Why I go to "Church"

Mica Man

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Mica Flats, Idaho
After twenty years of applying, I was fortunate to have drawn the last of my Idaho big three “once in a lifetime” tag’s. The website proclaimed “Successful” for Mountain goat in the Frank Church Wilderness. Perfect! I have been on two previous successful goat hunts with friends in years past, but this time, I was holding the golden ticket! lake 2.jpg
Most people often refer to the Frank Church wilderness as the “Frank” but for me it is “Church.” “Church” is a place where one can get away from the rat race of life while realizing the insignificance of one’s self and at the same time find solace. It is a place where you can feel like your drawing closer to your maker but if you’re not careful get your ass kicked or even lose your life. It’s rugged beauty, in my opinion, is unparalleled and if you let down your guard can find yourself getting beaten down by it. Spending a day or even a week there hiking its trails or floating its rivers will change you forever. Even if you don’t believe in God, it can be a spiritual experience.

Church” has been good to me and that is one of the reasons why I keep going back. There are no strangers in “church.” Even though I may not recognize an individual on the trail, I understand that they are there for some of the same reasons as I, and feel a common bond with them. This adventure was no exception and bonds were formed with some complete strangers. Fond memories of “church” for me come from backpacking there with friends and family, floating its middle fork, and chasing some of Idaho’s “big three” within its boundaries. It’s where one of my best bulls has come from, where I killed my ram "Nine days in church link", and where my 14-year-old son killed his ram as well "Taking a kid to Church" link. Animals that are taken in “Church” aren’t given like they are is some areas of the state, but rather earned after some, sweat, miles, and perseverance.

This hunt actually started last year with a chance encounter with a stranger on Panther Creek during elk season. I saw a guy with a horse trailer and a couple of llamas at a wide spot in the road so I decided to stop to talk with him about his livestock. I struck up a brief conversation with him about hunting with llamas and in the process, half joked that if I drew a goat tag the following year if he would let me rent his llamas. He one upped me and said no he wouldn’t rent them but just come with me. He gave me his number, we parted ways. Eight months later our first interaction and phone call since that 15-minute interaction went like this…
Hello is this Paul?” “Yes, it is can I help you.” “Yeah, my name is Leonard, last year I ran into you on Panther Creek and talked with you about your llamas. “Who is this again?” “My name is Leonard, I joked with you last year that if I drew a goat tag if I could use your llamas.” “Oh yeah.” “Well, I drew a mountain goat tag, do you want to go?” “Heck yeah! When are we going?!”
 
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Mica Man

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Mica Flats, Idaho
Paul is a good dude and is a true back country bad ass. He knows his stuff and as I found out is well versed in all things outdoors. What started out with what I thought was a chance encounter with a stranger last year actually ended up being just a late introduction in life to an old friend!

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September 14th found my brother, myself, Paul, and his four llamas meeting at the Bighorn Crags trailhead. My brother was a bit skeptical at first with the idea of inviting a complete stranger on a trip like this but after meeting Paul and talking with him was quickly put at ease. We hurriedly sorted and loaded our gear and hit the trail. Our hopes were high but at the same time a bit nervous about the possible change in weather. It may have been blue sky and sunshine at the time but the forecast was calling for a change in both temps and precipitation in the next couple of days. None the less we were going to be in “Church” for the next 5 days and were welcoming the adventure!
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After all I had conversed with one of Hunt Talk’s more experienced members T-bone, to pick his brain and get some pointers since he has a bit of experience and history chasing critters in this part of “Church.”

The first full day of serious hunting didn’t take place until Monday. My brother and I headed to a small saddle just to the west of Mount McGuire to look toward Goat Mountain and down Parrot creek while Paul would look down the head of Roaring creek from a small saddle to the east of McGuire.
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Magnificent vistas filled our view but despite the fantastic looking goat country, and hours of glassing, our best efforts could only turn up a couple of small rams to the south of Ship Island lake.

