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Mountain goat mad hatter.


LIKE MANY BOWHUNTERS, I've tried just about every hunting technique there is. I've even worn decoy hats while stalking game, but it wasn't until I booked my mountain goat bowhunt with Beaverfoot Outfitting in British Columbia that I considered taking it to another level.

Having read everything I could find on hunting mountain goats, I soon realized I could be in for some long-range shooting if I stuck to conventional camouflage and stalking techniques. I don't necessarily shy away from long-range shooting situations, but given the opportunity, I'll trade away a long-range shot for a close-range shot any day. I was soon toying with the idea of creating a custom decoy suit that could dupe unsuspecting goats, allowing me to get closer than otherwise possible. After a couple of weeks in front of a sewing machine and suffering countless puncture wounds from pins and needles, I fashioned a fairly lifelike mountain goat decoy hat out of a white ball cap, polar fleece, and some faux fur from a local crafts store. But how could I be sure it would work in advance of my hunt?

I decided to perform a field trial, and discovered there were plenty of goats in the Wasatch Mountains of Utah. So in July 2012, with my newly created mountain goat decoy hat, head cover, and white Tyvek painter's suit, I jumped in the truck and drove 750 miles to an area outside Mantua, Utah, where I would camp for the week and attempt to locate and stalk mountain goats on their own turf.

It didn't take me long to find goats. I watched as a group fed over a ridge, and then I immediately followed them. The area they fed into was steep with several rocky ledges to bed on, giving them a commanding view of the cliffs below. There were also a few stunted pines along this ridge that would give me enough cover to don my mountain goat decoy suit and attempt a stalk. So, like Clark Kent dashing into a phone booth shortly before emerging as Superman, I slipped into my Tyvek painter's suit, pulled on the snow-white head cover, and placed the mountain goat decoy hat on top. After crawling on my hands and knees for about 40 yards, I came to the last pine tree in my path, which left nothing but a talus slope between me and the feeding goats just 50 yards away. When I emerged in plain view, they immediately picked up my intrusion. But to my shock and surprise, the goats gave me only a moment's notice and then continued feeding.

As I slowly crawled forward, bobbing my head in the brush to imitate their feeding behavior, I was amazed at the ease in which I continued to close the gap on these remarkably relaxed animals. Before long I had crept to within 10 yards of a nanny, and for approximately a half-hour's time, this herd of feeding goats allowed me to join their group and paid very little attention to me, despite what must have appeared to them as one ugly goat! I shot some video while they slowly fed away, and I felt elated that I'd had such a successful first encounter using my decoy suit.

After a rainstorm passed through the area, I gave the decoy suit another try. My second attempt went better than the first, and I now found myself resting on my side a few yards from several mature bedded goats chewing their cud and dozing off with their eyes closed as we all enjoyed the warm sunny day together. I had crawled in from, I over 200 yards away, while they paid little attention to my slow and steady progress toward them. After spending over an hour in the presence of these goats, I felt I had accomplished my mission of testing the effectiveness of my decoy suit. So while relishing in my sweet success, I packed up my gear, pointed the truck south toward San Diego, and headed for home the following day. This is where my story takes a turn for the worse!

After returning home, I received an e-mail from a Utah acquaintance asking if I had seen the "Goat Man" while I was hiking, or if I knew who he might be. His e-mail included a hyperlink to an Ogden, Utah, newspaper article that had run a few days earlier describing what a hiker had seen and photographed on an outing near Ben Lomond Peak. I immediately felt a pit form in my stomach, and I began thinking to myself, Oh no, this can't be good!

I clicked the link, and in shock I read the Standard-Examiner article titled, "Person In Goat Suit Wanders Ben Lomond Peak." In less time than it had taken me to drive from Salt Lake City to San Diego, images of me in my decoy suit accompanied by wild speculative stories had gone viral on the Internet and saturated news agencies. What I had hoped would be a stealth mission to test a decoy suit and observe mountain goats in their high alpine environment had quickly turned into a nightmare! Fortunately for me, after contacting the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources and telling them I was simply training for a hunt, a follow-up article was printed by the Standard-Examiner and the speculation about "Goat Man" stopped immediately, taking the wind out of the news and social media sails just as quickly as it had gathered.

