My Goat Hunt
By Mark Van Dyke
Hans came back off the small knoll and said, “There is a goat at 274 yards. Do you want to try and take it?” I immediately started getting my pack off and my gun ready for the short climb up the knoll. I glassed the goat and it was everything I had come to Alaska to shoot and it was right there in front of me. I settled in behind my scope, tried to calm my breathing and got ready to pull the trigger. Wham! The gun slammed into my shoulder; Hans said, “High and right, rack another one” So I worked my bolt and put another .300 Win Mag in the chamber. I looked at the goat through the scope, the sun was shining on its white fur, the fiord and mountains were in the background and I thought for a second, how did I get here?
I have a disclaimer to make right away, this was my first fair chase hunt and my first time goat hunting in Southeastern Alaska. I know, not the usual first hunt but it was for me. It started 4 years earlier at a High Fence deer hunt in Michigan. That was my first hunting experience since I was 15 and now I am 64. I shot a great buck within 15 minutes of the first day hunting and then spent 5 days glassing great white tails having a wonderful time. While there I talked with the guides about hunting and their experiences, and they all mentioned how tough a mountain goat hunt was.
When I got home, I began my research all about mountain goats. It turns out Alaska is a great place to get a goat. So, then I began researching outfitters and types of hunts. In Alaska there are two basic types of hunts one being in a tent; climb in, campin a tent, hunt from your camp, and then climb out. There also is hunting from a boat. You live on the vessel and climb up to the goats and climb back down. Warm bed, hot real food, and cold beer. You can guess being the novice which one I chose. Then there were several boat hunting guides to pick from. I chose Hans Baertle and Southeast Alaska Guiding. I didn’t know how lucky I was to pick Hans but I would find out when I made it to Alaska. I convinced a friend of mine to come on the hunt, someone who had lots of experience and who had just bagged a Dall ram up in the Brooks Range in Alaska.
So, preparations were made for a fall Mountain Goat in Oct/Nov 2017. Deposits were made and then for me the fun began. Hunting clothes, boots that can climb mountains, all the other thing that accomplished hunters take for granted. Hans said, “Get in shape, it’s a tough hunt.” I went on another deer hunt in Michigan at the same location and got a great deer. The ranch manager had gone goat hunting and told me how hard it was and he was in his early thirties. I kept promising myself to lose the weight and get in shape but… you know how that goes. January of 2017, 10 months before the hunt, I have all the Kuiugear a man could ask for. Boots with custom insoles to fit my funky feet and time to get ready, but I don’t. Finally, in April I start to walk in my boots to get them broken in. I start going to the gym, “I can do this”- I say to myself. Then in May a small hiccup: I get diagnosed with prostate cancer and then have surgery scheduled and done in July. No working out till September, and then I start with a vengeance. I have some complications post op but thanks to supportive surgeon we find a way to deal with my issues. I tell Hans about my recent issue and he was unbelievably understanding and helpful.
Flights are booked and we arrive in Juneau 2 days before the hunt starts and a storm rolls right in with us. The original plan was a night in Juneau and then stay on the boat the next night and leave early in the morning to get to our hunting ground. When the hunt is over a seaplane will fly in the new hunters and fly us back to Juneau. But the storm is rocking so we spend another night in the hotel and leave on Friday. With the wind blowing 30- 40 knots and the sea running 6-8 feet, I was glad to be in a warm and steady trawler.
Saturday, we finally get to the area we are going to hunt. We anchor and head out to get the guns sighted in and to scope for goats. Hans has organized his hunt so that we had six full days of hunting. Each hunter climbs one day and the rests the next day. During the rest day the you and your guide put the hunt team off on land and then you spend your day in the skiff moving from place to place glassing the hunting grounds for goats for your next day’s hunt. (Note to hunters, dress warm for your skiff day, you are in an aluminum boat and sitting and glassing in a fiord with an actively calving glacier - beautiful but cold!) I chose to hunt the first day and that’s when the reality of what I had set out to do hit me square in my block head. I was going to climb up approximately 1500-2500 feet in 1.5 to 2 miles over loose rock and mud and streams with barely a trail to follow - what was I thinking!
Sunday starts, the heavy warm gear for the boat ride is stowed once on shore and we set off up the hill. Now a little about Hans, he is German and was in the German Alpine Troops as a young man. He came to Alaska in his twenties and has been hunting and fishing and climbing every since. Oh yeah, he is my age. I forget to add that Hans’s wife, Natalia, climbs with you to video your hunt and she must be superhuman because she not only cooks and shoots photos; she climbs everyday a hunter is making a climb. So up we go and I try to keep pace, it quickly becomes apparent that I am in over my head. I struggle up the mountain and we get to about 1400 feet up where Hans wants to set up the spotting scope. It has taken us about 4 hours to get this far, you should be able to do it in 2 hours, so I am way behind the eight ball as far as my climbing shape.
Hans says, take a break and I pull my pack and gun off and sit down to rest in the sun, and promptly fall asleep for an hour! Hans sees a goat at 375 yards but with my lack of climbing power and the time of the day he wisely passes on the goat. They gently wake me up and say its time to head back down. This is where I now realize in this type of hunt you go up and down every time you hunt. The tradeoff: lots more climbing for warm bed, warm food, and cold beer. I struggle down the mountain and as my buddy Dave says, I looked like death warmed over as I struggled in to the skiff for the ride home. I blurt out that is the hardest freaking thing I have ever done. I am sure he doesn’t believe me and thinks it’s just because I am out of shape. Now about my buddy, he is in his fifties and in great shape; he weekly hikes 4-6 miles with a 50lb pack so if anybody would be ready for this he would be. Back to the boat for hot food cold beer and I pass out approximately 8 p.m.
Next morning dawns and its Dave’s turn up the mountain. We drop off Dave, Lucas his guide and Natalia for Dave’s first climb; while Hans and I watch from various places on the fiord. We glass their intended hunting area and it has some promise but the weather is 40’s and the snow line is up higher. We see goats in their area but they are 600 yards plus from where they intend to set up. Hans and I glass the rest of the morning and go back to the boat for a warm lunch and then back to glassing. We pick up Dave, goat less and he has the same statement to me “that is freaking hard.” Luckily, it is back to the boat for food and beer.
Day 3 of the hunt and Hans has a different area for me. We adjust my pack and what I am carrying and we head off. This hike is much different. Mostly thru alders along a trail that affords lots of hand holds more vertical in less distance but because I can help with my upper body, I climb better. I am able to get 1600 feet of vertical in three hours and then we are in the High Meadow area. I look out over this alpine meadow covered with moss and likens and think what an easy hike. Wrong! The greenery hides loose stones that shift with every foot placement; it was work to climb across the meadow. We reach a large out cropping but the goats have moved further up the valley as the wind shifted and they caught our scent. There will be no shot on a goat today. So back down the mountain on different trail and down to the boat. I am tired but not as bad as the first day.
Day 4 of the hunt and David is up.