More general description of the mountain goat can be found on the category page: nature>critters>mammals>hooved>mountain-goat
Few people have observed the rut of Jánwu, Oreamnos americanus. It takes place mostly on remote mountain slopes, at the stormiest time of year. Doug Chadwick, in A beast the color of winter, 1983, wrote:
“It always seemed to storm hardest just as the rut was getting steamy, building to its climax.”
But sometimes you get lucky. When I first saw Bullseye, he had a bright red wound on his right shoulder—either from a tougher male or more likely an irritated female. Wounds from other males come mostly from ‘anti-parallel’ whirling, and concentrate on the butt. Chadwick again:
“The majority of horn contact I witnessed over the fall breeding period was not between rival males; it was delivered to billies by nannies they were trying to woo. . . I saw billies stabbed viciously in the face, neck, and shoulder by these queens of the mountain who acknowledge no king”
Bullseye peed in the snow, leaned to the side, and pawed mud over his belly and haunches, “to smell good,” as explained in Jim Easterday’s wonderful video. (If you like that one, he has many more on his website The Mountain Goat. Click on the Gallery tab.)
In following days, Bullseye ranged widely in search of nanny groups. In this 30-second clip, to check out the family matriarch, he struggles upward through snow that others, half his weight, mostly float over. Even her kid seems unconcerned when this 300-pound bruiser brushes by. If humans were as wise as Jánwu, there’d be no war, and our generals would be our mothers. (well, okay, skirmishes aplenty, and a war-dance or two: drag to 2:30 on Shaa Tlaax slider.)
Horn shape and size allows us to identify goats by age and gender. Most difficult are 2.5-year-olds. I’m guessing these two, flanking Bullseye in the above ‘poster,’ are young males, who grow faster and are already as big as the nanny. Because twins are rare in most populations, it’s unlikely they’re brothers.
Wondering if one of em might be the nanny’s son, I found yet another useful caution from Doug:
“At first I assumed, as have most observers, that the typical female-subadult bands were close kin—a nanny with her successive years’ offspring. But my marked yearlings and 2-yrs often ended up following 4 different nannies in 3 days’ time. . . Bands exchanged members . . . I eventually realized that goats remaining together longest were simply those with most compatible dominance relationships.”
After a couple weeks of observation, my impressions and expectations of the rut in Oreamnos have changed. Not only are big males calmer and less pushy than I thought; subadults and even kids show little concern at their appearance. This isn’t always true according to observers of larger rutting congregations. Aggressive encounters increase almost mathematically in proportion to group size. But large groups typify better-studied dry-range interior populations who remain high on windswept ridges when snow comes.
On the wet coast, where wind can’t remove soggy snowpack, Jánwu descends. Ideal winter (and rut) habitat is a summit-to-sealevel avalanche chute, maintained in lush, early-seral condition by perpetual disturbance. It should be rimmed by sheltering conifers on cliffy slopes >50 degrees, where goats can sleep away the blizzards, or dash to when headwall rumbles presage another freight-train powderblast.
In such habitat, Jánwu disperses into littler foraging pods. This fall, I’ve seen only one group with more than a single breeding-age nanny. Billies visiting these one-nanny congregations have so far caused none of the subadult “consternation” reported by interior researchers.