Hunting with Pack Goats
Hunting with pack goats can be an incredibly effective way to hunt. You just need a good game plan on how to go about it and the advantages will outweigh the disadvantages. I’m going to go into detail on hunting tactics as well as camping and “goat management” equipment that you’ll need for the different situations. I will also break down different western species (elk, deer, bear and antelope) and how I go about using goats to your advantage.
Now, before we dive in, let’s talk about the only option you should never use when hunting with pack goats…leaving your goats in camp. You only have two options if your hunting in the back country with your goats…hunt with them, or, take someone with you, who stays in camp with the goats, while you are hunting. For anyone wondering why you can’t leave them in camp, the answer is very simple. Eventually you will have a predator, in camp, that will result in the following two scenarios. One, they get killed and eaten, or two, they break loose and run away to become feral or found by the forest service. The potential of having a goat killed is not worth it and a lost one, may jeopardize all of our right to use them as a pack animal in the future. Many groups and government agencies are trying to take away our right to use them as a pack animal already. We cannot give them any additional ammo by having a pack goat found living among wild sheep or on public ground. We are all in this together, and it’ll only take one careless goat packer to ruin it for us all. Don’t leave your goats alone…EVER.
Enough with all that… let’s talk about more exciting things like hunting with pack goats. Let’s first dive into two different camping strategies. I call them my “base camp” strategy and my “sleeping on bulls” strategy. When I use a “base camp” strategy, I camp in the middle of the area I want to hunt and I satellite in and out from that camp on a daily basis. This model allows for me to camp and eat much more comfortably as I can “unload” everything and if I have someone camping with us, the goats stay there too for the most part. If I don’t have someone, the goats come with me, every outing, carrying just their saddles and their rolled up panniers with the covers in place. See the panniers I use here. When I use my “sleeping on bulls” strategy I camp and feed myself much differently because I’m tearing down and resetting camp every night and morning. At night I camp close to water and what I’m planning on hunting the next day. I hunt very much like I used to when I was back pack hunting but the goats are caring everything. The huge advantage of this is the ability to be mobile and to not have to exert the energy of getting to and from camp every morning and evening. So, Lets go into detail about each strategy.
When I’m hunting out of a base camp I pack in everything but the kitchen sink…chairs, big tents, changes of clothes, multiple big tarps, cooking pots, and of course…tons and tons of awesome REAL food. The food we pack in ends up being a large majority of the weight. I mean steaks, potatoes, breakfast cereal, tortillas, eggs, bacon, sour cream and tons and tons of candy. We do it up right!!! My plan when we hunt this way is to go in “light” with a fair amount of goats and as we shoot bulls to take them out to the trail head as we go along. We keep coolers in our vehicles so they are ready to hold meat and we have a game plan of a place to put them if things get hot or we kill a bull really early and we need to keep the meat somewhere. The goal is to leave one bull to pack out and between me and my hunting companions, and the goats we can get all of camp, and one bull out with this strategy. I’ve done this multiple years now with 6-7 goats. One year we pre packed out two bulls as we killed them, while having the goats hunt along with us. On the way out for the third trip we had a very light load with the goats packing out camp minus all the food we ate. We never put anything but horns on our backs. Here is a video from that trip. The next year we brought in a “helper” and hunted without the goats. That year we really struggled to kill bulls and killed two cows. We were able to pack out both cows, and all of camp, between three, guys and 7 goats in one load. And this last year we killed three bulls in 4 days and didn’t have time to pre pack out any of them. We killed them all over 9 miles from the trail head and packed everything from camp (over 5 miles) back to the trail head in two loads. That was 1000 pounds with three guys and 7 goats. Here is a video of that trip. So, this is a comfy camp with great food, and with a “helper” it is a really fun way to hunt from a base camp.
