgetting something. Then I realize it’s my bow, now tucked snuggly away in its case on the floor behind the couch.
Out of sight, but never out of mind, my bow is a warrior and a friend. With my bow, alone, I share life’s greatest moments; my pain, my success, my tears and my glory.
I’ll never forget. Ten years ago I rounded a large fir tree and spotted a 180-class buck bedded in some deadfall at thirty yards and facing directly away from me. But before I could even pull an arrow, a nearby squirrel lit up with a world-class barking fit. The buck instantly stood up and walked into the deep woods without offering a shot. Since then, I’ve had innumerable stalks thwarted by these cursed tree rats, some ending entire seasons in failure by a single squirrel.
Aside from using other deer as sentinels, big bucks use a myriad of other forest creatures for safety too. As you travel through the woods you might notice that squirrels, chipmunks, and a variety of birds are continually announcing your presence. They do this to warn their own species of danger, but the deer pick up on their calls and use them to their advantage. Big bucks, especially, are completely aware of their surrounding and pick notice anything out of the ordinary.
If you’ve had the chance to observe many deer in the deep woods, then you’ve probably noticed that every time a squirrel fires up, the deer will stop whatever he’s doing and stare in that direction. Squirrels don’t bark randomly; there’s always a threat, even if it’s just another squirrel in their territory. Either way, if you agitate a squirrel, then just know that any deer within earshot is now looking for danger. Conversely, squirrels bark at deer as well as people. Several times I’ve found deer in places where I’ve heard a squirrel fire up. So don’t be afraid to investigate random squirrel barks.
Like elk, big bucks enjoy the security of bedding in thick, over-grown conifer forests. The problem with conifers is the abundance of squirrels and chipmunks that inhabit them. Like most animals, squirrels are territorial. Long ago I noticed that the whole conifer forest is gridded in squirrel territory. When you leave one barking squirrel behind, you’ll likely run into another and another as you move through the woods.
Squirrels aren’t too noisy early season, but it gets progressively worse in September as the squirrels begin to amass food stores (pinecones) for winter. In my neck of the woods, August 25th is the beginning of mayhem.
If you have an abundance of chipmunks in your area, you might notice they’re equally bad, erupting with a myriad of alarming noises that deer pick up on. One time I stumbled upon a crabby 4×4 buck feeding off a trail at 15 yards. Immediately, a cantankerous chipmunk situated between us erupted into a machine gun-like, high-pitched chirping fit. The buck stopped feeding and spent the next five minutes scanning the woods for danger. Eventually he marched nervously away. Just last year my eight-hour, once-in-a-lifetime mountain goat stalk was nearly blown by a single chipmunk who threw an alarming fit in a nearby tree.
Knowing that squirrels and chipmunks are such threats to bowhunting success, what do you do? I’ve tried everything, but here are a few tried-and-true techniques that might help you.
Unless you are sitting in a fixed ambush position, your best strategy is to just get up and move. Once out of sight, squirrels will soon shut up and go about their business. Fortunately, not all squirrels are bad. Some will even allow your presence, like if they’re too busy gathering pinecones to notice you.
A second option is to wait the squirrel out. Squirrels will generally bark for 30 minutes or less, during which time no deer will enter the area, guaranteed. After 30 minutes squirrels will tire out and go back to their business. Another effective technique is to walk directly towards the squirrel’s tree. Most squirrels will get nervous as you approach and shut up—but not always. Some just get louder! Fortunately chipmunks are more skittish and scare easily.
As a last resort, feel free to shoot the wretched beast. You don’t necessarily have to kill him, just whiz an arrow past his head. When he realizes he’s in danger, he’ll likely run off. For this reason, I always carry a cheap, aluminum “squirrel arrow” in my quiver—because you’re not likely to get your arrow back; believe me, I’ve shot at a lot of squirrels. My Spanish name is actually Squirlero! Okay, it’s not, but it should be.
