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Goat Hunt

Goat Hunt

In the spring of 2007 I received a goat tag for a hunting district in central Montana. The mountain range is an island mountain range called the Crazy Mountains. I’m sure a lot of you already know the stories and legend of Jeremiah Johnson and all that goes with the colored history of the Crazy Mountains. Having lived in Montana all my life, I've hunted most all of its major mountain ranges crossing its national forests from one end to the other in my 40 years as a bow hunter. I have many stories to tell and great memories to go with all my wanderlust.

Crazy Mountains
Our first look at the Crazy Mountains.

As you drive around the base of the Crazy Mountains you are taken by the rapid changes from foothills to peaks and just how incredibly beautiful it is. I just kept thinking about what forces in nature created this mountain wonderland. I’d already talked to some of my friends but had no real idea of where to even start this adventure. I made calls to a few select and trusted friends, got out the maps and was slowly starting the planning process.

One day while I was working on building a bow for a customer the phone rang. Expecting a customer wanting to talk about bows I was met with a familiar voice that I couldn’t place at that exact moment and all he said was, ”You need me, you don’t know it yet but you need me”! I must have had the dumb look and been in complete silence not knowing who or what he was talking about when the voice said "This is Pete, Pete Youngbauer from Lewistown”. Now I was starting to catch on. As I talked to Pete I was secretly thinking, I have hunted all over Montana, I’ve been to Alaska and shot caribou, killed grizzlies, lived some of the most awesome adventures any one could ever have and he says you need me. HUMMM. As Pete and I talked I kept thinking what’s he know that I don’t. As Pete talked he mentioned he grew up at the base of the Crazy Mountains, had hiked and fished them often and had shot a goat in there a few years ago. Pete kept talking and offered to come along on my goat hunt. I pondered the offer he had just made me and in a matter of a few minutes I found myself saying, ”OK, sounds like a plan”. I asked when I should come over to Lewistown so we could go on a scouting trip and scout for goats. All Pete said was, "Why bother, we will just go goat hunting. No sense fooling around wasting time looking for goats where they won’t be in Sept anyway".

My summer was filled with bows to build and dreams of a giant billy goat, going for walks to get in shape and spending time around goats and in goat country. I figured out early in the summer I wasn’t as young as I use to be or as crazy as I once was. Having not worked construction for a number of years I now learned I have a little fear of heights and I wasn’t as nimble as I once was. I somehow thought hiking in Glacier National Park would get me ready for an island mountain range in eastern Montana. I mean come on, how tough could an Eastern Montana mountain range be?

Goat season opens Sept 1 in the Crazy Mountains not the 15th like most areas in Montana. I mentioned this small fact to Pete as I was kind of thinking we would go goat hunting the middle of Oct when the goats are all haired up. I think the instant reply was, ”If you think we can get there in October, you have been smoking some kind of dehydrated hooch. The Crazy Mountains have peaks over 11,000 ft and are as rugged as anything on earth. We are going September 1 that’s all there is to it". OK, so now the time frame had been set. Now the thought process went to what do we need and how are we going to get it there. Pete having already been there before knew what would be required of us and so the plan started to come together and I just kept hearing that little voice in my head, "YOU NEED ME".

I met Pete the week before season. We drove down to the Crazy’s and dropped off some of my gear and gear for a fellow goat hunter from Lewistown. A rancher was going to pack in our gear to base camp. The Crazy Mountains, while being one of the great wonders of nature, are a checkerboard of public and private ownership and if you don’t have permission from a rancher access is very limited. Between gaining permission and some of the people that were trying to get involved thinking I would owe them a favor things quickly turned into chapter in a cheap novel. I’ll tell you that story another time. The little voice once again said, "YOU NEED ME".

September finally arrived. It had taken 30 years of applying to get this tag and now it was time to go. We signed in and chatted with the old cowboy that owns most of the ground we would be crossing on the 5 mile hike up to base camp. When we arrived in camp we were a little surprised to find another goat hunter sharing our camp, another part of the cheap dime store novel.

