Mountain Goat Hunting in Alaska – Kodiak Island
The island is something that draws me. I don’t know exactly what it is, but it’s always on my mind. When my mind drifts away to dream of the backcountry, when I think of the perfect test, or untouched land where the game is plentiful, It is always the island that fills my thoughts. I know that when some people think of their perfect island getaway they most likely envision the Bahamas, or somewhere in the Southwest Pacific. My ideal island getaway is a bit different, and skews heavily toward mountain goat hunting in Alaska.
In the Spring of 2013 after successfully harvesting a Brown Bear on Kodiak Island, I vowed that I would return. Little did I know it would be such a quick turn-around. A friend and I were talking about the registration hunting opportunity on Kodiak. Essentially, for Alaskan residents, all we had to do was register online and print the tags. We were over a year out from that proposed hunt but I told Matt to “pencil it in”.
The next spring we stayed active looking for Brown Bear in the snow packed mountains, and Black Bear in Prince William Sound. We climbed local mountains and identified unreliable equipment that would need to be replaced. I even spent an afternoon running in the Chugach Mountains with the legendary Cameron Hanes. It seemed that everything being done was in preparation for chasing goats. The summer salmon were caught and smoked, moose season came and went, and I spent my spare time studying photos to determine Billys from Nannies. We even added another member to the team, Matt’s cousin Alex. Finally it was October and time to see if we could pass the mountain goat hunting in Alaska test!
After a short flight from Anchorage to Kodiak Island, we collected our gear and were promptly picked up by our transporter, Andrews Airways. Since the day prior had been very windy, no planes were able to take hunters into the field. Andrews Air was working hard to catch up on their backlog, affording the three of us some time to run around town. After a couple of stops to grab a few last minute essentials and an excellent breakfast at the Shelikof Lodge, the plane was ready to take us and we were ready to go.
The winds were still pretty stiff as we took off from Trident Basin, but with only a couple spats of concerning turbulence, we gained altitude and headed to the South end of the island. Our registration tags outlined the area that we could hunt, and we had determined a more specific location, but we still didn’t know exactly where we would put camp or what ridges we would focus on. Our group decided it would be best to purchase a few extra minutes of flight time and conduct a quick reconnaissance. As we flew across the island we began to see goats. At first it was only a couple, then small groups. The goats were unfortunately not very close to either lake we had planned to touch down on, but nonetheless, we decided on which lake to establish our base camp and found a nice stand of Cottonwood that would provide good cover from the wind, and flowing fresh water not far away. Brown Bear were also spotted from the plane as we made our decent, and our pilot Willy landed the Beaver in superb fashion. As we off loaded our gear, the plane floated over hundreds of spawned out salmon. The weather was absolutely beautiful and we wasted no time setting up camp. Once camp was established, we wandered out in search of deer, as it is legal to hunt deer on the same day that you’ve been airborne. With no luck we headed to bed early, anxious for the morning.
The morning of day one I awoke to the sight of the sun already in the sky. It seemed ok to get some needed rest since we would be climbing into the high country and spiking in for a few days. After I got out of the tent I glanced up at the highest peak behind camp. I swore I could see little white dots. A quick glance with my Vortex Talon HD binos confirmed they were Mountain Goats. We ate a good breakfast and squared away camp. Once we made it to the top of the first ridge, we stopped for a rest. This gave us a chance to break out the spotting scope and look at the goats we could still see. There were so many that it was obviously Nannies and Kids, but we did spot at least one Billy. The team was now fully motivated and ready to begin our ascent up a very tall very steep slope, a task that hunters who are mountain goat hunting in Alaska know very well.
