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Schooled by an Old Goat

It all started in the summer of 2018….

I received a call from my good friend Chris Rager, who has been a Montana resident for most of his adult life. We hit all the required high points of a genuine redneck bowhunter conversation when he said, “You should come out here and hunt antelope with me.” My response was quick, without much deliberation: “YES.” I was yet to understand how much of an education I was about to receive on a fleet-footed little critter appropriately referred to as a “speed goat.”

I applied for the antelope lottery online in May of 2018 and ultimately drew an archery-only antelope permit. I worked in the Missouri heat and humidity to hone my skills, shooting a whitetail setup that had rewarded me many times over the past few years. Nothing special: a 60# draw compound shooting a 550-grain Element Fire & Ice arrow with an Orion 3 fixed blade broadhead. I was using a single-pin movable sight that I found more than adequate for taking big Midwest whitetail out to 50 yards. After literally stacking arrows in the 10-ring all summer, the day finally arrived, and I set out for central Montana with dreams of filling my first antelope permit ever.

What transpired over the next seven days is almost embarrassing to talk about. When you were in 8th grade, did your buddies ever rip your gym shorts down to your ankles in front of the entire P.E. class? When I left Montana, I felt exactly that way, with an unfilled tag and an empty quiver. It felt more like a nightmare instead of a dream hunt. I can vividly remember telling my buddy, “I know how to shoot a bow, I swear.” We had set up in a blind overlooking a hot water hole. The “goats” were making regular visits, and we had several nice bucks just across the pond, ranging anywhere from 50-80 yards. Finally, a nice goat made an appearance across the water hole, and Chris said, “That’s a good one.” Chris hit the rangefinder, and he was spot on at 50 yards, standing broadside. I moved the dial of my single pin to its max of 50 yards, hooked my release, and began to draw. In the time it took me to draw, the goat bounded forward and was now at 35 yards and just slightly quartering toward me. I lowered my bow, readjusted my sight, and pulled the 60# bow back again. As I started to settle in, another buck moved toward the watering hole and gained the attention of the bigger buck. He spun and raced toward the smaller buck, only to stop at 55 yards, perfect broadside. Again, I lowered the bow, moved my sight back to 50, and immediately drew back for the third time. I compensated a little for the extra 5 yards and about a 10-mph crosswind and let it fly. I watched the arrow sail right over his back as he stood there looking right at the blind. Chris excitedly said, “Get another arrow and try again.” I pulled arrow #2 from my quiver, drew back as the goat took a few steps; he was now at 60 yards. Feeling confident my last shot was near perfect for a 60-yard shot, I let it fly, only to watch it hit the dirt right under the goat’s belly. As expected, this time the herd scattered, with the bigger goat circling, trying to catch our wind. They weren’t completely spooked; there was still a chance. Chris hit the rangefinder again and said, “62 yards.” I loaded arrow #3, held it slightly high, and once again, a clean miss. I could hear Chris chuckling quietly under his breath, and I grabbed arrow #4. Now I was focused. I drew back with arrow #4 and asked, “How far?” “68,” keeping in mind my single-pin sight was maxed out at 50. I told myself, “You can do this, just focus.” I touched the release button, and the arrow disappeared into the horizon as the goat decided he had seen way too much and ran for the hills. Thinking I may have at least cut a hair this time, we watched the goat through binoculars for nearly 30 minutes, and nothing—another clean miss. Sulking in my pathetic shooting skills, we headed back to camp. We turned off the gravel county road and onto the two-track dirt road and looked left. Bedded a short distance away was a really nice-looking goat. We stopped, bailed out of the truck, and put a quick sneak on to get as close as we could. I popped up over the hillcrest, and I heard, “He’s 45 yards.” I loaded arrow #5 as the goat spotted us and began to stand up out of his bed, on full alert. I noticed my sight was still pegged at 50 yards, but it was too late to make any more movement. “Hold a little low,” my brain said. I let the arrow fly and watched it fly right over the goat’s back without even grazing him. Believe me when I tell you I heard that goat laughing at me as he ran into the sunset, or maybe it was Chris.

Fast forward to September 6, 2019. I returned to central Montana for some unfinished business. This time I was prepared. New faster bow, 7-pin slider sight, and a 350-grain Element Tornado arrow with a 100-grain Toxic Broadhead. Okay, maybe the new bow was a bit overkill, but who cares? I was on a mission. I spent the entire summer shooting at an antelope 3D target and routinely practiced out to 140 yards. Yes, you read that right—140! I shaved all the weight I could off my arrow, even cutting the bottom end off my nocks to save 1 grain. That bow was screaming at about 320 feet per second. I have a 29.5” draw length; I intentionally put 30” draw mods on that bow to get more speed. And with 7 pins, I could shoot out to 80 yards with no sight adjustments whatsoever. I assure you, if you shoot as much as I did that summer, you can get consistent at 100 yards and beyond. Anyway, back to the story. There we were, back at the water hole, and I was staring through the peep sight at a Pope & Young antelope at 65 yards. I took a deep breath and released arrow #1. I watched that Toxic broadhead bury into the front shoulder of that goat as he hunkered down and turned on the afterburners. His final effort to escape closely resembled the flight plan of a bottle rocket. It lasted about 2.5 seconds, and it was over, crashing into the dirt as we watched intently for any sign of life left in him. There were high fives and plenty of sounds of jubilation, followed quickly by me looking at Chris and saying, “I told you I could shoot.” We approached the massive beast only to realize this wasn’t an ordinary goat—this was 78 inches of Montana antelope. One for the books, a memory to last a lifetime, and an education in how to hunt antelope.