Again, it depends on the squirrel you’re shooting at. Some just climb higher and bark louder. For this reason, a more lethal method might be in order. I know one hunter who carries a lightweight BB pistol in his pack…just in case.
If you hunt long enough, you’ll inevitably have an entire hunt go down the toilet thanks to a random tree rat. So be prepared by using the aforementioned squirrel-avoidance techniques. On a side note, I’ve actually eaten more squirrels than the average person. It was a long time ago, but eat them I did. They’re actually quite tasty; like chicken but with a nutty overtone. Bon appétit!
A laser rangefinder is an absolute necessity for compound bow shooters. Whenever possible I implore you to range the distance of any animal. This is especially important over flat ground and long distances.
That being said, all bowhunters must learn to judge distance without the aid of a rangefinder. When hunting in heavy timber, bucks can appear and disappear quickly, so you need to be ready for fast action. The majority of my trophies were taken on the fly with no time to range. Learning to judge distance without a rangefinder is something that can be easily practiced at home. Here are some techniques.
Set your target in the weeds at an unknown distance, and then shoot from random yardages without ranging. After your first shot, verify the distance with your rangefinder. Do this exercise at every practice session and your distance-judging abilities will increase rapidly.
When you’re hunting in the woods you can take advantage of the vast amount of downtime by guessing random yardages of distant trees or rocks, and then verifying the distance with your rangefinder. This is both a fun and productive way to kill time afield.
Another exercise is to figure out the farthest distance you can throw a fist-size rock (it’s usually 40-50 yards). In the field, ask yourself if you could hit a certain object with a rock. Your brain already knows, through muscle memory, how far you can throw a rock, so you can pretty much gauge whether or not you could hit something with a rock by just looking at it. Then use that estimation as a reference. This method is surprisingly accurate.
Judging distance can be especially difficult over longer distances and flat ground. In these situations try using the twenty-yard addition method. You already know what 20 yards looks like, so you can figure out longer distances by finding a spot 20 yards away, and then another spot 20 yards beyond that until you reach your target. Keep adding 20-yards until you reach the target. It works!
Of all the big game animals I’ve chased over the last 30 years, the Rocky Mountain goat is the most fascinating, strikingly beautiful, and toughest I’ve ever seen. He is a rare creature, living exclusively along a sparse band along the Rocky Mountains, ranging from Alaska down through Colorado and Southern Utah. Because he spends his days climbing vertical mountains, he is likely the strongest animal—pound-for-pound—in North America.
The first time you see him, with his stark white coat gleaming against the gray cliffs, it almost seems unfair that such a rare gem should be so easily spotted as he feeds carelessly on patches of dry grass in the wide open. But as you begin plotting your approach over the deep chasms between you, with thousands of vertical feet given and taken, you soon realize that a simple stalk is actually an all-day, perilous venture into the bowels of hell, and always one misstep away from serious injury or death. As Esther would lament later under the weight of a crushing backpack and half lost in the nighttime gloom of unfamiliar woods, “This hunt unit should have a warning label on it…seriously!”
What does it take to get your goat? Well, aside from the usual requisites—such as shooting proficiency, general fitness, and patience—goat hunting requires more than you might think. First you’ll need about half a lifetime to accumulate the number of points necessary to draw the once-in-a-lifetime tag. For me it took eighteen years, so I got lucky. Second, to hunt a goat you must be a goat. No matter how much physical training you undertake in the off-season, it won’t be enough—period. Goats live in the worst terrain on earth, places where most other creatures and plants cease to exist. Unless your exercise program involves scaling jagged granite cliffs at 11,000 feet while donning a heavy pack and carrying a cumbersome bow, you won’t be ready. Finally, you’ll need a viable exit plan. Big old billies can weigh up to 300 pounds and fall in places where you couldn’t get a horse. Heck, you might not even get yourself out.
With this in mind, let’s go hunting!
