Take the Shot? A Traveling Hunter is Presented with an Easy Shot – but Only at the Risk of His Own Life – Presented by Springfield Armory

Checking my zero across a Hawaiian canyon before sallying forth in search of goats.

A traveling hunter is presented with an easy shot at his elusive quarry – but only at the risk of his own life. Should he take the shot?

Dawn broke crisply over the island, illuminating its cliffs in shades of impossibly lovely green. The thunder of waves pounding those same cliffs rose from several thousand feet below as I wrapped myself around a granola bar for breakfast. The afternoon before, I’d hiked several miles to access this remote location, searching for feral Hawaiian goats to hunt. I’d found some too, feeding and capering about the cliffs as dusk obscured the landscape. I tucked in beneath a big evergreen and slept the night away, dreaming of my morning rendezvous with the cliff-dwelling goats. Now, crunching the last crumbs of my granola-bar breakfast, I was ready to hunt.

Following a narrow ridgeline, I stalked the cliff-tops. The dirt was a dark magenta underfoot. Waterfalls cascaded from distant green cliffs, making their way toward the valley floor and the sea beyond. It felt like I was hunting in paradise until I looked over the cliff edge at the dizzying depths below. Then it felt like I was walking a tightrope above hell.

 

Vertical terrain can be hard to hunt, especially when your quarry prefers to live in the vertical parts.

Now, I’m not afraid of heights and have spent my share of hours working on barn rafters and windmill motors high above the soil. But this kind of drop-off was new to me. I’m not super comfortable standing atop several thousand feet of elevation comprised of nothing but air. Staring into the hazy depths below gave me a discombobulating sense of lost balance and distant panic.

Jerked back from my depth-gazing reverie by the cheerful sound of goats bleating, I moved along the cliff tops until I could see the area the sounds emanated from. Soon I spotted a brown and white nanny with a big white kid, both feeding along the base of a ribbon cliff a couple of hundred yards below my position. I could harvest two goats with my current license, but hoped to take a billy; a young one if possible so the meat would be good. I continued to study the mountainside through my binocular. There, higher in the cliffs and closer to my position was a good billy. I dropped into a prone position, rested my rifle across my pack, and found him in the scope. He was standing quartered away from me, watching something in the distance. The shot was easy, the goat undisturbed. I picked up my rangefinder and hit the button: 135 yards. I looked at the cliffs. “There”, I told myself, “I think I could get down through that little slide, then edge across that ledge and drop through two little ribbon cliffs to the goat’s position”. I looked back at the little slide, the first part of the descent, and got a sick feeling in my stomach. It was steep smooth granite covered with pea gravel and funneled off the top of an enormous cliff. I could probably make it, though. I looked back through my scope at the goat, now feeding amongst the green.

These are the cliffs the goats were on when they presented a shot. A good mountain scrambler could probably access and retrieve one without the use of crampons and climbing rope, but only at considerable risk to his life.

Another goat moved across the cliffs; also a billy. He was even closer to my position, though further down the cliffs. I could probably get to him too, though one goat was all I wanted to pack over those rugged miles back to my truck. I looked back at the cliffs. A pair of lightweight, strap-on crampons; the ones mountain climbers fasten to their boots when crossing glaciers, would sure be handy right now. Those, and three hundred feet of climbing rope. I snuggled in behind my rifle, found the topmost billy in my scope, and settled the crosshairs on his vitals.

A simple scoped rifle loaded with Hornady ammo: An inexpensive but potent combination for small-bodied big game at moderate ranges.

RIFLE, OPTIC, AND AMMO

The salt and sand of Hawaii are not the place to take a really expensive rifle, so I’d brought a simple lightweight stainless-steel bolt-action chambered in 6.5 Creedmoor. The riflescope was simple as well, a 4-16X40 Bushnell 4500 Elite. I couldn’t dial the scope for distance, however, there were gradated stadia lines in the reticle that enabled me to hold for accurate shots out to about 450 yards. In retrospect, a scope with a bit less magnification on the low end, say 2-12 power, would have been better. Shots can be very close when stalking through the jungle, and lower magnification would provide a better field of view at very close ranges.

My ammunition was Hornady’s excellent Precision Hunter ammo, topped with their 143-grain ELD-X projectile. Exiting the muzzle of my 20-inch barrel at about 2650 feet per second, it provides plenty of medicine for the goats that call the islands home.

