I am standing on a ridge that was the last significant barrier for over 600 Nez Perce Indians during their flight for life from the U.S. Calvary in the fall of 1877. This breath-taking view is in Northwestern Wyoming among the Absaroka Range in the Shoshone National Forest. The history of our lands is fascinating and it’s amazing to be among the beauty and vastness of such places. Today, this land shares with me the opportunity to hunt the majestic and all mighty Mountain Goat!
I grew up the son of an accomplished outdoorsman in the great Cowboy State of Wyoming. My father, Craig Oceanak, started Timberline Outfitters in 1979, and our business stands for experience and credibility. I’ve been guiding professionally for 16 years and I’ve loved every minute of it. Well, perhaps not every minute, but trust me when I proclaim that I love my job! Needless to say, I have hundreds of hunting stories from guiding experiences alone, but this post is about one of my hunts—a once in a lifetime hunt.
When I say once in lifetime, I mean that literally! Once you draw a Mountain Goat tag in Wyoming you can never apply for the coveted license again. My father has been applying for this license for 38 years and has never drawn. I believe it was merely my second time applying for this tag and I got it! I am lucky to say the least.
When & Where: Planning the Trip
I had my license… now what? Well, I have to find the time. I guide so much in the fall I barely have any time to hunt for myself. What about preparation? Access? What about scouting? Am I going to need horses? Once I got my license, all of these questions arose, and I knew this was not the type of situation to walk into blindly.
So I tackled each item one at a time. While setting up my guiding schedule, I decided to block out the last week of October for my goat hunt. I hunt with a variety of weapons and although I prefer the bow, I know I don’t have enough time needed for a bow hunt, especially on a hunt typically known for long-range shots. I’d have to use a rifle, and my grandfathers’ trusty 308 Saco lever-action seems appropriate for the job. I’ve been extremely comfortable and confident using this rifle since my first big game hunt at 14 years old, when I shot a buck antelope at 456 yards.
Unfortunately, I knew I wouldn’t have any time to scout because of my guiding schedule and the fact that the hunt area is over 5 hours away. Luckily, though, I was familiar with the area because I had harvested a Bighorn Sheep in the same range a few years prior. Also, my father has a good friend who owns an outfitting business and guest ranch near the area who was willing to watch for goats during his other guiding trips. This connection proved to be vital—he spotted some goats just a few days before my hunt, and once my father and I arrived, he showed us the precise location of the animals spotted earlier in the week.
Closing the Distance
The first morning of the hunt, we spotted a lone Mountain Goat bedded on a cliff side approximately two miles away. We watched it for a while before concluding that it was a mature Billy and that we needed to make a plan for a stalk. It was across an enormous canyon and there was no easy access to get in range for a shot at the goat (which was to be expected.)
We identified a few viable paths, but my father and I decided to go all the way around the top of the canyon and come out above the Billy for a shot. It was going to take hours to get there, so we hoped he’d stay put. We hiked up and down a few deep draws and ledges before crossing a massive field on top of the mountain. Then we had to travel through thick areas of trees on the ridge before we got in the vicinity in which we believed the goat to be. When you’re looking at a specific spot from miles away, you want to take note of as many landmarks as possible, because everything looks completely different once you get over there.
A Good Vantage Point
As we made our way towards the edge of the mountain, I figured I’d have to peek over dozens of ledges and glass countless cliffs before I would actually see the goat. However, and fortunately for me, I was mistaken. I spotted the mountain goat as soon as I peeked over the first ledge, and he was right there! I mean right there! Thirty yards at the most! He didn’t see me. I slowly backed up, looked toward my father (who had the video camera rolling,) and mouthed the words, “Right there, laying down, thirty yards.”
As my father eased up to get a look at the goat on video, I stepped back out of sight. I was still ready in every capacity—a round chambered, finger on the safety, and my scope turned all the way down. (Don’t forget to turn your scope down!)
As my dad snuck toward the ledge, he popped his head and camera up just enough to see the perched goat… but Uh Oh! The Billy cranked his head around and saw that tiny bit of movement. My dad turned to me and said, “He’s looking.”
Right then, my heart jumped and I knew this was it. Show time! I took two big steps forward, aimed my rifle, and just as the goat stood up, I shot him right behind the shoulder.
Over the Ledge
I knew I’d made a good shot, but Mountain Goats are notorious for the so-called “suicide leap,” in which they jump off of the nearest cliff knowing that their life is coming to a certain end. I threw another round in him without hesitation. This one hit him on the other side and as he wobbled, he took a few steps further toward the edge before he hit the ground.
Now, I know I had just put two kill shots on him with a couple Hornady 150 grain SST’s coming out at nearly 3,000 fps at 30 yards! But, I wondered, would he still go over the ledge?
Yes sir, indeed he did!
He had just enough oomph to push his way over a hundred-foot drop. (Ahhh!!) At this point, I realized that while I’d killed my mountain goat, getting to him would be a whole other experience.
A Different Type of Hunt
My dad congratulated me and we tried to make our way around to a position where we could at least see the goat. We worked our way down to a ledge where we looked over and saw him piled on a bush at the bottom of a crevice. He was just barely hanging on from another treacherous 100-foot drop. I decided to leave my pack and gun about thirty feet up and scaled my way down to him. It was some sketchy stuff but I made my way down safely and told my dad to stay above because it was too risky to follow. I reached the beautiful specimen and gazed upon it with awe and appreciation.
This really is one of the most amazing creatures I had ever had the privilege to hunt. After I soaked it all in and thanked the animal, I field dressed it and had my father throw down a rope so I could tie it around the goat’s head. Then I cautiously picked my way up the crevice until I reached for my fathers reassuring hand. We hoisted the goat up to the ledge we were standing on and let me tell you, that was no easy feat! We rested for a moment and then I gave my dad a huge celebratory hug of relief. The photo shoot was on!
After that came the chop-up and pack-out. It was definitely one of the toughest pack outs of my life but also one of the most rewarding. Sharing such experiences with my father has been one of the most gratifying parts of my life. I try to savor these times and truly appreciate every moment. It won’t be the last extreme adventure with my dad but it absolutely was one of the most amazing journeys of my life. We had pulled it off. A one-day, father-son, Wyoming mountain goat hunt of a lifetime!!
Nick Oceanak has been a professional hunting guide for Timberline Outfitters since 2001. He grew up in Wyoming in a family of outdoorsmen and has a passion for big game hunting, particularly bow and rifle hunting. He is a lifetime member of the NRA, an SCI member, and a member of the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation.