Beads and Billies—a Mountain Goat Hunt in British Columbia
After seven unsuccessful mountain goat hunts over the decades, the author finally put it all together last winter—thanks, in part, from a bit of luck from an unlikely source
My legs felt like jelly and seemed to be losing strength by the minute. Nightfall brought colder temperatures, and the snow we were walking on was changing structure quickly. I was on a long hike back to the truck with outfitter Bob Milligan behind me and his son Bobby in front of me. We traversed a muddy rockslide and moved toward the river’s edge to avoid a wall of dense alders. I watched the snowshoes in front of me twist and turn to skirt around sprawling shrubs that pushed out and over the river on a snow shelf. I tried to emulate the steps and movements of the young, sure-footed Bobby. However, on the second step along the deep snowbank, the snow shelf collapsed into the flowing water.
I grabbed hold of the stout alders and hung on for dear life, listening to the roar of water below. I dared not look down and concentrated on pulling myself up. I swung my snowshoes hard and wide, desperately trying to get them back up on the stable snowbank. Every attempt robbed more energy from my arms and body. After several minutes, I hung still to rest—and as I did so, I couldn’t help but think of the two beads in my pocket. I asked them to bring just a little more luck, to help get me home.
Bob was behind me, and there was little he could do but watch. In the tense situation, he never said a word. He watched intently as I garnered all my strength to pull my body up into the alders, then roll onto the precarious edge of the snow. Somehow, I had made it out of my predicament. Soon I was back on the trail like nothing happened.
The three of us were on a relentless march out of remote country after a long day chasing a mountain goat. There was already 16 hours of high adventure behind us, with unknown hours ahead to get back to the truck and civilization.
Eighth Time’s a Charm?
You don’t have to be crazy, but it helps… That adage seemed fitting for my last-minute decision to book a late-season mountain goat hunt in the coastal Rockies of British Columbia. I had about six weeks to prepare and knew from previous experience that there is no such thing as an easy goat hunt. The season was open until the end of February, and I’d have the last hunt of the season with Bob and his son Bobby of Milligan Outfitting Ltd.
Bob has more than 30 years of experience hunting mountain goats and has guided close to 1,000 successful trips up mountains. Bobby has a youthful exuberance with the necessary strength and stamina for extended, heavy pack-outs. As rushed as the trip was, I was excited to book the hunt, as killing a mountain goat has been a long-time goal of mine. None of the seven goat hunts I’ve done in the past ended with a billy in the backpack.
I spent a month at the gym and at the range, shooting my Browning X-Bolt rifle in .300 Win. Mag. I knew that goats could be very tough, so the choice to shoot a .30-caliber bullet was easy. Bob had let me know that 300-yard shots were not uncommon, and that the steep, unforgiving country often offered a shot that would require long-range precision. Federal Premium Terminal Performance with 200-grain bullets proved accurate downrange with regular practice. I also ordered a custom turret for my Leupold VX – 6HD 3–18×44 scope, with elevation and temperatures to match the coastal conditions. Shooting out to 400 yards with softball-size groups gave me confidence, but there was still a nervous tension that is hard to explain.
My twin girls could sense the excitement, even though they didn’t want me to leave home. Maya was quick to give hugs and kisses as I packed the last of my gear into the truck. Addy walked up to me with a serious look and extended her closed hand toward me. I held out my hand, and she dropped two green and pink plastic beads into my palm. “These will bring you luck, Daddy,” she said.
Trekking into Goat Country
My truck pointed west, and, 17 hours later, I arrived to meet Bob the day before the hunt. We were up early, ate a quick breakfast, and headed out on day one with tracked quads on the truck trailer. We made our way up steep logging roads and hit some patches of ice that made for some tense moments but continued to climb in elevation until we ran out of road—at which point, we loaded up the quads and drove farther up the winding trails on the mountain. When we were about three-quarters of the way to the top, we came to an opening that overlooked a vast valley. We stopped, took out the spotting scopes, and went to work glassing the steep mountains and rockslides across the valley.
Bob said early on that it would be a day behind glass, as snow, fog, and clouds rolled in and out of the valley. We glassed when conditions allowed and patiently waited when the weather prevented us from looking more. It did not take long to spot goats, and the Milligans knew immediately if they were looking at a potential shooter or not. We picked apart every rock, tree, and fold before starting to pick it apart again. Then Bobby uttered three words that got all of us excited.
“I’ve got him.”
He’d spotted a giant goat they had seen on the mountain on a previous scouting mission but had moved farther up the valley. I watched as my seasoned guides pointed to the far reaches of the valley, miles from where we sat. There were two smaller billies in the group, and Bob felt that one was older but not as heavy. We sat on the mountain until the sun started to set.
