I'm sure it would be difficult to get any sympathy if I explained my frustration with securing a top-notch mountain goat trophy. Ten goats in thirteen years were required to finally get the mount that would allow me to retire from the sport.
It took a few years to realize the difference between an average mount and a good one. Like a meticulous fly-fisher, I began to get fussy about the billies I concentrated on. A true goat trophy takes three elements to qualify as exceptional. It must be a big billy, with long hair, that doesn't get damaged in a fall.
One piece of the puzzle was always missing. The biggest problem I had to deal with was an early season in the mountains of Alaska where I hunted. The season closed a couple weeks too soon for a really nice cape. The other setback was hunting in areas accessible by highway. Mature billies were hard to come across, or spent most of their time in cliffs so rugged that damage to the horns and cape was almost certain.
In 1988, I thought the search was over. I harvested a six-year-old billy, with 9-3/4-inch horns, in late October. The coat was fresh, long, and in superb condition. Then the taxidermist told me he'd have to use a nanny form instead of a billy because the head was so small. I put the horns on a temporary plaque and kept hunting.
I began to put more money into getting off the beaten path, looking for areas offering late hunts. My efforts led to coastal hunts on mountains facing the Gulf of Alaska in the waning days of October. Persistence paid off, and I eventually harvested a nine-year-old billy. The horns came up a little short of 9" so I took the longer ones off the plaque and used them.
The resulting mount represents the best trophy I could've come up with. The combination chronicles my two most successful days in an endeavor that spanned three decades starting in the 1970's. This quest for the exceptional billy kept me in top physical condition year round for a long time. The combination mount also helped me realize there are other animals in North America that offer the same opportunity.
Montana has been my home for most of the last decade. I quickly learned antelope are really fast, faster than a bullet on a good day. I also learned they are more correctly named pronghorns because they have no ties to Africa, or anywhere else.
Diverse neck and facial markings make pronghorn bucks perfect candidates for combining capes and horns from two animals. The cape should get almost the same consideration as their horns. Few animals offer as much facial variation as pronghorns. From a distance the herd buck can be distinguished by its dark face and jaw patch. Lines running along the bridge of the nose account for most of the differences in mature bucks. Jaw patches also vary in size and color on every individual.
After hunting the same pronghorn area for several years, I've secured a good cape but finding a 15" buck doesn't seem to be in the cards. Bucks attain good body size, but either their horns stop growing at 14" where I hunt or hunting pressure is too high. It's time to study harvest reports and focus on a new area. I'll probably end up with a better mount and two successful hunts will be intertwined.
If you don't live in a state or province with pronghorns, you may want to consider a non-resident hunt for one. Tags are inexpensive compared to other species, and quota's are generally liberal. A week of stalking the prairie speedsters is a week well spent.
Caribou hunters often have the opportunity to combine two bulls for one trophy. Many areas in caribou country offer two tags per hunt. Alaska offers non-guided hunts to non-residents, but Canadian provinces require a guide for all big game.
Getting a bull with impressive headgear isn't always a simple matter. I know many hunters who ended up disappointed because they overlooked one of many aspects that make up a good bull. Caribou move across the tundra deceptively fast even when they are not aware of danger, and it's easy to forget about looking at the top and bottom of the rack as a mature bull passes by.
With the benefit of two tags it is possible to get a second chance. Caribou capes vary enough to receive attention. When you've harvested a bull with antlers you're satisfied with, concentrating on a bull with a dark face and silvery mane may improve the end result of a memorable hunt.
Our hurry-up modern world doesn't allow time to wait for much. Luckily, hunting still requires patience. Good trophies don't happen overnight, and taxidermy shouldn't be any different. I'm reminded of a guy who hunted bighorns over twenty years before settling on a book ram. Combining two animals requires a little of the same kind of patience, and will add more enjoyment to your hunting.
For a complete line of taxidermy supplies and information, try Van Dykes Taxidermy, Located in Woonsocket, SD.