By Paul D. Atkins, Bowtech Ambassador
They say, “If you want to catch a fish, you need to think like a fish”. The same could be said when hunting big game animals too and if you’re a true bowhunter you know exactly what I’m talking about. Mountain goats are the same, or so I thought.
I’ve climbed a lot of mountains in my time hunting sheep, bears and muskox, finding success many times, but that was when I was young and the pain was something that I didn’t mind or care about. Now is quite different, I’m older, with bad knees and a bad back trying to accomplish goals that many call a “young man’s game”. “If you’re going to hunt goats you better do it while your young”, they all said. I ignored them thinking I’ll have plenty of time to get this done. Time has passed; however, work and family persisted, and all those moose and caribou, plus trips to Africa have kept me pretty busy over the years. But, like all things we enjoy and want to do, I still thought I had time.
I’ve been on two goat hunts here in Alaska. Both were cancelled due to weather and other conditions that I couldn’t control. Each time I was prepared, but never got the chance to test my ability. So, time has become very precious these days.
Trying to complete my Bowhunting Super Ten has taken years. There have been hard fought battles with bad weather, close calls, and rough plane rides, all across the continent, but with a generous supply of luck it has brought me to this moment. The Super 9 is nice, but a mountain goat would be the pinnacle to my success, it has also become my Achilles heel.
Kodiak is legendary and if you’ve ever hunted there you know what I mean. The “Rock”, as it is called, is an unspoiled wilderness with sharp jagged peaks that reach the heavens and the ocean surrounding them is the deepest and darkest blue you can ever imagine. It is the home of giant bears, plus herds of blacktail deer and mountain goats.
Goat hunting is a mental and physical game with the latter being the easiest and I knew that if I was going to have any chance at getting this done I would have to prepare my body for the challenge. Training for a specific hunt is a rarity for some and a must for others depending on what your goal is. It’s a journey that should start long before the hunt arrives.
Six months out I began to prepare. The 5 a.m. workouts at the school gym were tiresome, but with time and eating right they became easier and something that I actually and still look forward to. Cardio was my focus with a little bit of strength training and all those crunches! Taking supplements helped, plus putting the right food into my body made all the difference and before long I could see the results.
It got real the day we arrived in Kodiak, especially when we got to camp. The mental game came into play then. Brutal wind combined with cold temperatures increased the challenge, but we were there and after a few moments behind the spotting scope several goats came into focus. This was going to be grand!
From the tent the mountain looked doable, but they all do on the first day. It’s deceiving, they all are. Where it looks flat it’s straight up or straight down and with one false step it can be all over. Getting to the top or at least where the goats were is tricky and if you’re not in shape the task will be futile.
“The “Rock”, as it is called, is an unspoiled wilderness with sharp jagged peaks that reach the heavens.”
With two experienced mountain hunters and friends in camp I knew I was in good hands, I just didn’t want to let them down, which was the wrong approach. This wasn’t about letting someone down, it was about me, and the ability to conquer a dream, or in this case the mountain before me. Experience and trust; however, are two of the biggest elements when it comes to hunting in the mountains and I knew I was in good hands.
The first legal day of hunting we spotted goats on a shelf of rocks that looked obtainable. Glassing further we found a spot where we could climb or at least it looked like it. So, down the beach we went coming to the rockslide we would use as our guide. We started up. Immediately I could tell all those early morning workouts were paying off and I was up to the challenge. We got to the top, but goats are smart and agile and by the time we reached the point where it started getting uncomfortable they had moved out of reach. But no regrets, I made it and I was happy with my success.
When you’re doing a DIY goat hunt you should “never look up and never look down” they say. It’s one step at a time and you live by it. Your eyes become exhausted from looking. Always looking ahead. Looking for indentions, or a lone rock, or a soft spot in the grass or dirt to step, anything that will give you a grip, anything that will give you an edge, or an advantage, anything to get you up where you need to be. It’s never about getting down, it never should be and even though it may sound physical, but it’s not, it’s mental. I found that is the essence of mountain hunting.
The second day we tried a different approach attacking the mountain head on. Our goal was to make it from point A to point B to point C, working our way up the face through grass and boulders, traversing and switch-backing until we got within range. It came in stages. The first part of the climb was up a steep embankment where the slick brown grass was treacherous, especially with the frozen icy ground underneath. At the top it happened. Taking too big of a step I slipped and fell, sliding down. Thankfully my pack caught and left me hanging there in mid-space, but I couldn’t see below me, which freaked me out considerably. Thankful for the pack and my friend who climbed down to retrieve me, I was safe, but shaken.
We continued up, but my mind and body was stressed and I really didn’t want to continue. Physically I did and made it up another 1000 feet to a rock overlooking the ocean below me. Camp looked like tiny specs in the distance and it was at this point I became comfortable with where I was situated. I knew goats were just above us and another 100 yards would have me close. As I watched my two friends continue up I sat. Mentally I was drained and couldn’t go any farther. Had I failed? I don’t know, maybe. I made it this far after the near disaster and that was okay with me.
After what seemed like hours we were together again and heading down. Each step was tricky and when we reached sea level my adrenaline calmed and I was happy for it to be over.
The next day I decided to stay in camp and glass. My friends went up and pulled off an incredible feat, taking a nice billy close to the top. It was amazing sight, watching them through the scope as they carefully brought down the heavy packs. It was at this point that I knew I wasn’t going to let the near fall or the mountain beat me. I had trained too hard, shot too many arrows and prepared too long to stay in the tent.
The next day I strapped on the crampons and headed up with my friends. Each step was nerveracking, but as my good friend and fellow hunting buddy Carri Ann kept telling me “it’s one step at a time Paul, take one step at a time”. With goats in the distance I kept the pace and eventually it became easy again. My body responded and mentally my mind came into focus.
Traversing across a rockslide and thick alders we peered over the edge where the goats should have been and within range, but they were gone, vanishing into thin air. We were disappointed, but for me it was a success. I conquered the fear and conquered the mountain again, clearing my mind and giving me an appreciation for what this really was. It wasn’t about killing a goat it was about being able to get where I needed to be in order to have a chance at a goat. I did that.
Like all hunts the last day found us breaking camp, packing gear and listening for the floatplane to make it’s appearance in the clear Alaskan sky. Sitting on the beach waiting, the mountain itself loomed behind me, giving me a new appreciation of life and the dedication all hunters have. Bowhunting is tough, and this was the toughest hunt I’d ever been on. If anything I’ve become addicted, not at getting a goat with a bow, but with the process that it takes to get a goat or any other animal. I’ll be back next year, smarter and even more prepared. It’s all a journey.