a mountain goat on a mountain

Eight Questions about Mountain Goat hunting

The American mountain goat is a goat-antelope, related to pronghorn, and native to the North American continent. It is even smaller than it looks, with long beautiful white fur making for a bigger appearance. The males, known as billies, weigh on the average about 260 lbs. The females are called nannies and are significantly smaller, averaging 180 lbs. Both sexes have horns and are hard to distinguish from each other. 

Mountain goat hunting in the United States or Canada is more affordable than sheep hunting, and there are healthy herds to hunt from. So, it’s a little bit of a mystery why fewer mountain hunters are interested in goats. Perhaps the answer is due to the limited range of mountain goat, and their low fertility. Nannies enter reproductive age only at four to six years, and typically carry only one kid at a time. Or is it simply too strenuous of a challenge? 

Where to hunt a mountain goat?

Mountain goats are found in high altitude rocky terrain, from Colorado, Utah, Idaho, Washington, Wyoming and Montana in the Lower 48, through British Columbia, Alberta and Yukon in Canada, and into Alaska. In Alaska, they occur in the south-eastern part of the state. In addition, mountain goats were released over a number of islands in Alaska, including the Revillagigedo, Baranof, and Kodiak.

a number of mountain goats on a slope

When to hunt a mountain goat?

Across their range, mountain goats can be hunted from August to November. Early in the season the billies are still in their summer coats, and less desirable as trophies, and the animals are high up on the mountain slopes. November is when you can hunt mountain goats during the rut, when they are (predictably) less wary, and inhabit lower altitudes. However, in the northern altitudes November is a winter month, and you should be prepared to endure harsh, unforgiving conditions. Most guides prefer to schedule the hunt for late September or early November. 

Are there Over-the-Counter Tags for Mountain Goats? 

Except for a few permits that are sold from auctions, mountain goat hunting in the Lower 48 is about limited draw. In most states a tag is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and in some you don’t even get to increase your chances with preference points. Drawing a tag is neither easy nor inexpensive. In Idaho, for instance, a non-resident tag costs $2,626.75, and you will have to deposit the total cost of the license, application fee, and tag at the moment of application, with all but the application fee returned if unsuccessful.

An unusual and rare opportunity for mountain goat hunting in the Lower 48 is the non-native herd in the Grand Teflon National Park, Wyoming. The herd is a concern for biologists, because the goats are believed to carry a range of diseases that pose a threat for the park’s herd of bighorn sheep. Hunters were recruited to reduce the mountain goat numbers in the past years. 

In Alaska, most mountain goat permits for non-residents are issued through a limited draw. Often, over 5,000 hunters compete for circa 500 tags. Non-resident hunters who wish to pursue a mountain goat in Alaska are required to hire a registered guide. However, some guides can offer their clients over-the-counter tags. 

This makes Canada, in particular the province of British Columbia, arguably the most attractive destination for mountain goat hunting. Typically for Canada, registered outfitters and guides are issued mountain goat tags on a quota basis. Even though hunts in British Columbia aren’t cheap, running around $13,000 give or take a couple of thousand, but as compared with the costs of hunting in other places, and no uncertainty with tag draw, it can be seen as quite a bargain. 

three mountain goats on a trail

How to tell a billie from a nanny?

It is difficult to tell a billie goat from a nanny, tags are usually either-sex. Biologists, however, recommend hunters to focus on the males, as their harvest has a smaller impact on the population. 

Males are distinguished by bigger bodies, stocky built, and more pronounced pantaloons. Their nose looks like there’s a Roman hump to it, and the back has a bit of a hump. The horns of a billy goat are thicker, straighter, with bases close to each other. Horns of nannies are thinner, with bases narrower than eyes and located closer to each other; in addition, the horns are curving towards the top. Males are typically found alone, or in bachelor pools of 2-4 animals, while females stick to bigger groups and are often accompanied by kids. Another difference is in the way they urinate: billies stretch, while nannies squat.  

How do you hunt a mountain goat? 

As with most mountain animals, mountain goat hunting is about spot-and-stalk. Spotting the billies is usually easier than stalking them and retrieving an animal you’ve harvested may be the most difficult part of the hunt. Mountain goats never go far from a rugged area, which would provide them an escape route. If the guides have an opportunity to observe the movements of the goats, they are relatively easy to pattern. However, this is not always possible. 

