Weapon: 300 Winchester Magnum
Distance: 230 Yards
Ammo: Nosler Trophy Grade 190gr. Accubond
Outfitter/Guide: Circle M Outfitters
Here is the text from the article I wrote for Mountain Hunter Magazine and was the cover story of their Spring 2018 issue:
When you first arrive in this type of environment, there is a wide range of emotions you experience. From the sheer beauty of what your eyes are registering for the first time, to the terror and excitement that in a few hours you are going to be climbing into it for 10 days. Country like this makes a man feel extremely small and no training in the gym can completely prepare you for what you are about to endure. I’m at an old enough age now where not much surprises me in this life but hunting mountain goats and caribou in British Columbia truly left me blown away.
I booked my hunt with Fraser MacDonald of Circle M Outfitters who guides in a large area in the province west of Williston Lake. From our first conversation to the day we broke camp I have had nothing but trust and praise for the way Fraser handles his business. Whether it is his straight-shooting honesty or the hard work and precision that his outfit handles itself with, any hunter will be in great hands at Circle M.
For me personally, this journey began two years while hunting elk and deer outside of Cranbrook. After laboring through that country, and the fact that I wanted to hunt mountain goats before my hair goes completely grey, I decided to re-dedicate my life to include physical fitness. I found a crossfit gym and started a workout regimen that had me running and lifting and average of 5 days per week. I even went through a surgery to fix a lingering hernia in late 2016 all in the name of this hunt. At 37 years old, I entered this hunt in the best shape of my life and couldn’t have been more excited.
I knew going into this hunt that I had four elements to being successful: Physical fitness, shooting ability, animal behavior, and weather. Unfortunately I could only control two of these and I worked harder than ever to make sure those two were covered.
After a 1,300-mile drive up from California, I arrived in Prince George and the next morning we set off on another five-hour plus drive to get into the guiding territory northwest of Mackenzie. We arrived in camp late that afternoon, a beautiful setting on a beautiful lake. After a delicious home cooked meal we met with the guides and our teams were assembled for the next 10 days. The guides I was setup with were Landon and Matt and I would enjoy and learn so much from being in the company of these two guys. When talking with Fraser on the drive up tp camp he had let me know where I would be hunting and that it was your classic craggy goat country where I would have a great shot at getting my goat and then packing up to move over to his best caribou camp.
On September 1st we rode into a basin that engulfed a chain of lakes. It was a short ride into our cabin and an even shorter ride into our first hunting grounds. This was where I immediately was knocked upside the head about what I had signed up for. Landon had san area that he dubbed “The Nest” that we would climb up to. This spot would give us a 360-degree vantage point, the only problem was that it was straight up and one heck of a climb! After climbing about 100 yards up, Landon caught a large goat in his binoculars way across the valley. We quickly resumed our ascent gain a better view. Some parts were nearly vertical, some you were cursing the shin tangle and others you were thankful it was there as you used it to pull yourself up the hill. After finally gaining the summit, it was easy flat walking along the high ridge and the views were out of this world. Unfortunately, the goat had disappeared, not to be seen again that day, and we descended as it got dark.
The second day we rode into a different basin and made yet another (not as) steep climb up to our glassing ridge. We perched up there the entire day looking over amazing goat country but never spotting any. The only wildlife we laid eyes on was a black bear that was trying to be a goat as he climbed up the steep rocky mountains and disappeared over the other side.
Day three it was back to the nest. I’ll admit, I was not excited at all to make that climb again! But we climbed up and it wasn’t as bad since my body was better acclimated to the area and I worked at a slower pace. The extra warm day dragged on without seeing any action. About mid-day I was starting to think to myself that I couldn’t keep climbing this mountain every day; it was only day 3 and I was already feeling the burn. Then, it just happened.
Landon blurted out “Goat!” He quickly found it in the spotting scope and identified it as a shooter-sized billy which was about 4 miles away and heading towards us. It was go time!! We dumped all unnecessary gear and Landon and Matt formulated a super quick and efficient game plan. With Landon staying back on watch, Matt and I started our stalk. We had a long way to cover and most of it was going to be on the steep mountain sides of loose scree and large boulders. Early in the stalk we were descending the mountain and suddenly a helicopter buzzed into our basin flying at about eye level to us! We were as shocked as we were mad as this couldn’t be happening at a more inopportune time. Surely the goat would spook. After making some slightly unfriendly gestures towards the pilot we got on the radio with Landon and he let us know that the goat only moved a bit and did not blow out of the basin. I took us over an hour to cover 2.5 miles and make it into position. During this time the billy bedded for a bit and then kept moving slowly towards where we were heading. We set up on a knob waiting for the billy to rise over the ridge on the other side of a small ravine.
