Mountain Goat Hunting
The mountain goat is an interesting beast, and while the word “unique” is horribly over used, the wild, white goat is truly unique in North America as it has no close ancestors here. Belonging to the large and diverse Bovidae family which includes true goats, sheep, antelope and cattle they are classified as “Rupicaprids” and there are just five world wide species in this group which includes the Goral, Serow, and Japanese Serow all of Asia, and the Chamois of Europe. They all share a number of characteristics including fragile skulls, short, sharp, dangerous horns, very strong climbing abilities and stylized fighting techniques that mitigate – to a degree – the deadliness of fights.
Because they fight side by side hooking at each others' rear they grow thick dermal shields over their back quarters. Never-the-less, during rutting dominance battles, it's not uncommon for billies to die from punctures to their liver, paunch, and chest. They have even evolved an extra coagulant factor in their blood that helps keep them from bleeding to death after receiving horrific wounds. I can attest to a goat horn's piercing ability as I've inadvertently driven a horn tip ¼ inch into the palm of my hand while skinning a goat head. It went in without resistance – their sharpness startles you.
The mountain goat has always been the ugly step child to our wild sheep, and all because of their diminutive horns relative to the sheep's. But on ranges that overlap with bighorn habitat biologists have observed that despite a general live and let live attitude between the two species, when push comes to shove goats get their way and dominate big horned sheep. Once you see past the horns a well furred goat skin kick's sheep hide butt, and most hunters opt for the life sized mount on goats.
The goat's toughness is legendary, sometimes walking away with injuries that would drop most other animals in their tracks. They easily survive heavy snow winters that decimate Kodiak deer populations, and they thrive in similar country along coastal Alaska where no sheep can live. They are very powerful diggers that can eat a wider variety of vegetation - everything from grass and lichens to spruce trees - than any other herbivore in North America. Going along with their rawhide physical integrity is a pugnacious character and willingness to fight for their life. Where a sheep's only hope is to escape into cliffs when pursued by predators, a cornered goat demands - at the least - some of your blood. In that vein, intrusive wildlife photographers have been charged by nannies with newborn kids, and in 2010 a Washington man was killed by a billy that had a history of threatening hikers in the area. On two occasions in Alaska a goat and a coastal grizzly were found dead at a fight scene apparently having killed each other. It was theorized that after the grizzlies killed the goats, and began feeding on them, they slowly bled to death from their own wounds.
By the time I'd hunted goats for ten years or so I'd come to the conclusion goats were our most dangerous animal to hunt. Nothing that's happened since has changed my mind. The danger comes from the terrain they inhabit and the often ferocious weather of the north gulf coast where people have actually been blown off mountains, and along with the wet, makes for delicious hypothermic conditions. Because of all the moisture, grass grows on steeper slopes in goat country, and when it's raining there are slopes you can't stand on without the help of crampons for your boots and an ice axe in your right hand for self arrest and a third leg; tools I've never deemed necessary for sheep hunting.
When you hunt with me you are going with someone who killed his first goats at age 14 on the toughest two days I've ever experienced, who has long since recognized his limitations in goat country. I do 10 day goat hunts with a packer which allows for bad weather days and discrimination in taking 9” and better billies. That said, there are worthy nannies out there too, since the longest horns ever recorded were from a nanny and there are several in the all time Boone & Crockett Record's book. Another time consumer on goat hunts is you often have to wait for a goat to move so it doesn't self destruct falling down a mountain.
The Kodiak goat population is still growing and my area is now a Registration zone so getting a permit is as easy as picking one up at the local Fish & Game office. My clients usually buy an incidental deer tag, just in case they see a big buck. The best goat country doesn't have a lot of deer in it, but the Dog Salmon area lends itself a little better to picking up a deer on a goat hunt than my old Zachar area did. If you don't get a deer tag, sure as it will rain, you'll see a giant buck.
As for cartridges suitable for goats I'd recommend nothing smaller than the 270 winchester using spitzer shaped premium bullets like the Nosler Partition, Barnes X, Swift A Frame, etc.
All and all the goat is a very cool animal, and despite what you might have heard, good eating too.