Over the next year, I continued to train hard physically, made some improvements to the decoy suit, and practiced shooting at extreme uphill and downhill angles at every opportunity. That year went by slowly, but eventually I boarded my Air Canada flight to Calgary where Beaverfoot Outfitting owner Troy Wolfenden met me three hours later.

Our first day hunting took us into a high alpine basin with steep cliff faces jutting up on three sides. During the hike in, we stopped frequently to pick wild huckleberries that were roughly the size of blueberries, and just as sweet. Willow and alder brush attempted to slow our continuous uphill progress, but to no avail, and our reward was a spectacular view of several nannies and kids feeding on an open ridge above timberline. Any nanny goat in the presence of kids is not legal to take while hunting in B.C., so we relaxed and ate our lunch while watching them slowly traverse the ridgeline.

The following morning we loaded our packs with provisions for two and a half days and then set out to spike camp in an area Troy knew held several mature goats. The hike up took three hours to complete, and we gained roughly 2,000 feet of elevation in the process. Arriving at the edge of timberline by early afternoon, we quickly set up our camp and headed out to find goats. With my bow strapped to my pack and a single trekking pole grasped in one hand, I soon found myself following in the footsteps of Bowhunter Editor Curt Wells across the treacherous "Death Trail," a trail aptly named for the fear factor it creates in one's mind as you carefully pick your way across, being extra careful not to slip and fall. We then climbed up and onto the "Devil's Backbone," a razorback-type ridge at nearly 8,000 feet of elevation with spectacular views from both sides. We glassed from several locations along this ridge until late evening, and then headed back to camp for a Mountain House meal and some well-deserved rest.

Shortly before dawn the next morning, we fired up the Jetboil stove and made oatmeal and coffee for breakfast. We retraced our steps from the evening before and found ourselves overlooking two goats just below timberline as the sun began to warm the cool morning air. As Troy watched through the spotting scope, I picked up another lone goat on a far ridge to the south. It was a long ways off, so we took a closer look through the spotting scope to better judge the goat's size. We both agreed that this was a very nice billy, so we decided to attempt a stalk.

We quickly trekked across the ridge we were on, dropped down a slide into the wide saddle below, and then ascended a steep face on the far ridge, just out of sight of the feeding goat. Once on top, we dropped our packs, and after 13 months of waiting, I once again donned my mountain goat decoy suit and prepared for the final stalk.

Keeping the ridgeline between us, I made my way toward the small saddle where we had last seen the goat feeding down the opposite slope. When I reached a point roughly 200 yards from this saddle, I encountered a vertical cliff I could not cross safely without first climbing back on top of the main ridge. With my bow in my hand, climbing was difficult, but I made it back on top and began to skirt this dangerous obstacle.

As I crested the peak, I could see the goat bedded below the saddle and it immediately spotted me in my white decoy suit and stood up. I froze in my tracks and wondered what the goat would do next. Although I was roughly 200 yards away, the goat appeared to study me intently, then turned, took a few steps, and bedded back down, facing away from me. I was again stunned by this outcome, but I was thrilled to still be in the game. The decoy suit had again worked as planned and had bought me some additional time to continue my stalk. I slowly and cautiously passed over the cliff section that had forced me back on top of the ridge, and then I worked my way down the back slope and out of the goat's sight completely

As I silently eased closer to the small saddle above the goat's bed, I removed an arrow from my quiver, quietly snapped it onto the string, and then hooked my release onto the string loop. I peered over the edge and down the steep slope, but I could not see the bedded goat. I wondered if it had heard me or winded me and had silently slipped away. I studied every rock ledge closely, desperately searching for the billy, but there was nothing to see. After I took another short step toward the edge, I saw the goat stand up from behind a rock ledge below me and to my right--just 20 yards away! The goat took two or three steps forward, came to a complete stop standing broadside, and then stared at me as if completely hypnotized. Before the goat had even stopped moving, I had already reached full draw and was centering the sight ring in the peep sight for the shot. A split-second later, my arrow passed though the goat's chest and slammed into the rocks on the far side. It took only seconds for the goat to bolt down the slope and out of sight, but massive bleeding was evident from both the entry and exit wounds, and I felt confident I had just killed my first mountain goat with a bow.