After a very brief rest once we reached the top, we began our stalk towards the goats we had seen. Upon my initial survey of the terrain, it appeared that we would be able to get within two or three hundred yards of where we had seen the goats laying. We crept along trying to be quiet on the rocks until we had goats in view. Immediately to our front was a group of Nannies and Kids, and further ahead a group of twenty goats with two Billies were making their way down the mountain to drink from the lake at the bottom of the bowl. As we continued to sneak along the ridge it became apparent that the closest group was headed our way. Having nowhere to truly hide, we just hunkered down and let them get close. When they got within roughly 60 yards it was obvious that the lead Nanny knew something was up. Alex and I gave serious thought to shooting the lead Nanny as she had no Kid but very long horns and an impressive coat. As it was only midday of day one we decided not to shoot. That group took off for the highest crags on the mountain. The other goats in the area took notice but obviously didn’t know what was going on. A couple hours went by while we watched and set in the cold harsh winds of the high country. As I started to think day one was over we caught a big break. The goats that were at the bottom of the bowl drinking water started moving up the mountain right in front of us. All the goats seemed to follow in each others steps, and my guess was that the Billy’s who were hanging behind would follow as well. After getting a rest setup, the two Billies made their appearance and I was ready. I was lined up on the second one and Matt was going to shoot the first one. As Matt was already an accomplished mountain hunter, he told me to fire first. I took one last range to confirm 254 yards, worked the bolt and pushed the safety forward. The Billy was broadside and I exhaled, squeezed the trigger and boom. My Savage rifle sent a Barnes TTSX bullet into the goat’s shoulder. I saw the impact of the bullet and worked another round into the chamber. Matt had fired at his goat but had missed. The goat that I had shot was nearing a craggy draw, so I sent another bullet from my rifle and the goat took a short tumble down the mountain. I tried to remain calm but couldn’t. I was exhilarated. I had done it. I had climbed to the top and claimed one of the most majestic prizes in North America. Now I stared down at the nearly impossible task of climbing down for my trophy and packing it off the mountain.
It seems that mountain goat hunting in Alaska is much like hunting any other species in the Last Frontier in the sense that you perpetually seem to be fighting daylight and have the possibilty of long, cold nights in your future. We had a lot of work ahead of us and we quickly took picutres and began caping the animal. Matt headed downhill to find a suitable spike camp location annd before long I was working under the light of a headlamp. The guys all grabbed a piece and we began the somewhat treacherous decent roughly 1000 feet down the sliding rock towards our impromptu camp location. Moving through uneasy terrain via headlamp brought back all too recent memories of our last Kodiak adventure. After some much appreciated Mountain House we set up the Go Lite tipi tent that would be our shelter for the night. While the SL-3 is rated as a three-man tent, I don’t believe they meant three men over six feet tall and 230 pounds each. To say it was cozy would be an understatement. I was exhausted and slept great throughout the night.
Morning of day two I woke up to ice on everything and the sounds of sliding rocks. As I laid there and looked over at the goat horns sticking out of my pack, it really began to sink in that I had punched my tag on day one of a Mountain Goat hunt. While we all had two tags it was obvious that taking more than one apiece would make it very hard to get out of there. I was now on full time videographer duty. Once we were all up we ate a hearty breakfast of instant oatmeal and stared at the goats that were setting high above our camp.
When we got to the top, Matt peeked over the ridge. When he turned I saw the look on his face and I knew. All he said was “Billy”. We immediately dropped packs, Matt readied his rifle and I got the camera. Matt ranged it at 165 yards. From our position on top of the ridge we had the tactical advantage without a doubt. I got set up over Matt’s shoulder and he took careful aim. Within seconds Matt’s 325 WSM barked and the goat jumped obviously hit hard. The Billy took a few steps and Matt hit him again, the bullet striking with a thump. The second shot was solid but probably unnecessary. We watched the Billy roll down the hill. The morning of day two and we had the second goat on the ground. As we gave congratulations I looked down at where the goat had come to rest and looked at the nearly impassable terrain between Matt’s prize and our location. As Matt and I started to query how we would get down to his goat, Alex wanted to move up the ridge 20 yards and look down into a spot we couldn’t view from our current location. Sure enough, when he got there, he signaled that he saw a shooter. After we hustled up the mountain to him, I looked down on a lone Billy that I immediately knew was bigger than any of the others we had taken. It was a far shot but it looked like he would angle slightly closer to us. When he appeared to be as close as he would get Matt called out 300 yards. I struggled to get the camera ready and just as I got the Billy on film, boom. Alex’s 7mm RUM barked and the great Billy dropped in his tracks. Luckily it was just barely noon, because now we would share in the joy of retrieving not one but two goats from a seemingly impossible place.
