Live Hunt: Stalking Mountain Goats on the Cliffs of Kodiak Island
“Well, we’re back in it brother…” I said to Steve as the float plane taxied and took off leaving us in an alpine lake on Kodiak Island. We had hit the flying weather just right, as the 8 days before, it had dropped record-breaking rains literally non-stop. For Kodiak, that’s saying something! However, that first night we had a downpour the likes of which I’ve never seen, and even though we were careful in selecting our base campsite, we found our tent in 3 inches of water when we woke up. If we hadn’t had an extremely good tent, we easily could have gone hypothermic. Over the next five days, Steve and I would climb, glass and stalk our way to two great goats. Here’s the photos and stories from our epic hunt.
While spending the afternoon drying out and moving gear, we spotted what we thought to be a nice billy bedded just below the crest of this big razorback ridge about two miles away.
Being fairly inexperienced goat hunters, it took us awhile to figure out how to judge them. While it’s pretty easy to see a sheep’s horn mass from two miles away, body size is the biggest key with goats. This is a lot more difficult to judge, because big billies will often be by themselves, so there’s nothing to compare them to. We suspected this was a big one, but weren’t sure. We decided to have a closer look.
We started early the next morning and made a spike camp on a high shelf that was closer to the ridge. The country is very deceiving. This spot was relatively flat, but below, it drops off about 2,000 feet straight down to the salt water. From this location we were in stalking range of most of the goats we had spotted earlier. We could also keep an eye on that big billy we had spotted before.
I used the same setup as my sheep hunt, basically just repacking all the same gear. It is a very similar style of hunting, and my Kifaru supertarp and bibler bivy combo worked out great.
That afternoon, we hiked up to glass through the 2 saddles in the ridge that were passable and the other side was breathtaking. Although the ridge on our side was very steep and rocky, it was relatively gentle compared to the back side. I called it the “cliffs of insanity,” as these grassy slopes with broken cliffs were so steep that we considered them too dangerous to climb. One slip, and there would be nothing to stop us from rolling 2,000 feet down to the bottom of the abyss.
We came over in perfect position above this nanny. She was in the only spot we would have been able to shoot her without losing her. Being new to goat hunting, we soon found that one of the biggest factors here was being able to shoot a goat in a place where it would be recoverable.
Although this hunt is either-sex, I decided to pass on this goat. She wasn’t a big nanny, looking very young in the face. If I were to shoot her, I would have to make absolutely sure I put her down fast with the first shot. Goats will instinctively run for the cliffs when hurt, and a lot of hunters have lost animals that way.
Steve glassed across the abyss as we sat in awe of how rugged and vast the mountains on this island are. We spotted close to 60 goats on the mountain. We saw some incredible billies too, but they were hanging out in virtually un-huntable country.
This was one of the groups of nannies, kids and young billies that were scattered across a mountainside about 3 miles away. Goats were transplanted to Kodiak less than 100 years ago and their population has exploded. With extremely rugged country, mild winters, plenty of food and no predators other than humans, it is habitat for them. Although there are plenty of brown bears on Kodiak, they don’t have much of a chance at consistently catching goats.
The goat on the left appeared to be a big billy, but there wasn’t much we could do about it. We spotted a few that were theoretically in reach, however they were so far that it would have taken 4 or 5 days to pack them back to the lake.
As the afternoon wore on, we worked our way back toward the bedded billy we had been watching. He had been feeding down to a spot within reach in the evenings. This little guy was a 1 ½ year old that was quite curious with us. Later, a nanny came along and the billy walked up like he wanted to be friends. She didn’t see things the way he did and she dang near knocked him off a cliff. Goats are cantankerous critters. It’s estimated that more than 50 percent of goat fatalities on Kodiak are caused by other goats.
After getting below Steve’s goat (Steve spotted this one first, so he had first choice), we couldn’t see if he was still bedded. But right on time at 6:25 p.m. he stood up to stretch and begin his evening descent. We found that these goats’ behavior was pretty predictable. Many billies are only vulnerable when they come down to feed.
Coming down for dinner was the last mistake this one made. Steve hit him solid, and he rolled almost 300 yards down the hill before hanging up on a rock. He was a massive goat, weighing at least 350 pounds on the hoof by our estimate. According to a biologist I spoke with, the goats on Kodiak are the largest bodied in the state. Coming down for dinner was the last mistake this one made. Steve hit him solid, and he rolled almost 300 yards down the hill before hanging up on a rock. He was a massive goat, weighing at least 350 pounds on the hoof by our estimate. According to a biologist I spoke with, the goats on Kodiak are the largest bodied in the state. The goat had 9 ¾” horns with 5 ¼” bases, and Steve couldn’t have been happier with him. But with such a large animal down in such a precarious location, we would be skinning and cutting meat well into the night.
