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Mountain Goat

Estimated reading time: 6 min

Ever had the desire to incorporate climbing ropes, crampons, and rappelling into your hunting strategy? Looking for a challenging game animal that lives most of its life above the tree line and engages nearly all of its daily routine on sheer rock faces covered in snow and ice? Want to take on one of the most physically demanding hunts the planet earth has to offer?

If you can honestly answer “yes” to all of these questions then you ought to be looking for a highly-rated mountain goat outfitter to lead you to the adventure of your dreams. Alaska, western Canada, and a few select areas of the Lower 48 offer hunting for an animal unique as a game species and as a trophy of a lifetime. While they can be hunted in 10 states and five Canadian provinces, in many places the hunt is restricted to only a few tags, residents only, and/or a once-in-a-lifetime draw system. Experienced mountain goat outfitters can be a valuable resource in locating an area that gives the non-resident hunter best odds of acquiring a tag.

If you find yourself the lucky recipient of a coveted mountain goat tag, employing the services of an experienced, trustworthy mountain goat outfitter may be the way to go, even in your home state. It will significantly boost your odds of success, particularly if you have limited opportunity for scouting and preparation for all aspects of the hunt.

Mountain Goat Facts

While they are called “goats” the Rocky Mountain Goat is not of the old world goat genus Capra. They are a unique species all their own. The mountain goat is the world’s largest animal species living at such high elevations – commonly 10,000 feet plus.

Mountain goats are large animals with males (called “billies”) achieving weights in excess of 300 pounds. They are built with massive chests and shoulders tapering to more streamlined, but equally powerful hindquarters. Females (“nannies”) commonly weigh 200 pounds at maturity. As life in this harsh terrain dictates, mountain goats are ruggedly built animals. They are heavily muscled, with tremendous lung capacity, and thick, heavy skeletal structure.

The mountain goat’s hooves are well-suited for climbing steep, rocky slopes. The solid, outer cloven hooves have soft inner pads for superior traction. The split hooves can spread apart to grab more than one surface at a time. The hooves are pointed to dig in, and even the dewclaws are sharp to grab additional surfaces. This system allows mountain goats not only to maneuver, but run across steep, rocky terrain that can not be negotiated by any other North American game animal.

Mountain goats are also known for their heavy white coats of long hair and wool. It’s actually a double coat with an under layer of dense, thick wool covered by an outer layer of long, hollow guard hairs. Though starkly white for camouflage in their frequently snow and ice covered habitat, the mountain goat’s coat is actually somewhat similar to that of the musk ox – their closest North American cousin. The coat of the mountain goat gives this stout animal an even more imposing appearance.

Though the most reliable evidence of gender when viewed from a distance, the mountain goat’s horns are really not that impressive. Record book billies have horns of about 11 inches in length. Nannies’ horns are even smaller and finer seldom exceeding 8 ½ inches.

Since hunters are restricted to taking billies in most areas, being able to distinguish gender from the horns is a critical skill in hunting mountain goats – one that’s often best left to expert outfitters and guides. Although goats live to be ten years old or older, the annual horn growth increments are frequently less than 1/10 inch after the fourth year. Judging horn length in the field is extremely difficult since differences of an inch or less are determining factors in sex, age and trophy quality. In the Boone & Crocket Club records, the top 10 billies all have horns longer than 10 inches.

The length of a goat’s ear is a helpful estimation tool. Generally an adult goat’s ear is about six inches long so a horn that appears to be an ear length and a half long should be in the 9-10 inch range. Another useful measurement is the eye. From tip to tip, the eye is approximately 1 1/4 inches long.

Billies have thicker horns, with a greater base diameter and greater diameter along the entire length of the horn. Female horns are finer. Males exhibit a smooth, even curve, while nannies exhibit the greatest curvature near the tips. Most female horns seem to make an abrupt curve about 2/3 of the way to the tips.