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As shadows lengthened, we made our way slowly back to camp that evening at Gentian lake, glassing as we hiked, but still didn’t turn up any goats. We stopped on a pass just before dropping into camp to see if by chance there was cell reception. I had two bars so I made a quick check of the weather. Snow was in the forecast.

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Mica Man

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Mica Flats, Idaho
The next day we woke up to snow, wind, and poor visibility. No goat hunting to be had today so we switched gears and between snow flurries my brother and I tried our luck for cutthroat with the flyrods. We managed to land a few for dinner and just before sunset when the weather was clearing, four grouse offered themselves up to our grocery cart when they wandered by camp looking for Wortle berries.
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Wednesday morning my brother and I headed out in the dark over the pass toward Big Clear lake and the trail paralleling down the ridge next to the Roaring creek drainage. Plenty of fantastic country to glass but with no animals of any sort to be spotted. We worked our way North toward Roaring lake and then on past to Goat lake and the head of the Goat creek drainage.
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Miles of rocky looking country but no goats to be spotted. We turned around and headed back toward camp as the clouds lowered and the temperature once again dropped.
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Rain quickly turned to snow, not the dry fluffy variety but the wet slushy snow that tries to kill you by sticking to you, drawing out your warmth, while making you wet and miserable. It was well after dark when we made it back to camp. Thankfully our gear had kept us dry and a warm sleeping bag was a welcome sight.

The next morning was nothing but snow and fog. We stayed in our warm cocoons until late morning taking turns knocking snow off of our sagging shelter. Around noon we could take it no more. We climbed out of our shelters, uncovered what fire wood we had left from under the tarp and started a fire. Once the fire was roaring, we made a unanimous decision to pull camp and head back for the trucks. With snow on the ground and little to no visibility due to the clouds and fog we knew that if we couldn’t find a white goat on a clear sunny day the odds of seeing one under these conditions was very unlikely.

The hike back to the trucks was uneventful. The llamas did what they were supposed to and even though they were hooked to my pack I hardly even knew they were there. Definitely an awesome experience and my brother and I can see llamas in our future. We parted ways with Paul and the llamas at the trailhead, with him headed home to hunt moose with a friend, and my brother and I headed for another access point to the unit. Despite changing locations, the weather did not. My brother and I spent another uncomfortable night sleeping in the truck before conceding to mother nature the next day due to snow and lack of visibility before heading back home to Coeur d’Alene.
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Mica Man

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My second trip into “Church” was a solo three-day trip on the southern portion of my unit. Not 10 minutes down the trail and at my first glassing point I spotted my first goat high up in the rocky cliffs. I watched if for about a half hour before it fed up to a rocky precipice and out of sight. 4 miles and two and a half hours later, I finally made my way to where I had last seen the goat. Several droppings and a few scrapped out beds in the dirt but no goat. Despite my best searching and more climbing I could not locate the goat. I slowly began picking my way down the slope when I spotted something perched up in the rocks where the goat had been earlier in the day looking down in my direction. I pulled my predator call from my pack and began making my best dying bleat impersonation. Minutes later my 280 barked and I had a beautiful color phase bear dead at 30 yards.
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I broke it down, loaded my pack and headed back down the hill and to camp.

The next day was spent on top of the world looking down onto the Middle Fork of the Salmon River. Several planes came and went at the Flying B Ranch and the occasional raft was spotted far below moving down river. Miles of amazing country with rocky crags and spires but absent of any white fluffy goats. Another well-presented sermon from mother nature and I was soaking it in.
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The third day of my trip was spent hiking down the Yellowjacket drainage to the Camas Creek drainage and then further to the west toward the Middle Fork. Sheep, bears, and more promising country but no goats. I ate my lunch next Camas Creek and then turned around and headed back toward the truck. The weather was changing and it looked like more precipitation was on the way. On mile 15 of 19 I spotted my second goat of the trip high on a cliff band.
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I watched it briefly until it moved out of sight and then plodded up the trail for the truck. Rain began to fall as I crossed out of the wilderness boundary leaving “Church.” I was physically gassed but ready for the 7-hour drive home.
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Mica Man

