Every guy that Cathy Percy knows is jealous, her husband said.
“Oh my goodness, yeah,” Eric Percy said. “She pulled it off.”
This year, Cathy drew coveted bighorn sheep and mountain goat tags after 12 years of applications and denials. The Billings West graduate, who at age 54 has retired to Bozeman, said the successful drawings weighed heavily on her mind all summer.
“I felt like I needed to try my best to fill both tags,” she said.
She succeeded in not only filling both tags, but doing so only a week apart.
The first to fall to Cathy’s hunting prowess was a Missouri Breaks bighorn ram that green scored 175, just shy of the Boone & Crockett Club record books because he had worn off the tips of his heavy horns. The minimum score to make the Montana record book is 175, but Boone & Crockett has a minimum score of 180 for bighorn sheep.
“I wanted to get my sheep first because I was worried about the weather becoming a factor,” she said. “I got my sheep in three days.”
Those weren’t three easy days, though. Cathy noted that the landscape they were hunting near Fourchette Bay along the north shore of Fort Peck Reservoir in Eastern Montana is steep country.
“That land is wicked,” she said, “down and up.”
On one of the four days spent scouting, they spotted 17 rams on private land, indicating the wealth of the sheep herd in the area. But the Percys were on a public land hunt in Hunting District 622, so they had to ignore the temptation of those private land sheep.
After hiking about 2.5 miles on the third day, they spotted two rams. While working in closer for a shot, the sheep took off running. Cathy shouldered her brother Michael Sampson’s .270 Winchester Short Magnum rifle and drew a bead on the second of the two rams. With one shot from only 60 yards away, the bighorn dropped.
“I saw the first one when he took off,” Cathy said. “He had longer horns but they were skinnier. The one behind definitely had way more mass. Another few inches, and he would have made the Boone and Crockett record book.”
It was a hot day when Cathy made her kill, and it took two days of hiking to pack out all of the sheep meat, hide and antlers. She “worried the whole night long” after the first trip, concerned that a predator might find and ruin the horns they’d left behind in a tree. But her luck held out, and the trophy was fine.
Western billy goat
After returning home to Bozeman, the Percys heard reports that the weather was about to get nasty in the mountains. So they telephoned Hell’s A-Roarin’ Outfitters in Jardine and asked if they could move up their scheduled hunt by three days. Owners Warren and Susan Johnson were happy to accommodate their guests, so the Percys went from the lowlands of Eastern Montana to the highlands of the Beartooth Mountains in a span of a few days.
“I can’t decide which hunt was harder,” Cathy said. “Getting to the goat was exhausting.”
A 15-mile horseback ride took the Percys in to a base camp from which they arose at 4:30 in the morning to ride again through the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness, just north of Yellowstone National Park. It was in the vicinity of 10,000-foot high Roundhead Butte that Cathy’s guide spotted a billy goat perched below on the edge of a cliff.
Even after two shots behind the goat’s shoulder it was still standing, so Cathy aimed for the backbone and dropped the reticent billy at a distance of about 125 yards. The guide told Cathy she didn’t have to scramble down the slope for a photograph of the goat that would measure 57 5/8 inches, he would be happy to bring it back uphill since she has a bad knee. But Cathy was adamant that she wanted a shot of the billy where he fell and before he was skinned.
“I’m going down,” she recounted telling the guide. “I slid all the way down on my butt.”
She joked that her husband “was trying to figure out a way to tell my daughter where my body was,” as she scrambled downhill.
“That goat was incredible,” Cathy said. “He was all furred up for winter, so his coat was awesome.”
The billy could also be the new state record Rocky Mountain goat. The minimum record book score for Montana is 47 inches, 50 inches for the Boone & Crockett Club. The old Boone & Crockett record for Montana is 54 0/8 inches on a goat taken by Jason Beatty in 1998 in Flathead County.
“It’s hard to get a goat that big in Montana,” Cathy said.
She had shot the bighorn ram on a Friday, Sept. 18, and dropped the billy goat a week later, on Sept. 25.
“I thought it was quite an accomplishment,” Eric said.
The duo has never hired a hunting guide before, preferring to do the labor themselves, but the work was just as hard on the guided hunt, Eric said.
“Getting up at 4:30 and riding horses, we just don’t do that,” he said. “We’re kind of done hunting for awhile because we’re worn out. We’re at the age where tromping around in the hills is getting tougher and tougher.”
The back-to-back successful hunts prompted a little jibe. Cathy said her brother’s rifle is seeing more action with her than it ever has in his hands.
To fill both her bighorn sheep and mountain goat tags within a week of each other is a feat few Montanans will ever have the opportunity to accomplish, if for no other reason that drawing both tags in the same year is like winning the lottery, twice. In Hunting District 329-20 where Cathy drew her goat tag, last year 321 people applied for 15 tags for a 15 percent success rate.
That’s actually pretty good when compared to the odds of drawing a bighorn sheep tag. In HD 622 last year 1,874 people applied for 10 permits, providing a success rate of .5 percent. That’s a slim chance.
Cathy will have the bighorn preserved as a shoulder mount. The goat will be a full-sized mount. She’s already tagged her trophy mule deer and elk, so now she’s looking to get other species to crowd their condo in Bozeman and winter home in Arizona.
“I’m going to draw a moose tag next year,” she joked. “And I haven’t gotten a bear or mountain lion. I’d love to get all of the Montana big game animals.”
Eric noted that for someone who took up hunting later in life, Cathy has “been catching fire with this hunting stuff the last few years. The way she took to it, it was obviously something ingrained in her.”