The mountain goat is the least common, and least studied, big game species in North America. Add to that the fact how tough it is to draw a mountain goat hunting license and it is not surprising that few people report having seen a mountain goat up close.
"In Montana, for fall 2002, only 4 percent of all applicants (with and without preference points) were successful in drawing one of the 322 licenses available," said Glen Erickson, Wildlife Division bureau chief for the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks. Mountain goat hunting season is Sept. 15-Dec. 1.
By far the largest number of mountain goats are found in southwestern Montana. In 2001, this area accounted for 65 percent of the licenses issued and, in recent years, 65 to 70 percent of the statewide harvest.
For those hardy few who do draw a mountain goat license, it isn't news that goats out climb bighorn sheep hands down. Goats have the advantage with their unique hooves with soft pads surrounded by hard hoof "walls," very large dew-claws, massive shoulder and chest muscles for pulling the entire body upward, and short legs that provide a low center of gravity for better balance.
Goats are the only mountain big game species that does not winter at significantly lower elevations. Mountain goats stay in the mountains or may even gain elevation in the winter when other species like deer, bighorn sheep, elk, moose and mountain lions migrate to lower elevations.
Here are answers to a couple of questions frequently asked about mountain goats. For more on mountain goats go to FWP's Web site at fwp.state.mt.us and click on Hunting.
"I'm in pretty good shape, but what's it going to take to hunt goats?"
Mountain goat hunting takes a fair amount of work. "Good shape" means different things to different people. Some think they are in good shape if they walk a few blocks every week or take the stairs. In reality a hunter needs to be able to hike a minimum of five to six miles one way, uphill at high elevation, with at least some of that off trail in rugged, steep terrain. Very little goat hunting is day-trip hunting. Hunters will need to carry a backpack and stay overnight in the mountains. Like most activities, it takes a combination of physical conditioning and mental attitude. The better prepared the hunter is the more enjoyable the experience will be.
"What are my chances of harvesting a record book' mountain goat in Montana?"
Montana is not known for a large number of record book goat entries. Even very old goats from Montana do not score high. Habitat, population genetics, and growing season length all play a role in horn growth. Fewer than 100 Montana goats have scored high enough to make the Boone and Crockett record book.
"If I draw a mountain goat license, how long do I have to wait before I can apply again?"
After a hunter draws a license, there is a mandatory seven-year waiting period before he can apply again. If the hunter gets a license, he should savor each and every day of hunting. Simply pursuing goats above timberline is a "trophy hunting experience" in itself.