I fell asleep wondering how the next day would play out. Bob was upfront about being patient and requiring the right conditions to make a play on an animal. If conditions changed, it would mean not being able to see the animals—even if we were within shooting range. It can often mean spooking critters and making the hunt more difficult in days to come.
We motored up the same trail the next day at sunrise. Bob and Bobby pulled out the spotting scopes, and as I prepared myself for an extended sit while glassing the mountain, Bobby found the goat. The billy was still bedded right where we had seen him the day before. We quickly packed up and headed down the mountain, as close to the river as possible. We would leave the quads and continue on snowshoes, heading down into the valley and across the river. It would be a march up the valley for miles before climbing more elevation to where the goats lived.
My heart raced, and when I slid my hand into my pocket, my fingers found the two beads my daughter had presented to me. I hoped they would help break the jinx I’ve had with mountain goats.
Bob has square, aluminum-framed, custom-made snowshoes with cleats built into the bottom for traction on ice and in the steep country. We strapped the shoes on, headed down through a clearcut, wound our way into mature forest, and eventually made our way along the edge of the fast-flowing river. We walked across a log, as if it were a tight rope, to cross a tributary stream. Next, we took off the snowshoes and walked across the river in a fast-flowing riffle.
For the rest of the day, we negotiated mature forest, massive logs on the forest floor, rockslides, and the edge of the river, and kept climbing or dropping elevation to avoid problem areas. It was a steady march uphill and up the valley. Early in the afternoon, we came to a small clearing along the river, and Bob dropped his pack to glass the rocks above. The steep terrain and mature trees had prevented us from knowing if the goats stayed in the exact location. Bob barely got his binocular to his eyes when he said that the three goats were running down the mountain and headed farther up the valley. Being in the right place when the goats decided to make a move was uncanny luck. Perhaps the beads held more power than anticipated.
The Moment of Truth
It was getting late in the afternoon, and the days were short in February. We hiked, rested, ate to stay fueled, and finally got to where we could climb steep country. Climbing with snowshoes took careful foot placement. At times I lagged behind the seasoned mountaineers, but was never too far behind. We eventually came to the edge of a rugged rockslide, and Bob dropped his pack and snuck to the edge to look up the mountain. We had no idea where the goats were; they could be hiding in the rocks, timber, or a slide within a mile of where we stood.
The three billies were on a ledge above the rockslide. We would have to be careful and continue to climb without being seen. We slogged uphill through the forest until we almost ran out of trees. We all took a moment to catch our breath, then put on whites to look like goats. I readied my rifle for a potential shot. Bob edged into the rock-strewn slide, found the goats, and ranged them at 360 yards. Bob looked me in the eyes and asked if I could make the shot. I said with certainty that I could.
I inched out onto the slide while Bobby brought his framed pack as a rest. Two goats were near the bottom ledge, while one stood on top. I picked them up in the scope when I settled in behind the rifle. Bob let me know the goat on top was our target. I found the billy in my scope, adjusted the reticle, and waited for the animal to take a step out from behind the only tree on the craggy precipice. As if on cue, the goat took two steps forward. I asked the boys if they were ready.
I steadied the crosshair on the vitals of the goat and slowly squeezed the trigger. Years of waiting for this moment flashed through my mind and helped compose me for the shot. At the report of the rifle, the goat flipped backward.
Bob yelled, “You got him!”
I caught a quick glimpse of the goat in my scope flipping over and careening off a rock ledge and down into an avalanche slide. I was overwhelmed with emotion. My hands started shaking, and I could feel a lump grow in my throat. I was silent and tried to soak in the moment and what had just happened. I ran my fingers over the outside of my pocket and knew my special beads from my daughter had changed decades of fruitless goat hunts. I had flashbacks to previous hunts and tried to replay the seconds that transpired to finally be successful. Everything felt surreal.
Bob, Bobby, and I took a minute to enjoy our success before starting up the incredibly steep avalanche slide that we had edged into to get a clear shot up the mountain. The goat was less than 300 yards above us, but it took well over an hour to get to it. We found the goat had slid into a second avalanche chute parallel to the one we traversed, as the sun descended below the mountain.
Decades of dreaming had culminated in mountain goat success. I spun my lucky beads between my bloody fingers as I warmed my hands in my pockets. I couldn’t wait to get home and share my adventure with my girls, and to let them know their hugs, kisses, and special beads were like a superpower to be successful on a challenging but rewarding hunt. They would be excited to feel the thick, warm white hair and sweep their tiny fingers over the smooth black horns, just like I had on the remote mountain.