by Diane Spicer
Mountain goats and hikers both love amazing alpine vistas.
For hikers, it's about photo ops and a feeling of freedom.
For goats, it's protection from predators.
So what should you do when you're heading into known mountain goat territory?
Use Hiking For Her's three step mountain goat awareness plan.
But first, a few facts about mountain goats so you can appreciate why the three step approach is a good thing to know as a hiker.
These rugged, sturdily built animals are found in the western mountainous areas of the United States (Cascade Range and Rocky Mountains) and British Columbia, Alberta and Yukon.
They are also found in the Chugach Mountains and southeast regions of Alaska.
As you can see, the rockier the habitat, the better for these nimble mammals.
For more facts about mountain goats, including how to refer to males, females and babies - and why they're not really goats, read this.
As summer gets into full swing, the goats will wander around alpine terrain, looking for vegetation and resting spots.
This can bring them down into treeline areas.
And that's when hikers will get an up close and personal view of them.
A herd of mountain goats should have no interest in a close approach to humans.
In fact, they should loathe you!
Their instinct tells them you're a predator, and they should turn tail -literally- and move away from you (see photo above).
It's likely they will have a rocky escape route, and it's fascinating to watch them use it.
As more and more hikers take to the trails in subalpine or higher elevations, mountain goats get used to human smells and behaviors.
Human urine is salty, and hikers who pee on or near trails are encouraging goats to come onto the trail for a closer look (or a salt lick, to be honest).
Here's how you can pay it forward for the hikers who will follow you:
Sweaty hiking shirts, salty boots, sweat encrusted socks - yummy to a mountain goat who is craving salt!
Hikers who share food with these "cute" animals are training them to associate humans with food, a dangerous precedent. So just don't.
Any goat who is taking an abnormal interest in you has had its behavior shaped by previous human encounters.
It's likely that it's a male goat who wants what you have. I've never had a nerve wracking encounter with a female.
And during mating season (late fall, early winter), he wants you to get far, far away from his harem.
There are three things you can do, and of course it all depends upon what reaction you get from the mountain goats.
If they are not habituated to humans, your presence is enough to move a herd of goats away from you.
Your natural instinct to make noise and shoo them away should do the trick if you surprise them, although it's highly unlikely to catch a mountain goat napping near a trail.
And in fact, they may start moving away from you well before you even spot them.
But it's smart to be prepared to know how to take more aggressive actions to get them to move away from you and go back to doing goat-ish things.
Keep an eye on trail reports for bad behavior from resident goats.
If there is a problem in a national park, chances are it will be posted and trail closures might occur.
Never ignore a trail closure.
You can also monitor your favorite social media posts on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook or anywhere hikers share photos of recent hikes.
If you make it a habit to hike in mountain goat terrain, watch for clues about their presence and preferences.
Knowing that you share the area with goats will keep you alert.
However, most goats will be hanging out in areas like this one:
Now let's think about a realistic hiking scenario, and what you can do.
A mountain goat has spotted you, and instead of yielding the trail to you, it starts approaching.
This is your first inkling that you're going to have to discourage an interaction.
If you can backtrack safely and quickly, without running or panicking, do so. In my experience, the goat has a magic "zone" beyond which it will not stray.
It's your job to get past that invisible but real line.
If that's not an option, wave your hiking poles and make very loud, human noises.
If the goat isn't interested in aborting its mission to come in for a close look at you, your heart rate will go up.
Those sharp horns look menacing when paired with the stare of a male mountain goat!
But turn that adrenaline rush into action.
If the goat comes into your personal space, it's time to get defensive.
To keep the goat at bay, use your hiking poles or anything which extends your reach.
I have had to do this several times, and it's nerve wracking, but at least in my case, effective.
I have also thrown big rocks at the feet of a goat who just wouldn't take no for an answer.
Mountain goats and hikers are a bad combination if the goat becomes aggressive or overly curious, because only one of them has horns.
If you've walked away from your hiking gear and extra clothing, and a goat has come to investigate, game over.
Your best move: Hunker down and outwait its interest in your sweaty stuff.
Don't try to scare it off, just be patient.
After it licks and/or chews what it wants, it will move off.
Which explains why I now avoid walking very far away from my gear when I'm in goat territory.
Mountain goats and hikers can learn from each other, right?
Mountain goats and hikers can co-exist.
It's up to you as a hiker to make sure that happens peacefully.
These safety tips are not meant as rock solid advice about goat encounters.
Instead, use them to begin thinking about how to react when a mountain goat starts toward you.
The Forest Service (U.S. government) has a pdf fact sheet you can use to learn more, available here.
There is also a good video.
Now that you have some facts about goats, maybe it's time to think about bear awareness.
Mountain Goats And Hikers Safety Tips
About the author
Diane is the founder of Hiking For Her.
She’s been on a hiking trail somewhere in the world for nearly five decades & loves to share her best hiking tips right here.
All rights reserved.
Photo credits: All photos on this website were taken by David Midkiff or Diane Spicer except where noted.
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