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'The hardest hunt I've ever done': What it's like to bag a mountain goat

Evan Bush, The Seattle Times on

Published in Outdoors

SEATTLE -- For hunters, killing a mountain goat is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

"It's one of those prized animals nobody gets a chance to go after," said Jerrod Gibbons, a hunting guide in Washington's Okanogan County. "Unless you have a lot of money ... "

After years of overhunting (several hundred were killed each year in the 1960s and 1970s), the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) dramatically reduced the number of goats it allows to be hunted each year, to about two dozen.

WDFW biologist Rich Harris said the agency allows permits only in areas with goat populations of more than 100 adults. Four percent of those healthy populations can be hunted each year. Hunters are encouraged not to target female goats.

Getting your hands on one of those permits takes a major investment of money or time. Last year, the state auctioned a goat tag for $34,000. A raffle netted an additional $20,420. Gibbons got a 2014 tag by garnering years of WDFW special permit preference points.

"It took me 14 years to draw that tag ... it was like winning the lottery," he said, describing the moment as an "overwhelming experience."

He cannot draw a Washington tag again, though he's still eligible through the raffle and auction.

The tag allowed Gibbons to hunt in the Lake Chelan area, where there are few roads in the rough terrain favored by goats. Gibbons used a 22-foot boat to scout the area instead, aiming his spotting scope at crags where he found a billy goat hanging out.

Gibbons took two extended trips in the backcountry to hunt the billy.

"They don't call it 'mountain goat' for nothing. They are up in some terrain no human should ever be," Gibbons said. "It was the hardest hunt I've ever done ... You've got to be physically able to climb up stuff."

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