Hunting mountain goats for trophy horns rather misses the point. The hunt, not the horns, is the trophy. Mountain goat country is land seldom seen and rarely touched, the earth’s bedrock stood on end and crumbling under the relentless pressure of gravity and ice far from the madding crowds. Few see it. Fewer hunt it.
It’s big country, hard country, dangerous country. And that’s just the way North America’s Rocky Mountain goat wants it. This is an ungulate that has opted out of the classic predator/prey footrace, a regular Robert Frost species that has chosen the road less traveled. While pronghorns, caribou, mule deer and elk run, while whitetails and moose hide, mountain goats plod, picking their way up the precarious protection of precipices. Theirs is a perpendicular landscape where even mountain lions fear to tread. Sharp hoof edges with bulging, leathery centers help goats cling to the tiniest protuberances. Deep but narrow chests let them hug walls while a phlegmatic attitude prevents panic.
Masters of their vertical world, goats can afford to flaunt the whitest coats south of the nearest polar bear. Catch me if you can, they proclaim, and then they methodically climb cliffs that might give lichens second thoughts. It is those coats with plush underfur and ten-inch guard hairs that make mountain goats a taxidermist’s dream job. Mounted full body, their lavish pantaloons and “goatee” chin hairs more than compensate for short, thin horns.
Goats pay a steep price for their safe havens. Gravity kills most of them. Despite their careful, cautious demeanor and uniquely evolved physiology, mountain goats slip, slide, tumble and plummet. Following in their hoofsteps gives many would-be goat hunters pause.
This is not a hunt for the unfit, the timid or the poorly balanced. It isn’t necessary to hunt at nose-bleed altitudes, but it is necessary to climb, sometimes where footholds are toeholds become hand holds. You may be clinging by your finger tips. Do not indulge a goat hunt lightly, but… If you want a challenge, if you want to hunt the world according to God, mountain goats may be your huckleberry. Climb up and touch the glory.
Author and photographer Ron Spomer has trekked into mountain goat heaven many times and reaped the rewards. The photos illustrating this essay were taken during a 2005 hunt with Dawson Deveny in north-central British Columbia. Swift’s 165-grain Scirocco bullet fired from a 4.5-pound Kifaru rifle in 300 WSM and sighted with a Leupold 2-7x33mm VX-2 scope.