Mountain Goat Cartridges

By Chuck Hawks

.25-06 Remington
.25-06 illustration courtesy of Hornady Mfg. Co.

These large white goats live at extreme elevations. They are sure footed beyond the wildest dreams of even mountain sheep. Mountain goats are phlegmatic creatures, studied and sure in their movements, and disinclined to be startled. Where they live a misstep can easily result in a fall to the death, a fate that claims many of them. The goats that survive have learned that precipitate action kills more surely than predators or bullets.

They have long, shaggy white fur that protects them from the extreme cold of high altitude. I remember seeing a small group of mountain goats laying on an ice field in the shade of the peak of a craggy Alaskan mountain at an altitude of about 9,000 feet. The sun had come out and the goats, even at that altitude, on an ice field, in Alaska, had sought the cooler shade!

The North American mountain goat is a CXP2 class game animal. According to the research of Edward A. Matunas published in the Lyman 47th Reloading Handbook, Adult males goats average about 190 pounds in live weight, and adult females about 125 pounds. Very large males might reach 280 pounds and very large females 190 pounds. It is worth noting that goats are regarded as tough animals for their size, difficult to drop with one shot. Their nervous system is not very susceptible to shock.

Because they live in the most inaccessible terrain in North America, the mountain goat hunter would do well consider a specialized mountain rifle. And because such rifles are light, and often equipped with rather short barrels, these factors should be taken into consideration when choosing an appropriate cartridge. Cartridges of heavy recoil and/or severe muzzle blast should be avoided.

The prospective mountain goat hunter should also become familiar with the somewhat peculiar anatomy of the mountain goat. Speaking of anatomy, the cartridge recommendations that follow assume a solid hit in the heart/lung area with an appropriate hunting bullet.

Due to the goat's reputation for toughness, premium bullets are probably appropriate in the smaller calibers to insure adequate penetration. Bullets weighing 95-105 grains in .24 caliber and 100-120 grains in .25 caliber, depending on case capacity, would be appropriate. The larger standard calibers should do fine with standard soft point bullets, while the big case magnums, as always, require bullets designed for impact at high velocities.

Although long shots are not usually required in mountainous terrain, it seems reasonable to suggest that cartridges for modern centerfire rifles intended specifically for mountain goat hunting should be capable of a maximum point blank range (+/- 3") of at least 250 yards. The recommended cartridges all exceed that standard with appropriate loads.

I am going to separate the recommended cartridges into two groups. The first group are standard cartridges (and short magnums) suitable for use in mountain rifles with barrels as short as 22". The second group are magnum cartridges that require barrels at least 24" long, with 26" being preferred. As usual, I will not try to name every possible cartridge, but rather a representative selection.

Standard cartridges (22" barrel)

.243 Winchester, 6mm Remington, .243 WSSM, .250 Savage, .257 Roberts, .25 WSSM, .25-06, .260 Remington, 6.5x55 SE, 6.5mm Remington Magnum, .270 Winchester, 7x57, 7mm-08, 7x64 Brenneke, .280 Remington, .308 Winchester, .30-06, .303 British, 8x57 JS.

Magnum cartridges (24-26" barrel)

6x62 Freres, .240 Weatherby Magnum, .257 Weatherby Magnum, 6.5x68, .264 Winchester Magnum, .270 WSM, .270 Weatherby Magnum, 7mm Magnum (all).

Final comments

I have not listed any standard calibers larger than .30-06 and 8x57 or any magnum calibers larger than 7mm. Calibers more powerful than these are simply unnecessary, and can be a positive detriment. Heavy, long barreled rifles and outsized recoil can be dangerous in steep mountains where trails are nonexistent, footing is often treacherous, and shooting positions sometimes less than stable.

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Copyright 2006, 2010 by Chuck Hawks. All rights reserved.