In summer, mountain goats shed their winter coat and leave clumps of hair hanging on the lower limbs of trees and brush where they walk. For centuries, First Nations have harvested the shed hair for use in clothing and ritual objects. First Nations also hunted goats for food or to use parts for domestic implements or clothing.
Mountain goat watching
Viewing mountain goats is an important part of the wilderness experience for hikers in goat country. The attraction of watching mountain goats helps retain residents in rural communities and draws tourists from around the world with all the economic benefits that follow. The white of mountain goats is easy to see against the dark colour of cliffs and open slopes in summer. Mountain goats that are not hunted are very curious about humans and often remain in view but at a safe distance.
The mountain goat hunt in British Columbia includes both resident and non-resident hunters. Hunting in British Columbia prior to 1974 resulted in the local extinction of mountain goats in many areas due to excessive possession limits, easy motorized access and use of helicopters. Since the 1970s, Limited Entry Hunts and helicopter regulations have been introduced to reduce the number of goats harvested, to control access to mountains by hunters and to keep accurate records of kills.
Over 28,500 mountain goats have been harvested by hunters in British Columbia in the period from 1976 to 2008 for an average of 890 goats per year out of a total population in BC estimated at 40,000 to 70,000.
The mountain goat hunt is primarily a trophy hunt, not for sustenance. The meat of mature goats is considered by many to be tough and unpalatable except when ground or used in sausage. The small horns of the mountain goat make the hunt less desirable than hunts for mountain sheep and other ungulates with large horns.
It is difficult for a hunter to tell the difference between male and female mountain goats, especially at the shooting distances considered reasonable by modern hunters and guides. Hunting regulations stress encourage hunters to shoot males only but the reality is that up to 30% of kills are mature females.
The length of horns of a mature female can match or exceed the horns of a mature male, making identification more difficult and making mature females valuable as trophies.
New regulations proposed in British Columbia in 2011 will make it illegal to shoot a mountain goat in a herd that includes one or more kids. This will hopefully reduce the number of harvested mature females of prime breeding age.
The age of goats harvested by hunters is on average much different than the age of goats that die naturally. Hunters usually kill mature breeding individuals while natural deaths occur mainly in the very young and very old.
In the period from 1974 to 2004, the largest percentage of male goats killed by hunters were aged 4-7 years of age which is prime breeding age. In contrast, the majority of natural deaths in a recent study occurred to goats 1-3 years of age.