Comparing the width of the base of a horn with the width of a goat’s eye is the best way to distinguish the sex of mature goats. Mature billies will have bases which are greater than the width of the eye. Even the oldest nanny will have horn bases equal to or less than eye width.

Depending on range, the mountain goat rut occurs from late fall into early winter. Kids are born in the late spring. Though weighing only about three pounds at birth, mountain goat kids are amazing, rock climbing athletes within hours of being born. They are literally born on the cliffs and seem totally at home there from the first moments of life.

Mountain Goat Hunting

Mountain goats can be hunted to varying degrees in Alaska, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, South Dakota, Utah, Washington, and Wyoming as well as Alberta, British Columbia, Northwest Territories, and Yukon Territories.

Mountain goat hunting is billed as the ultimate spot and stalk hunt. Goats are frequently spotted from miles away and thousands of feet below their alpine haunts. Relying on the performance of top-quality optics, you and your guide then determine, to the best of your ability, the sex, age, and trophy quality of a goat. If you believe it to be a respectable billy, you move closer and start glassing and scoping again to confirm the assessment.

Once you do, then it’s a matter of assessing the terrain that stretches between you and that goat. Is it even possible to stalk within reasonable shooting range? If not, when and where is the billy likely to move that might present a shot if you can get there ahead of him?

You also need to carefully consider the mountain goat’s location in your decision to take a shot or not. Goats are rugged, tenacious animals that can take a beating from a big bore rifle bullet and keep on running. And when they do fall, it could be off a cliff! Sometimes it seems a “dead goat running” will intentionally launch itself off the nearest cliff in a last act of defiance.

Nothing is worse than destroying, or even losing, a magnificent trophy because it tumbled for hundreds or thousands of feet crashing against boulders all the way into a crevice where you can’t retrieve it! You must carefully consider where the goat may end up before you take the shot.

Judging sex, age, and trophy quality; analyzing the approach; determining whether a shot is advisable all hinge on the same thing – getting as close as possible to the animal. This is where the physical challenge comes into hunting mountain goats. You need to be in physical and mental condition to go where the mountain goats go. It takes a special breed of hunter, and hunting guide, to accept this challenge.

Successful mountain goat hunting relies on the performance of the highest quality optics available. Certainly binoculars and spotting scopes on steady tripods are important in locating goats and analyzing potential stalking routes, but they are indispensable in judging age, sex, and trophy quality since the differences in horn length, mass, and curve are so minute.

Since it’s best to anchor a goat on the spot, this is a game for hard-hitting magnum caliber rifles. Mountain goat hunters should consider cartridges in the .300 and .338 magnum families, but in compact, lightweight rifles. The terrain you’ll have to navigate to get into position for a shot demands that all your gear be as light as possible. Light guns in magnum calibers take practice and familiarity to shoot well, so you should plan to get plenty of both prior to making your hunt.

Mountain Goat Outfitters

The true stories about the efforts of highly-rated mountain goat outfitters to assist their hunters are many. Many include rappelling down cliffs on makeshift harnesses to retrieve a billy from a ledge. Others have descended into crevasses to retrieve their hunters’ goats. At least one hung in a sling on the face of a cliff while skinning out, quartering, and boning out a client’s goat, then being winched back to the top of the cliff with all the parts in tow!

The extreme difficulty in judging age, sex, and trophy quality of mountain goats nearly makes the use of an experienced guide/outfitter mandatory.

The hunting regulations in many states and provinces require non-resident hunters to use a guide/outfitter in hunting mountain goats. This is mostly a matter of safety in that hunters not familiar with the region or terrain could easily get themselves into serious trouble very quickly without a skilled guide. Two sets of eyes analyzing the potential course of a rugged stalk may catch pitfalls a solo hunter would not.

Finally, a mountain goat guide/outfitter who is familiar with the habits and habitat of the animal will be able to encourage you when the going gets rough … and when you hunt mountain goats, the going will inevitably get rough! is the place to begin and confirm your search for a high-rated mountain goat outfitter wherever you decide to hunt the billy of your dreams.

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