Stalk from above or from below? The answer is, it depends. On the one hand, most mountain animals don’t expect the danger from above. But with mountain goats, eagles are one of their main predators, and if they do sense something’s fishy over them, they panic at the first sight of danger. In addition, these animals often inhabit the most rugged and difficult to access terrain, where gaining altitude implies a challenging mountaineering or even rock-climbing challenge. This could simply cost too much in time, effort, and risk. 

On the other hand, there are terrains with relatively easy slopes on one side of the ranges and rugged terrain preferred by mountain goats on the other. In these locations getting above the animals may be easy and feasible. Time of the year is a factor, too: in the summer months the animals spend most of their time in the alpine meadows, while in the winter they descend to the tree line. 

Whichever way you approach it, stalking a vary “old man of the mountain” is a challenge even for the most experienced hunter. And once you’ve gotten within range of a mature billy goat, the hardest part may still lie in front of you. Before taking the shot, consider the consequences – a mountain goat is often found in such a situation that, even killed with one shot, it can still drop into a seemingly bottomless abyss. Think whether you’ll be able to retrieve the trophy before pulling the trigger. 

mountain goat and a rifle

What Rifle for Mountain Goat Hunting? 

Mountain hunting in general calls for an accurate, light-weight rifle in a flat-shooting cartridge. Given that many days of hard labor, and a five to six figure sum, will depend on a single shot, it’s advisable to get the best gun and scope you can afford. Mountain goats aren’t very big animals, and your first thought may be that a smaller caliber, such as .243 or 6.5 mm. Experienced mountain goat hunters, however, warn against this decision. The species is rather tough for its size, so one of the 7-mm (.270, .280, .284) Magnum cartridges is a recommended minimum. Something in the .300 Magnum range would be even better. 

An additional advantage of a heavier cartridge is that a heavier bullet is less sensitive to wind. Wind is a constant risk factor in mountain hunting. When shooting from one slope to another, it may so happen that on your slope everything is quiet, on the slope where the goat (as far as you can judge from observing the blades of grass near the animal) the wind is also barely existent, but between the slopes, across the valley, there’s a strong drift which can divert your bullet enough to cause a miss. In any case, bigger bores firing heavier bullets are at an advantage there. 

What other gear do I need for mountain goat hunting? 

When you are hunting mountain goats, you can forget about luxury lodges. The remote areas they inhabit and the relatively low numbers of hunters that pursue them make it difficult, both economically and logistically, to transport big loads of stuff necessary for comfortable living. Although outfitters differ, you should count on living in the most basic of camps. 

Think in advance about the conditions, and discuss with your guide what tents, etc., they are planning to use. If you can live a week or two on dehydrated rations, fine; if you can’t, it’s best to discuss the menu and arrange for alternatives. Tents will be normally provided by the outfitter, but as far as a sleeping bag is concerned, it’s better to bring your own, with temperature ratings 10 to 20 degrees below the temperature you expect during the hunt. 

a camp for mountain goat hunting

Many mountain goat hunts take place in the areas where you might need full time mountaineering equipment, including an ice ax, carabiners, and rope. If you’re into alpinism, you’re of course advised to bring along your own kit that you trust and know how to use. If you aren’t, you’d better trust your guide about it. 

One other aspect of gear is the optics. High-quality glass is essential for any spot-and-stalk hunt, especially one that will take place in wet, cloudy, and cold conditions. Most modern spotting scopes and binoculars are fog-proof, but you should still think twice before bringing unproven devices from low-cost brands.

Do you recommend mountain goat hunting? 

If you are not fit, and if you are not tolerant to harsh natural conditions, you might want to consider other hunting experiences. In fact, many claim that mountain goat hunting is statistically the most dangerous big-game hunt, with falls from cliffs being a significant factor of risk of injury or death. But at the same time, hunters who have been everywhere and hunted everything rate this hunt as the most underrated hunting experience in North America. If you can survive unforgiving, demanding nature, you will definitely find American mountain goat hunting a most challenging and a most rewarding experience. 

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