Glassing for goats. They can be surprisingly difficult to spot and are, in my experience, more often found by listening for their vocalizations.

SHOOT OR DON’T SHOOT?

Place yourself in my shoes; you’ve flown across the pacific, rented a truck, driven around the island, hiked miles into the backcountry, slept under a tree, and now you finally find yourself staring through your scope at a good opportunity to kill a nice goat. It’s almost a chip shot, and you’re very confident you can drop the goat cleanly.

But you don’t know if you can retrieve the goat after you shoot it.

Even if you are able to reach the goat, climbing back up through the cliffs with the meat in your pack will be incredibly dangerous. And if you fail – if you make even one misstep, the consequence will be death at the bottom of those giant cliffs.

Are you going to take the shot? Let me know what you’d do in the comments section below.

Life is too beautiful to risk for a billy goat. There will always be another hunt, perhaps one with crampons and climbing rope in your pack.

HERE’S WHAT HAPPENED (TRUE STORY)

I lay there watching those goats through my crosshairs for thirty minutes or more. Finally, I switched the safety to the on position and slipped away along the cliff tops in the hope of finding other goats in a more retrievable position. I found more goats, but never where I could safely access them. My time spent, I shouldered my pack and headed for the truck. It was an awesome hunt, in a spectacularly beautiful place.

And I was still alive.

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{ 28 comments… add one }
  • Max Schulte April 6, 2021, 10:41 pm

    You made the right call. You go on a hunt to have a good time and enjoy yourself. Not worth getting hurt over.

  • rex gates March 14, 2021, 4:51 pm

    i would hope i would have carried the extra weight of the rope. but since i have always considered a wounded or unretrievable animal as twice as bad as a miss , i think you made the right call.better luck next time.

  • Ronnie Stidham January 11, 2021, 1:41 pm

    While I’ve never been on a goat hunt, I did spend 3 years in Hawaii in the Marines. My buddies and I enjoyed climbing those mountains, the scenery was absolutely beautiful in any direction. While making our way through a pass, we had to jump a small drop off, that was a mistake. Not being able to make our way back, we had to cut around the horn. Practically 75-80 degree slope, I’ve never had my nerves tested like that before, and never want to again. A lot of wise men have lost their lives on a fools decision. I was almost one of those fools. Life is more than a foolish whim. Think smart, stay safe, stay alive.

  • John Henry January 11, 2021, 1:40 pm

    Feral goats are invaders to Hawaii. They damage and destroy indigenous plants and destroy habitat for native animal life. In other words, they are vermin. If your goal is to kill a goat, take any shot you find. If you want goat meat, buy one, raise one, or go to the meat market.

    • Green Tip January 12, 2021, 12:45 am

      This is THE choice that ALL ‘hunters’ have to make at one time or another, if you hunt long enough that is. ANY hunter that makes a shot on an animal that he INTENDS on wasting…just to kill, that’s nothing but bloodlust IMO and it’s what gives ethical hunters a bad name. Sure you could say the same for hunting “pigs/hogs” here in the lower 48 I suppose, which do REAL, COSTLY damage to crops, habitat, etc. I can’t speak on what most hunters do regarding the ‘final disposition’ of a typical hog hunt when they’re in a herd. Still, a hunter that leaves an animal lay..when it’s PERFECTLY GOOD meat doesn’t have MY respect..

  • TOM BROLLINI January 11, 2021, 11:46 am

    lol been there, (didn’t) done that!

  • N Monty January 11, 2021, 11:42 am

    I had a cousin that died in a fall right in that area hunting goats. He was an experience hunter, but the terrain is very unforgiving. He shot the goat, packed it up, and fell while packing it out. So you made a good decision.

  • Edward Allen January 11, 2021, 9:24 am

    If you have little to no chance of retrieving the critter, you should let it continue to live it’s life.

    Hunting for food includes being safe about it. To shoot and kill an animal that you can’t recover is unethical.

    In the end, you made the correct choice.

  • Boomer January 11, 2021, 8:48 am

    You made the right choice. Ethics above ego. There will be other hunts to fill your game bag, but just being there and sleeping under the trees made it a trip to remember. Thanks for sharing.

  • Phillip DeWitt January 11, 2021, 8:46 am

    I’ve observed Goats from a distance in Alaska. I enjoy getting as close as possible and observing them while they observe me. A good rifle is a comforting companion for personal security in desolate areas.

