Lessons In Stone, By Andrew Horvath

 

It all started in the early months of 2018. I had a crazy idea to go chase stone sheep with a bow again, but my problem was a lack of bow hunting buddies that could get the time off. Last year was the first trip where I carried a bow in sheep country, though mainly to keep myself from shooting another one with a rifle. Most importantly though, it was my sheep hunting partner’s son that needed an opportunity at a ram. Our efforts and tactics were geared towards a rifle hunt and not a bow hunt.

With no options for a partner, I made the tough decision to plan the eleven-night archery stone sheep hunt as a solo quest. I knew very well what this would mean, it would require a heavier pack-in with the lack of shared gear, no ‘back-up’ if shit hits the fan. It would also involve a lot of talking to myself. I love to hunt by myself but usually end up going on two, maybe three-day trips — so this eleven-night option was unfamiliar to me.

My plan started out as it did for every other sheep hunt, I opened my computer to pore over my gear list spreadsheet. I usually make the changes right away after a trip so I have instant feedback and I don’t get bogged down with packing a bunch of ‘what-ifs’. Everything was in order and ready to get tossed in my pack.

Next, it was time to choose a location, and that was easy. I contacted a couple guys off the HuntingBC forums with questions and ideas, and I went over the maps and google earth. I didn’t spend too much time scouting as I had a pretty good idea that finding sheep in that country wouldn’t be too tough, finding a legal ram that makes a mistake would be the next to impossible challenge. Another concern of mine was going to be the crowd, I had read that some years 20+ guys will be in for opening… I took that as an opportunity to hike farther!

With my plans all coming together I talked the better half into helping me dehydrate all my meals. With that task done, it was now just a waiting game until I could start my journey North.

With my car packed and last few arrows flung in the backyard, I was on my way North on the 29th of July. I managed to get up to the trailhead in short order (16 hrs), the original plan was to hike in on the morning of the 31st but I was there on the 30th. The last decision that I had to make for my gear list was if I was going to pack a shotgun up or simply just rely on the bear spray. I hummed and hawed for a little while and ended up leaving it in the car. So just like that, I was headed into grizzly country armed with an old can of bear spray from 2004. I tied up the boots and started my hike. Up…up and then more up…

It was a very hot day, around 30º C to be exact, so the hike up was a little more exhausting than I was anticipating. I broke into the alpine after an hour and a half, and immediately jumped off the trail and started heading up to a peak that was recommended to me. It was more work right off the bat but it gave me the perfect perspective of the area as I needed to get the landscape and draws etc. pictured in my head. I sat up on that peak for a couple hours and glassed the entire area but only managed to turn up a few sheep here and there. It wasn’t surprising as the heat most likely had them all hiding… not to mention the bugs! Given the weather and bugs, I made sure that I checked both spots that they would be found; down low in the timber and up high on the tops of the surrounding peaks.

While I was up on top of the peak, I ended up glassing a few sheep as well as a couple other guys heading in for their crack at arrowing a ram. After a few hours up top, I started my way down and up the main route, which lead me right past the camp of the other two guys. I stopped to say hi and we chatted briefly. They had been in the area a lot and were more than willing to share some info with me, which was very much appreciated. I just love running into guys that understand that hunting is not a competition, but rather an experience you can share with others around you.

I ended up setting camp a little past them for the night as it was close to the only water source in the area. It had been a pretty dry summer up there so the creeks that normally had water were bone dry. After dinner, I walked over to the cliff edge to see if I could spot more sheep, as the heat was starting to dissipate for the evening. I ended up glassing and chatting with the two others for a while which was a really nice way to spend the evening. We managed to spot one lonely five-year-old ram half way up ‘ram castle’ and that was it for the evening. I turned in pretty early as tomorrow was another moving day/scouting day, no doubt be full of heat, bugs, hills and many km’s.