The biggest advantage to hunting with pack goats are the creature comforts and you can plan based on a consistent location. The negative side of this strategy is pulling in and out of the country back to camp. As a side note I would rather have the goats along, on the hunt, with nothing but their saddles and panniers. When a bull hits the ground they are there and ready to pack. The negative to this strategy is struggling to hear bulls bugle with all the ground noise the goats create. I know I miss the “distant bugle” when the goats are walking with me or making noise when I’m calling. Our solution is to always have someone “separated” so they are not having to hear over the sounds of goats walking and eating. What we do now is radio back to camp and our helper brings them to us and we use Garmen Rhino’s cause it allows him to pinpoint our location and we can talk to him as well. But this is easier said than done. As often their are challenging conditions like it being dark, or knowing the right ways into the country, etc. The helper has to have some “game” or experience in the area or you’ll need to plan to have one of you go back and get him while the others are butchering. Speaking of that, you will need to know how to bone out your critters as the max a goat can carry is somewhere in the 20-35 lbs per side. That is a lot of small packages to pack out an elk. Here is a video showing you how. You will need a good Goat Coat strategy as well in case weather moves in. I always bring at least one tarp in case it really sets in and all the goats get a Goat Shell in each of their panniers. That one pound is worth it’s weight in gold and you can find those here. Goat Shell
This camping strategy works pretty darn well for elk but not if the area you are hunting requires high levels of mobility or low elk density. I recommend sleeping on bulls if you don’t have those two things. For mule deer same thing…if you are going to be covering big country, go with the “sleeping on bulls” strategy. If you are going to be glassing from one vantage point over big country the base camp will be AWESOME. One of the main reasons being, you can pack in all your water for you and your goats and not have to descend off the tops for days. Don’t to be fooled by the “legend of the non drinking goat.” It’s true a goat is closely related to a camel and can get their water from the food they eat. But, if the food they are eating is very dry then they will need water. So early season, they do pretty good, as it gets later, they will need more. I bring a collapsible “doggy bowl” for them to drink out of. Two goats can easily carry a big muley boned out. As for antelope and bears I think about both of them a little differently. Because antelope are not usually a “back country” thing I’ll just say either will work but I’d use the base camp. And bears need to be treated a bit differently. For bait, they are awesome! Here is a video where we used them to haul over 2500 pounds of bait into back drainages. Bear video You will need the base camp model (with a helper) as I have found that my goats are scared of the smell of bears and having them with you just wouldn’t work on the stand or even if you sit off your baits like I do. As far as spot and stalk bears…same thing, I think the base camp with help is the only way to go for similar reasons. Also, don’t expect your goats will easily pack out your bear. They may do it fine, I have a few who aren’t as alarmed but be prepared for a self carry game plan. Keep in mind they may be willing to pack the meat, but not the skin. As a last note, when it comes to bears, my goats got chased by a bear once and that may be the reason I have issues. That said, even my goats that weren’t a part of that one incident have still shown bear scent to be alarming.
Now, let’s talk about the sleeping on bulls strategy. I treat this style of hunting just like I used to when I back pack hunted. I eat dehydrated food cooked with a jet boil, and I slim down all the comfort and gear. Remember you will want to tear down camp every morning and have to reset it back up every night. I have my system down to 40 minutes between tear down and eating breakfast. It’s kind of a scramble every morning, but remember, you will be right on the bulls with no big accent! I plan two goats per guy (so they are super light and agile) for gear and 4 goats for deer and 6 goats for elk. My plan is to always get my critter and my gear out in one load and I plan my goats accordingly. So you know a bull boned out usually weighs around 250 lbs. A cow will be closer to 175 and a giant bodied bull can be 300. I have found when I’m using good gear and still have decent comfort and food, I will have about 60-75 lbs in gear and food per guy. Some of that is food, so by the time I’m ready to pack out an animal it’s closer to 50 lbs (minus the food) and I train to easily carry that and the goats will get the critter. When we are hunting, that now means 5-6 goats for two guys will have very light loads while we are hunting (which I want) and many times I give a different goat a break every day with not carrying anything at all.
As far as hunting with pack goat strategies on elk I do it two ways and like both at different times. One, I tie the goats up real quick (one of reason to have this leash) and work the bull, I usually tie them up directly behind me and work the bull in front of them. The only reason I do this is to better control them wandering while I’m calling the elk in. The downside to this is if you need to make a quick move and then you gotta untie everyone because as you go out of their sight it’s likely they will call to you which you do not want at all. The second option I use about 90% of the time. I set my shooters out front, and then walk back with the goats to my calling set up and let them do their thing. The noise they create is very natural and I like to have them making it. I have shot several bulls with my bow with goats standing around me.
My strategy with deer is to have a partner I’m hunting with and he stays back with the goats while I sneak in and if I’m alone, I sneak in with the goats around me and hope they are “friendly cover”. I prefer to use the partner model. I do the same with bears and antelope.
Ok, Wow, that was a big article, but we had a lot to cover. Please feel free to ask questions in the comments and good luck!!!