I started hunting in 1990. Picked up the bow and instantly fell in love with archery and bowhunting. One of the first ‘exotic’ animals I dreamed hunting was mountain goat. I could just picture my arrow hitting the exact spot I was aiming on the white backdrop of the goat’s hide. But being young and in love with a wedding to plan for, those dreams would have to be put on the back burner.
I started hunting more and more, taking some trips out of province and was lucky enough to see some beautiful country and hunt some incredible animals. In the early 2000’s I began guiding, then eventually owning my own camp as wells as spending a few years managing another outfit.
All this time, I tried stashing a few bucks from the extra income away. I wasn’t very good at it. As I got older, I realized if this goat dream was to become a reality, I’d have to get serious about putting away some money to make it happen.
During the time I was watching my ‘goat account’ climb, I was attending several sport shows as an exhibitor. This gave me the opportunity to meet a LOT of other outfitters. At the Pope & Young Convention in Phoenix (2015) I was across the aisle from an Alaskan outfitter that offered moose, brown bear, AND goat hunts. He had a video playing showing a guide and hunter doing yoga after crawling out of a spike camp tent. After watching it for a couple days, I had to introduce myself and ask what all that was about. After a few laughs during that first conversation, I had a good feeling about his camp and logged it in the ‘goat hunt’ file.
I ended up seeing the same outfitter at a show a year later and he had his son with him. As it turned out, his son was within a week of the same age as my boy, so I spent time visiting with them a lot since I had to leave my son at home. Since his son was home-schooled, this was basically a field trip for him. After getting to know them better, I decided if this goat dream was going to ever come true, he’d be the guy!
Goat hunts are pricey, and not getting cheaper. I soon realized this was going to be tougher than I realized. Not looking for pity, as I have an incredible life, but I realized I may have to keep the goat hunt as a dream rather than be frustrated that it was taking so long.
After talking with the outfitter, he mentioned the option of buying an auction hunt. He said at times they go lower than you think. I started watching auctions and some went in my price range, but I didn’t want to settle for someone’s leftover hunts or non prime time spots by buying at auction.
Then I got a call from my outfitter saying one of his hunts was going up for auction – and no date restrictions other than had to be within two years! I was pumped, put in a proxy bid…and failed. Wow that hurt.
A year later (February of 2018), another auction. After some confusion on my proxy bid, I found out I won the hunt...at even less than my max bid amount!! I was going goat hunting!!
I contacted the outfitter immediately and set the dates for October 7-15, 2019. That was supposed to be enough time to get into shape physically (badly needed) and save up for some of the extra costs of the trip. My outfitter was great with providing info on gear and the trip itself. It also worked out a good friend of mine would be hunting with him in the fall of 2018, so I’d have a first-hand account of what to expect. My buddy had a spectacular hunt and took a great goat. I was getting so pumped!
Getting mentally prepared was easy. The physical prep did not start out as well! The first 10 months I basically wasted. My goal was to lose 50 pounds (the weight my outfitter said my pack was going to weigh). By the end of the year, I had lost 0 pounds. Time to step it up.
I’m not usually a fan of fad diets, but I needed a kick-start, so I did a modified version of keto (based on some of the things I read on Bowsite). I also started some mild cardio and a little bit of strength training with my son. The pounds started coming off and that motivated me even more. By the week before I needed to leave, I had lost over 40 pounds and was training with a 50-pound pack and feeling pretty good.
Over the year I also made some purchases. After visiting with the Stone Glacier people at the Pope & Young Convention in Omaha, I purchased the 15 degree Chilkoot sleeping bag and the Sky Archer 6200 pack. And after reading a thread on Bowsite regarding sleeping pads, I purchased a ThermaRest Xtherm Max.
Another purchase was a used 3D goat archery target. Once I had my bow dialed in, I only shot at the target so that my mind could envision what it may be like if I were lucky enough to get into bow range. The weather at home went to crap, but lucky for me, it was imitating the conditions I was to expect in Alaska!
