When opening morning came, I hit the trail on a mission: I was headed for the mature billy that I saw on my first scouting trip. In my mind, I was going to be done hunting by noon and back to camp by dark. I put in hours of preseason scouting, so I was confident that all my hard work was going to pay off early on opening day.
That morning, as I hiked up the ridge, I came across a big group of nannies, yearlings and kids. I expected to see my backup shooters in this group, as I had earlier. No luck. I hiked farther up the draw and glassed the cliffsides, but the more I looked the less I saw. The goats were gone. More importantly, the three mature billies that I’d spotted on my scouting trips were nowhere to be found. I spent the rest of the day climbing to high ridges to check “hidey holes” for goats. Still nothing. At the end of day one, I passed over 30 goats but none of them were the ones I was looking for. So much for filling my tag early. . . .
That night at camp, my husband and I came up with Plan B. The following morning, we decided to hunt the next drainage to the north where I saw goats on a scouting trip. After hunting most of the day and seeing nothing, we finally spotted two goats on a ledge at the very top of the draw. My heart instantly started pounding. The fact there were only two goats together told me they were most likely billies. When I got within 400 yards, I was able to see through my spotting scope that they were two of the three larger-sized goats that I saw earlier. But where was the third, bigger billie?
We estimated that both billies had horns of about 8.5 inches. I stalked to within 75 yards and lay there prone for about 30 minutes. I had the goats in my rifle scope, but I just couldn’t pull the trigger. My head swirled with conflicting thoughts. This was an easy shot and I didn’t know if I would get another like it again. But, this was only the second day of my hunt. As much as I predicted an early finish, I wasn’t sure if I was ready for my hunt to end quite yet, knowing there was still a chance of finding the larger billie. My husband put an end to my indecision when he said, “It’s your hunt. If that goat makes you happy then shoot, but you also know there’s a better one out there.” Reluctantly, I pulled up my rifle and unloaded. As we hiked back to the truck I kept thinking, “I hope I don’t regret this decision.” I am a firm believer that if you pass on taking a shot when you are hunting, you better be ready to go home empty handed. As the sun set on day two, I still had not filled my tag, and I hoped that I wasn’t going to have to live by my own words.
The third day we decided to do some glassing. After driving up bumpy roads and hiking to good vantage points, we finally hit the jackpot. We spotted two nice billies bedded down on a snow field about a mile below us. I had looked over enough goats at this point to be able to estimate horn size pretty well through a spotting scope. These goats had nice horns and also had great coats. Unfortunately, there was no way we could get to them before nightfall. We continued watching them until dark and then drove back to camp. Day three ended and still no goat.
On day four, it was on to Plan C. The only way to reach the goats was to bushwhack our way up the mountain for about three hours. The plan was to pack our camp into a spot at treeline, hike about an hour to the goats, harvest a goat, pack it back down to camp and come back out the next morning. On paper this looked good, but there was one major problem: when we hiked back to where we saw the goats the previous day, they were gone. At that moment, I seriously regretted passing on the goats I saw on the second day. On our way back to camp, we took a chance and decided to glass the next drainage over. Low and behold, the goats were there but were miles away. We would have to relocate camp once again. Day four came to a close.
At this point, we were becoming well versed in backup plans and my optimism was waning. The next morning we packed up camp and headed out, relocating under some trees just below the ridge where the goats had been the night before. There wasn’t a good approach to access this site, so we climbed up a narrow creek bed where we thought we would be most hidden. Just before we got to the top of the ridge, I saw the billies, along with two more goats. Hallelujah!
I decided to stalk them similarly to how I had before. The biggest problem was that most of my approach would be on even ground with where the goats were bedded. I learned from scouting that goats are more tolerant when people are below them, but this was not an option. So I had to belly crawl from rock to rock. I got to within 400 yards and the goats suddenly stood up. At that point, I knew I was in trouble. There was no way to get a good shot at this distance. I decided to press my luck and move closer, but the goats wanted nothing to do with me. They dropped off the ridge and ran another mile into rugged terrain where they bedded down for the rest of the day. Nightfall approached and it looked as if day five was going to conclude in similar fashion.
On my way back to camp, I crossed a boulder field and saw a lone billy feeding in a grassy patch about three-quarters of a mile away. I told my husband I was going for that goat. “Really?” he said in disbelief. “It’s late, and do you see all those rocks in front of you? Maybe you should look at him with the binoculars a bit more before you decide.” Determined, I said, “that’s the one.” And off we went across the rocky landscape.
The terrain was incredibly difficult. Imagine a mile-long lava flow that was filled with rocks the size of engine blocks and VW bugs. But this is what we had to cross to get close enough for me to take a shot. After 10 minutes, my husband told me to stop and at least take one more look at the goat. I peered through my binoculars and could tell instantly that this billie was everything that I wanted. My intentions were clear, so we kept moving closer.
I finally stalked to within 250 yards, set up my rifle and waited patiently for the goat to move broadside. I squeezed the trigger and made a clean shot. The goat was finished and so was my five-day journey. But I knew the real work was just beginning.
We spent the next two hours field dressing, caping and loading our backpacks. At 8:30 p.m., we headed in the direction of our camp unaware of the arduous trek that lay before us. It took three hours to go a half mile in those rocks carrying heavy backpacks. Every step was on a rock: big rocks, small rocks, moving rocks, sliding rocks. At some places we had to remove our packs, slide down rocks and then help each other get loaded up again. We had headlamps but we didn’t have a moon to help guide us. We overshot the camp and spent an hour and a half bushwhacking through the trees. At 1 a.m., and after more than four hours of hiking, we finally found our camp. We had run out of food, water and were physically and mentally exhausted.
The next morning, we headed down to the truck, which was another two-hour hike from camp. At the truck, we both agreed that the hunt was the hardest but also the most exciting we had ever had. After many days of scouting, five full days of hunting, and the extremely difficult pack out, I had earned this goat. And, despite passing up other opportunities, I was taking home a billie that far exceeded any of my expectations.
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Photos and stories by Shannon Schaller. Schaller is an avid hunter and is also a wildlife biologist in Colorado Parks and Wildlife’s Denver office.