  • Ron Reynolds January 11, 2021, 8:43 am

    Feral animals are the greatest threat to endemic wildlife in many parts of the world. This is particularly true on Islands such as Hawaii (e.g. domestic cats, mongoose, hogs, snakes, etc.) Due to isolation, most native wild animals on Islands evolved without these exotic predators and competitors, and therefore have no resistance against them. I am concerned that Hawaii would even regulate the harvest of feral goats, given the damage exotic introductions have reaped on the Island. For that reason, I say shoot the invasive beast , and if you can’t retrieve it, at least you have eliminated one more pest from the beautiful Island. Call it a “Conservation Action” and move on to number two.

    • Eric Lawrence January 11, 2021, 12:06 pm

      I would tend to agree. These were not a wild goat, they were feral in the description and do not deserve the protection of indigenous species. Although i understand the other commentators on the life lost when intentionally killing an animal and knowing your not going to retrieve it but that is not the point here. If one’s ethics does not allow them to take that invasive animal and leave it, then the overall preservation of the ecosystem that is being hunted is not a concern. Definitely a no shoot on a wild animal though.

      • Joel Bingen January 13, 2021, 10:34 pm

        My two cents.
        I have only been hunting for 50 years or so..
        But i have passed many “chip” shots when they were not in my favor.
        The most memorable was a hard fought Bull Elk in Colorado.
        After spending many hours climbing a ridge i found nothing.
        But only a few hundred yards accross the canyon I spotted a 600 class bull slepping beneath a tree.
        Could I make the shot?
        Blindfolded for sure.
        But if the Bull slid a thousand feet to the bottom the rack would be destroyed.
        If he didnt slide down?
        It would be noon the next day before I could reach him to field dress him and start packing him out.
        Gaurenteed ruined meat and a couple days work for a set of horns.
        I passed (after taking photos of him) and hiked back down.
        It about the hunt, not the harvest.
        But those memories will last a life time and inside (where it matters most) I know i did the right thing.

        • Barry Edmiston January 29, 2021, 1:53 am

          Joel Bingham – not sure if you have a type-o or are simply full of it. The world record “Spyder Bull” is 478. So, I cannot possibly believe that you were on a “600” class bull. That comment alone causes me to totally disregard your entire post.

  • KYLE January 11, 2021, 6:54 am

    Bring some rope next time and learn how to rappel.

  • NHshtr January 5, 2021, 10:05 pm

    Dying with a backpack full of goat meat is still dying. You made a wise choice.
    Maybe a guide could get you into a better location next time.
    Good luck.

  • Jim Jackson January 5, 2021, 9:25 pm

    That shot was a NO-GOat. Good decision.

  • Guy January 5, 2021, 3:35 pm

    Why plan a trip to hunt in an environment not conducive to ‘tKe the shot’. Hunt with a partner who helps you when needed.

  • Marshall Warren January 5, 2021, 12:18 pm

    It’s about the adventure of the hunt, not the killing (unless it is for subsistence hunting for food). It would have been fun to pick out a rock nearby as a target just to test your shooting skills. I do that here in Alaska.

  • Bill January 5, 2021, 11:57 am

    It was a great hunt! You simply (and wisely) chose not to pull the trigger.

  • Joe January 5, 2021, 11:31 am

    Good choice… Live to hunt another day!

  • Mike January 5, 2021, 11:25 am

    Life is important. However, the question I ask myself is can i retrieve the game. If the answer is no the shot should not be taken.

  • Fred Wiley January 5, 2021, 10:29 am

    You made the right decision for the situation you were in. That is why scouting before the hunt is so important. I think you would have had everything you would have needed if you had done your homework. Good luck on the next hunt.

  • Bob L January 5, 2021, 9:44 am

    On 2 different hunts, I passed on the nicest Dall sheep I could have shot. Not worth it.

  • Richard January 5, 2021, 9:20 am

    Take the shot with a camera. I am a meat hunter. My opinion is that he should have hunted lower and shot up as to having the game fall down. Next time analyze your hunt conditions??

  • SparkyAZ January 5, 2021, 7:46 am

    “A man has to know his limitations…”

  • Norman Dvorak January 5, 2021, 7:38 am

    Exactly what I would have done. Why risk your life for a Goat.

  • BUURGA January 5, 2021, 7:24 am

    Life over goats EVERY time.

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