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Trip number three back into “Church” was another 3-day solo adventure that came the second week of October and right on the heels of our third and snowiest storm of the season. Night temps were in the mid-teens and daytime temps in the low 30’s. Day one was uneventful as far as goat sightings but I did enjoy seeing a few elk and sheep on the drive in. Day two I was once again walking down the Yellowjacket drainage looking up into the cliffs. Snow presented a new challenge in both hiking and trying to spot nearly white animals against a white backdrop. I was able to hike just fast enough to stay warm and not sweat so that when I stopped to glass, I didn’t freeze. My water bladder was useless as my hose froze solid making it a pain to remove from my pack each time, I needed a drink. I was able to watch a band of sheep feeding and watched as a small ram move in and around the lambs and ewes. I figured it would not be long before his big brother would be showing up to take care of the ladies and bump him from the herd. I hiked down the trail a little bit further found a sunny spot on a rock, put on a few layers and took a nap soaking in the sun.

When I awoke the sun had moved across the sky and I knew it was time to start heading back up the trail the way I had come. As I rounded a corner in the trail low and behold not too far up in the rocks was a small white fluffy kid bouncing around. I next spotted the nanny and enjoyed watching her and her little fur ball climb among the rocks. Below them, on the slope, fed the band of sheep I had seen earlier in the day. I sat back and enjoyed the experience that “Church” was providing for me. I moved up the trail glassing as I went and just before crossing out of the wilderness boundary spotted another goat high in the cliffs. I watched it until dark and made plans on where I wanted to be the following day.
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Day three had me glassing where I had seen the goat the night before. I was unable to spot it but figured it had to be in the same general vicinity. I picked my way up the ridge glassing as I went. Upon reaching the top I quickly found fresh goat tracks leading to a rock that overlooked the chute I had just climbed up through. From the rock the goat tracks went bounding through the snow into the nearby cliffs. I had been busted before I even had a chance. I glassed, hiked further up the ridgeline and as a last resort rolled rocks down the hill in an attempt to flush the goat out. No luck.
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I glassed some more good-looking country, ate a few snacks and then picked my way slowly down through rocks to the trail below. I left for home that evening feeling defeated but at the same time hopeful for a successful deer and elk hunt with friends in the next couple of days.
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This proved to be the case giving me hope for one more shot at goat before the season ended.
 

Mica Man

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November rolled around and it had been nearly a month since I had been to “Church” chasing goats. I got one more hall pass from my wife and left Coeur d’Alene early Wednesday morning for one last solo trip. I drove as far as the road would take me up toward Middle Fork Peak before I had to park due to the depth of the snow. I donned my pack and headed the rest of the way up. Deer and wolf tracks were scattered along my hike as I crossed into the wilderness boundary.
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Lakes, in a basin I had glassed on my second trip in, were now frozen over for their winter slumber. I sat in the sun glassing and spotted a mule deer buck chasing a doe. The air was clear and crisp and, aside from the occasional gust of wind in the trees, produced complete silence and solitude. The sun moved further to the west and I began my decent back to the truck.

On my drive back down the mountain, I stopped at a switch back to glass across the Yellowjacket drainage and where I hoped to hunt the following day. I pulled up my binoculars and “Holy Crap, a goat!” Standing on a rock outcropping on a distant ridgeline stood a lone billy. I quickly scrambled to get my gun, get a range, and then find a rest to shoot from. I laid my pack and duffle bag out to make a rest and settled in behind the gun. I worked on controlling by breathing, settled the crosshairs, and felt the trigger break clean.

