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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Sports >  Outdoors

‘The hardest hunt I’ve ever done’: What it’s like to bag a mountain goat

Mountain goats inhabit steep, rugged mountainous terrain. (Kathy Plonka / The Spokesman-Review)
Mountain goats inhabit steep, rugged mountainous terrain. (Kathy Plonka / The Spokesman-Review)
By Evan Bush Seattle Times

SEATTLE – For hunters, killing a mountain goat is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

“It’s one of those prized animals nobody gets a chance to go after,” said Jerrod Gibbons, a hunting guide in Washington’s Okanogan County. “Unless you have a lot of money. ”

After years of overhunting (several hundred were killed each year in the 1960s and 1970s), the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) dramatically reduced the number of goats it allows to be hunted each year, to about two dozen.

WDFW biologist Rich Harris said the agency allows permits only in areas with goat populations of more than 100 adults. Four percent of those healthy populations can be hunted each year. Hunters are encouraged not to target female goats.

Getting your hands on one of those permits takes a major investment of money or time. Last year, the state auctioned a goat tag for $34,000. A raffle netted an additional $20,420. Gibbons got a 2014 tag by garnering years of WDFW special permit preference points.

“It took me 14 years to draw that tag. It was like winning the lottery,” he said, describing the moment as an “overwhelming experience.”

He cannot draw a Washington tag again, though he’s still eligible through the raffle and auction.

The tag allowed Gibbons to hunt in the Lake Chelan area, where there are few roads in the rough terrain favored by goats. Gibbons used a 22-foot boat to scout the area instead, aiming his spotting scope at crags where he found a billy goat hanging out.

Gibbons took two extended trips in the backcountry to hunt the billy.

“They don’t call it ‘mountain goat’ for nothing. They are up in some terrain no human should ever be,” Gibbons said. “It was the hardest hunt I’ve ever done. You’ve got to be physically able to climb up stuff.”

His first trip, over five days, left him empty-handed.

“It was in a spot no human should be and I didn’t want to risk my life,” Gibbons said.

Finally, with just two days left in the season, Gibbons shot the billy dead.

A friend helped him clean the goat.

“We boned it on the hill, put it in game sacks, skinned it and left the bones,” he said. “We had about 50 pounds of meat apiece on our backs.”

The goat’s pelt, with snow-white hair about five inches long, was made into a rug.

“So soft and beautiful,” he said. “My kids love touching it.”

Gibbons made steaks, stew meat and burger from the goat meat.

“It was probably the best-eating animal I’ve had. We ate every inch,” he said.

Many people wonder, if the National Park Service is so keen to get rid of goats on the Olympic Peninsula, why not let eager hunters do the work for them? Couldn’t they make a mint for the government?

It would take an act of Congress to allow hunting in Olympic National Park, said Olympic National Park biologist Patti Happe. But, park officials do plan to offer volunteer marksmen the opportunity to kill goats.

“What we are proposing to do is use highly skilled volunteers” to dispatch goats, she said. Deciding what to do with the quarry – for instance, whether to allow packing out of the meat or keeping a trophy – will need further examination, Happe said.

Volunteer marksmen have been called on before. Theodore Roosevelt and Rocky Mountain National Parks, in North Dakota and Colorado, used volunteers to cull overgrown populations of elk. In North Dakota, meat was donated to food banks, Indian tribes and volunteers who participated in the program, according to the Billings Gazette.

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