My deer hunt was a disaster. In a mere four year span, the ever-increasing gaggle of outdoor enthusiasts have turned my once wild mountain into a clown-town mountain bike and hiking resort; people everywhere, all the time, on every road and trail. The biggest and wisest bucks have since fled back to the vast private lands, now refusing to take part in the public land people party up top. Four hot and exhausting weeks down the toilet, my greatest passion ripped away, another mountain ruined and lost forever.
Realizing failure early on, my mind frequently drifted to the mountain goat tag lying on the kitchen table back home. I couldn’t imagine how this fluffy, conspicuous animal could be anywhere near as difficult as the wily old mule deer buck… Or could he… I was continually haunted by the unknown. All I knew for sure was that I’d never seen an easy hunt before, and wondered what surprises lay ahead.
Perhaps I could have scouted my goat unit if only I had a vehicle. In July my truck motor blew up on the highway and became a permanent fixture at a redneck repair shop 150 miles from home. At the same time, Esther’s car was recalled by the dealership for a three month stint requiring a new engine due to some pretty shoddy engineering. So I did my scouting at home, 200 miles away from the goats.
My first call was to a fine fellow named Kendall who’d posted a compelling YouTube video from his Nebo goat hunt last year. He’d done extensive scouting beforehand and was gracious enough to answer all my questions and point me in the right direction. My second call was to a DWR biologist who provided even more information.
Of particular interest was the location of goats. Although Nebo is a large unit, the goats inhabit only a few square miles of the three highest peaks, and you won’t find even a trace of goats below ten-thousand feet. There were only nine archery tags issued for the entire Mt. Nebo unit this year, but it doesn’t take much to blow out an entire peak, as I would soon to discover.
A few days after the deer hunt ended, Esther and I loaded twelve days worth of supplies into our emergency-bought, nineties beater truck and headed north to the bald peaks of Nebo. Fall colors were changing and elk were bugling as we settled into a fine tent camp beneath the great shadow of 12,000-foot Mt. Nebo.
Just around the corner from camp we found ourselves within viewing distance of a myriad of tiny white dots scattered across the sheer, granite cliffs two miles away. Judging by the various sizes of the goats, we determined the majority were family units of nannies and kids. The males, or billies, run about 40% bigger than the nannies and tend to live alone or in groups of two or three. Other than body size, there’s no good way to judge the animals from two miles away. All goats—whether billies, nannies, and juveniles—have sleek, swept-back, dagger-like horns ranging from seven to ten inches long and being all but invisible at long distances. Clearly this would be a boots-on-the-ground hunt. Thus, an all-day hike was planned for the following day.
I sure learned a lot about goats that first day. At first light we glassed up some promising goats from the camp overlook, and then set forth on a several mile hike around the canyon to get into position 1500 vertical feet below them.
It was around midday when I reluctantly peeled off the trail and headed straight up a steep knife ridge towards them. Much of the hike was spent scrambling on all fours, picking my way around rock walls, and clambering up noisy scree slopes while stopping occasionally to glass. Most of the goats remained bedded all day, only rising occasionally to change beds and grab a quick bite to eat. The biggest billies lived right in the cliffs where a stalk would be impossible.
It was fascinating to watch them traverse the cliffs with nary a concern for sheer drop-offs. Mountain goats have large, wide hooves with hard rubbery soles that cling to rocks. Their short, stumpy legs and compact bodies provide a low center of gravity for balance. There is no mountain too high for goats. If the peak stretched up another 5000 feet they would be at the top.
Eventually three large goats came into view a few hundred yards away, including one very large billy, a smaller one, and a big old nanny wearing a DWR tracking collar. Unfortunately they were bedded in the wide open with a wall of cliffs behind them. With no possible approach I continued higher in hopes of finding a good ambush position when they fed out later.
The terrain grew steeper as I went, gradually turning to cliffs in all directions. While working around an outcropping I spotted a goat bedded thirty yards below. He turned and looked up at me but didn’t spook. Instead he unbedded and actually walked right towards me. In a surreal moment, he stood broadside just five yards away and stared at me, framed against a massive fortress of broken cliffs and crags.