I made a list of things I needed to accomplish on this hunt, and they went as follows:
1. Be prepared physically enough that my conditioning would not be the reason I would not get a goat.
2. Be prepared mentally enough to maintain a positive attitude no matter what came at me.
3. Challenge myself to overcome an extreme fear of heights so I wouldn’t put myself, or anyone else, in danger.
4. Enjoy the fact I was doing something very few people get to do, and make sure my family knew how much I appreciated their support.
5. And last, but not least, kill a giant, long-haired, rocky mountain goat!!
Flying from Manitoba to Cordova involved being at the Winnipeg airport at 4:00 am on October 5, central time. I flew from Winnipeg to Vancouver, Vancouver to Seattle, then Seattle to Anchorage, landing in Anchorage around 2:30 Alaska time. I hit my first snag in Anchorage as I watched everyone grab their luggage and walk off. I was excited when my Stone Glacier pack came around on the carousel. I was less excited when everything was done and my bowcase had not made the trip with me. The baggage claims lady was very friendly and told me my case was on one of the two later flights coming in that evening and they would bring it to my hotel. Not much to do but wait and see.
It was really cool to meet up with another bowsiter for dinner in Anchorage. We had a good visit but I really needed to catch up on some sleep!
The next morning my bowcase was at the lobby and I was off to the airport for the last leg of commercial flights, Anchorage to Cordova.
In visiting with the outfitter, he knew my goal was to take my goat with a bow. He was even excited about it, being a bowhunter himself. He described an area that is very lightly hunted since it is a LOT of work to get into – crossing the river several times and an extra couple of miles of hiking. He said the area is conducive to bowhunting and has seen a number of great billies in that area while flying other hunters to moose and bear camps.
The plan was to spend the night in Cordova, fly to base camp the following day, hike into spike camp, then start hunting. I couldn’t believe this was about to happen!
One of the packers picked me up from the airport and of course my first question is how have the other hunters been doing. He immediately showed me a picture of 2 hunters posing with their goats!! Now I am really amped up!! Every second that goes by, I’m closer to goat hunting. He dropped me off at the hotel and we planned to meet at the restaurant for dinner.
At the hotel, I laid out all my gear and re-packed it into what I think will be the minimum needed for the hunt. I made piles of ‘must have’, ‘should have’, and ‘would like to have’. I had way too much gear, but figured the guides would help me with paring it down.
At dinner, the outfitter met up with us and looked a lot like I imagine I do in the middle of my outfitting season. Sleep deprived, a little stressed, but excited to see the hunters. It’s great to catch up with my friend, but there’s bad news…
On the hunt immediately prior to mine, my guide hurt his back. He is actually a day or two away from having back surgery as I write this! The outfitter was working on a plan B, but it had not come together yet. I explained to him this is just a setback and I’m sure a plan will work itself out. He began reaching out to other guides in the field that were nearing the end of their hunts. The first guide had to get home to attend some business and couldn’t be back for several days, so he was out. The second guide said he would have gladly helped out, but had prior commitments working for a different outfitter and needed to leave almost immediately. There was the option of hiring a brand-new guide, but the outfitter was uncomfortable with me being his first guest – especially because of the bow and the area we wanted to hunt. It looked like I may lose a day while these things sorted themselves out.
The next day I found out there was another quality guide on his way in. I went to the local Wildlife Department and got some final paperwork, then started going through my gear for the 1000th time!
I found out this guide was scheduled to do a Wounded Warrior Hunt and my outfitter was trying to see if we could swap things around - having me hunt first. I don’t know what anyone else would do in this situation, but there is no way in hell I would even think about stepping in front of one of those guys for my own hunt. It sounded like the area they were going was loaded up with goats and with everyone being in great shape (and the hunter using a rifle), I may just have to wait an extra day or two to get out. The outfitter graciously offered to extend my hunt, but unfortunately my time off is extremely limited and changing flights was a non starter financially.