Our last glimpse of light at the start of a long night left me thinking this place looked more like Scotland than Alaska. I kept expecting to run into some guy in a kilt wandering though the high country.
We actually made pretty good time on the goat, skinning a full body cape and removing all the meat in about 3 hours. He had tons of fat on him, and he had apparently been taking it pretty easy because the hide on his rump was ¾” thick and his hide was bigger and heavier than a 6-foot black bear’s! After getting all the meat bagged, we left it there and headed back to camp for the night. We left the meat where it was for two reasons: 1) it would have been foolhardy to try to pack a 350-pound goat out in the dark 2) The meat was just as safe from bears up on the mountain as it would have been down at our base camp. In Kodiak, when a bear decides he wants your animal, he’s going to take it.
The next morning we called the air service to check in, and they told us that sometime in the next two days, a huge storm with 50+ mph winds was going to hit the island. We took off up the hill to try and find a goat for me before the storm hit. We found this large nanny bedded on the very top of the ridge between the two saddles we had checked the previous day. We had just seen her when a smaller nanny walked up to her. She didn’t like that very much and wasted no time chasing her off. That worked to our advantage, because now she was standing broadside on our side of the ridge at just under 300 yards. I had to act fast, so I laid down and put a single .375 Ruger round through her shoulders and spine. The shot dropped her in her tracks and she started the standard “goat roll.” She finally came to rest about 200 yards down the mountain and thankfully wasn’t too scuffed up. I would have preferred to shoot her in the lungs, but I was worried she would have run over the other side of the ridge and tumbled into the unreachable abyss.
Although nannies are significantly smaller in the body and have thinner horns, her horns were 9 1/8″ long, and she had a beautiful hide. Again, I was shocked at the size of these goats. This one was as big or bigger than the biggest Dall sheep rams I’ve seen.
This was my very first mountain goat! I think I have found another addiction (as if sheep hunting wasn’t enough). I was going to try to get one with my recurve, but due to the bad weather and the shortness of our hunt, it was apparent that I had little chance of even getting a shot, so I opted for the rifle. I used Ruger’s M77 Hawkeye in .375 Ruger. Although it’s a little heavy for goats, we were sharing the island with some of the biggest brown bears in the world, so the gun made a good companion. As we were taking pictures, 2 big billies and a nanny came out on the grassy slope above the saddle to the left of my head.
Even if we hadn’t filled our tags, it wouldn’t have done us any good seeing these goats. They were close, but 100 percent unrecoverable. It was extremely steep with nothing to stop them from rolling to the bottom of the 2,000-foot canyon. They were fun to look at though. They have a way of looking goofy and majestic at the same time.
After my goat was down and cleaned, Steve split off to start packing out his goat. We spent the next day and a half packing meat from before dawn until after dark. Here Steve hauls his last load into base camp early Sunday morning with an hour to spare before our plane was supposed to pick us up. We had arranged for an early pick up because there was no telling how many more days the incoming storm would make the lake unreachable.
Sunrise was breathtaking that morning as the clouds and wind began to roll in shortly after.
After a hard morning of packing, a fresh cup of coffee hit the spot.
Although they’ve been torn up a lot worse, my feet sure were glad this hunt was over! Even with good boots, it is inevitable that your feet will get pretty beat up doing this kind of hunting and packing.
With another hunt in the bag, Steve and I get loaded back in the beaver. I sure love the sight of these at the end of a hard hunt!
After taking off, you can see up into the area we hunted and how fast it drops off below. Beautiful country, good company and a challenging hunt make it worth all the work.
Kodiak is nicknamed “Alaska’s Emerald Isle” and rightly so. Even in the fall, it is completely green and vast. It’s full of flat river bottoms skirted by mountains shooting straight up into the sky. Luckily we didn’t see any bears during our hunt, but we spotted a couple monsters on the flight out.
We were happy to be back in the air and on our way to a juicy bacon cheeseburger, or two, or three. I’m again left with that surreal, but accomplished feeling that the mountains give me. I learned a lot about goats on this trip, and can’t wait to go back!