My Crystal Lake goat hunt

Part I

by Gary Jones

The year was 1991, and I had drawn a mountain goat tag in the Seven Devils Mountains. My good friend, Rich Laine, was not too happy because he had tried for 14 years to draw this tag and I had gotten one on my first try! Since 1983, I had been writing my hiking guide for the Devils, “Hiking Idaho’s Seven Devils,” and I had encountered goats on virtually every trip I took. They would walk right into camp and hang around, even in the daytime. My wife, Penny, and I once witnessed a goat touch the front screen of our tent with its nose! I figured this was one animal that I could get.

I had scouted my two favorite goat areas that summer: Upper Cannon Lake in the northern Devils and Crystal Lake in the southern Devils. I had found a really nice billy at Crystal Lake, so that’s where I decided to go.

I took Friday off school, and on Thursday afternoon I headed to the trailhead one mile before Black Lake. It’s actually a road that goes all the way

into Rankin Mill, and one can take an ATV the first 4 miles to Paradise Flat. I had no ATV, so I walked into Paradise Flat and made it right before dark. Here was my problem: I was all alone. This was something that I had to do by myself, and I wondered if I could. My father-in-law, Herb Woods, had taught me everything I know about hunting, and I was going to put what he taught me to the ultimate test.

Since I was alone, that first night was very unsettling, and I hardly slept a wink because I could hear animals all around me throughout the night. At one point, I looked out of my tent with my flashlight to see which animals were out there, and it suddenly dawned on me that I might not like what I saw, so I immediately got back in my tent. When the sun finally rose after an endless night, I sprung out of my tent and began the long hike up to the lake at around 6:30 in the morning.

When I got there and set up camp, I actually tried to take a nap and realized I was trying to sleep while I had the hunt of a lifetime. So I crawled out of my bag and readied myself for a hunt. I went to a high knob above the lake and my heart skipped a beat when I saw a goat bedded down at the bottom of a cliff. I waited a long time for

it to get up, and I saw him pee like a male horse, which is a sure way to tell the gender. This was the Boone and Crockett billy I had scouted and the hunt was on.

He started moving away from me, so I got above him and stalked him while he fed. I rounded a corner and suddenly there he was: 75 yards away and staring right at me. The problem was, all I could see was his face, as the rest of his body was behind a rock. I was going to have his head mounted, and the last thing I wanted to do was shoot him in the face. So I aimed at a small spot below his chin and squeezed the trigger. My bullet ricocheted off of the rock, and my billy scrambled straight up some 1000 feet to the peak above us in less than two minutes.

Crystal-Cliffs

The cliffs at Crystal Lake that the goat ran up and watched me from.

While I hiked back to camp, I could see him on the ridgeline above, watching me all the time. I decided that I would have to go after him in the morning because there wasn’t enough daylight to continue. I ate a quick dinner and then had another uneasy night sleeping. When I did sleep, I dreamt of the big one that got away.

That next morning I had a quick breakfast while I watched the goat above. He was still in the same spot on the ridge. While I was getting ready, he slipped into a long vertical crack and was gone. It occurred to me that to go where he had just gone would require very difficult climbing, and I had a backpack and a rifle to deal with. I had to try, though, so I climbed a saddle above the lake and my fears were confirmed. The ridgeline between me and the goat was very narrow and jagged, and virtually impossible to walk on. Any slip or mistake would result in a sure death from a long fall.

As I sat there pondering what to do, I gazed to the north and saw a white spot sitting against a black rock almost a mile away. My binoculars told me that it was a goat, and because of the precarious hike to my first goat, I decided very quickly to go after this one. I do remember seeing the horns from a great distance, so I figured this was a good goat to investigate. I scrambled down a long, steep, talus slope with loose rocks, and worked my way to a point about 300 yards from the goat. I steadied my rifle over a low limb on a tree and fired. The goat stood up and I fired again. This time I saw him hump up and disappear out of sight.

To Be Continued