Eventually he wandered off and for the rest of the afternoon I sat on a heavily used saddle and watched the three goats from earlier. At four o’clock they all rose and began feeding in wide circles on the open hillside.
With only two hours of light left, it was time to make a move. The smaller of the three goats fed into some cliffs while the big billy fed downhill 200 yards below the nanny. Based on what I’d observed so far, goats aren’t nearly as spooky as deer. With their funny little elf ears, small black noses, and beady eyes, these animals obviously relied on extreme terrain for protection more than their natural senses. In fact every goat I encountered on this hunt seemed perplexed to see a human sharing his extreme environment.
The only possible route to the billy was through the nanny. She continually watched me as I poked my way down the cliffs and scree slopes. At 70 yards she got nervous and wandered off. Methodically I closed the distance to the billy who must have thought all the noise I was making was coming from the absent nanny. But when I got to 150 yards he looked up while I was looking down and pegged me in the wide open. Goats generally don’t run to avoid predators, but rather march steadily into vertical cliffs; and that’s exactly what he did. For the last half hour of light all I could do was watch him feed out of sight. At that point I knew this could be a very long hunt.
I only got lost twice while walking the three hours back to camp in the dark. When I finally arrived, Esther was on the verge of tears, certain that I’d fallen to my doom somewhere. This would become a regular occurrence for her.
I woke the second day with various aches and pains from the waist down. After spending an arduous day on Nebo, I was excited to try an entirely different peak: Bald Mountain, aka Baldy. Baldy seemed a little friendlier than Nebo: not quite as steep and with better access via a dirt road. Unlike Nebo, Baldy has patches of sparse pine trees which would be more conducive to close-quarter style hunting.
We didn’t spot any goats from the road, but there was still a lot of mountain hidden from view. We parked the poor truck shortly after the road turned into a pile of sharp boulders with all four tires spinning and not going anywhere.
A lovely morning hike through the golden aspens and fields of choke cherries soon turned into an all-day, up-and-down leg burner, alternating between cliffs and wide-open grassy bowls corralled by steep rocky ridges. We glassed as we went but no goats appeared.
Shortly after reaching the right goat elevation we ran into a harvested goat carcass, obviously taken by a hunter a week or two earlier. Well, congrats to the lucky hunter, but bad news for us. With the goat’s demise, the remaining goats likely spooked further into the vast reaches of Bald Mountain. We continued on.
Around noon we arrived at a great lookout from an 11,000-foot ridge. Our eyes strained through the glass as we dissected the mountains for miles, but turned up nothing. I could tell by Esther’s demeanor that she was done for the day, and thus put together a new plan. From here Esther would sit and glass the far hillsides until 5:00pm. Meanwhile I would clamber about the cliffs on the main peak in hopes of turning up a hidden goat. All the goats I’d seen thus far would feed until about 10:00am, bed down, and then rise again at precisely 4pm to resume feeding for the evening.
Clamber as I might, I turned up nothing but old beds and sign. At 6pm I got a message from Esther that three big goats were feeding a mile north of her lookout. It was too late for a stalk, so we planned a return trip in the morning to chase after them.
At last light we were able to glass up the goats from the road and verify that they were in fact billies based on their “urination posture.” (Billy goats pee like horses with their legs spread apart, while nanny goats squat like dogs). I was lulled to sleep that night by a combination of excitement, anticipation, and dread.
Fearing the weekend would bring more hunter competition to the mountain, we woke well before light and hit the road. Our previous days’ effort turned up a better road jump-off for quicker elevation gain. But I suppose it’s all relative; what’s a 500-foot advantage in these mountains?
Hurrying to reach the goats before they bedded, I hiked like a mad-man up the dark hills, leaving Esther far behind. My lungs burned and heaved in the cold morning air while a metallic blood taste filled my mouth. Still I refused to rest, knowing only one thing for sure: there’s nothing easy with goats.