Our plan was to hike the limited trail system, spot a goat and make the stalk. Sounds simple enough. Early September. finds the goats way up in the rocks and the limited trails along the creeks; you can see where this is going. Over the course of the first week we would spot a goat, try to evaluate it and see if it was possible to make a stalk, plan a route and make the 2500 ft climb hoping the goat hadn’t departed. Pete would stay in the creek bottom while I climbed. Pete was giving me hand signals and directing me in on him. It was tougher for me coming down than going up. I’d get back down, legs shaking like a leaf, and Pete would gleefully announce he had another one spotted and I’d have to suck it up and start another giant climb. The system worked reasonably well in the first few days and would have even been successful if someone around here could have just shot center.

One observation I made over the course of my hunt was that if you spooked a goat and he climbed higher on the mountain all the other goats in the drainage also start climbing. Goats use each other to signal danger. It wasn’t a problem seeing goats; the problem was they were where no man on this earth could go after them with a bow. During the hunt I saw goats do amazing things. I can’t even describe the cliffs they could go up or for that matter come back down. I never realized just how flexible a goats skeleton is. The only animal I’ve seen move in the same way is a cat.

After the first week the goats around camp were on to us and stayed in the cliffs looking down on us and laughing. At weeks end, we decided to go for a walk. No place in particular, just take the old longbow for a walk. We hiked up the trail 5 or 6 miles, caught a few fish and were just living life large. While lying next to the trail letting our socks dry and waiting for evening before we started our hike back to camp, a family group of backpackers came down the trail. Pa and the kids on a backpack trip in the high country. What a great sight to behold. They were quite interested in our adventure trying to get a goat with a longbow, and as we chatted with them the one boy pipes up you should see the goat with the big nards hanging down up by the high mountain lake. His sisters face turned beet red in an instant, Pete and I were ready to just explode in laughter listening to this young man tell his story. As the family moved on down the trail I looked at Pete and all he said was, "Well, let’s go have a look at this goat with the big nards". We headed out, not a care in the world. Sun shining, 70 degrees, blue sky, a perfect day. Its funny how fate sometimes tempts you, we had only gone ½ mile up the trail when a 6pt bull elk comes walking down the trail BUGLING HIS FOOL HEAD OFF. All I could think to do was give Pete my bow; I knew I would kill him. I was hoping Pete would have enough sense not to. We were at least 10 miles from the truck, we had permission to hunt goats not elk and that was plainly stated to us from the start by the old cowboy. I just threw my bow to Pete and covered my eyes as I didn’t want to even look at him. I wanted to shoot that bull so bad.

Frozen Ass
Freezing my ass off in some
high tech clothes.

Released Yellowstone Cutthroat
Contrary to the caption on the picture in
Traditional Bowhunter Magazine, I released
this fish. Yellowstone Cutthroat are protected
in the Crazy's. You are encouraged to catch
and eat Rainbows however.

We managed to work our way up to the high lakes stopping to admire an elk wallow along the trail and listening to bulls bugle in the distance. We made it there an hour or so before dark, the high alpine country is one of the most beautiful places on earth. The sun was setting, turning the mountains pink in the alpine glow. Life was good. As we filled our water bottles in the turquoise water there were 40 or more goats on the rock face above us and bull elk bugling behind us. What a place to just be alive. Camp was 9 or 10 miles back down the trail, it was an hour before dark and there were 40 goats above us. I knew we were staying the night, no doubt in my mind. We decided to hooch in some trees between two small lakes and started to cut branches to lie on and cover ourselves with since we had no shelter, no food, no extra clothes, only a bow and a fishing rod. We did manage to catch a couple 12 inch rainbow trout and cooked them on a stick, guts, feathers and all. Pete promptly scarfed them down. You could hear the bones crunching as he ate them. At over 9000 ft even in early Sept it gets cold. All we had were the clothes on our backs. In my case I was trying out this new razzoo highly technical, super wiz bang, god’s greatest gift to the hunting world clothing. I damn near froze to death. I would have given you $1000.00 for a cotton tee shirt. Pete found a game bag in his pack and cut a hole in the top putting it on like a giant condom. We got a good laugh out of that one. Nothing left to do but auger in for the long cold night. I was never so happy as to hear a robin start singing. I knew the night was almost over and the sun would soon rise and bring with it warmth. The goats had moved off the cliff face and over onto a ridge where I thought I might be able to stalk them. As I started the 1000 ft climb, it hurt, having slept on a rock pile with nothing to eat for 16 hours, making it one tough climb. Up near the ridge top I got in on a nice Billy. I was just 30 yards making my final move when a big old rip of a nanny busted me. I tried to head the goats off, however they climb a lot faster than I do. We never did see the goat with the big nards. What I did find was God. Though not the one you’re thinking of.

