Sunday, September 16, 2012

Dad's Old, Crazy Goat

It was nearly 10 years to the date that found Dad and I headed up the same trail in the Crazy Mountains of central Montana.  We had found success on that earlier hunt and I was able to claim a decent billy on the second day of our hunt.  Due to my recent work schedule and other obligations, we were unable to do any high-altitude scouting this summer.  While we both had done a good deal of training to get in shape, we were not sure what to expect from the Crazies a decade later.
We had only been hiking for 90 minutes when Dad spotted an obvious white spot that looked out of place against the granite backdrop.  While there was some snow remaining above the timberline, this wasn't snow.  After setting up the spotting scope, it was confirmed; it was definitely a goat and appeared to be a big, solitary billy. It's coat was slightly off-color and it was alone. Most of the nannys would have a kid still with them.  The goat was roughly 1,500 feet above us and we would ideally would like to get above him.  Complicating things even more is the land ownership arrangement in the Crazies. Within the confines of the national forest boundary, were checkerboard private and public sections.
After finalizing our game plan, we started the long climb.  We weren't sure if other hunters would spot the same goat or if the goat had a second perch that he would move to once the sun would hit him directly.  All we could do was hope that he would be patient while we sneaked uphill.  The game plan was good and bad, as were able to stay on public land and remain out of sight of our goat.  Unfortunately, we had to pick our way through large boulders and some loose talus that made it nearly impossible to hike discreetly. Finally, it was getting so noisy and precarious that I took both of our packs and decided to drop back and let Dad finish the sneak on his own. One hunter making noise was much better than two.  We figured we were already at the goat's elevation and we only needed to go another 100 yards to be comfortably above the animal.
I had only been sitting about ten minutes when I heard one muffled shot.  It sounded like a shot that hit its target.  And hearing one shot is always a sign.  Two or three reports put doubt into one's mind.  I grabbed the packs and caught up with Dad.  He gave me the nod that the hunting part of the hunt was complete. The mood was a bit tempered as goat had tumbled downhill quite a distance. Despite spending his days on a good-sized ledge and and Dad making a perfect shot with his .270, the billy still stumbled off the ledge, breaking off half of one of its horns.  Not ideal, but a pretty common part of goat hunting.
The hunt was over at 10:30AM on the first day. It took us two hours to skin and butcher the goat on site and another two hours to get the meat, hide and skull back to the truck.  Our packs were heavy and clumsy on the big boulders, but we were in good spirits.
While I have always said my Crazy mountain goat was one of my most memorable hunts, this would rival that. Dad was now 66 instead of 56. His billy was within sight of the very ledge where my billy had spent his final days.  It is unlikely that either one of us will ever hunt mountain goats again in Montana. But, if all we have are the memories of these two hunts, it will be enough.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Back In The Birds

The boat next to the garage suddenly became a decoration and any additional home projects are officially on hold until 2013.  As the calendar read September 1st this past Saturday, the dogs were the happiest, I was a close second, as we opened the upland bird season at 9,500 feet looking for blue grouse.
When I arrived at the trailhead, I wasn't the first hunter to arrive, but I was the first bird hunter.  The other pickups and horse trailers, all belonged to bow hunters in search of bugling elk.  I didn't mind sharing the woods with them, as I would be hiking above all of them, occasionally above tree line.  Other than the constant hazy skies from distant forest fires, it was a perfect day.  My shooting wasn't perfect either, in all honesty, but it was good enough.  The dogs didn't need much a refresher, but since they are both middle-aged in dog years (8 and 5 years old), they shouldn't need one. Beyond the birds, the shooting, I took a lot of satisfaction in the little things; just seeing the dogs jump at the sight of my double, seeing them honor each other, walking on ground that rarely sees another hunter.
As expected, the birds had a good hatch, according to my relatively small sample size.  One brood of blues numbered eight birds, which makes for a lot of noise when they start flushing out of a dog's point.  The birds' crops all showed a healthy diet of greens, berries and grasshoppers. The one males were where they should be, hanging out near timberline, with stunted trees and awesome views. The young birds were much lower, having spent the first few months of their lives in lush, more forgiving habitat.
After two days of chasing blue grouse up high, I spent Monday on the prairie, looking for Huns. They too, appear to have had a good spring hatch, following a mild winter.  But, right now, I will limit my time chasing sharptail and Huns for later. The mountain grouse window is small one and right now it is wide open.