I reached the lookout ridge around seven and spotted two of the goats feeding leisurely along the next ridge a mile away. Just one more canyon to go. I burned up an entire hour descending a perilous avalanche chute, sliding and clinging to roots while dislodging various boulders that went crashing down the mountain. I kept glancing up at the goats and was glad they were still too far to hear the great cacophony.
Happy to still be in one piece at the bottom, I began an immediate ascent toward the goats. From this point everything came unraveled. The shifting thermals began sweeping upward towards the goats who were now obscured by the curvature of the hill. To reduce my scent I ripped off my sweat-soaked shirt and stuffed it in my pack.
Next I made a wide arc to get above the goats before they winded me. While doing so I was absolutely horrified to see three other camo-clad dudes—a hunter with two buddies—suddenly appear on the horizon above me. “[Insert raging string of expletives here].” My worst nightmare come true; and such wonderful timing! Still, the compassionate inner Nate wondered what hell these guys must’ve gone through to get where they were; certainly there was no better route than the one I’d taken. Nevertheless, here we all were on the same peak, pursuing the same once-in-a-lifetime opportunity against all odds. May the best hunter win!
My carefully calculated stalk was now a flailing bee-line in the direction of the goats. But when I arrived, they were gone. In their stead was a big 5×5 mule deer buck staring at me with a familiar look, as if to ask, “What the heck is a person doing in this place?”
The three dudes looked equally frustrated as they continually scanned the hills in all directions. Either the goats had seen their approach and bailed, or they’d winded me. Either way they were gone. While the competition poked around a few hundred yards above, I pursued my only option, working lower and lower down the mountain while intermittently peeking over the cliffs where the goats must have fled. Still nothing.
At ten o’clock Esther radioed me from the lookout. She was still full of hope until I informed her of the dudes and the disappearing goats, at which time she blew a fuse. After everything we’d been through, we got duded; always more people! After a murderous rant, she asked with exasperation, “So, what’s your plan?” I looked up from the radio and slowly scanned the miles of emptiness in all directions. The wind whistled by and the sun beat down from a cloudless sky.
“There is no plan,” I finally growled. Then, after another pause, “I’ll call you at eleven…” Expecting nothing more from the day but blisters, I kept working down the mountain and glassing clumps of trees in vain hope that one of the goats had bedded nearby.
Movement suddenly caught my eye a 100 yards down in a dark tangle of trees on the cliffy north face. Through the glass my heart leapt at the sight of two white patches milling about and hooving the ground to make day beds. One goat bedded down facing me and I froze in the wide open for a full hour while he chewed his cud and stared in my direction. He finally got up, kicked the smaller goat out of its bed and laid down facing away. At this time I carefully crawled twenty yards lower to some shade and that’s where I sat for the next five hours, 80 yards above the goats and unable to make a peep.
I passed the time writing in my notebook, eating snacks, fighting off flies and bees, and periodically checking the goat as he lay bedded. Was it a mature billy? It was hard to tell from this angle. Maybe a nanny…? My lack of experience with such beasts kept me guessing, but it really didn’t matter. Considering what a person must go through to get within bow range, any mature goat is a good goat and I was intent on making something happen. But for now there was no move. He was bedded directly above some tall cliffs, and even if I had a clear shot, the goat would likely take a flying leap, as is their nature. No, I would wait them out, all day if necessary.
Meanwhile Esther sat patiently on her high perch crouched in some shadows. At one point a nearby rock slide crashed and echoed through the hills. Being out of radio communication, Esther feared I’d fallen to my doom, and thus sat helplessly wondering of my fate all day long.
At 3:30pm I was elated to see movement. The smaller goat soon popped into the open and fed out of sight. I lifted my bow, ready for the bigger one, but he remained bedded for another hour. As the mountain fell into shadows, the wind cooled and began shifting up and down. I winced each time it changed, expecting the goat to suddenly jump out of his bed and disappear. At 4:30 he finally stood , but was in no hurry to enter the open. Instead he just stood there sniffing the air and looking around, waiting for the shifting winds to give away any lurking danger.