Dwayne the old geezer with his two buddy's.
I can't repeat their names after they tried
to run away.

While walking down the trail with my tail between my legs, feeling as low as a snake in a wagon rut. I heard a noise behind me and turned around to see this old geezer with an ancient old Robertson recurve in hand. Not strung or anything, just carrying it. I still haven’t figured that one out. As we walked down the trail we chatted and upon getting down to the lake we hooked up with Pete, sat down on a log and talked to the old geezer for a few minutes. We found out his name was Dwayne Garner and he also had a goat tag. Pete and I were politely trying to excuse ourselves since we had 10 miles back to camp, having had no food and no sleep we needed to get going and now. As we were trying to make our exit Dwayne says with a smile, ”Are you boys in a little trouble”? We said no but it was a tough night with no food no sleep and we had a long way to get to back to camp. Dwayne got this smile on his face and says. Well boys, sit right down here; let’s see what we can find for you. I was in total amazement when he opened his pack, got out tortilla shells, canned ham, mustard, and mayo and made us the best lunch any bow hunter has ever had. As we sat there dining on a 5 course meal compliments of Dwayne. Pete all of a sudden jumps up and says, ”Neil, I sent you up the mountain after an old Billy goat and you came down with God". So from that day forward Dwayne’s nickname between the 3 of us is God, with no disrespect meant. The 10 miles back to camp was a whole lot easier than it would have been with no food in our bellies. Upon arriving back in our camp we drug out some kind of rat poison in a plastic traveler bottle and had us a couple gouges, life’s good.

The next day was spent licking our wounds and listening to Pete reciting vivid stories from his current Longarm book and all Longarms conquests with great gusto. In case you haven’t read any Longarms, it’s a series of books. I believe cowboy porn would accurately describe them. We decided the next big adventure would be to go after FLAT BILLY.

From the first hour we arrived in goat camp we had spotted a big old yellow colored goat several miles away on a giant hillside with one small flat spot having a juniper patch on it. Over the first week we had hiked the couple miles to the mouth of this giant canyon where the Fish &Game must of trapped goats in the old days before they got so self righteous about transplanting an animal that a sportsman might actually hunt and enjoy instead of one that eats all the game animals. From where the old goat trap is up to the lake at the end of the canyon there are no trails of any kind. The walls of this canyon are comprised of nothing but loose granite for miles. As I kept looking at the hillsides a term kept creeping into my mind the, ”angle of repose”. If the walls were any steeper rocks couldn’t lie on the hillsides. Twice we had been there looking for a way over to Flat Billy and twice we had turned around.

Pete at the end of the trail on our
way to try and ambush Flat Billy.

Warming up
Our little warming fire we sat at waiting
to see if Flat Billy was at home.

