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My Arch Nemesis: The Mountain Goat

As my feet slip out from beneath me on the steep grass slope, I put my arm down to break my fall. I hear a snap. And then another. I look down and realize that I’m lying on the ground with my full weight, including a 60-pound pack, on top of my left arm.

TJ (Schwanky) rushes to my side and says, “Get up!” I look at him and reply, “I think I just broke my arm.”

This happened on my second attempt for mountain goat. My first try had been earlier that year when a friend invited us on a hunt in Northern British Columbia. It was mid-August when we met up with him in Smithers.

After a short drive and a float plane ride, we reorganized our gear. Then after several hours of climbing, crossing creeks and fighting dense bush and swamp, we made it to a good spot to set up camp.

Our daily ritual was to climb a peak and glass. We ate all of our meals at the top so we could avoid the dense clouds of mosquitos, blackflies and horseflies at camp. Day in and day out, we climbed every surrounding moun- tain but didn’t see one goat. On the last day, TJ finally saw a nanny in his spotting scope. Unfortunately, it was about a kilometer out of our huntable area. Sunburned, bruised, bug-bitten and exhausted, we headed down the mountain.

Goat: 1, Vanessa: 0.

broken
TJ’s quick fix for my broken arm. All set to hike back out.

A NEW ATTEMPT

Our buddy contacted us a month later and said that he had another area to hunt. We were all really opti- mistic about being successful this time out. The going was hard. There were a lot of blown-down trees covered in moss and everything was wet and super slippery. I couldn’t count the number of times we all slipped and fell but managed to get going again without any injuries. As we climbed down a big sandy cliff into a ravine and then up the other side, we knew we weren’t far from camp.

We’d made it through the toughest part, and it should have been smooth sailing from there on out. But just as that thought went through my head, the mossy ground gave way and I flew through the air, landing on my left side.

TWO SNAPS

I knew all was not right with the world after I heard the bones snap in my left arm. TJ rolled me onto my right side, slowly pulled out my left arm and rolled up my sleeve to reveal that my forearm was now in the shape of “W.” He got to work finding four sticks and gave me one to put between my teeth. Then he said, “This is going to really hurt; I’m going to straighten your arm.”

After my break was splinted and wrapped, he grabbed his sweatshirt and tied my arm across my chest with the left wrist fastened to my right shoulder. A decision was made to split my pack between the two of them and hike back out. It was 4 p.m. and we had a long trek out. After hiking for three hours, we made it back to the four-wheeler. From there it was an hour ride back to the truck, several hours on a logging road, and a three- hour highway drive to the Smither’s Hospital.

We arrived at 1 a.m. and X-rays revealed that I had broken my radius and ulna, and smashed all the bones in my wrist. They attempted to set it, cast it, then sent me to my hotel. The next morning, the surgeon phoned and said I would need surgery.

We headed immediately to Banff Springs Hospital 12 hours away. It was another overnight in a hotel with lots of drugs on board and back at the hospital the next day. They decided to set the arm again to see if it would hold. Unfortunately, after a couple of weeks, they advised that I needed surgery.

Goats: 2, Vanessa: 0.

ANOTHER YEAR, ANOTHER HUNT

Not one to give up on my mountain goat quest, the following year I booked a hunt with a BC outfitter to try for a coastal mountain goat. We drove to Terrace to meet up with the outfitter and from there took a boat into camp. It was raining hard and there was a small craft warning out. The small boat was being tossed about and we hung on for dear life.

TJ caught me looking at the shoreline and asked if I was trying to figure out how to get up the mountain. I replied, “No, I’m trying to figure out how we are going to get from the boat to shore.” From the moment we arrived until we left, we had zero visibility and rain for 10 days straight.

Goats: 3, Vanessa: 0.

I was at the Sheep Show in Reno the following year and commiserating with Mac Watson and Luke Vince about my difficulty finding a good old billy. Luke sug- gested I book with him, as he has lots of goats in his area. I warned him that I have a bit of a goat curse and it seems to hit the people I hunt with as well. He laughed it off. Come October, I was on a float plane to his camp. I reflected that it should have been a warning when there was a sticker on the dash of the pilot’s plane that said, “Don’t do anything stupid.”

The next morning, we took a small boat and rowed down a river to glass the mountain range behind camp. We quickly spotted a number of goats on the mountain range down the valley. We hatched a plan to go back to camp, pack up the bare necessities and head out the next morning. Both Luke and TJ were pretty optimistic that we would hike in, get the goat, and be back to camp in no time. I wasn’t so sure.