Somehow he missed me and eventually walked into the open. Unable to move, all I could do was range him at fifty-six yards before he disappeared out of view. The moment of truth was finally upon me as I began a low-odds stalk into the great wide open.
Each footstep was carefully placed around loose talus rocks that rattled like bits of broken chinaware scattered across the slope. As I crept closer, the big goat began to materialize; first a white shoulder, then a rump. I ranged again—forty yards, but no shot.
I inched ever closer while crouching low and holding my loaded bow in my left hand, my right arm held out for balance. More of the goat came into view as he fed perpendicular to my approach. My heart beat quickened, drumming louder and louder in my ears. Something was about to happen, here in this vertical wilderness on the shadowy side of nowhere.
In the middle of an awkward step, a sudden high-pitched chirping pierced the night. Seventy yards below me in a patch of trees a chipmunk, who was apparently upset with the whole spectacle, erupted into an uncontrollable barking fit. My eyes flashed back to the goat who was feeding no more, but staring intently in the direction of the chipmunk. I froze in a hunched position and stared fixedly upon the top half of the goat’s head. His face shifted left and right, then back at the chipmunk. He suspected something was wrong.
After several minutes the goat began alternating between short feeding spells and looking around nervously. I was still stuck at forty yards with no shot and no way to get closer. This went on for untold minutes, but was finally cut short by a loud snort above me, followed by total pandemonium. While watching the big goat, the smaller one had wandered in above to investigate. I read somewhere that goats don’t run, but this little billy stirred up a cloud of dust as he rumbled downhill past the big goat.
Just as the whole evening was imploding, I raised my bow and launched a forty-yarder as the big goat whirled and ran after his buddy. Not accounting for his rapid acceleration, my arrow missed cleanly. Both goats thundered towards the cliffs, and then paused suddenly to look back at me. I was ready with another arrow and in a split second drew my bow, settled the pin for what I figured to be sixty yards, and released.
My arrow’s orange fletchings shone brightly where the arrow hit: squarely in the goat’s massive shoulder. Not much penetration, but perfect trajectory. Instead of running into the cliffs, the billy scrambled into the chipmunk trees, staggered for a moment and lay down. His young apprentice, clearly unhappy with the whole situation, walked over and stood by his fallen leader and stared up at me. I sat down and stared back.
After a minute I glanced up at my invisible wife on the ridgeline, still sitting in the dirt after a silent, eight-hour ordeal. I wondered how much of the spectacle she had seen. It turns out a lot. With trembling hands, I fumbled my radio out of my pocket and hailed her. “Hello?”
“Did you hit it?”
“Yeah, he’s bedded below me,” I whispered. “I can’t talk now; I’ll call you back.”
Light was falling fast as the big billy lied motionless in the shadows. I couldn’t tell whether his head was up or not, but a decision had to be made. This isn’t the kind of place where you just back out and return in the morning. If a follow-up was needed it would have to be tonight. Reluctantly I began scooting closer. The smaller goat shifted uneasily, and when I got within forty yards he walked over and kicked up the wounded goat who slowly stood, took two steps, and staggered.
Both goats began a rapid descent straight down an avalanche chute, but the big one couldn’t keep his feet and fell over. He slid a short distance, then got back up, and fell again, this time barrel-rolling down the mountain and out of sight.
I sighed with relief; it was finally over. I hiked up to get my pack and personal effects and then made a careful descent down to the goat. But after a hundred yards he was still MIA. Did he get up and leave? I called Esther on the radio, but she couldn’t see anything. Figuring it was going to be a long night for everyone, I told Esther to start making her way down to me, preferably while it was still light.
It was evident that the goat tumbled more than once, likely rolling each time he tried to stand. Another hundred yards down the ravine and there he was, caught up in some small boulders, one slip away from launching down another series of never-ending cliffs.