As it turned out, the goat traveled less distance than the arrow did in flight before coming to rest on a narrow ledge well within view of Troy who had been hiding on the rocky ridge above me. Had the goat lost its footing and fallen on the downhill side of that ledge, however, it could have tumbled hundreds of yards straight down onto the talus slope below.

Together, Troy and I worked our way down to the goat, and we were both surprised that it was not a billy after all, but rather a very old, solitary nanny with extremely long, sweeping horns and dark, accentuated scent glands surrounding the horns at their bases. These large scent glands made the horns appear much wider at the base than they actually were --even through the "40X spotting scope we had studied the goat with earlier that morning! Regardless of gender, it was a beautiful goat, and I couldn't have been happier with my trophy! So with beaming smiles we congratulated each other for pulling off an incredible stalk, and then took several photos, punched out the tag, and got to work preparing the meat and cape for travel.

With our packs loaded to capacity, we completed the slow, grueling hike back to our camp by late evening. We decided to grab only our essential gear from the tent, abandon the camp for now, and make our way back to the truck parked at the trailhead below. Our goal was to make it off the mountain before dark so we could get the meat refrigerated and the cape salted since the daytime temperatures were fairly warm. Darkness fell before we reached the truck, but with Troy's excellent sense of direction, and the aid of our LED headlamps, the truck finally appeared in view some 30 minutes later--a welcome sight for two exhausted hikers.

The following day we completed the compulsory horn inspection, during which the goat's age was determined to be 12 years, with a horn length of 97/s inches on the left side and 9% inches on the right --a truly magnificent old goat--and an extreme bowhunting adventure that will forever be etched in my memory!

It has been over a year now since the Utah "Goat Man" was portrayed in the media as some sort of bizarre individual living among the goats. And at that time, opinions concerning his behavior ranged from extreme wildlife enthusiast to worrisome nut job whose cheese had slipped off the cracker! Only those within the hunting community saw it for what it truly was: A clever way to practice getting extremely close to a highly desirable game animal and studying their response while looking for vulnerabilities.

My goal in wearing a decoy suit while bowhunting mountain goats was to get as close as possible for the shot, and reduce the likelihood of a poorly placed arrow when the shot was actually taken. For me, that's exactly how it worked out, and I'm guessing anyone who has ever hunted mountain goats with stick and string fully appreciates the magnitude of the challenge this particular animal and their steep, craggy environment represent. I'm convinced a decoy suit can change the game in your favor, and lead to incredibly close encounters and pulse-pounding shot opportunities. It should go without saying that you should not wear such a suit when there is a chance that firearms hunters may be in the area. The suit definitely works, but only you can decide if this technique is right for you!

The "Goat Man" is obviously an extremely hardcore bowhunter. He makes his home in Ranch Santa Fe, California.

AUTHOR'S NOTES: During my hunt, I used a Hoyt Carbon Matrix bow, Easton Axis N-Fused carbon arrows, Trophy Taker Terminal T-Lock broadheads, Trophy Ridge Drop Zone arrow rest and Static stabilizer, Spot-Hogg sight, G5 Meta Peep, Scott Mongoose release, and Primos bow sling. I also wore Sitka Gear clothing, Lowa Tibet boots, Badlands 2200 backpack, custom-made mountain goat decoy suit, and I used Zeiss 10X25 compact binoculars and a Bushnell Elite 1500 ARC rangefinder.

To book your own mountain goat bowhunting adventure, contact Troy Wolfenden of Beaverfoot Outfitting at 1-888-830-6060 or
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Author:Owens, Kevin
Date:Aug 1, 2014
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