Extreme weather. Mountain challenges. When they threaten to derail a do-it-yourself backcountry dream hunt, HuntStand—and an unwavering spirit—combine to save the day.
I was fixated; watching an unaware, foraging black bear through my binocular as I waited for the sharp crack of a rifle to ring out through the valley. The bruin was oblivious to the fact we were positioned a mere 200 yards from his location, watching his every move as he gorged on a bumper fall berry crop. Suddenly the shot rang out. Then came the all-too-familiar thump of a solid bullet impact, but I was too startled to judge just where it had hit. Confident of his shot, my hunting partner, Mike, assured me it was a fatal hit.
Just a few hours earlier Mike had rolled into town, in preparation for our carefully planned, do-it-yourself fly-in multi-species hunt into northern British Columbia that would begin the next morning. HuntStand readers might remember my earlier feature stories (Part 1) and (Part 2) that detailed my careful preparations for this hunt. But now, with the arrival of Mike, and with a few hours to kill, there was no better option than to sneak out and see if we could cut one of Mike’s bear tags a bit early. That’s just what we did—taking advantage of the ideal bear habitat found just minutes from my front door. A short tracking job proved the suspected deadliness of Mike’s shot—we found the bear a mere 10 yards away from where he was hit. Hopefully, this was a sign of many more positive things to come in the following weeks.
Fast-forwarding a few days, our luck seemed to continue. We had just been dropped off on a remote wilderness lake 100 miles from the nearest road, and within the first few minutes, we had several animals located. Game was seemingly everywhere. Between the two of us, we’d spotted dozens of different mountain goats, elk, and even a few caribou! To say we were optimistic would be an understatement. Due to British Columbia law, however, we could not hunt for six hours after flying, so we were left locked behind our optics for the remainder of the day, anticipation building by the minute.
Over the course of the next 10 days, we were met with a variety of challenges—both physical and mental. An unforecasted arctic storm soon rolled in, completely engulfing the mountains we were planning to hunt. Not only could we not glass from any useful distance, the severe weather also made it unsafe to venture up into the alpine. With the main targets of our trip being sheep, goats and caribou, the nasty weather system pretty much ruined our initial plan of attack.
With nothing but time on our hands, maps were pulled out and we got to work devising a “Plan B.” Although it was late August, the temps were dropping off quickly and there were signs that the elk might be in the pre-rut. Calling would soon prove futile, but we knew the local elk would be our best chance at making the most of our unscheduled “down time.” While still hunting, we were indeed able to locate a few elk and even get an opportunity at a small bull, but it was ultimately passed as we were looking for something a bit larger on this trip.
Using our satellite phone, we called back to civilization each night in order to have friends check the next day’s forecast using the HuntStand app. On Day 10, we got the welcome word that the weather was going to break; we would finally get an opportunity to head up into the alpine. The rest of the evening was spent dreaming up grand plans of killing animals on high ridges, but in reality, I was simply looking forward to once again glassing from a prime vantage point!
As the sun cut its way through the darkness the following morning, we loaded up and were off on our mission. Knowing the area we wanted to check out, there were doubts that we’d even make it up there in one day. There were no trails, lots of steep cliffs, and plenty of dangerous river crossings. Did I mention there were lots of steep cliffs? In the end it didn’t matter. We knew if the route back in there was a miserable grind, it would likely be a favored big game hide-out.
A full eight hours later we finally broke out of the treeline. Sure enough, it took just five minutes of glassing and we had located both elk and Stone Sheep. Unfortunately, neither were of the trophy class we were seeking. With sore legs and high ambitions we marched onward, covering one fold in the immense landscape at a time. At each new drainage and promising vista we’d stop and glass, locating more animals around every corner.
With only a few hours of daylight left we had decided to check out one last area before figuring out a plan for the night. That’s when it happened—Mike located a mature mountain goat high above a band of cliffs, on the opposite side of a large drainage. Knowing there was no chance to stalk within bow range before dark, and with only a few days left in our hunt, it was decided I would take the shot with my rifle. With Mike’s blessing, I covered another 50 yards and found a solid rest where I could dial-in my Nikon Custom XR turret, and attempt the long-range shot.
After one shot through the shoulders at 480 yards, the goat collapsed on the spot and rolled down the mountain out of sight. I couldn’t believe it—one of my life-long “bucket-list” animals was down! Anxious to check it out, we scrambled to get there before darkness, just two hours away. This task was not as easy as it sounds—we had to scale down through a steep canyon and climb up into some very ominous cliffs to get there, and we arrived just before dark.
Not thinking ahead, we had indeed accomplished the tricky ascent, but once there found no way to safely get out in darkness. Just one option remained: We were forced to spend the night. Did I mention we weren’t carrying anything but the clothes on our back, a few game bags (that we used for bedding) and a Jetboil stove?
The night, as you can imagine, was miserable. We got zero sleep due to the frigid temps and general lack of comfort; we spent the night using the Jetboil to heat and re-heat our water bottles, which we used as body warmers. Shivering right through until sunrise, we talked about the events that had unfolded. One was unfortunate indeed; following my goat’s fall off its high cliff, the impact had destroyed its ebony, scimitar horns. Having dreamed for years of a beautiful goat mount, this was a tough pill to swallow. But then Mike reminded me, once again, of why we hunt: for the incredible experience, and that wonderful freezer full of meat.
In retrospect, there was lots to be thankful for on this hunt. We had flown into a remote area and had been exposed to some of the most-miserable conditions imaginable. Along the way we’d been forced to make some hairy ascents and descents, and even spend a mostly gear-less night on the cliffs. And still, I was one lucky man. This DIY hunt not only filled one of my bucket-list dreams, it reminded me what life is truly all about, and in a nutshell, it’s too short. We could’ve taken the easy way out and flown out when the weather turned, or we could have bagged the trip completely. Yet both of us are far richer for the experience, and we’ve built priceless memories that will stay with us the rest of our lives.
Regardless of what your own dream hunt might be, my advice is to start planning for it now. Can you make it a reality in 2017? My advice is to give it your best shot. If you do, who knows, maybe you’ll be the one sitting on a remote backcountry lakeshore near a pile of game bags full of prime game meat, awaiting your flight home. Whatever the outcome rest assured you’ll be glad you made the trip. I know I am!