After checking out the area we decided there was really only one way down. A very steep, slightly grassy chute that went all the way down to a large boulder field at the bottom. Half way down the chute we saw where Matt’s goat was and made our way over. The awesome Billy lay at rest in the only alders to be seen for miles. A seasoned pro at mountain hunting, Matt made short work of the field dressing. We cached his meat in the chute and made our way over to Alex’s goat. When I got there Alex was already admiring his incredible Billy, by far the largest of the three. The three of us made quick work of the large goat, and split it up among the three of us. We got to the chute, split Matt’s goat among the three of us, adding to the first, and started climbing. Just as I reached the top and the feeling of accomplishment began to build, I was hit by eighty mile per hour winds at the top of the ridge. We quickly gathered our stashed equipment and headed down the mountain to escape the breeze and find a better spike camp location.
After another cozy night in the tipi we awoke covered in ice. Even the lake we camped next to was forming surface ice. Our main goal for the day was to get back to base camp. First we took the time to de-bone our goat meat and save ourselves every ounce we could for the walk out. With goats, gear, camp, etc., this was the first real test for my Kifaru EMR II backpack. I can easily say that the pack is capable of holding more than I can carry and I was very impressed with its weight distribution. The pack down was heavy but bearable. Once we got to the lake-shore we sat down and took our packs off. This is when we started seeing the many Brown Bear that were cruising the shores looking for Salmon. Coming into this hunt we knew that if we harvested much game we were going to have to call in a meat flight because we were very close on weight. Matt pulled out the sat phone and made a call to Andrews Air. Within the hour we were back at camp and heard the buzz of the Cesna 206 break the silence. The pilot landed to get our goats and even dropped off some Dr Pepper. We jokingly told the pilot that we would’ve given him $100 if he had brought a pizza with him. I say jokingly but I think we were all dead serious. That night we sat around a campfire and roasted goat meat. This Mountain Goat meat has got to be the best I have ever eaten in the field. I complemented it with a taste of fine Kentucky bourbon and climbed into the toasty warm bomb shelter tent. That night it was obvious that we made the right decision to get the meat out of camp. After reading some from my book and laying my head down I began to hear bear walking directly along the perimeter of our camp as well as jumping in the lake not thirty yards away. I’m glad that mountain goat hunting in Alaska didn’t have to turn into brown bear hunting in Alaska!
The next day brought hopes of deer hunting. Despite our sore muscles from being successful at mountain goat hunting in Alaska, we still wanted to harvest more meat for the freezer and a day of deer hunting quickly became a day of dealing with bears. The low wetlands along the lake we were camped on held many bear trails and the spawned out salmon along the lake shores were an easy treat. By mid afternoon we had dealt with sixteen bear in the immediate vicinity around camp. Some kept a good fifty-yard buffer between us and them and others preferred to be right off the end of my rifle muzzle. To say we were growing uneasy would be an understatement. Most of these bear wanted nothing to do with us, but a few of them had multiple cubs with them. An afternoon call to Andrews Air tol dour team that the weather was to turn sour. Every part of me wanted to stay and figure out a way to keep hunting as these adventures only come so often, but we decided that it was best to go out on top. We collectively made the decision to call the air service and get picked up the next day before the storm hit. We had supplies to stay a few more days but since the plane was coming the next day, that night we feasted. There was also no point in taking propane back so we fired up the buddy heater and basked in the warmth.
Then next day the bright yellow Beaver landed and began our journey back to civilization. The island had provided three magnificent Mountain Goats to us and then as we tried to see the goats we spotted on the flight in, the island removed the remaining goats like the early morning fog, without a trace, confirming the decision to leave as a good one. It had been my second trip to a fascinating area that as a kid I never thought I would see. As we flew back to Anchorage all I could think of was when I would return. Kodiak Island has been very good to me, and I certainly don’t deserve anything more from her. However, it seems that mountain goat hunting in Alaska has become a part of me and I’d still like to try my hand at the fleet little deer that inhabit its hills. Maybe just one more trip… Or two.
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