Last year (2011) I commenced on a 30 day hunting expedition across the state of Alaska for the big five game animals that live there. On day 19 of the 30 days, I would find myself on a nearly 90 degree slope clinging for dear life. I had drawn a coveted mountain goat tag in the Kenai Peninsula months prior to hunt, I was excited to finally hunt a species that has eluded me my entire life. Although I had heard mountain goat hunting was dangerous and tough, I figured if I could do it at 8 years old then I could do it at the age of 23.
These are pictures my brother August’s early hunting career, hunts that I was allowed to go but only observe. Auggie was the trigger man when we were younger, in 2011 I would get my chance.
I decided to bring a Thomson Center Muzzle loader, with 250-grain sabot bullets, Winchester primers, and pydroex black powder pellets. Bringing a muzzle loader to Alaska your must be prepared for the conditions to not only be extremely wet, but down right soaked to the bone the entiiiiiiire tiiiiiiiiiiime. The weather conditions between condensation and rain will turn you black powder to soup instantly. My number one priority would be to keep my weapon dry, and keep my ammunition and black powder if possible condensation free in a quadruple water proofing system. Several dry cloths and paper towels were placed into series of a neoprene gun casing down to several plastic waterproofing dry bags to help keep the weaponry operable. Also I decided to swab my barrel with a dry Otis system rag to pull out the last condensation prior to harvesting my goat, however I am getting ahead of myself in this story.
Jon and I, after spotting several goats from the Seward Highway studied the mountain and the best way to ascend towards the goat safe haven. Above tree line was a series of cliff outcroppings that would protect the goats from predators such as wolves and grizzly bears. These cliffs are extremely dangerous and can prove to be fatal for any type of creature, especially humans unless you’re Sylvester Stallone in popular movies such as “Cliff Hanger”. I felt like I was in a constant replay of bad scenes from that movie, however I would have a hunting pack on and look much more ridiculous than your average rock climber. But yet again, that’s were Jon and I found ourselves hiking up a seriously steep mountain, hanging on to cliffs literally for our dear lives. Taking the first step out of the truck and up the mountain, Jon and I became insta-soaked, our hands already pruned up like we had been swimming in a pool all day.
These wet conditions along with hiking up near vertical cliff faces with hunting gear on, I began to question the sanity of mountain goat hunters and myself. Even though the goats were so close to the road and our truck, they were so far. Hiking up the mountain to get above tree line and in actual goat territory was going to be much more than difficult, something like extremely deadly and dangerous. As if hiking (climbing) was not intense enough, the hunt would again take a drastic change of course. 30 minutes into the most intense hiking (rock climbing) I have ever done, a serious accident would happen. A possible hunt ending accident, with an inevitable trip to the Emergency Room that would curb the enthusiasm of our ascension to the goats.
Having soft hands from the wet conditions would prove almost fatal. As I was using the cliffs to hoist myself up the mountain, I had to check each handhold to make sure the stone was strong enough to bear my weight. As I grabbed a hay bale sized boulder protruding horizontally from the mountain, the rock broke, sliced and crushed my hand/finger. I was standing sideways on the cliffs and could barely pull my hand from behind the rock. After I freed my hand I still could not see it, as my entire hand and forearm were soaked in blood. I new I was hurt badly as there was a mass amount of blood pouring from my hand. I was in a very bad position physically as Jon was 70 yards below me and could not see me. I yelled to him that I was hurt and needed his help immediately; he knew I was serious because I told him it could be a potential hunt ender. Jon after hearing this accident could be a hunt ender, sprinted up the mountain. I shook my hand multiple times of blood until I could find the source of bleeding. I noticed my little finger wiggling a little too much, and realized I had almost completely severed a finger. Being almost in shock from blood loss at this stage, I knew I had to kick off my pack and store it on a cliff. I knew I must get to Jon as I was in a difficult spot to reach and receive medical attention. I slid down several rock ledges on my rear end, reaching a spot where two men could sit.
At this stage I was in and out of consciousness from blood loss, and being dehydrated after an extreme hike did not help matters. Jon made a tunicate from a piece of string and immediately began to work to stop the bleeding and help me. After several intense moments and minutes the bleeding began to stop, and I started to come back to reality. Jon pulled out some super glue and duct tape and attempted to keep my finger from falling apart. Layering super glue subcutaneously to my wound to hold it together, and duct taping my finger to keep it from coming off during the hike down to the truck or up after the goats. After the mini operation and several moments of sober reality, Jon told me “to get tough or die”. “Are we gonna go after these goats or what”? I didn’t say much besides, “throw me a protein bar”. Then put on my hunting pack and nursed my hand (as much as possible) the last 2500 feet of elevation to the goats above tree line. I soldiered through the pain, mostly because there was no real pain as I severed most of the nerves in my finger. The only thing that would hurt would be the possible broken fingers and metacarpals in my hand. I went ahead and toughed up a little and made it above tree line, having barely enough energy to set up our sleeping arrangements. The entire hike was outlined by the intensity of the medical accident not to mention non-stop rain the entire time, straight up downpour.