I prepped to stay in town for the extra time. As beautiful as Cordova is, and as great as the weather was, time goes by very slowly with nothing to do but wait. At least there was WIFI in the local hotel, so I was able to keep close friends and family updated. The new guide and WW hunter flew into goat base camp. I got to spend some time with another hunter that was about to fly into Brown Bear camp. Another dream hunt of mine…and that one will likely stay a dream, but it was great to listen to him getting fired up for his trip into camp!
Here is the first pic, showing the time I needed to be at the airport for the first flight.
Just to keep busy, I tried and helped get gear ready for the bear hunter about to leave for camp. The camp he was headed into has already taken a great bear and the guide/hunter had another bear harassing them as they were taking care of the downed one.
Just as we are loading up the plane, we get news from goat camp that our WW hunter is tagged out!! I’m stoked for him, and selfishly a little for myself as that means it’s time for me to prep my gear for goat camp!!
We’ve had phenomenal weather until now, but it wasn’t looking great for tomorrow, so we’d have to wait and see.
The weather is not great today, but these Alaska bush pilots are incredible. The outfitter is able to pull out a moose hunter and his guide (the one with prior engagements). His last flight is to bring out the WW hunter and his goat.
So now you’d think I’d fly in with the outfitter when he went to pull out the goat hunter. Unfortunately, no. The guide let my outfitter know that some info had come in from home. Without going into details, he needed to get home to an ailing son...immediately. I have a son of my own and no one would keep me away from him if his health was an issue. Sadly, the weather moved in a prevented the outfitter from getting him out that day…and there didn’t seem to be any improvement coming in the next two days.
Sometimes you just get dealt bad luck, but you need to count your blessings. I almost felt guilty texting back and forth with my son about Thursday night football, while this poor guy was stuck in camp waiting to fly out to see his boy. The wind and rain were brutal today so there was no flying anyone anywhere.
It appeared tomorrow was going to be a better day. My outfitter got his gear ready and told me after flying the guide/packer out, he would head into goat camp with me and we would get after it. This is a huge deal as he needs to hire out extra flying while in goat camp with me. Not to mention falling behind on day to day outfitter tasks while out of contact. I can’t state firmly enough how appreciative I was for this sacrifice. I will admit though, I was looking forward to being guided by the main man!
We discussed bringing a packer along but our confidence (maybe arrogance) made us decide that we could handle it all ourselves. I went to bed that night knowing I was going into goat camp the next day!!
Due to weather, the day starts later than planned but I’m assured me we’re going in today. There are two flights to get the guide and packer out and get our gear in. Shortly after first take off, I receive a text from the outfitter that there is a plane issue. I can’t believe this is happening!! Fortunately, a quick fix is completed and we continued to move forward.
We made it to base camp with little time to spare with respect to daylight. The first thing we do is bear fence the plane…I was really in the wilds of Alaska!! Even with the shortened schedule (3 days to hunt), we agreed to go to the ‘archery friendly’ area with goats dying of old age because of the light hunting pressure. While in camp, we also receive word that the brown bear hunter tagged out!
Up early and our first of several Mountain House meals! We knew we needed to cross the river a few times, so we pack the hiking boots and put on the chest waders. It’s incredible scenery and we saw goats on the mountainsides as we walked! As beautiful as the scenery was along the river, I learned how nasty the Alaska woods can be. I’m sure many of you have dealt with Devil’s Club and those freakin’ Alders!
It took about 5 hours of hard hiking to get to spike camp. We were on a small flat just above a small glacial lake and right beside a glacier! Could you be more in Alaska?!
We did a short reconnaissance hike up the mountain - about 3 hour round trip. We saw a nanny and kid way up the hill. We headed up far enough to make the game plan for the route we would take the next day.
Back at spike camp we had another awesome Mountain House meal...I’m not even being sarcastic, I thought they tasted pretty good.
Slept very well that night. I was goat hunting!
We got up early to heavy frost on the tent and ice on the lake…and another Mountain House breakfast. We geared up and the packs felt awesome with only 25-30 pounds compared to the 60 pounds we hauled around the day before.
We started our climb. We made a cool trek through an ice cave! While walking through, you could see rocks hanging from the ‘ceiling’ and heard the occasional one drop. I wish I could re-take junior high geography since I now completely understand how moraines are formed!
