As a hunter, I embrace the dichotomy between loving an animal and my willingness to kill it. Volumes could be written to try and explain that apparent paradox — using both scientific reasoning and personal persuasion. For now, though, I will just say that my desire to hunt mountain goats is fueled by a deep respect and admiration for this remarkable species.
Part of what has drawn me to mountain goats is their mystique. They live in out-of-reach places, where only a small number of other species (animal or human) spend much time. However, my experience with mountain goats is only theoretical. I have encountered them in the wild only briefly. The hours upon hours I have spent learning about them has taken place from the comfort of my home — as I read, listen, and watch other hunters and naturalists document their experience for my benefit.
An Elegant Best
Mountain Goats are an Elegant Beast. That fitting title came from author, wildlife biologist, and mountain goat researcher, Bruce L. Smith. In his book, Life on the Rocks: A Portrait of the American Mountain Goat, Smith writes...
"During three decades of field studies of North America's large mammals, the environmental and logistical challenges of none — not deer, elk, moose, pronghorn, bighorn sheep, or bears — compared with those I encountered learning about the mountain goat. The chasms and ramparts, the remoteness and weather are both physically and mentally taxing. Other field biologists have discovered the same, some under the harshest of conditions or across expanses of time."
I was fortunate enough to have a conversation with Bruce about Mountain Goats for the Hunt Backcountry Podcast, which you can listen to here...
A mountain goat's elegance can be attributed to both its appearance and its behavior. The sight of a long-haired white mountain goat moving in ways that seem to gracefully defy gravity is something to behold. And the beauty of the animal itself is further enhanced by the environment in which it inhabits.
On the jagged knife-edge of the mountain, a mature mountain goat stands resolute. The wind, the rain, and the cold seemingly have no effect. Young goats surround. They are born in this. Built for this. Every baby is becoming a beast.
From a distance, both goats and "goat country" have an attractiveness about them. But the beauty of goat country is deceptive; it lures you in by its grandeur and then attempts to will you away with its ruggedness.
It is the duality of goats and goat-country that I find so compelling. It is both the attractiveness and the harshness that I hope to experience on my hunt in Southeast Alaska.
As an Experience Hunter, my desire to hunt goats is all-encompassing. I want to observe mountain goats in the wild. More than just a passive observer, though, I want to enter their world and become a participant — get on their ground and experience the rugged, unforgiving slopes, and unrelenting weather of goat country in Alaska.
Comfort & Complacence
The feeling that I have as I prepare for my first mountain goat hunt reminds me of who and where I was many years ago when I first began to hunt elk. Being from the midwest, I didn't have much exposure to elk. What started as an interest became a passionate desire as I learned more about the species. Their habitat. Their behavior. Their uniqueness.
I still love elk hunting. In fact, I am counting down the days until I get to pursue them again. And thankfully I will get to pursue them this year, both before and after my mountain goat hunt.
In the years since that first elk hunt, I have become more familiar with the species. I have continued to learn about elk in theory (through reading, listening, and watching resources), but I have also experienced them tangibly.
I have entered their world. Observed them. Patterned them. Talked with them. And, yes, successfully hunted them. I have become more comfortable with them. And although I am far from an expert elk hunter, I do have more confidence hunting them.
However, as we develop more experience with a species or place, we get more familiar, more comfortable, and unfortunately — usually more complacent.
As hunters, we should be developing an ever-increasing respect and admiration for the animals we pursue and the places we get to experience as part of that pursuit.
The opportunity I have to hunt mountain goats and experience goat country is special. It is unique. But it has also reminded me how special and how unique each moment is we get to spend in our pursuit of wildlife and wild places in our current times. A mountain goat hunt in Alaska isn't a prerequisite for you or I think critically about how fortunate we are to be hunters.
I won't preach to you, but I would encourage you to join me in becoming a confident hunter. Becoming comfortable in the wild. But to never become complacent about those wild places, wild animals, and the respect required to hunt them well.
Mark Huelsing is the host of the Hunt Backcountry Podcast and works at Exo Mtn Gear — though he's never been able to figure out his job title. Connect with Mark by sending him an email (mark at exomtngear.com) or DM @MarkTheFark on Instagram.
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