2010 Mountain Goat and Moose Hunt in Northern BC

Written by Fred Burd

Smithers  has  been described as a quaint town in an alpine setting, and having been there twice, I can honestly say that it’s an accurate description.  The surrounding mountains, which I’ve always seen snow covered, and its polite residents, who slow down to let you cross the streets safely, make it an engaging place for an outdoor resort vacation.  But Smithers is also the location for the jump-off point of many British Columbia outfitters. 

As before, I was hunting the remote Spatsizi Wilderness Plateau region of Northern B.C. but his time with the Collingwood Brothers. The travel to camp took place in a DeHavilland Otter from a base just outside of Smithers.  It’s a cold flight (dress warmly) that takes about 2 hours to reach Bug Lake.  Bug Lake, northwest of Coldfish Lake (a larger lake more easily found on maps) is the site of base camp, one of several maintained by the Collingwoods.  The facilities at Bug Lake are comprised of permanent single room cabins, as well as a large corral and stable for the horses.  Some hunts such as moose or caribou can be taken daily from this site, others such as mountain goat usually require a spike camp for a couple of days.  This trip for me was a combination moose/mountain goat hunt, so I enjoyed both. After the standard introductions around camp and ensuring that my rifle still fired (some call this sighting in; I believe it’s an opportunity for the guides to evaluate your familiarity with the weapon) we left the following morning on horseback to begin searching the Eaglenest Mountains for goats. 

Our destination was a small cabin along Coldfish Lake that was commonly used for fishing.  It was several miles from base camp, and upon arrival we unloaded our horses, walked past the beaver lodge at the edge of the lake, and immediately started glassing.  Several goats were spotted, but as our ride had taken 5 hours and daylight was beginning to fade, we decided to mentally mark their position for the following morning.  Very few goat hunts are physically easy, and none are expected to be.  Lose weight, get into shape, and more fun will be had by all. Goats typically don’t meander very far and their beautiful white coats are spotlighted against the typically grey mountainside shale by the sun’s reflection.  Any bright spot of white above the tree line should be examined carefully, as it in all likelihood represents a goat’s position. 

There were three of us leaving the rustic cabin that morning; myself, my guide Martin, and Martin’s wife Sharon who very capably acted as our wrangler for the hunt.  We rode for approximately an hour, stopping to glass every now and then, attempting to angle closer to a point below where we had seen the goats from the previous evening.  Choosing a spot and picketing the horses, we shed some layers and emptied our packs for the climb.  Unfortunately, a swampy area separated us from the start of the uphill effort, but we picked our way across the one hundred yards of water holes, downed trees, brush, tussocks and muck until the real work began.  It took us four hours to climb to the high ridge of the mountain, which Martin declared to be the steepest slope he’s ever climbed for a goat.  Loose shale, juniper, and dead falls had all of us grateful for the brief momentary pauses during the climb.  On several occasions while nearing the top we encountered nannies and kids at distances of less than 100 yards.  I can only express absolute excitement and appreciation at how beautiful these animals really are.  Their white coats appear as pure as snow and practically glow in the sunlight.  But we were looking for billy’s so our upward climb continued.  Once on top, we travelled the ridgeline peeking over the side, more often than not actually finding goats!  Apparently goats like to graze just below the high ridges of the mountains. 

We saw as many as 30 goats within the first two hours, including one group of nine, but unfortunately none were mature billy’s.  Then it happened; Martin found a billy deep in a boulder strewn gash in the mountainside.  He was laying on a ledge facing us, 245 yards away, with his black horns presented against the clean white of his body.   Creeping to the edge of the ravine and getting settled prone, we took the steeply angled downhill shot, and the billy fell 30 feet without sustaining any noticeable damage.  Horns intact!  We descended into the boulders and realized that we would not be able to follow this path back down the mountain.  Three hours later, with our packs full, we climbed rock to rock out of the ravine.  This was the biggest challenge up to this point of the entire hunt.  The climb back up to where we could safely descend the mountain to our horses was brutal.  After a 15 minute rest at the top we began the climb back down.  The severity of the grade was not appreciated until now.  Martin fell several times with his heavy pack and once rolled 10 feet in the loose shale and gravel.  My trekking pole was indispensible as it provided a third leg of support.  It was steep going up, but dangerous going down.  When we reached the swamp at the bottom, it was dark.  Tired, tired, tired.  Going through the swamp in the dark made me wish that we had spent the night on the mountain.  But with clothing wet from exertion, a night on the mountain without shelter would have been hypothermic.  Sharon, having returned to the horses during the daylight, had a fire going for us to navigate by.  This allowed us to steer our course directly to where she and the horses were waiting.  The flickering light of that small fire was a most welcome beacon!  Getting back to the cabin, I changed out of my still wet clothes, and climbed into my sleeping bag.  We started early that morning, shot a goat at 4:00pm, and reached the cabin at midnight – a very long day.  My first goat! 

The morning came early, and with our goat hunt finished we began our 5 hour ride back to the cabins at Bug Lake.  Meals are terrific at base camp; there is a full time cook, and we had time to eat very well before our search for a moose began.  Since moose were plentiful in the immediate area, this part of my trip was to be based from Bug Lake.  Did I say plentiful?  On the first ride out from camp, Martin and I saw 25 moose, the vast majority being bulls in the 40-45 inch range.  But Martin was looking for a 50 inch bull with triple brow tines, so we passed on these and prepared for the second day of our moose hunt.  At this time of the year, we were maybe a week prior to the rut.  Yet we were able to observe some half interested sparring which was phenomenal.  Moose are enormous.  They like to browse the willows, which grow in this area to about five feet.  The legs of a mature moose are long enough to allow them to stand above the willows such that the bulk of their bodies can be seen practically unobstructed.  This gives them the appearance of a freight train boxcar!  Just a big blocky 1000lb body standing above the willows! On the second day we rode out into a snow storm.  When we reached the top of the plateau looking over Bug Lake, we were at 5000 feet with 100 yards visibility. 

As is true whenever we rode, the ride up to that plateau is no picnic!  Mud…switchbacks…steep, needless to say the horses were rested several times before reaching the top.  Whereas the day before, Martin and I were able to glass valleys and hills in the distance, the current storm prevented us from utilizing our binoculars effectively.  But while crisscrossing the plateau, pretty much just wandering around trying not to get lost, we inadvertently stumbled into three nice bulls!  We were close, within 100 yards, and this proximity surprised both them and us.  For a brief moment they looked at us and we looked at them.  Then they left.  Just drifted away into the blowing snow.  But Martin and I rode to where we had last seen them, dismounted, and Martin began to call.  Vaguely we could see the moose through the snow and as we watched we could see them begin to circle, responding to the calling.  We quickly hobbled the horses, tied them nose to tail, and began to stalk with intent to intercept.  The snow still fell. Forty-five minutes later…no moose.  We had stepped quietly in the snow covered grass, expecting the moose to be just a little further ahead, but when we got “ahead” they simply weren’t where we thought we’d see them.  Stopping and wondering which direction to try, or how much further to go, we looked around and saw them 50 yards behind us.  We had crossed paths in the storm and neither had seen the other.  I whispered to Martin, “Should I shoot one of these Moose?” He replied after several seconds, “The one in front”.  I immediately dropped down onto the snow, shot from an improvised sitting position, and moments later I had my first moose!  A couple of hours later (a downed Moose is labor intensive) he was caped, quartered, and we were riding back to Bug Lake.  Ironically after the moose was down, it stopped snowing.

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