By Gus Congemi
I wake up before the sun comes up, crawl out of my spike camp tent on Kodiak Island and face the crisp November air with all of the enthusiasm and anticipation of a great few days ahead.
This is my second trip to Kodiak Island for Mountain Goat. My guide, Clay Roberts, of Big Wild Outfitters was my guide on my first Mountain Goat hunt two years prior (at the time he was working for another outfitter), which was successful. I harvested a nice goat through some of the worst situations imaginable; there was a government shutdown in Washington, so there was no hunting during that time (we were on a federal refuge), we encountered bad weather, which most November hunts will bring, so out of a 7-10 day hunt we ended up hunting only 3 days. But I ended up taking a nice goat on my last day. It was a good goat, but I knew I wanted to come back to see if I could try for that next level animal. I knew I could do it with Clay.
Once Clay purchased the concession and secured his outfitting business we began to plan. We were going to do a combo hunt on this trip, for Archery Sitka Black Tail Deer and Archery Mountain Goat. We went in November, a little late in the season but the goat hair is a little better, it’s a little thicker. Going in November can also cause issues due to the weather, but that same weather can also move the goats a bit down from the peaks.
So on our first day we left base camp and made our way to the beach, then started our way to spike camp with our tents, gear, food and everything we would need. We are on our way up the mountain and we spot a Black Tail buck tending a doe. Another good thing about hunting in November is that it’s the rut for Sitka Black Tail. We stopped and watched the buck for a while, then we see a giant Black Tail, over 100 inches, step out of the bush pursuing the same doe. Clay looks at me and tells me that it’s the biggest Black Tail he’s ever seen on Kodiak. We decide that we are going to go after him. We strip off the gear, I grab my bow and we were on our way. At this point, the buck is approximately 300 yards up the mountain, we were still wearing waders to get through the streams and it was noisy, the animals knew we were there. We got to about 160 yards and the buck got uneasy. Clay looks at me and says “Dude that’s the biggest Black Tail, don’t let this one go”. Since I had two tags I couldn’t pass him up. I grabbed Clays’ .375 and anchored him where he stood. He is a fantastic animal and we were only on our way to spike camp! We quarter him, pack him out, go back to where we had dropped our gear, gathered our things, and continued up the mountain.
We get to spike camp just before nightfall, pitched our tents, eat a little and turn in for the night. I wake up before the sun comes up, crawl out of my spike camp tent on Kodiak Island and face the crisp November air with all of the enthusiasm and anticipation of a great few days ahead.
One thing we had going for us was the weather. It was beautiful for that time of the year, so we start climbing the mountain making our way up to the goats. We are at about 4,000 feet above sea level, not really an issue but this is some steep rugged terrain we are climbing and was a bit more challenging than the mountain we were on a few years prior. One thing that always amazes me is that no matter how hard you prepare for a mountain goat hunt, you’re not as prepared as you thought you were once you start that climb.
We know that the highest, roughest elevation is where you are almost always going to find the biggest and most mature animals. We make our way closer to the peak and get dressed in our whites. The white attracts the goats from above. They think it’s another goat and will start to come down from the higher elevation. One came to about 60 yards, a shot I am comfortable with due to practice, and I look at Clay. I’m not an expert at goats, and while he was in bow range, he just wasn’t what I was looking for. We have more time and so we passed on this goat.
The next day we make our way again up the mountain. We glassed three billys and two nannies almost at the top of the peak. One of the billys looks good so we tried to make our way to them. We get within about 300 yards, and they started to move away from us. We were expecting some weather to blow in within the next day or so and that can not only shut down your hunt quickly but can also make it treacherous coming down the mountain.
One of the billys that we glassed was definitely the caliber of goat we were going after. While I wanted to do this with my bow, this was a once in a lifetime opportunity to take a goat like this. We have to make a decision fast. A 300 yard shot with a .375 is no easy task, this is good to keep bear away, not really to shoot long range.
So once again I take Clay’s .375, we crawl in as close as we could to take the goat. We get into 280 yards, further than I wanted to shoot. Clay instructs me to hold it 6 inches over his back. I fire the shot and hit the goat. I make a follow up shot and the goat tumbled from the mountain, smashing off the rocks. Luckily, I only lost about ¼ inch from one of the horns.
We got to the goat, he was at least 60 lbs. heavier than the goat I had taken a few years prior. Just an amazing old billy, his body weight was incredible. Again one of those bittersweet moments, I didn’t have the opportunity to take him with my bow, but I still had one of the most incredible animals I have taken in my grasp.
We packed out all of the meat (all of the meat on any animal has to come off the mountain in Alaska), along with the hide and horns. We get everything back to spike camp for one last night and the next morning we were on our way down to meet the boat.
We take the boat to base camp and for the next four days we hunted Sitka Black Tail with my bow through some high winds and rain. We came close a few times, had some younger animals in bow range but they weren’t what I was looking for and I already had two great animals on this trip. I had more meat than I needed already so I made the decision not to let the arrow fly. I definitely plan on going back to do another Archery Sitka Black Tail, but that mountain goat will be forever etched in my mind.
I’ve come to realize, partly through getting older and wiser, partly as I climbed that treacherous mountain, that as age makes changes to my body, and the things that once were very easy to do are now becoming a bit more challenging, that it is even sweeter when you set your mind on something and achieve the goal. There is something about seeing something through the end. I’ve realized that I’m not in competition with the animal or the mountain, I’m in competition with myself. You have to dig deep inside yourself sometimes to finish something, but it’s an amazing feeling when you do.