The climb was steep, with lots of boulders, and some smooth face. I thought I was doing great until we hit a real steep area. I have to admit I froze. I was only 5’ away from my outfitter, but I didn’t want to grasp his outstretched hand for fear if I panicked, I’d throw both of us off the side of the mountain.
We had a brief discussion about the situation and as any phenomenal guide would do, he worked his way below me, then guided me down and we came up with a new route that I was more comfortable with. I can tell you after that burst of adrenaline, I needed some trail mix and water to calm myself down.
Shortly after that episode, we crested the high point of the saddle just below where we were heading. My guide was ahead of me and when I asked him how it looked, he got a big grin and said ‘Beautiful!’. I got up beside him and saw 3 goats in the distance, about 500 yards away. We believed they were all billies, and one stood out as a giant! My guide referred to him as the ‘white buffalo’ we were after!
These goats weren’t where they needed to be and we knew there were more on the side of the mountain above the ridge to our right. Unfortunately, after many attempts, we realized we were trapped. We could find no way to climb the last 60-100 feet to get on the alpine meadows we knew held the majority of the goats.
The first large billy was now moving off. We guessed him to be about 400 yards. We both looked at my guide’s rifle. Now, I am not a purist when it comes to bowhunting, but my dream was always to take the goat with my bow. I also don’t shoot firearms a lot. Those two things made us decide the goat deserved a better fate than some hail-mary shot from some guy shooting someone else’s rifle.
We took stock of our situation. Looking at where we were, and the time of day, we planned to try and get back down to spike camp safely, but as quickly as possible. Then we would pack it all up and get back to base camp. The next day we would plan to hike into a more familiar area and try to get my goat. But we have to move now!
The hike down was going extremely well as we avoided some of the nastier spots. That all changed when we hit another area that had me locked up. A near vertical 30 drop in a narrow chute. I held up while my guide looked for another way. He came back with the bad news that there was only one option. He climbed down, dropped his pack at the bottom, then climbed up the chute and took my pack from me and dropped back down again. Without the burden of the weight of my pack, I felt bold enough to drop down this narrow channel. The pucker factor was intense, but what a relief when I got to the bottom!
This situation cost us critical time, but we got down to spike camp safely. At this point, we were not going to make it to base camp in daylight. With the amount of bear sign we had seen on the hike in, we had no intention of making that walk without complete illumination! We weighed our options and calculated if we left at daylight, we could make base camp, then up to goat country with a couple of hours to hunt – not ideal, but it was our only option.
We woke early Monday morning (Canadian Thanksgiving). My guide did his daily check of the weather and the news was not good. The day was going to be fine, but late in the day and into the 15th, the weather was going to get nasty…definitely not flying weather. After a lengthy discussion, we made the tough call to end the hunt. We packed up camp and hiked back to base camp. The trip was better than the way in, since we knew certain areas to avoid. We were at base camp in a little over 3 hours. Since we had daylight and two of us. We took down base camp and 3 flights later all was back in town, ready to be put in storage.
Insert sad face emoji here.
Sorry for the let-down guys.
As abbreviated as the hunt was, I was in awe of the country, the animals and the experience. As I looked over my original goals, I realized I had succeeded in all but the last. 1. My physical limitations did not negatively impact the outcome of my hunt. 2. My mental preparedness allowed me to handle most of the situations as they came up. 3. Even though there were two situations that had me uncomfortable to the point I could hardly move, I got to where I needed to be….eventually. 4. I made the most of, and enjoyed every moment to the maximum! I was in Alaska on my dream hunt! 5. I did not get a goat.
Several times my outfitter mentioned making things right and how bad he felt about all the unfortunate twists that occurred. In reality, it was out of his control, and sometimes you just have to accept that things won’t go your way. I would love to go back, but with my holiday time so limited, and the expenses of travel, tags and incidentals, it may not be in my future. I am ok with that.
I’d have no problem recommending this outfitter to anyone interested in an archery goat hunt. For brown bear also. How many outfitters are left out there that welcome bowhunters?
