There’s something mystical about mountains. Formed from the very pulse of the earth over millions of years, these great towers of rock standing snow-capped against the horizon have drawn man’s gaze since time immemorial. We find a natural impulse to climb them, to explore them, to test ourselves by facing them, finding our way to the craggy peaks of the world and perhaps harvesting their sparse bounty. For the truly adventurous hunters who feel this attraction to the mountains, there is a game animal that presents a challenge few are able to undertake: the mountain goat.
The mountain goat is the undisputed king of mountain game. Found at elevations of up to 13,000 feet, they live where almost no other game animal can. Subsisting on a diet of moss and lichen that grows upon the rocky terrain of their home, they traverse perilous cliffs, out-climbing potential predators. Mountain goats somehow thrive in some of the harshest climates in nature. It’s that singular fortitude, along with their snowy-white coats, that make mountain goats one of the most sought after and iconic trophies a hunter can pursue. Most mountain goat hunts are available only through a tag draw, but with a range that spreads along the Rocky Mountains of Montana and Idaho, into the Cascade Mountains of Washington and Oregon, to the very peaks of the Yukon in the mighty Alaska range, there are plenty of opportunities for an ambitious hunter willing to pursue them.
Once you’ve been lucky enough to secure a tag, the real challenge of hunting them begins. They aren’t an animal that a hunter can simply find by aimlessly wandering the mountains; they must be sought after deliberately and vehemently. These aren’t your average big-game animals, and this isn’t your average hunt. The hunter needs to be in the best athletic condition to pursue them, and the equipment for a mountain goat hunt needs to be top notch. Almost everything the hunter brings on a goat hunt needs to be able to withstand the rough conditions and unpredictable weather of the high mountains. Quality attire and a good pair of binoculars are essential.
Goat hunting is almost exclusively a spot-and-stalk affair. Goats are incredibly wary of predators approaching them from below and have the ability to vanish into a mountain’s craggy recesses in a few bounds. Spotting them before they spot you is vital for success. Rifles should be at least a .270 or larger, and you should feel confident in your ability to hit a target at 300 yards or better. Much of the time, that’s as close as you’re going to get to your quarry.
Once you find a good area of mountain range where goats are present, get ready for a hike. Though they occasionally move down below sea level, mountain goats spend most of their lives at elevations from 6,000 to 10,000 feet. These elevations are considered “20-step country,” a moniker brought about by the low oxygen levels at that elevation causing the average hunter to stop and take a breather every 20 steps or so.
As such, goat hunters spend many hours glassing, trying to find a good group of goats both within a manageable hiking distance and, perhaps even more important, in an accessible area for recovery. Mountain goats can traverse incredibly difficult terrain, and the last thing a hunter wants is for their goat to drop off a cliff once it’s been shot. As previously mentioned, mountain goats are extremely wary of predators approaching from below, so the best strategy in stalking them once they are spotted is circling around and approaching from above, ideally catching a big Billy unaware.
Although most of us live in the lowlands, the call of the mountains remains ever present. For those wishing to go, the mountains are there to hunt and explore. But it is only for the best and bravest that their most challenging quarry will be revealed.