It only took Gary Howell 15 years to successfully complete a mountain goat hunt. He started his quest in 2004 in British Columbia. He finished it in early December when he finally took a mature ram in southeastern Alaska.
The Tyler hunter was 56 years old when he first chased mountain goats. Because of the nature of the animals, it was a tough outing.
“It was a five-day, backpack in and climb the mountain kind of thing. We were seeing young, immature rams with 4- and 5-inch horns. We saw one mature ram, but it was about a mile away,” Howell recalled of the first adventure.
Since then Howell has hunted around the world including an African safari and hunts in North America for elk, pronghorn and mule deer. This year he got another chance to fulfill his goal of a mountain goat, but this time hunting in a style he said was “for old guys like me.”
Howell said he had looked at a number of hunt options, including some similar to his first attempt, but maybe not as strenuous before settling on a hunt with Parker Guide Service. He picked the option based on the recommendation of several other Texas hunters who had gone in the past.
Unlike his first attempt, this hunt was filled with plane flights and boat rides. First a flight to Juneau and then a floatplane to a large houseboat that would be his home for a week. Instead of mountain climbing the hunt would utilize smaller boats for spotting the goats.
“We embarked every morning on 16-foot skiffs. We had the guide, a young retriever and maybe one other hunter,” Howell explained. “We stayed out from 9 until the earliest we got in was 5. That was not so bad, but the weather pummeled us the whole time, rain, sleet or snow.”
Using boats is not an unusual technique for spotting game in Alaska and Canada. It is also commonly used at times for bear and moose. It works for fall mountain goat hunting in the fall because snowfall and rutting activity brings the rams to a lower elevation.
While covering territory was easier by boat getting a shot was still difficult. The inlets where Howell was hunting featured steep rocky climbs from the water up to a spot onshore where a hunter might be able to set up for a shot.
The surrounding peaks were 3,500 to 4,000 feet high. That made Howell’s trip even more difficult because it was pre-rut and most rams were still at higher elevations.
“There was never a lack of goats. We were seeing 50 to 75 every day, but could not get to them. You have to wait until they come down somewhere reasonable for you,” Howell said.
Howell had told the guide he wanted nothing short of a mature ram and would be willing to go home empty-handed before settling on a younger animal. His first chance did not come until the fifth day of the hunt.
“It was right at dark. They had to use a rope to help hoist me up the bank. The ram was probably 500 or 600 yards away. It was a good goat, but the minute I got the tripod set up he dropped down in a dip and we never saw him again,” Howell said.
Constantly chilled by the 30-degree temperatures and precipitation, Howell said he realized two things, even this style of mountain goat hunting was difficult without the right conditions, and that rain gear is not 100 percent water repellent no matter what the label says.
With only two days remaining Howell said his guide was beginning to worry they may not get a shot, something the guide had never had happen in his more than 27 years in the business.
Day 6 came and went. But the next morning, the last morning, a mature ram was spotted. Howell moved about 50 yards on shore and quickly got set up for a shot. But it was not a chip shot.
“I estimated the incline at about 35 degrees. The spotter said the shot was 525 yards,” Howell said.
Howell said because of the incline the shot was more like a 400-yard shot on flat ground. Armed with a .300 Winchester magnum topped with a 4X16 scope, he made the shot.
Howell was anxious to get his hands on the hard-earned trophy, but the outfitter eventually convinced him taking the hike up the mountainside was better left to the young, so as he waited on flatter ground the young skinner climbed the steep terrain and returned with the cap, skull and meat.
The guide estimated the 350-pound ram sporting 10-inch horns to be at least 10 years old and facing its last winter. It was definitely a perfect animal to take.
And while Howell returned to the lower 48 with his trophy after 15 years, he also helped the local population like so many hunters do by donating the meat to those who need it going into winter.