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Surprise on a Stalk

The ferocious beast.

The light patter on the tent as the drizzling rain continued lulled me to sleep. I awoke to silence and stillness, hopeful of a day offering clear glassing. Had the weather passed? A light dusting of snow crumbled off the fly as I slipped out the tent door. Small, softly falling snowflakes shimmered and reflected in my head torch’s beam. They slowly coated my wool sweater, boding another day of restricted visibility.

Yesterday, fog had obscured our view by 10am. We’d waited by a little fire, made from what dead shin-tangle we could find in the sparsely vegetated zone between the trees and the tops, until the wood ran out. By the time we rode back to camp, the day was over; the sky never cleared, not even for a peek.

Thick Fog

Although this morning seemed to promise the same sight-suppressing weather, we wrangled and saddled our horses anyway. Maybe the sun’s warmth would chase away the fog and provide opportunities to spot mountain goats as the day continued.

Without good sight, hunting goats is nearly impossible. So much land must be covered to find these mountain denizens. Winters are harsh, and predators and competition for food keeps the populations of almost all species relatively sparse. However, it’s the diversity and hardiness of animals adapted to survive in such a competitive environment that makes them so awe-inspiring. The animals that I’d encounter that day epitomise what makes Northern BC backcountry hunts so alluring and is probably why this hunt stands out in my mind.

The cabin was warm and cosy when we returned from the wrangle, and the smell of bacon overpowered the pack-rat pee

soaked into the plywood walls and floor of the building. Without a need to rush this morning, we took our time filling our bellies with coffee, bacon, beans and bannock bread. Occasionally, we’d check outside for openings in the thick fog, letting the cool damp air invade our toasty space, but the weather continued to shut us in, blocking the view and dimming the morning light.

Caribou and Trout

While warmth and food eased my normal restlessness, it wasn’t enduring. Soon, I excused myself from cribbage with the clients and walked to the lake with my jacket, binos and a fishing rod.

The steely grey morning fog shrouding the mountains reflected in the still lake water. Dark ripples as I worked my spoon lure were mesmerising, but movement towards the west end of the lake caught my eye. A decent bull caribou trotted into the marshy clearing at the lake’s head. I watched him feed as he quickly covered the ground of the fairly expansive clearing. To me, caribou are one of the most majestic game species. Without ever looking rushed, their ground-covering stride as they feed moves them with surprising speed. The bull disappeared as quickly and mysteriously as he’d appeared, leaving me temporarily in awe.

With my mind distracted by the sight, I worked the spoon subconsciously and mechanically. A tug on the line reclaimed my attention. A beautiful, brightly coloured orange, brown and green bull trout battled on the other end.

By the time I reeled in a second bull trout, it looked like the fog was thinning out, and the dark shades of the climbing pines could be seen under their thin snow sprinkling.

Leaving the rod and grabbing my pack with my Swaro, I climbed a little hill behind our camp hoping for breaks in the cloud. By the time I turned around, the upper half of the mountain across the valley was visible. My binos searched the snow-covered mountainside in this generous opening. Perched on a ridgeline, something off-white caught my eye. The binos left me questioning, but there was no doubt through the lens of the spotter that this was a goat. Even from his bed, thick bases revealed a billy.

Excited, I jogged back to the cabin and roused the boys. The view remained clear and the billy was still bedded when we made it back to the spotter. It looked like the thick fog was behind us now, and the snow was already beginning to quickly disappear.

The Stalk

With the wrangler watching behind the spotter, we started the short traverse across the valley floor to a mild climb (as far as goat hunting goes) up the gut on the downwind side of the billy. We hoped to have an angle at his bed from across this small gulley at only a couple of hundred metres, with time to set up and be in position, ready for when he rose.

We’d just breached the top of the treeline when our wrangler radioed, “He’s stood up and is feeding by the bed.”

“Let us know which way he heads,” I replied.

We continued climbing with hopes he’d hold up enough for us to close the stalk. If he fed our way, there was a chance of our paths intersecting. However, if he beat us, he’d end up above us, and our scent with the warming day, as the fog steadily yielded to the sun’s energy, would surely reach him. If he headed the other way, disappearing into the large, long basin behind the ridge he’d bedded on, it was unlikely we could catch up. We needed to push it, but not burn out.

Relief came when the radio sounded again. “He’s back in his bed.”

Short feeding and bedding intervals are typical goat behaviours – but covering ground at a good pace over ranges is too. We continued our stalk, now making better time as open slides of heather paved our way.

Little Beast Charges

A low growl rumbled over the muffled, steady steps of our padded ascent. With rifles in hand, we investigated the shin-tangle ridge where the sound seemed to originate. It looked like nothing that could make that sound could take cover there, but then again, maybe it’d slipped away. The growl didn’t sound like a grizzly’s “Whoof,” but the menacing tone had threatened ferocity. We tried to refocus our attention on the stalk and continue climbing, but curiosity plagued me.

Suddenly, motion across the shingle caught our eyes. A wolverine, head outstretched and legs lunging, was running flat out towards us!

He stopped at 20 metres, evaluating the situation. We watched in amazement, aware that this little beast was sizing up three full-grown humans. I’ve heard about wolverines taking down mature caribou and moose, and even holding their own against bears and wolves. Could this little guy really be considering picking a fight with us? He circled below and away but then turned back to charge at us again. Stopping sooner this time, he then returned to the shin-tangle just below us from where we’d first heard the growl. We must’ve bumped him on a kill or carcass during our ascent.

Wolverines were the foremost animal I’d desired to see while hunting the northern ranges in British Colombia. While grizzlies receive the most hype, wolverines hold the most respect and esteem of the mountain men in these parts. Many hunters only witness these secretive creatures in traps or snares, or maybe in the distance through binos. The privilege to behold the bravery and impudence of these admirable animals up close in the wild was beyond my dreams. My desire to discover what he was eating was strong, but I knew we had a limited window to seal the deal on our goat, so we continued, leaving the dauntless creature to his meal.

One Perfect Shot

We’d barely climbed another 20 metres when through the radio we heard, “He’s up and moved out of sight over the ridge above you.”

Complete concentration now back on the billy, we pushed towards a round heather knob that would provide a good set-up another 15 metres above. In sync with our arrival, the billy walked down the steeper rocks to the left of the drainage and into scree just 200 metres across and above us where retrieval of a fallen goat looked very possible, even easy. Time and shots seemed limitless as he slowly milled around the open scree. Our client had ample opportunity to breathe and set up comfortably. The extra time was well spent; the client dropped the billy with one perfect shot!

The recovery was as easy as they come and, with fit and capable clients, the pack out was easy as well. Though we didn’t see our vicious friend on the route down the mountain, the knowledge that we’d left a tasty carcass on the hill for him brought a smile to my face. We were back at the cosy cabin before dark, an almost unknown in goat hunting. What a day!

While a nice goat, it was no Boone and Crockett billy nor an exceptionally old billy – the two things that normally excite me. The aspect of the hunt that rendered it exceptionally memorable was not the trophy itself, but rather the variety of life witnessed in such a short period of time. Appreciating species that have adapted to the challenging environment of their home terrain is what makes North American hunting so intriguing to me. Chasing record-book trophies with clients drives me to this lifestyle, but days like this one – the ones that imprint themselves boldly in my memories – make me realise that unique and special experiences are my true motivation.

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