At the shot I heard the bullet hit home and, as I was recovering from the recoil, watched the goat stumble over the top of the precipice and out of sight. I sat back in near disbelief and verbalized out loud, “I just shot a goat!” I quickly gathered my belongings and put my gun back in its case, I grabbed my pack and scanned through my binoculars in the direction of the goat to get my bearings before making the hike over. Suddenly a patch of white appeared from the off side of the ridge where the goat had disappeared. By its gait I could tell it was hurt and scrambled to get my rifle out and laid across my pack for a second shot. I made the mistake of taking three quick shots verses just one good follow up shot as the goat slowly walked a few yards up the ridge and out of view. Dang adrenaline!

I strapped my gun to my pack, grabbed my trekking poles, and headed up and around to get on the ridge where I last saw the goat. 20 minutes later I was able to crest the ridge above the goat and spotted him standing broadside a couple hundred yards below me. I found a tree to lean against for a rest and sent a 160 grain AccuBond on its way. I again heard the bullet hit and watched the goat jump forward and again disappear out of sight down a chute. I picked my way down the rocky ridge to where the goat had disappeared over the side. I looked down and there he was somehow bedded in the near vertical chute. He rose to his feet and began slowly climbing up and away from me.

I shouldered my rifle but didn’t dare shoot him as he would surely tumble down the chute through the rocks. He made his way up to a mostly flat rock the size of a kitchen table and I tried to put one more round in his spine to anchor him where he stood. He dropped, gave one last kick, and as if in slow motion tumbled backwards and down the steep chute. I watched helplessly as he tumbled through the rocks rolling downhill until he came to a dead stop against a large fir tree approximately 150 yards down slope.
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I was in both shock and awe. Over twenty years of dreaming of how my goat hunt would unfold and now it was over. I had just spent 12 days, over 4 different trips, in three months, under various weather conditions, mostly alone, hiking my ass off in some of the most beautiful and unforgiving country in the lower 48 looking for a Mountain goat. One, that I ironically spotted from my truck on one of the few roads that leads into “Church.” How crazy is that! Just below where my goat lay was the road that I would be driving out on. I shouldered my pack and headed back up the ridge and to my truck.

By the time I made it down to the road below where the goat was lying, it was pitch black. I opted to wait until morning before recovering it as it was going to be clear and cold that night, and I hoped to get a few pictures of it in the daylight. Early the next morning I woke, ate a pop tart, and made the 10-minute hike up through the rock slide to my goat.
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That’s right only 10 minutes from the road! Better lucky than good!

As expected, he was a bit broke up. Half of his right horn and the tip of his left were missing. A bit disappointing but nothing a little taxidermy magic can’t fix. A long face of a mature billy with wooly hair and a perfect coat. Rigor mortis had set in making it difficult to position him on the steep hillside for pictures.
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I was able to prop him up against the tree he had died against and it almost looks like I’m sitting next to my pet goat. I skinned him out and broke him down. The pack out was brief and the ol’ Stone Glacier pack functioned perfectly! 😉
fruit punch.jpg No barley pop or pale ales harmed but I did crush a celebratory fruit punch Gatorade.

“Church” did not disappoint! The experience was everything I could have hoped for and more. I was tested to my limits but renewed by my time having been spent there. I was buoyed up by friends and family along the way with their support and encouragement of my near obsession of the outdoors and wild places. Experiences that I hope never fade. This is why I go to “Church.”
 

EYJONAS!

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Fantastic story loved it great goat great work. Not many people can say they parked a pickup under a dead Billy for the pack out. That's awesome. These llama stories are making me more and more interested. Congrats
 

choc dogs

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boise
Made the most of your tag, congratulations on carrying on, through the time it took to get it done. Great writeup, and photos. I've never been in the church, I think this summer should remedy that.
 

BuzzH

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Jan 9, 2001
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Laramie, WY
Often times the way hunts are imagined are much different than the way they end up. Which is all part of the adventure...the unknown. Congratulations on the goat.
 

neffa3

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Wenatchee
I appreciated the trip you took us on as readers, I thoroughly enjoy reading stories of people who "get it", and you sir have it in spades. Congrats on the goat.
 
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