UNWELCOME INTRUDER

We took the little boat as far as we could and then went on foot. After many hours of bush-whacking through the ankle-breaking alders, we made it to a “flat” spot. It was across from the mountain range where we’d seen the goats the day before. The next morning, we saw the goat right where we left him the day before. We made our way across the valley and headed up towards the billy. All of a sudden, we noticed a black bear just above us. The bear was going after my goat! The goat spooked and headed up and over the mountain.

Luke started glassing and saw another goat farther down the mountain range. We started across and ran into boulders the size of houses, with crevasses that could easily swallow up one of us. We eventually made it to a drainage where the goat should have been in view. Then out of nowhere, a bush plane appears and flies so close to the mountain range that it spooks the billy. Up and over the mountain the big goat went.

The next morning, I’m sitting on the ground drinking my coffee and glassing. We spot a great billy and he’s actually up a relatively easy drainage. We quickly cross the creek and start heading up. The only issue is that he is directly above us. We manage to work our way up to a large boulder a couple of hun- dred yards below him without being spotted. I make sure I had a solid rest and am just getting comfortable to take the shot when a gigantic golden eagle swoops overhead and heads straight for the goat. I drop my head in utter disbelief. The goat heads up and over the mountain. That’s three goats on the other side of that mountain. I gather every bit of strength I had left, and we climb to the top.

As we peek over the top, there are no goats to be seen.

The next morning, we glass the moun- tain range but there are no goats. We decide to head back to main camp. As we arrive, Luke checks his InReach and learns that the horses from his other camp have left and are wandering around a town, a two-day ride away. He scrambles to get a hold of the other camp and make arrangements to get back to town and deal with the situation. The curse had managed to work its magic in spades on that trip.

binoculars

IT GETS PERSONAL

Not to be deterred, Luke invited me back the following year and said, “this is person- al now!” We head to a different camp this time and arrive without any issues. The next morning, we are up early and get the horses packed up and head into a valley a few hours away. The sun is shining, and it is going to be a beautiful day. I’m feeling really good about this hunt.

We set up camp and have some sheep steaks and spaghetti for dinner. There is a small hill behind camp that we can climb and use to glass most of the area. Our guide, Matt, says we’ll stay put and glass until we spot a good billy.

We spend the next morning glassing, and then the rain starts. A full 27 hours later, it finally stops. We are all feeling a bit campbound; it’s time to climb a mountain. Three hours and 10 minutes and 2,700 vertical feet later, we make it to the top. By 6 p.m. we have only spotted one small billy. He was located in a rather precarious place, and there with four nannies with kids. We are just about to give up and head back to camp when we spot a goat about 800 yards away. It has a big hump and a pot belly. We all take turns at the spotting scope, trying to determine whether it is a billy.

mountain

TAKING THE SHOT

At 6:30 p.m., we decide to try and get a closer look. We scramble as quickly as we can along the ridge and get within 427 yards. After much deliberation, we decide it is a billy. Yet, there’s no way to get closer. I lay my 6.5 Creedmoor on my pack and roll up a sweater for the butt. It feels rock solid. Due to the angle of the shot, I put the 400-yard cross hair on its shoulder. I take a deep breath and squeeze the trigger. The goat jumps at the shot and limps a few yards across the mountainside and beds down. Matt calls out 423 yards and says, “take your time.”

But I know the clock is ticking. I let another 139-grain bullet fly and at 7 p.m. the goat is down for good. Every emotion I felt over the last five years came to the sur- face. The frustrations, the fear, the exhaustion, the pain, and then the joy that it was finally done.

When we are about 10 yards from the goat, TJ stops, touches my arm, and says, “look at your goat…it’s a nan- ny!” I couldn’t believe what I was hearing! We all stood there dumbfounded. The goat curse still had one trick up its sleeve, but I was still thrilled with what turned out to be a 12-year-old-nanny.

We boned her out and filled our packs. By the time we made it back to the top of the mountain, it was dark. It was treacherous going with our heavy loads. We were all extremely sweaty and exhausted, both emotionally and physically, by the time we made it to where we had left the horses. We quickly filled our water bottles in a nearby stream and had a huge drink of ice-cold water and pounded down our energy bars.

We got on the horses and headed back to camp. Sup- per consisted of goat tenderloin hastily cooked over the fire at 1 a.m. It was the best goat I’d ever tasted…chewy… but the best!

Two weeks later, both TJ and I were diagnosed with giardia. The goat got her last kick in.

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