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A Southeast Alaska Mountain Goat Hunt

by Johnnie Laird
Muskeg Excursions
Ketchikan, AK

July 28, 1999

Weather: chance of showers. Lows in low 50’s. Highs in the upper 60’s. 1 inches of rain yesterday.

After 2 very rainy and foggy days we are going to make it into the Goat Lake today. We were scheduled to fly yesterday with Taquan Air but it was a no fly day. We spent the morning putting the final touches on our gear for the hunt. After taking our gear to Taquan and doing a little last minute running around town we headed out in the skiff to get some fresh air and doing a little fishing and sightseeing (as we did on the eve of the 28th). The fish were playing hard to catch but the scenery was beautiful but wet. Yesterday we even got some sunset colors in the clouds. When we returned we had a message on the phone that we were scheduled to fly at 6:30 AM. and after coffee (Tang for Mike) we are on our way. The first mountain goat hunt of the season is underway!

July 29, 1999

The alarm went off. Mike and I were up early. Taquan Air had rescheduled our flight after a no-fly day yesterday due to low clouds and fog. We had taken most of our gear to the freight room yesterday. The sun was already up but we could see a large fog bank hanging in the east Tongass Strait as we drove down to the plane dock. 

We checked and weighed the rest of our gear. JJ was the first pilot to show up and was assigned to take us out. We said our good mornings. JJ warmed up the Beaver and we helped load our gear. We were in the air just before 6:30 AM. JJ said it looked pretty iffy but we would give it a try. We viewed a lot of seiners hauling their nets as we flew southeast. There was fog and low clouds as we approached the Misty Fjords. We were surprised to see the little lake open and workable. We took a flight among the cloudy peaks we would be hunting. We spotted 8 or 10 goats on the snowfield-covered mountaintops. The landing was smooth on the glass-like lake. We said our good-byes to JJ after unloading our gear on the beach. 

We packed our gear over to the base campsite and repacked our packs and hung the extra gear in the trees. Then the work started. After about two hours of wet thick rainforest jungle we reached the lower muskeg. Another hour and a half of hard hiking got us to the Camp II site. Fog moved in and out of the valley and we set up our tents and rain fly in a light drizzle. We settled in for a nap. As we were on fire wood detail we noticed the fog lifting and spots of blue sky. We glassed nannies with kids and 2 or 3 billies, about 14 or so in all. After freeze-dried dinners and a dessert of Peaches & Cream Pie we called it a day.

July 30, 1999

We were up about 5 AM and after breakfast of Scrambled Eggs & Pork Sausage Patties (freeze dried) we packed up our packs for a day hike up the West Ridge. The sun was coming over the East Ridge and there was a thick valley fog hanging over the lower rivers and bays. We let the brush dry out a little before starting our climb. After a couple of hard hours we topped out on the lower portion of the West Ridge. Looking across to the large mountain in the west we could spot nine mountain goats moving around in the morning sun. After a break we climbed up to the next level of shelves. We hadn’t spotted any goats in our Valley yet. 

After a lunch break we continued our climb. The valley fog burned off and the sun got hot. We worked our way up to a very good overlook a pass. We started to continue our climb to the top when we spotted a goat feeding its way around the upper part of the pass. We glassed as it thrashed some bushes with its horns and moved up on a shelf and dug a bed out. The bugs were giving it a hard time. It couldn’t stay in one position for very long. The bugs were also giving us a hard time. We watched for awhile and eased our way back down out of sight. We started sighting goats over on the East Ridge among the snowfields and high mountain meadows. As we were working our way back down another goat came across the top just above us. We glassed it for a little while and headed on back to Camp II. We had seen around 20 mountain goats for the day. After dinner and dessert we turned in.

July 31, 1999

After an oatmeal breakfast we packed one tent and gear for a few days. We headed back up the West Ridge. As the morning winds died down the bugs came out with a vengeance. It was going to be a hot day. After a couple hours of hard hiking we topped out on the West Ridge. We set up the tent and rested and waited for it to cool off a little. After having a freeze dried dinner we stashed a few things in the tent and continued to the lower top shelves to set up a bivi-camp. We crawled into our bug netted bivi-sacs to escape the attacking bug swarms and drifted off to sleep.

August 1, 1999

Mike was up before me. A pair of Ptarmigan landed on our sleeping bags and really carried on. I rolled over and went back to sleep. 

After breakfast we headed up the ridge with excitement on this opening day of mountain goat season. The wind was kicking it up out of the east keeping the bugs down. We eased up to the pass overlook into a stiff wind. A goat bedded 30 yards away. We dropped back and slowly crawled over the top. A young billy jumped up and bailed off the top.

Looking over the edge we sighted a nanny and 2 Kids at 15 yards. We looked and waited but nothing was right there. We started climbing up over the top. As we watched our back trail we noticed another young goat walking out from the sheer East Side and then a large one. We watched the smaller of the two while the big one eased out of sight to the sheer West Side. We played the waiting game. No more there. 

We eased up to the top. There were 5 goats just coming over the top. We watched as the 3 nannies and 2 Kids fed and bedded and did their goat things at about 100 yards. We worked our way on up over the top. Sighting more goats down ridge. I tried to find a way onto the lower North shelves. No good; too shear. We watched a nice billy as he started in our direction. We needed more supplies so I left Mike on top and headed for the Lake Base Camp. We scheduled a radio contact for 9 PM.