At the top of the mountain we set up our bivy sacks and hunting packs, underneath a lean to tarp, using the camera tripod as our sole tent pole. We were seeking refuge under the tarp from the rain that had been hounding our entire movement from the time we took our first step from the truck. It was late in the evening by the time we had reached our sleeping location above the tree line. We began to drift off to sleep with the weaning ours of daylight as I noticed a goat moving down a cliff meadow towards our location.
I woke Jon up and told him to put on his wet clothes immediately we had to get in position for a shot as a tall horned goat was feeding its way toward us in an open cliff meadow. Jon and I sprang out from underneath our tarp, using the clouds as cover from the goat to put on our custom white jackets called “whites”. We put on the whites to confuse the goat into thinking we were just another one of his buddies, when in fact we were an extremely dangerous predator with a killing range of 250 yards. We readied ourselves about 200 yards from our spike camp on a cliff, awaiting the goat to feed towards a shootable location for the muzzleloader. I was also looking at how to place a perfect shot to keep the goat from jumping off the cliff in front of it versus falling in the meadow behind it. The goat made the simple decision to stand directly on the cliff around 175 yards from my location with a meadow directly behind him. I decided to ready the Thomson Center for the shot. Swabbing my barrel with the Otis gun cleaning system to extract the last of the moisture, I loaded the black powder pellets and the 250 grain Hornady Sabot.
With the condition of my hand and the fading minutes of light, I decided to take the shot, as another chance may not present itself like this one. I readied the TC and decided to take a semi prone shot, using steep terrain as a shooting rest across the cliff. I aimed and awaited the clouds to once again reveal the goat’s location. A slight breeze moved the clouds fatally for the goat, and the TC rang the beautiful “kaboom” sound we as all outdoorsmen love to hear. The next note of music to my ears was hearing the sabot “thuuuuuwaaappppp” the goat’s high shoulder, dropping the beautiful creature dead on cliff. The last perilous action the goat could make was to jump forward off the cliff versus falling backward onto the cliff meadow. A suicidal type plunge taking the goat more than several hundred feet below.
As the light was fading, and the slippery conditions of the terrain began to sink in, I would make the decision to return to camp in the fading minutes of light to search for the goat in the morning. The next morning we woke up and packed our hunting camp, only to begin the search for the goat. Moving down the mountain towards the goat would prove to be just as dangerous as hiking up, and yet again we found ourselves grabbing at anything to slow our decent of the mountain. Grabbing at times even on to devils (see below), a hikers worst enemy in Alaska next to bears.
Hikers worst nightmare
I found the goat about 1000 feet down the creek drainage where we had shot from the previous night. The goat was completely intact, however in the long fall down both horns were knocked off. I searched up and down the drainage where the goat had tumbled and found nothing. A very disappointing, but very common result of goat hunting. The trophy that would be taken away would be the entire cape of the goat as well as about 120 pounds of “mountain lobster” type meat, a rare delicacy of red meat not many will consume in their lives. After finding the goat and doing closing interviews, the pack down to the truck with meat et al began.
After slipping and falling down the creek drainage, I had more thorns in my knees, hands, elbows, and rear end than I could count. Jon and I would spend the next few days using nail clippers to trim out deep devils club thorns. I still to this day am finding stray slivers here or there, mostly in my fingers and palms of my hands. The thorns however would not be a determent to the many years to come of goat hunting in Alaska. This was a very memorable experience that would end at Alaska department of fish and game offices in Palmer Alaska over the “sealing” table. A biologist would take record of the goat harvest and send me on my way. After sealing the goat and dropping off the hide to be tanned at the taxidermist, Jon and I butchered and prepared the goat meat. We used Auggie “The Meat Man’s” commercial grade meat grinder and vacuum sealer to prepare several tasty ground meats such as, smoked hickory goat burger, teriyaki garlic goat burgers, Ak Chipotle Goat burger, and my favorite Garlic Goat Chapow(a new family secret recipe). Once the goat was completely taken care of, my family would begin packing for the annual family moose combo bear hunt.