Sorry your hunt ended goatless but I’d bet you will get another chance
I learned a few things on this hunt, and thought I’d share them.
1. I was surprised at the ‘extra’ expenses after getting such a great deal on the hunt itself.
a. Hunting license and tag were $1400 for a non resident alien. b. Hotel rooms and meals, especially extra ones due to weather, can add up fast.
c. Equipment requirements added up to over $1000.
d. For me, this had to be converted from US to Canadian dollars, so add 25-30%
2. Speaking of equipment, the air mattress, sleeping bag and pack were awesome – expensive, but awesome. Hopefully I will need them sometime in the future to justify the price.
3. Spike camp was a new 2-man Hilleberg tent. I was surprised how much humidity built up inside the tent. It actually started dripping heavily the one morning. One of the few pieces of equipment that disappointed me.
4. For boots, I used Cabela’s Meindl Perfekt Hunters. They worked great. I wore them at home for six weeks prior to leaving. On the advice of other Bowsiters, I had a roll of Leukotape ready when needed. Fortunately, I never needed it and my feet came through in great condition.
5. Walking sticks were a necessity, I could not have done the hunt without them.
6. Conditioning – I think I had a great mix of weight training and cardio, but training with the pack on and loaded at the correct weight was the clincher. I won’t say I was never winded or my muscles never got tired, but it never got to the point I thought I couldn’t continue.
7. Leave extra time at the end of your hunt. My outfitter was willing to extend the days to increase my opportunity for success, but because I was trying to keep my budget in line, changing flights became nearly impossible.
8. Lastly, I know we all talk about the different definitions of the success of a hunt, but I really want to stress how successful I feel this hunt was. Hunting is part of my life, but it isn’t my whole life. Unlike one of the guides, I came home to a healthy son. I also came home in reasonably good health, unlike my first guide who is recovering from surgery. And finally, I came home alive, and as dramatic as that sounds, when we returned to Cordova, we learned there was a search on for a missing local goat hunter. Just before I left, we learned they found his body at the bottom of the cliff. I didn’t get to bring home a goat, but at least I got to come home.
Thanks for reading along guys. Just typing this up brought back some great memories. Good luck to everyone this fall!!
One question for if you don't mind me asking. If you were not an outfitter yourself, do you think you would have been as understanding of only getting to hunt a small percentage of what you paid for due to issues with your outfitter?
Now there is a reason to come back for another try.
I've been on two Dall sheep hunts with no shots taken. It was still a great adventure!
Curious why you didn't give the outfitter's name. It would helpful to other Bowsiters researching goat hunts.
I took a little while to digest your question to make sure it would make sense. No doubt, being an outfitter myself, I think I had a better understanding about how things can go right or wrong on a hunt, but...
Long before I was an outfitter, I grew up with a dad who was an incredibly hard working, decent man. He was thrown more twists and mishaps than he deserved. He's in his 80's now, and in our town, most who know him really like him and see him as a happy, healthy elder! And his grandchildren (my son included) adore him and his positive attitude and he has an incredible amount of influence on how they see the world. I hope people see me that way one day.
And on a second note, I am truly lucky. Any of my close friends or family will tell you that! I think it would do a dis-service to those around me who make me so blessed if I didn't always try and see the absolute best in every situation.
So, with that foundation, I just have a hard time not seeing the best in any situation.
Pretty deep, eh?
My situation now is to start saving, stay in contact with the outfitter, and hope my health and family's health stay well enough that at the time I'm ready to go back, I'm able. And if it doesn't, I have incredible memories to look back on!
I didn't name the outfitter as he is not a Bowsite sponsor. I'll gladly share it with anyone who PM's me!
I'm saying it over you that your outlook and example nets you enough of a windfall that the re-hunt becomes a reality sooner than later.
Thanks for taking us along on your adventure.
Very nice honest write up As an outfitter myself for the last 37 years I took great interest in your progress through the hunt Very impressive start to finish
I sincerely hope you get back to try again
I won't spill the beans but curious as to the outfitter
Take care and great job Russ