First Taste

As I army-crawled across a large boulder to get in position to take the shot on my Idaho mountain goat, my head was spinning. The mental overload was part the intense focus needed to make a good shot on a trophy billy, and part “I can’t believe this is actually happening…right now! This is real!” I actually felt physically weak at the moment of truth because the gravity of this event I thought would never happen was really hitting me.

It was 2010, and I had finally drawn one of around 50 permits offered in Idaho to hunt these stunning and uniquely North American animals. The hunt itself was short, which made me thankful I had put a fair amount into the scouting so I had enough to pack away a decent memory.

I made the shot, the goat tumbled out of sight right off a medium-sized cliff and a big thud followed. It was a perfect representation of what one might expect on a hunt where your quarry makes its living on cliff faces.

My friends, KC and Brandon, and I quickly skinned the billy out for a life-size mount. We then loaded the meat, hide, cameras, and gear into three backpacks. Once back up at the pass, we loaded all our camp and other gear on top of that load and packed three very heavy packs down to the truck.

It was a memorable hunt made even more special by the rarity of occurrence. It was intoxicating, and it left me yearning for more.

A Quiet King

The rugged, chiseled crags that Rocky Mountain goats inhabit often are too much even for the stately bighorn sheep. They can scratch out the meekest of livings on a high-elevation windblown slope in January. Their signature yellowish-white hide shines like a beacon atop the precipice upon which they are perched.

Yet for all their stunning glory and unmatched toughness, mountain goats might just be the most underappreciated big game animals in all of North America. Why? My guess is twofold: first, somewhat understated headgear, and second, lack of recognition due to difficulty in obtaining a tag.

It’s my firm belief that every big game hunter should do everything they can to hunt these magnificent creatures at least once. It is perhaps the best combination of strenuous challenge, unique species, and unforgettable adventure available for hunting in North America.

For the rarity of the event, it also might just be the most affordable, as well. Let’s take a closer look at why, and how to make it happen.

Lower 48 State Draws

This option is the riskiest and lowest odds of actually obtaining a goat hunt, but if the drawing gods favor you, it will easily be the least expensive. All it takes is an application fee, some patience, and much luck. Here’s a breakdown of the most significant western states.

Colorado: If you want a goat in the Lower 48, Colorado should be on your for-sure list to apply. For 2016, Colorado has 13 total mountain goat tags available to nonresidents (11 rifle, 2 archery).

Colorado has a unique points system for its trophy species (goat, sheep, and moose). You must apply for three years and accumulate three preference points before you’re actually eligible to draw a tag. At that point you then stop gaining preference points and start accumulating weighted points, designed to run through a random number generator.

Drawing odds for 2016 ranged from roughly 1%-5% by unit when looking strictly at those with three preference points (weighted points not considered). If you commit early to this process in Colorado, your odds are actually fairly decent that you will eventually draw a tag, even if it is many years down the road.

Idaho: Idaho typically offers five total nonresident tags out of around 50 overall. This can fluctuate depending on the total number of tags offered and nonresident draw success among the general applicant pool, but it almost always shakes out at five tags.

Idaho has some wildly different goat hunts, including dense forests of northern Idaho, lower canyon country, deep wilderness hunts, and more. Draw odds here are typically better here (relatively speaking) due to the fact that if you put in for mountain goat, you are prohibited from putting in for sheep, moose, deer, elk, or antelope. Thus, only those truly serious about wanting to take a mountain goat will apply here.

Idaho has no points system, so you have the same chance each year. Nonresidents will have to front approximately $2100 to apply, but almost all of it comes back to you if you’re unsuccessful.

In 2015, 830 applicants put in for 50 tags. This results in a 6% overall chance. However, 218 nonresidents put in for the total possibility of 5 tags, resulting in a 2.3% chance.

Montana: The Treasure State is the best bet for drawing a nonresident goat tag, not in terms of draw rates, but in overall tag numbers. Montana gives out a fairly generous number of tags (approximately 250 per year overall) spread wide across the state in many different hunt districts, and trophy quality overall is decent in most units. The Crazies, Highwood Mountains, Yellowstone border, and Bob Marshall Wilderness, among others, are popular places for which to apply, and quality goats are taken annually.

The downside? Steep fees to apply. A couple years ago, Montana changed from a mostly refundable fee to a $75 nonrefundable fee + incidentals, just for that one species.

Photo: Bynum

One thing to keep in mind is to not get in the routine of applying for the same unit. Montana rotates the units available to nonresidents each year, so you’ll need to decide annually on which unit to apply for.

Nonresident odds in 2015 were roughly 0.6%, so you’d best be very motivated to apply. Bonus points are offered here (a points squared system), so your odds will slowly but surely increase over time.

Nevada: Nevada used to be a fantastic mountain goat hunting destination with some huge billies taken. In fact, Elko County, Nevada has more listings in B&C (by a long shot) than any other destination. However, the last few years, Nevada has not offered a nonresident mountain goat tag. There are 13 resident tags available for 2016, and our feeling is that at least 1 should be offered to a nonresident.

Oregon: Up until just a couple years ago, nonresidents weren’t eligible to put in for mountain goats in the regular draw, so their only hope was through a raffle. That has changed, and now a singular tag is available. The odds are predictably poor, but the quality of goats is very good. You have to buy a nonresident hunting license to be eligible to apply, so if you’re only applying for mountain goat, it’s not really a wise use of funds, but if you’re already applying for other tags there, the additional opportunity cost is very minimal.

