The following appears in the November issue of Alaska Sporting Journal:
“Knowing he had no idea that the goats were headed in his direction, I used my binocular glass to ‘flash’ to get his attention,” author Brian Watkins writes about buddy Trevor Embry’s stalk on a herd. “He caught the flickering and looked up at me. I attempted to give him hand signals about where the goats were, but the frustration grew as he couldn’t figure out what I was doing.” (BRIAN WATKINS)
BY BRIAN WATKINS
Editor’s note: In our October issue, Brian Watkins told the story of a Kodiak mountain goat hunt with friend and longtime hunting partner Trevor Embry. Joining them was their buddy Zach Welch, who was hunting the island for the first time and eventually harvested his first billie. Both Watkins and Embry were also hoping to fill their goat tags and perhaps score a blacktail deer as well, and that’s where we continue the hunt …
SECOND OF TWO PARTS
We brainstormed and decided to spook the herd of mountain goats and see where they went. After all, they would either go closer to camp or an area further away that had better stalking opportunities.
Since Zach had shot a goat already, we sent him into the open valley below to see what the goats would do. The plan worked! The goats went up and around Zach and wanted to flee to the nasty country. Unfortunately for them, Trevor and I lay waiting in their path. We watched the goats as they walked straight to us from a quarter-mile away. While hiding in the rocks, the goats disappeared and we thought they’d pop up directly in front of us. Time passed, but something was off.
Trevor signaled me to pop up and look for the group. They’d stayed lower than we thought they would and had been able to get around us. I took off to chase them down, hiding in the rocky cliffs. I popped out and had a goat at 22 yards, quartering away from me. I drew back and put a shot into his opposite shoulder, right where you want to hit on a quartering-away shot. The goat made it less than 10 feet before piling up and tumbling down the mountain – the same one Zach’s goat had rolled down earlier in the trip. We’d face another tough pack out up and over, but what a feeling it was!
WE AWOKE TO A fresh storm rolling in. From prior experience, we knew it would be best to stay in the tent and keep dry. As Trevor said all week, “Make hay when the sun’s shining!” We also needed a day to rest from packing meat.
That evening, when the storm broke, I planned to get us closer to deer I had seen a couple days earlier. Since we’d found them lower, I told the boys we needed to hunt that area.
There were three points that sat atop the lower brush fields; each of us found a perch on a point. Zach turned up a nice buck immediately and had the right wind to make a move. He sprinted down the mountain and kept an alder bush between the buck and himself. He popped out at 55 yards and let his Exact Archery Broadhead fly. The arrow found its mark and the buck was down within seconds. Zach sent out an inReach message and we got down to his buck and helped pack it back to camp. Four days in and we had three animals back at camp.
There was a pretty big storm front moving in, giving us one more day to hunt. As much as we needed rest, we had our longest day ahead of us.
We had hunted the two closest ridges hard and our only intel on more goats was from when we’d flown in five days before. So we set out for new country that we had yet to explore. Along the way we spotted a few deer, but there was nothing worth pursuing. As we made our way to the furthest mountain, we found eight goats along a creek bottom.
These goats were well below their typical terrain, making it challenging to get within bow distance. We found ourselves glassing from above yet again as we tried to decipher a plan. It was Trevor’s turn to try for a goat.
This was a satisfying adventure for (from left) Watkins, Embry and especially Welch considering it was his first time. The author says he lost 14 pounds. “But it’s work that we will always remember.” (BRIAN WATKINS)
With hard work paying off, there’s always time for a happy selfie. (BRIAN WATKINS)
WE TRIED TO REPOSITION ourselves multiple times throughout the day as the goats fed, but we couldn’t get closer than 200 yards. Knowing we were running out of time, Trevor decided to push the envelope and get in front of the now bedded goats. He went downwind and made a move to get as close as he could.
While he was along the way, the goats got up to feed. Trevor didn’t know that at the time, but I watched as he closed to within 100 yards. Knowing he had no idea that the goats were headed in his direction, I used my binocular glass to “flash” to get his attention. He caught the flickering and looked up at me. I attempted to give him hand signals about where the goats were, but the frustration grew as he couldn’t figure out what I was doing. Luckily, he moved ahead cautiously knowing that I was trying to communicate with him about where the goats were.
Trevor popped up on a ridge and had a goat at 41 yards. He sailed an arrow over the goat’s back. But luck was still on his side. The other goats, confused, edged closer to him. Now he had a shot at a mere 5 yards. Goat down!
Now the other goats headed for higher country, right where I was ready to ambush. I ranged a rock at 30 yards and the goats came directly to that spot. When a goat stood broadside there, I let an arrow go. It was the same goat Trevor had missed. That nanny must have nine lives because I gave her a nice haircut. I’m not quite sure what happened, but I assume she was a bit further out than I thought. I should have taken my time and reranged her. Thankfully, she only got that haircut and wasn’t wounded.
We had a long pack out ahead of us with Trevor’s goat. We were 4.5 miles from camp and three mountain passes away. By the time we got the goat cut up and ready to pack, it was 9:30 p.m. We weren’t very familiar with the area we were in, so we took a safer route and side-skirted the mountains.
Still, the terrain was steep and unforgiving. Couple that with not knowing the area and we had our work cut out for us. Rain, fog and wind also set in. We had to use BaseMap on our phones to navigate the terrain and find areas without steep cliffs. We ended up getting back to camp at 2:30 a.m.
The newbie of the crew, Zach Welch, had reason to be excited to not only score a Kodiak goat but also this buck on his first island hunt. (BRIAN WATKINS)
OUR PICKUP DATE WAS set for four days later. With four animals worth of meat in camp already and knowing that perfect conditions were required for the floatplane to land at the lake we were on, we sent a message to the pilot that we were ready to fly out at any time. But the weather that came in – wind, rain and fog – would keep us hunkered down and recovering from all of the work we had put in.
Time dragged on as we read books, told stories that we’ve each heard 100 times and napped. One day turned into four and we were suddenly past our original pickup date. Again, you need to be flexible on Kodiak.
We got weather updates daily and it looked like we wouldn’t have a chance to get out for a few more days. We had two options: Replay Groundhog Day by staying in the tent, or get to work and hike off the mountain to saltwater.
Between meat and our camp, we had about 500 pounds to pack.
Our preplanned secondary pickup spot was 4 miles away and 2,100 feet in elevation downhill. It took a day and a half to haul all our stuff through mountains, alders, raspberry bushes and across a river.
Grueling is an understatement to describe that journey. It was among the top three worst packouts I’ve ever had. When we finally got home, I weighed 14 pounds lighter than when I’d left. But it’s work that we will always remember.
After some time passes, we’ll even laugh about it. Next time we are going to plan a lighter camp, just in case. ASJ
Taking the elusive billies and buck is just the beginning on hunts like this. The extended stormy conditions forced the guys to get the meat transported back to the impromptu new pickup spot. “Grueling is an understatement to describe that journey,” the author writes. (BRIAN WATKINS)