At 9 PM we were talking. I could tell by Mike’s voice that he was very excited. I can’t remember his exact words but there was good news and bad news. Good news was he saw the billy come up and over the top. Bad news was a very big brown bear had sneaked up on him. After I left him on top he was waiting and watching the billy move up toward the top. He heard footsteps in the snowfield just above him, hoping it was I coming back for some reason.  Wrong. He knew it was a bear when he heard it breathing, testing the wind to get a make on Mike!  Mike didn’t look around. But saw the lower goats bail off the top! 

After a little while Mike made it for bivi-camp. As he crossed the snowfield he saw fresh tracks of a large brown bear (about the size of an 8x11 sheet of paper). The brownie had tracked him across the snowfield. He stopped to watch his back trail to make sure the bruin wasn’t on him. A nanny and the billy crossed the top right where he was! Mike had a restless night.

August 2, 1999

I started up the trail before 7 AM with the re-supply load. We made contact at 8 AM as we had arranged. Mike was back on top spotting goats but had also noticed some fresh brownie tracks in the snow banks. It made him nervous. He decided to move back down the ridge closer to bivi-camp. We had planned to meet at the bivi-camp at around noon or so. After I made the climb and got some rest we headed up on top on this yet another bug infested very hot day. We made our way up toward the top stopping at the pass overlook for a bit. 

Just above that on the first snow bank we cut a lone goat track. Looking over the edge Mike spotted a goat laying about 30 feet away. We moved up the ridge for a better vantage point. We made it to be a lone nanny. Good size with good horn length. She got up and headed in our direction. She bedded down just below us at about 40 feet. Not a good shot. She was just above a snow bank that dropped probably 1000 feet straight down. As she got up and moved up toward the pass we moved into position and waited. 

She didn’t show. We waited. Then we split up and eased out looking for her. I spotted her moving down the sheer West Side. She had changed her mind and headed down the mountain for the afternoon. We worked our way back to the pass overlook again. After spending awhile glassing goats across the canyon we headed back up to the top again. On the same snowfield we cut fresh tracks of 5 goats. Easing over the North ridge 1 very large nanny was bedded down just below about 25 yards. No shot again. She was bedded on the snow just above a vertical drop off. We watched as she got up and walked down the vertical ice field as if were level ground. We worked our way back toward the bivi-camp. I had noticed earlier that the big brown bear track was on Mike’s track headed down toward the bivi-camp. They were almost melted away by the warm sun so the big boy did track Mike yesterday after all. After dinner we settled in for another uneasy night with the big brownie in the area.

August 3, 1999

Mike was up before 4:30 glassing for goats. He spotted one feeding in the pass and headed up there. I rolled over for a little more rest being tired from my re-supply hike yesterday. I got up shortly and caught up with Mike at the pass overlook. It was another hot day in the making but there were high clouds drifting in from the Southeast horizon. There was thick ocean fog hanging on the outside bays. 

Mike spotted a medium-sized goat feeding on the upper part of the pass on our side of things. We watched as it moved in and out of sight. Then it appeared to be moving on up to the top. Mike wanted to try for it and we put the move on. As we neared the top we split up. I eased over to the edge where we last sighted it and Mike moved slowly up the top. I looked up just to see Mike bringing his rifle up to his shoulder. Mike decided to take the shot on the medium nanny. The Remington Model 700 in 300 Ultra Mag (180-grain Nosler) did the job. It was a clean quick kill at less than 50 yards. It came to rest against a rock in a perfect location with sheer ice field drop offs on each side. 

After the photo session we set in to work on it. Mike caped it out while I boned out the meat. Mike is a taxidermist and is very handy with a knife. We were back at bivi-camp and headed down the mountain by about 10:30 AM after a call to Taquan Air confirming our flight for tomorrow. We stopped at the west ridge camp for a rest and change of socks. There was thunder in the East. We packed it up and headed for Camp II. We took another rest and packed it up and headed for the Lake Base Camp with very heavy loads. We made it in after 5:30 PM; very tired. A bath in the lake was refreshing. We turned in early after dinner and dessert and slept soundly.

August 4, 1999

After sleeping in to 7:30 AM or so we got up and had breakfast. It was a partly cloudy, warm humid morning with a light shower drifting through. As Mike worked on the cape skin (fleshing, turning the lips, splitting the lips) I broke camp and started packing it over to the beach for our 2 PM scheduled flight back to town. 

Sal showed up in a Beaver just before 2 pm. After quickly loading the plane we were making our take off. Sal aborted the first try. It was too hot and the plane was just too doggy for him. We unloaded some gear and Mike stayed on the lake beach while Sal flew to the saltwater and dropped me off with a little gear on a rock. Shortly he was back with Mike and we were on our way to Ketchikan. After loading up our gear in the Muskeg Mobile we headed for the US Customs Office for the paper work so Mike could transport his goat and meat through Canada on his drive back to Beaverton, Oregon where he will be coaching high school varsity football at Southbridge High.

Mike spent the next 2 days resting and fishing before catching the ferry to Prince Rupert. The mountain goat will make a beautiful half wall mount which Mike will do himself and he took home a good load of mountain goat meat.

Johnnie Laird is a long time Alaska outdoorsman and guide.  You can read more about opportunities to hunt with him here.

 

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