Thirty-four years is a long time to wait.
But for Neil Jacobson, the wait ended Sept. 1, when he could hunt mountain goats in Montana for the first time.
Jacobson, a Kalispell native, has been applying for a mountain goat permit the last 34 years and drew one in the Crazy Mountains this year. Last weekend he began his quest to harvest a single member of the species oreamnos americanus.
The Montana archery season opens the first weekend in September, a time of year that is sacred to bowhunters like Jacobson. This year’s opening day also marks the opening of Montana’s upland bird season. Hunters can now chase mountain grouse and sage grouse, turkey and partridge, and on Oct. 13 can begin pursuing pheasant.
Few archery hunters this year will be hunting with bows and arrows made themselves. One of only a handful of bowyers in Montana, Jacobson creates fine, handcrafted archery bows out of local and exotic woods.
His Bearspaw Bows shop in Lakeside is filled with odds and ends of wood: black and white ebony from Laos, Costa Rican cocobolo and bocote wood from South America. His clients are all over the world. He’s used local maple, juniper, ash, black locust and Montana thornapple in making his recurves and longbows. He started making bows professionally in 1996, and is among a legacy of Northwest Montana bowyers, dating back to Bigfork’s Jack Whitney. “Not many people know about his bows,” Jacobson said, “but those of us in a circle of local shooters know about them. They were some of the best bows built.”
Though he’s a traditional bowhunter, Jacobson uses modern composites. The bow he’ll be using this week to hunt mountain goats has a layer of carbon fiber laminated to the natural woods.
The bow shoots quickly and quietly, an advantage in hunting big game, which can often hear the arrow when it leaves the string. Jacobson’s bows represent authentic archery equipment; gear that is without sights, string releases, gears, pulleys and wheels. The natural feel of a recurve or longbow are what many archers are coming back to, Jacobson said. “It’s the one area of archery that’s growing,” he said.
Jacobson has hunted big and small game throughout North America, from whitetails in the Flathead River bottoms to elk in the Cabinet Mountain high country. This week marks a first for him, though. Going after mountains goats will require a bit more legwork than he’s used to.
The place where he drew his permit is in a steep canyon of the Crazy Mountains, a range of mountains north of Bozeman which tops out at more than 10,000 feet.
“At my age it’s going to be a challenge to climb those rocks,” the stocky Jacobson, 54, said. “I hope I have enough legs under me to do it.” Jacobson had a rancher near the Crazy Mountains pack his gear into a remote camp that he’ll use for the next five weeks – if it takes that long. “I plan on being in and out of there,” he said. “I don’t want to be hunting goats in the snow in October. It should be an adventure for me.”
Hunting mountain goats with rifles is one thing; a gun allows a hunter a much longer shot at the cliffhangers. Hunting with a bow, however, creates a much harder challenge. The goats are moderately wary of people, and tend to escape when spooked from below. That’s why you try to hunt them from above, where they likely don’t expect human predators, Jacobson said.
Last year was an epic one for Jacobson, a Lakeside resident. Jacobson was bowhunting for bears in Alaska, when he arrowed an eight-foot bear at close range. Wounded, the animal charged him and he had to defend himself with a firearm. While the taxidermy mounts in his den are from archery kills only, this mount of the interior Alaska grizzly bear won’t get that distinction, since it was killed with a gun. “It was more of a bow thrill than a bow kill,” the understated Jacobson said.
“It got a little Western there for a minute.”
Jacobson honors the animal and is not boastful about his hunting. He is not a trophy hunter who goes after only the biggest mount. He’ll shoot Flathead River bottom doe deer and if he’s got enough meat, donate them to the veterans’ food bank in Kalispell. His reward is simply to harvest an animal with bows and arrows he’s made himself, and put a little meat on the table while doing. “To do that is a pretty amazing thing for me,” he said.
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