The Crazy Mountains’ name also appropriately describes our experience when the mountain goat draw results were released last summer. Montana restructured how the tags were allotted in this district and it must’ve worked to our advantage.
Hearing that the results had been released, I opened up my oldest son Trey’s FWP profile and saw he was “successful” in the draw. The adrenaline that shot through my body was indescribable. Shortly after, I opened up my younger son, Tyson’s, FWP profile and saw he was also “successful”! it’s fair to say that my mind went completely crazy. We were now holding two amazing tags in a very rugged mountain range – a place that up to that point, we had never set foot!
The Mad Scramble
We had to shorten the learning curve as much as possible, so throughout the rest of the summer, we made several 3-½-hour one-way trips to the various trailheads. We spent many days in the vast wilderness, exploring different basins and fishing in the countless mountain lakes that the Crazies have to offer.
The “scouting” clock was ticking down and soon it was almost season. Mild panic began to set in because goat sightings weren’t as abundant as we expected.
An old high school buddy provided a solid lead and my family set off for one last hike before the season started. Finally, we found a good number of goats and a handful of bears all on the same rockslide. We were ecstatic to have found our opening day hunting spot.
Cliffs and Soaked Sleeping Bags
Now, the hunt was upon us. We gained a jolt of optimism when we spotted goats the night before our start. With a couple of close friends, our family (including my 68-year-old dad) set out to accomplish our goal. We started with an early morning hike and reached our opening day spot about five miles from the trailhead.
Expecting to see the goats that we saw the weekend before, we arrived with disappointment. No goats. I’m one of those hunters who spends a week imagining how the hunt is going to unfold, but in reality, it never works how I think it will.
The season had just begun and now it was our job to find the goats. We knew they had to be somewhere close, so we set up the spotting scopes and began to pick the basin apart. A white goat on the side of a treeless rockslide is a piece of cake to spot, but a bedded goat on a slope with scattered trees with the sun hitting it is another story.
My buddy, Vern, spotted that needle in a haystack about 1-½ miles up the basin, so we quickly packed up our gear and navigated farther in. We crawled over rockslides, deadfall, a creek, and navigated hundreds of feet in elevation changes to get to where the goats were.
We worked our way into shooting position, but couldn’t pull the trigger. While the goats were now easily within range, they simply wouldn’t be recoverable without special gear. All we could do was watch them play around on the cliffs across from us.
Trey, Tyson, my wife Jamey, and I split from the group and worked higher up the basin parallel to the goats. Our hope was that they would wander toward the water close by or cross in front of us on their way to a different basin. As we lay in our new spot for a couple of hours, I began to wonder if this was ever going to happen.
About that time, a couple of different goats appeared on a rock ledge in front of us, drifting in from a neighboring basin. Trey settled in behind the rifle and squeezed the trigger. Fortunately, he anchored the goat on the ledge, because the backside featured about a 100-foot cliff.
We broke the goat down and started to head out. With torrential rain and nightfall approaching, we cut our hunt short and made the hazardous walk out.
Upon arriving at the tent late that night, we found that our borrowed tent had leaked. Our hunting gear and sleeping bags were soaked. That and the next morning’s low clouds gave us an excuse to cut the hunt short. We would return for Tyson’s goat another weekend.
The following weekend we were back at it. However, after two days and 25 tough miles, all we were able to get was a rushed shot and a clean miss on a nice goat. With Tyson’s tag still in his pocket, we headed home.
A Grand Finale
With the season two weeks old and now running into an incoming snow report, we once again headed back to the basin from the week prior. A couple of good friends, Savannah and Cade, joined us.
You could feel the mental and physical grind beginning to take its toll while hiking the dark trail. A few miles later, the trail opened up and revealed a handful of goats on the mountainside, and I knew where they were heading.
We made our way up the steep timbered slope as fast as we could, but the goats beat us through the pass. Jamey recommended we sit on a rock vantage point for the day, hopeful that more goats would cross, so we did.
A couple of hours later, our patience brought another chance. Tyson softly squeezed the trigger, for the shot and placed the bullet and causing the goat to tumble a couple of hundred feet down the rocky slope.
Our congratulations were cut short by a bear that showed himself in a different part of the basin. Savannah jumped in behind the same rifle Tyson had just used to shoot the goat and made a great shot to claim her first bear!
On the walk out, all I could do was reflect on the amazing journey our family and friends had experienced over the last few weeks together. Our “Crazy” adventure was coming to a close. The hunt was amazingly difficult, both mentally and physically, but in the end we are left with priceless memories and a sizeable taxidermy bill.
By: Seth Wheeler - Montana Mountain Goat