A flood of feelings rushed over me, mostly relief, but also gratitude for a clean kill and recovery of this magnificent animal. In near disbelief I reached down and stroked the coarse white hair on his massive shoulder. The great barrel-shaped beast was bigger than I thought, nearly impossible to maneuver for pictures and always threatening to slide into the abyss. Upon his noble horse-like head was a pair of stout, black horns measuring nine inches, albeit missing a few pieces due to his long tumble.
I wish I could end the story right here—a lovely three day hunt in paradise—but it was far from over. The next forty-eight hours went like this:
Esther arrived two hours later by headlamp and in tears. Not tears of jubilation, mind you, but genuine tears of mountain terror and exhaustion. “I don’t think I’ll be able to get myself out!” she exclaimed.
We cut up the iron-tough goat until 4:30am, hung the manageable parts in the trees, and then hiked out via the least horrible route. We arrived back to camp completely hammered at 8am and slept for an hour before waking to a multitude of flies buzzing around camp. I knew it was way too hot to leave meat hanging, even at 10,000 feet. We were on a serious timer; anything less than full bore meant losing the whole goat.
There had to be a better route back to the goat. Poring over maps, we discovered a low road running a mile and a half (as the crow flies) and two-thousand vertical feet below the canyon the goat was in. No trail meant busting timber the whole way in, but at least it would be downhill on the way out.
It took all day to get to the goat, at which time we loaded half the monster into our packs and began our downhill trek. The out-route had to be altered due to some dangerously steep slopes and heavy packs. Soon we found ourselves hiking down a slippery, boulder-strewn stream for a mile in the dark. This route proved far too time-consuming, and so a new one was plotted for morning.
Seven hours later we were back, this time coming in from above. This high route was definitely shorter, but also a gamble. Sure enough we got cliffed out and spent half the morning side-hilling dangerous terrain. Just before arriving at the goat, Esther spied a black bear sow with cubs across the canyon. One of the game bags containing a hind quarter was torn open on the ground, the meat partially consumed and swarming with flies. Fortunately we’d hung the rest over some north-facing cliffs and it was fine. In the end, though, the lighter load probably saved both us, as well as the remaining meat.
Despite being cooked out by the midday sun, I was energized at the prospect of ending the ordeal once and for all under the strain of a final pack out. However, no amount of pep talks could get Esther jazzed as she struggled continually to keep up. One word of wisdom for any future goat hunters: You must elicit help from at least three of your biggest, burliest buddies before undertaking such an endeavor. Goat hunting is not an ideal couple’s activity.
Our final out-route ended up being the same one I’d taken the day I got my goat: a ridiculous up-and-down scramble over terrain that would make an elk queasy. Still, we plowed ahead, determined to save our hard-fought meat. We finally arrived back at the truck around 1pm in a grossly over-distressed physical state.
It still wasn’t over. The incessant heat of “endless summer” had taken its toll on our ice supply. So without rest we busted camp and barreled down the road, past the tourists in flowery shirts photographing fall colors, past strings of RVs catching the waning weeks of summer, past weekend fishermen leisurely tossing flies at a mountain stream, and finally into town for a pile of dry ice. For the first time in five days we were able to stop and take a relaxed breath of air. The goat was saved.
A week later, as I sit back and enjoy a delicious goat steak, complete with sautéed onions and mushrooms in a delicious wine sauce, my body is healed and my spirit is full. My mind drifts back to the good parts of the hunt: the awesome sight of Nebo’s granite peaks, the enchantment of fall’s brilliant colors, the wide variety of wildlife seen along the way, but especially the heart-pounding excitement of the final stalk.
There is no animal quite like the Rocky Mountain goat, neither in beauty nor toughness. With an ever-increasing number of hunters vying for the coveted tag each year, only a handful will ever get the opportunity to chase the great white king of the peak. For those lucky few, this hunt should be considered an honor. The chance to match wits and might with such a beast is to test oneself in every way. My gratitude for this hunt will stay with me forever.