Looking back, I could probably hunt goats 100 times in my life and not have an easier setup. With the wind perfectly in our favor, I dropped into the prone position, set up my bipod and just waited. We sat there for about 15 minutes before the goat stepped over the ridge top across from us. Matt ranged him at 230 yards and after about two more minutes gave me the perfect broadside opportunity. With one squeeze of the trigger I had accomplished what I worked so hard for. I don’t think I have ever felt so much relief and excitement. I was overwhelmed with jubilation. I had cashed in 100s of hours and 1,000s of reps laying on my back in a pool of sweat on the gym floor. After taking pictures and cutting out tenderloins for dinner, we descended into the treeline where the guys built an awesome shelter to overnight in so we could go back to pack the billy out the next morning.
With the goat portion of the hunt in the books we packed up camp and headed back to base camp where we would overnight before heading into caribou camp. I was just as excited about this portion of the hunt. I had never been in a place where caribou existed, so the first one I saw would be my first one ever. Our camp consisted of a wall tent at the edge of a large meadow.
On the first day, Landon and I fought off some warm weather and made a 2,700 foot climb to the summit of the peak across from camp. This afforded unbelievable views across the guiding territory. Nearly 20 miles away we could see the spot I had taken my goat three days prior. We spent the entire day on this peak and I had two firsts. I saw my first two caribou (two small bulls) and even more exciting, spotted my first ever grizzly.
The next two days we made climbs in different directions from camp, both times unearthing beautiful high-country basins and meadows. This really was a premier hunting camp. By now my legs were really starting to feel the strain as I was averaging about ten miles per day of hiking, The amount of game we saw was unbelievable. Over the last two days in this camp we saw six more caribou, six black bears and a second grizzly. All this despite high temperatures and big bright full moons each night.
The last day in this camp may have been the best. When we woke up before sunrise the northern lights were dancing across the sky. This really made the trip for me. It had been a dream of mine to see these in person and I had really hoped that this would happen despite it not being the best time of the year to experience them. Seeing the lights really rejuvenated my spirits that day as I started to feel that it was a sign that we would connect on a good caribou. Not long into the morning Landon came over the radio and said he spotted a solid caribou bull and had a perfect setup to get him. Matt and I raced off the ridge we were perched on and hiked a couple of miles before making another steep climb where we could get close enough to count his points. Despite him being a very mature bull with nice tall beams, he only had four points on the top and the place his other two should have been were broomed off. The three of us all took turns staring at him through the spotting scope and there clearly was not a 5th point. I’m not going to lie, this was a huge let down. However, as the day wore on and the caribou kept stepping out into the meadow below us, I found myself enjoying watching him through the glasses as he raked his antlers against small pine trees and just went about his day-to-day routine. For me, that was a memory that will be just as rewarding as seeing him up on my wall.
By day nine my legs were just about done. I had logged over 26 miles between day seven and eight and I didn’t feel like I could hunt that part of the territory as effectively as I needed to do to ensure success. We packed up camp that morning and came out to base camp to look foe either a black bear or moose.
After some weather and nightfall led to a failed stalk on a nice black bear on the evening of day 9, I was successful the following morning on a beautiful black bear. We had a perfect setup again with the bear grazing low on a mountain side. One shot from 270 yards sealed the deal and capped off an amazing hunt.
It was sad to see this hunt end after having it on the calendar for so long, but it was a once-in-a-lifetime experience and for someone who only took up big game hunting five years ago, a coming-of-age moment in my hunting career. There were no regrets, I gave it 100-percent, left it all on the mountain and endured many successes and failures. I hiked 97 miles over 10 days and climbed and descended over 10,000 vertical feet. Very little of the terrain was flat and most of it was dine with a pack on my back. As hard as it was physically, spending fourteen days away from my wife and kids made it just as tough emotionally. My body was covered in bruises, scratches, and bug bites, each one of them telling the story of my triumph. I put my body through a blender and came out stronger. I saw the northern lights, drank the greatest water straight from creeks, saw two grizzlies, slept under a homemade shelter, ate fantastic food, and had great company in Matt and Landon to share it all with. It was everything I had hoped for and more.
Matt and Landon are two of the hardest working guys I have ever been around and fantastic guides. They walk around the country like they are part mountain goat themselves and have a vast knowledge of the game and terrain in the area. Landon could probably spot a quarter shining 300 yards away with his binoculars, he’s that good with the glass. Matt is built like a tank and no amount of weight in his pack seemed to slow him down. I would go out into the woods with those guys any day! While I didn’t get to hunt with Fraser’s other guides, the other hunters in camp had nothing but rave reviews as well. Hard work is in the culture of this outfit and it starts at the top.
If you are looking for adventure, Circle M Outfitters is a first-class operation. Fraser, his wife Krista, and their staff work extremely hard to make your experience one of a lifetime. From a clean, comfortable base camp to nice back country accommodations and excellent food at every stop in between, you will not go wrong with Circle M.
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