I originally met Paul Neess through my contacts at Vortex Optics, where he works. It was immediately obvious to me that Paul was a die-hard hunter with a ton of experience and an honest sense of curiosity. After he joined me on a Dall sheep hunt in Alaska last year, I came away feeling even stronger about him. He’s the real deal, a passionate hunter who loves wildlife and wild places and isn’t afraid of a challenge. About a year after our sheep hunt, Paul embarked on a solo mountain goat hunt in Wyoming. Here he tells what happened. This story proves two things: 1) hard work pays off; and 2) always carry extra paracord. -SR
After having the great good fortune of drawing a non-resident mountain goat tag for Wyoming, I embarked on a solo hunt adventure. I flew out to Billings in early September for a scouting trip on the Beartooth Plateau along the Montana/Wyoming border. It was gorgeous high country, and I knew I was in for a challenge.
When I returned to hunt, I set up an initial base camp where I figured that I’d be centrally located. Just after this picture was a taken a very fit-looking group of rock-climbing gals hiked by, one of whom seemed fascinated by the idea of hunting mountain goats in the same steep cliffs they’d been climbing in. Wish I’d thought to take their picture!
This was taken while scouting the 1000’ deep gorge that I planned to hunt. Spotted many nice goats on the other side of this gorge that were actually within shooting distance at 500 yards, but retrieving would have been too dangerous. I had just read a story about a hiker who had been found dead down in the same gorge earlier this year – the victim of a fall.
I hunted up and down the edge of the gorge looking for goats below me in the cliffs. Saw some nannies with kids, but no lone goats on my side. Of course, I kept spotting more goats on the other side.
After two days of hunting and a conversation with a friendly and helpful game warden, I decided to pull stakes and move to the other side of the gorge. Getting there proved to be very tough. It took me a couple of hours to drive around to the mouth of the gorge, where an old road went up the bottom for several miles and then began to climb the side I wanted to be on. The switchbacks were wickedly steep.
I loaded up my ATV for the journey up the river bottom. After a late start, I ended up camped in the river gravel. That night, a big cold front blew in with tremendous winds and rain. I spent the whole night eating fine windblown dust and getting doused with rain as I fought to keep the tent from collapsing around me.
The next day, I finally arrived back on top of the gorge in foggy, rainy conditions. I set up a small camp and began scouting the cliffs below. In the evening, I spotted a distant goat below me. I planned to go after it the next day.
I awoke to a thick fog blanketing the canyon rim. After a quick breakfast, I very slowly and carefully crept along the rim working towards the area where I’d previously seen the lone goat. After a couple of hours of creeping & peeking, I finally spotted a suspicious light spot down below me through the wispy fog. Looking through my Razor binos confirmed it was, in fact, the lone goat. I decided that I was going to shoot it. It was a legal lone nanny, and I felt it was in a spot where I’d actually be able to retrieve it.
I ranged the shot at 200 yards, and it was at a very steep 50-degree angle, which required a slightly “low” hold of the crosshairs. Three quick shots and it was all over. All connected as aimed, I just wanted to anchor the goat in place and ensure that it didn’t crawl over a cliff’s edge and tumble to the river far below.
When I hiked over to where I thought I could descend the cliff, I got a bad surprise. What I thought was a rock chute actually turned out to be steep cliff face of bare, wet rock. It did not look safe to descend. Over the next couple hours, I explored every possible route down to the goat and met similar results on every one. Frustrated and tired, I finally sat on a cliff edge and carefully picked over the rock faces with my binoculars trying to find a possible route. Coming back to the original chute I had tried, I could see a possible route if I could just get by that first steep, wet rock face. I hiked back to it and after some soul searching made the decision to try it. I lowered my pack down the face using a length of paracord, and then slowly followed, sliding myself downwards. The rocks had dried a bit since morning, and permitted some grip as I slid down.
After several more difficult spots, I finally made it down to the goat. There I discovered that I’d broken my camera on the descent, so I had to take pictures with my cell phone. It was now about 3 P.M. I skinned and quartered goat, then loaded about two-thirds of the meat for the climb out.
Going back up through the tough spots, I had to climb and then pull my pack up using the paracord. Splitting the meat into two loads allowed me to pull it with the thin paracord. It was now raining again, and the rocks were getting increasingly slippery. I finally hit one face that was just too slippery to climb, and I began to think that I might not make it up the cliffs. Looking for options, I spotted a small stand of alder brush that might allow me to climb and then grab a handhold on a nearby 15’ rock face. With the alders bending under my weight, I climbed up and made a lunge for the handhold. Luckily, I was able to reach it and pulled myself onto the top of the rock. After resting for a few minutes, I pulled up the loads of meat and resumed the climb up. I finally reached the top and hung the meat in a small pine tree as this was grizzly country. Got back to my camp about 7 PM, made dinner, and crawled into my sleeping bag. It was still raining outside, and I was exhausted.
The next morning, I woke to find the rain had turned to snow during the night. Things didn’t look good – the snow was going to make the rocks far too slippery to climb. I grabbed my pack and survival gear and hiked back to the edge of the chute. Passing around my stashed meat, I was glad to see that nothing had disturbed it. At the first steep drop spot, I sat down and waited for the snow to hopefully melt a bit and give me some gripping ability on the rocks. Two hours later things had melted somewhat, and I began the descent.
Learning from my experiences the previous day, I left knotted and looped lengths of paracord dangling in some of the bad spots so as to give me some slight extra handholds on the way back up. Following the same route, I slowly worked my way back down to the goat. Once there, I loaded up the heavy, wet hide, horns, and remaining meat, and began the climb back up. When I reached the slippery rock that gave me trouble the previous day, the looped paracord gave me just enough extra “grip” to make it up and over. It was slow going, and I had to follow the same process of climbing and then pulling up my pack using more of the paracord.
When I finally reached the top with the second load, I breathed a sigh of relief knowing that I’d pulled it off and made it out. The rest of the hunt would be a straightforward pack-out, followed by a very careful ATV run ride back down the steep switchback trail and out the rocky river bottom.
All said and done, it was one of the most satisfying hunts I’ve ever been on, even though the mountain goat was no sort of big record book trophy. Far more valuable to me was pulling off a tough solo hunt in a spectacular, challenging place. Plus I came away with a beautiful hide and horns and some great tasting meat to remember it by.