For the record my goat green scores just shy of 49 inches, placing him in the top 20% of goats ever taken with a bow and arrow. Though I’m thoroughly pleased with the outcome, I’m equally glad it will never be repeated.
It can’t be said enough: There’s nothing easy with goats! And maybe there shouldn’t be. Aside from the fine table fare and the beautiful taxidermy mount-to-be, I think the greatest gift from this hunt is perspective. For as long as I live nothing will ever seem all that difficult again.
Napoleon once said, “An army travels on its stomach.” This certainly applies to hunters too. Hunting the Rocky Mountains is the most physically demanding thing many of us do each year, requiring nearly double your normal daily caloric intake. But finding the right foods with regards to nutrition while reducing weight can be a challenge.
Everyone has their own tastes when it comes to field food, but what we can all agree on is backcountry hunters need a steady diet of protein to build muscle in conjunction with a regular intake of carbohydrates for continual energy. In big buck country you’ll need plenty of both.
First off, carrying enough food is far more important than trying to save weight by bringing too little. This is especially important in cold weather because you’ll burn far more calories trying to stay warm. I’ve been chased off the snowy mountain before from lack of food, and it’s a lousy excuse for failure. Fortunately we live in the era of an abundant supply of pre-packaged, freeze-dried meals that take up little space and weigh practically nothing. Just add water.
On backcountry trips where weight is crucial, your best option is pre-packaged dehydrated meals like Mountain House. When choosing pre-packaged meals be sure to choose the highest protein content since most lack adequate protein for some dumb reason. For this reason I augment my pre-packed meals with precooked tuna and/or chicken pouches. Add them directly to the meal or eat it separately.
Note: Most freeze-dried meals can cost a pretty penny. Fortunately you can save about 25% by purchasing the #10 size can (10 serving size). Then use a vacuum sealer to create customized portions for your trip.
You’ll get plenty of carbs from your Mt. House meals in the form of pasta or rice. Whenever possible you should avoid fast-burn, sugary foods such as candy, soda, white bread or crackers. Instead, reach for slow-burning carbs that will last all day and won’t burn you out. These include granola, oats (oatmeal or bars), beans, and whole-grain bread & snack bars.
For trail snacks in your daypack I recommend dried fruits, nuts, jerky (venison or beef), cereal bars, and boiled eggs. Dried fruit has plenty of natural carbs, plus much-needed fiber. Adequate fiber will further help you reduce weight in the field…for obvious reasons.
I always choose a variety of dried fruits with plenty of bananas. Bananas are a good source of potassium, magnesium, and calcium, three nutrients that help to ease muscle cramps.
Boiled eggs are a wonderful, high-protein, pre-wrapped food for both snacks and meals. I could live for weeks on boiled eggs alone, even without salt. The only drawback to eggs is they are relatively heavy and prone to freezing. Eggs are also perishable in warm weather so you’ll need a way to keep them cool. If possible store them in a small cooler, a stream, or snowpack. If eggs aren’t your thing, I recommend jerky or peanut butter for high-protein snacking.
Other than nourishment of the body, food serves another purpose: nourishment of the soul. After a few rough days afield you’ll likely suffer some level of mental fatigue bordering on a breakdown. Hunger only exacerbates the problem. Therefore I recommend a small amount of comfort food (aka junk food), whether it’s a bag of Doritos, Snicker bars, or couple cans of Coke. This will cheer up your inner child and just might keep you on the mountain long enough to get the job done. Just take it easy on the snacking or you’ll just burn yourself out. Think “Emergency use only!”
Having enough good, nutritious food will do wonders for the hunter’s mind and body. Just remember, you’re not going to the mountain for a picnic, so keep it lightweight and simple. If things get really bad, you can always shoot an animal and eat that. We are hunters, after all!
Did I miss anything? Let me know what you like to eat at 10,000 feet.