After our night out and a day of rest we were raring to going after Flat Billy, no turning back. Tomorrow was the day. Daylight broke and with it a rainy gloomy foggy day. However we were committed to make a play on Flat Billy so we packed up tent, sleeping bags, food and extra clothes and headed out. It took over an hour to reach the mouth of the canyon where we were greeted with low clouds and fog. There wasn’t enough visibility to see Flat Billy on the opposite canyon wall so we built a small fire and just hung out for a couple hours in the rain, sleet and fog. Finally we got a break in the clouds and there he lay on the same small flat he had been on for over a week. We were going after him no turning back now. It took us a couple hours to work our way down into the creek bottom then we had to climb for a couple more hours to reach the flat. The snow was now sticking and footing was treacherous. We had made it, we were there. We were to the flat where Flat Billy lived. I spotted old Billy Goat Gruff just laying there all stretched out just like a big old white cat sleeping peacefully. Not a care in the world, and why not, I doubt anyone had ever been there to disturb him. Billy was about 80 yards and I had low lying juniper bushes to use for my stalk. I dropped my pack and started easing over to Billy. Soon I was 25 yards and could make it another 10 yards easily with the cover I had. FLAT BILLY WAS MINE. I had just started my final 10 yards and all of a sudden I could hear some gal yelling and screaming and then some dude answering her. I looked over and FLAT BILLY was up and running to the top of the mountain. How could I be so unlucky? Why couldn’t she have kept her mouth shut for 5 more minutes? I couldn’t believe it. We ended up pitching the tent and cooking a meal in the snow and fog. The weather just wouldn’t give us a break. We knew we had to get out of there or risk not making it. As it turned out it took us almost 9 hrs to get back to the mouth of the canyon and safety. That was the last we saw of FLAT BILLY. With snow on the ground and wounds to heal we decided to give it a week, hope for the snow to melt, and regroup.

2007 Goat

I met Pete in Lewistown the following Friday and on Saturday we were headed back to goat camp in the Crazy Mountains. The week off had found me reflecting on my goals of this hunt and what the hunt had offered me and the lessons I had learned. It had redefined my expectations and goals and I now realized this hunt was far more about the people and the incredible island mountain range they call the Crazy’s than any old Billy Goat gruff. We arrived back in camp in the late afternoon and had a great meal of canned beef and noodles, caught a couple of fish and had a couple gouges of rat poison and hit the rack early. Morning found us splitting up, Pete was going to a knob to glass. I would hike up the trail a few miles glassing as I went. When I made it to an open rocky ridge where we had seen goats in the past I decided to just sit awhile and glass. I had sat an hour or so when I spotted a goat coming down from a high cliff. I figured he was going to cross to the other side of the creek drainage so I took off as fast as I could go trying to get in front of him. I had to cover about 1/4 mile of rock slides as fast as I could. I got to where I thought the goat would cross. Unable see him I thought he might have heard me and spooked. Right then below me I heard a rock roll. I knocked an arrow and peeked over the lip of a big ledge and to my surprise there was a goat walking briskly from my left to my right, kind of like jump-shooting goats with a longbow on a cliff face. I don’t remember drawing the bow picking a spot or even shooting the arrow. The first thing I remember was an arrow entering mid body behind the front leg. I knew it was over. My first thought was damn why did I do that, now I won’t be able hunt goats anymore. I quickly came to my senses realizing what we had accomplished.

As it turned out the arrow entered and exited on the same side of the chest cavity, the angle was so steep. My goat ended up a nice 8 year old nanny, she had 8 ¾” horns. I have to admit when I saw it coming down the cliff I thought it was a Billy and it may well have been. The goat I shot may have been a different one for all I know. O Well. Of all the animals I have hunted the Rocky Mountain goat is far more about the country, the adventure and the rush of scaring yourself half to death than the size of the horns.

What an adventure. The Crazy Mountains, the crazy friends, the opportunity to hunt one of the toughest animals in North America. To me the Mountaint Goat typifies the pinnacle of hunting in the Rocky Mountains.

My special thanks go out to the old geezer, Dwayne, for his generosity and continued friendship. To Pete, for making it a hunt of a life time. With a little gouge of rat poison, I toast the goats of Crazy’s.

Random Photo
Pete's Elk
grizzly bear hikeing I hate turkeys moose scents scouting sheep wolf