There's an old adage that states nothing good is ever easy, and perhaps nothing embodies that more than goat hunting.
Rugged, difficult, grueling these adjectives often fail to describe the physical hardships of a hunt for mountain goat. Yet, for many the chance to hunt one of these coveted caprids is a once in a lifetime opportunity.
Soldotna resident Ron Gillham recently got that chance. He was one of the lucky few that was randomly drawn for a permit hunt in Game Management Unit 7.
It was only his second time applying for the permit, which he said was lucky in itself since he knows people that have unsuccessfully applied since 1968.
"It was exciting," said Gillham, a lifelong hunter who had never gone for goat. "Not everybody gets to do it."
Gillham's words rang true, for being drawn for a goat permit often means setting foot on land few people will ever see, and even fewer will ever get to hunt.
He went out of Seward with his family in their 28-foot boat, fishing for silvers and lingcod in between scouting and hunting for sheep.
"We scouted for the first two days," said Gillham.
They were on the Resurrection Bay side, focusing their efforts heavily on the tip of the Resurrection Peninsula. They glassed from the boat for a telltale white pelage against the gray rock background of the mountainsides.
"We saw a lot of goats," he said. Maybe 20 or more, but despite their large size and definite identification as a billie and not a nannie, Gillham had to pass them up. "We knew we couldn't get to them."
And that's the rub. As many seasoned hunters can attest, seeing goats doesn't always mean taking a shot. There's a lot of logistics involved.
"Access makes it difficult," said Gillham. "When you hear people talking about how difficult goat hunting is, a lot of what they're talking about is access."
It's often easy to locate goats, but due to their predilection for frequenting seeming beyond vertical jagged rock faces, it may not be possible to get to where they are. Hunters have to ensure they can get to their trophy before taking the shot.
"They would run right up a cliff," said Gillham. "It was unreal. I don't know how they do it. I just know I couldn't always follow them."
Also compounding the difficulty, some areas where goats are found are so steep that taking a shot can almost guarantee the animal will fall off the cliff face or pinnacle. This often results in the goat being pulverized into hamburger if it falls onto rocks below, or being lost altogether if it makes a splash down in water.
On the third day, Gillham finally saw a legal animal that was in a suitable position for him to take a shot. He fired, but was unsuccessful at bagging the billie.
However, on the fourth day of the trip he found success.
The 45- to 50-degree temperatures were making the cold rain feel even colder for Gillham, but he wasn't going to let weather stop him from achieving his goal.
From the boat, high on a cliff he had seen a big goat he thought he could get to. He looked for a place to go ashore.
He found a spot of shoreline that had fewer rocks protruding from beneath the water's surface.
"My son drove the boat up and I got out on the bow and jumped onto some rocks," said Gillham. "Then I hiked up about 100 yards and found a spot to take a shot."
He steadied the cross hairs of his scope on the animal and slowly squeezed the trigger of his 22.250, a modest caliber rifle, but enough to get the job done.
With a loud bang the rifle bucked, shattering the tranquil silence, but Gillham missed.
He quickly followed up with two more shots, but they too were misses.
"I was shooting straight up and it was throwing off my trajectory," he said. "After the first shot the animal walked 20 or 30 yards up the hill, but he never did run. I'm not sure if he knew what was going on."
It's difficult to say for certain why sometimes goats won't run, but it may be the result of low hunting pressure in that area.
Regardless of why the animal didn't move, on the fourth shot from a distance of close to 200 yards, Gillham hit his intend target square in the front shoulder.
"It went down immediately," he said.
With the animal dead, the hard work for Gillham was just beginning.
"I couldn't climb up any further from where I took the shot, so I went back to the boat," he said. "We went around the point to a cove, then hiked up the backside of the mountain and over the top of the hill to get him."
He dressed it out and caped it, then packed everything back down a physically demanding task that, due to the treacherous footing, can lead to fatal slips and falls if not negotiated carefully.
Gillham said he felt lucky it only took four days to return with his prize, and only two of actual hunting, but the memories forged in those few days will not soon be forgotten.
"A lot of people get drawn but don't get one," he said. "I was fortunate to kill one as quick as I did."
He was undecided if he would ever do it again, because although he believed it was a prestigious trophy, the meat wasn't worth it.
"Well, goat is an acquired taste for sure," said Gillham. "It's real sharp and needs a lot of barbecue sauce."
For the time being he said he would stick to hunting moose and caribou.
Second time's a charm would seem to be the case for him. Gillham has also drawn a special permit for an archery hunt at Fort Richardson in Anchorage that runs from Sept. 2 through Nov. 15. It was his second time applying for that hunt as well.
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