Utah: Applying for mountain goats in Utah is an interesting quandary. Drawing odds are fairly horrible (ranging from approximately 1 in 300 to 1 in 900, irrespective to bonus points) but if you draw, you’ll have a good chance to kill a great goat and see some fantastic scenery.

To apply, you only need to buy a $65 hunting license and then each species is just $10. Utah has a straight bonus points system, so the longer you’re in, the better your chances will get in regard to the odds listed above.

The best goats tend to come from the Beaver Unit but the best scenery anywhere you might ever be able to hunt a mountain goat might just be the Wasatch tag.

Washington: Washington is easily the most underrated Lower 48 state for mountain goats. Some fantastic goats come from here every year.

However, it’s hard to justify putting in here unless you simply hate your money. Drawing odds are over 1 in 1000 in most units, and worse if you’re just getting in the game. Plus, you’ll pay $110 for the honor, just for that one species!

Washington has a Nevada-style system in two ways. First, bonus points are squared, exponentially favoring the long-term applicant. Second, it considers all of an applicant’s top choices before moving on to the next applicant.

Wyoming: The Cowboy State has been putting out some decent goats the last few years. The bad side? Only a tiny handful of tags are offered statewide, and everyone can put in without it affecting their chances for other tags, creating horrific drawing odds. There are three hunts – two in the northwest corner of the state near Cody in grizzly habitat, and one against the Idaho border in the Jackson/Alpine area.

Trevor Carruthers: Trevor Carruthers took this 7-year-old shaggy-haired billy on a hunt in the Kootenay Region of interior BC. Goats typically don’t get as big here as they do in northwest BC, but the adventure is just as fantastic.

Canada

British Columbia is the way to go for most would-be mountain goat hunters. Legendary places like the Cassiar Mountains, Telegraph Creek, the Skeena River, and Dease Lake are ground zero for fantastic mountain goat adventures and follow in the footsteps of former mountain goat hunters for over 100 years.

Northern and coastal BC typically grows the largest trophy goats and if you research it, you’ll generally see that ‘s priced accordingly. With BC, it often comes down to whether you’re hunting for a record book billy or simply looking for a more affordable opportunity such as can sometimes be found further into the interior.

A good mountain goat hunt is going to cost you around $10,000 not counting travel, tip, etc. A more economical hunt can be found for around $7000 with some shopping.

However, deals can often be found in the form of add-ons, even in quality goat areas. For example, with some outfitters, if you book a Canada moose, grizzly, or caribou hunt as the primary hunt, you may be able to tack on a mountain goat during the same adventure for as low as $1000-$2000. I would highly advise this if you’re already going to commit to hunting in Canada. Better to pay just a bit more than to go twice and pay premium prices both times.

As always, when pulling the trigger on an outfitted hunt, spend a great deal of time researching outfitters, calling references, etc. Most outfitters in BC are pretty reputable and should be able to provide you all you need in terms of past clients and successful hunting photos.

Troy Sheldon took the current world record mountain goat in 2011 while hunting in the Stikine River region. It scores a whopping 57-4/8 B&C. The story was featured in WHM 38, our Summer 2012 issue.

Alaska

Similar to BC, Alaska is a great destination for mountain goat hunters, particularly those who are tired of playing the waiting game of trying to draw a tag in the Lower 48. Also similar to BC, you can’t go without a guide. One exception to that is if you have a close relative (see AFGD regs for details) that can accompany you.

If you choose to put in despite that fact, keep in mind that Alaska has an exceptionally early application period. You must apply by December 15 of the previous year.

Mountain goat home range in Alaska stretches in a band going from the southeast to the south-central portion of the state. The Chugach and Wrangells are strongholds. Goats have also been introduced to Kodiak, Revillagigedo and Baranof Islands.

For 2016, Alaska offered up to 52 different units where nonresidents were eligible to draw a tag. Top historic destinations for B&C-quality goats include most hunts on the Kenai and Cleveland peninsulas, Revillagigedo Island, Kodiak Island, and the Stikine River area from the BC border to the ocean.

The author took this nice billy on a backpack hunt in Idaho in 2010. Drawing a tag in the Lower 48 isn’t easy, but it can be done, and the reward is unforgettable.

State Raffles

Many western states have some form of a raffle/super tag for mountain goats. In some cases, throwing in a fair amount of tickets into this draw may get you better odds than the regular draw. Regardless, if you have the spare pocket change, it will give you even more options of getting a tag in hand. Montana and Wyoming’s Super Tags and Colorado, Oregon, and Washington’s mountain goat raffle tags are prime candidates.

Taxidermy Thoughts

Mountain goats are one of the only trophies where a good hide and hair length is valued on a similar level as the horns. As stunning as they are, I’ve rarely if ever seen a shoulder mount do justice to their magnificence. It just always seems to fall flat. The striking features of a mountain goat’s build – the flowing creamy white hair, defined leggings, glossy black hooves, and blocky build really demand more tribute.

The author’s 2010 Idaho mountain goat. Mountain goats make for perhaps the most impressive life-size mounts of any animal. It’s the ultimate tribute to an exceptional animal.

In order to show it off, I’d seriously consider a life-size mount. If that isn’t a possibility, a half mount (ribs forward and still showcasing the front legs) can look very good under some circumstances. Even a full mountain goat rug to hang on the wall is often a better choice than a short-necked uninspired shoulder mount.

Regardless of your choice, have it made beforehand. Then, pick a quality taxidermist (this is not the time to take the economy route – this is once in a lifetime art) and then consult with them on exactly how to make all necessary cuts so that you don’t make a mistake.