I woke up to the sun shining and the wonderful sound of buzzing mosquitoes outside my tent. After I cleaned out my eyes, I crawled out of the tent to get some water going for coffee and my birdseed breakfast mix. I then walked over to my glassing knoll overlooking ‘ram castle’ and immediately spotted a band of rams right at the summit. It was too tough to age them from my location a kilometre away but I could tell that there was at least one that needed a closer look. They were in a perfect position, right on top of a mountain with no chance to approach.

I watched them for a bit and then went back to the tent to get it all packed up as it was now ‘moving day.’ I took a long way around as I wanted to check out the entire area but no other potential shooter rams were spotted. I ran into and glassed up a few other groups once again but that didn’t bother me, as I had a clear plan in place. I needed to get over to the rams and get close enough to count rings — about 6-700 yards with good light through my spotter. The plan was to walk all the way around the complex and end up in the draw that ends below the rams. It took some time and as I approached the area, I was able to get a better view of the rams. Things were definitely looking promising for the opener tomorrow! I was able to count seven rings on a few of them with one looking like he had a lot of space for an eighth ring. He was going to be my focus first thing tomorrow morning.

As I dropped into the area and found a spot for my tent, the clouds and thunder started up. The storm was coming right towards me so I quickly pitched the tent, glassed the sheep and made sure I had my rain gear handy. The rams had moved down the draws off the summit to feed and then fed up to another bedding area. I made a STRONG mental note of the route they took and the time they moved as that might be useful for the coming days. I wasn’t able to age them that night as the light was fading — that would need to wait for the morning.

Just as I was getting settled in the spot, the storm was perfectly in line with my location. Just my luck… I see smoke!

On opening morning, I get up at the crack of dawn with high hopes that the smoke wouldn’t be bad and the rams would still be in the same area. I was in luck, they were all down from the peak and feeding in the green below. I watched them for a little while and they made their way back up in short order. I made note of the route they took; the same one they took the other day…

Once they arrived at the summit of ‘ram castle,’ I snuck down the valley to the closest rock formation I could find in hopes that I would be able to get glass on the big guy. I wanted to get him aged before I made any plans to go after him. I got very lucky, I ended up about 700 yards away from them and with the sun cresting the mountains in front of him, the light on his rings was perfect. I was able to get seven rings no problem but the eighth was a little more challenging to find. I had what I thought was eight, but wanted to make sure so I waited until he turned and I was clearly able to see the eighth groove that runs around the front of the horns.

It was game on! I snuck back out of the draw and back out of sight of the rams, my plan was to sneak up the draw and finally traverse across towards the base of ‘ram castle’. I would have a few exposed areas so that involved some belly crawling and slow movements but I was able to make it across without detection.

I knew the only thing that could screw me was the wind. Since they were going to come down in the late afternoon, I had no idea if the thermals would shift to be going ‘down-slope’ by then. When I got to my spot in the middle of the green area, the wind was coming up which I knew it would be. I positioned myself in some rocks in the middle of the draw and started the waiting game.

And a waiting game it was. I sat in the same spot for over four hours until I heard the first rock falling from above me. The rams were on the move! At that point, the wind was very mild and my ‘windicator’ powder was giving me a new direction every thirty sections, shit. I thought this would either work, or I’d blow them out.

As the rams started funnelling down to feed, they ended up right on the greenery to my left and right. It was intense, to say the least. Some of the younger five-year-old rams fed right up to me; to the point, I was concerned I was going to get stepped on and no farther than twenty yards!!! After fifteen minutes of zero movements — even blinking was slowed down — I finally saw a glimpse of my big guy. He was the last one to come down and he was on the move. All of the other rams were now below me and out of sight so I just had the big guy to concentrate on. Just as he stepped down off the cliff he started walking towards the top of the draw, he stopped. He hung up at forty-two yards with the only shot being a frontal. He was motionless, just staring down the draw. He must have caught a mild, mild scent as he was not coming down. All the other rams had zero concern with the swirling wind but this guy was a lot smarter. He stood there for about a minute and then slowly turned and walked back up to the top of ram castle. He was not spooked at all, he just figured something wasn’t quite right so the feeding could wait. During this time I could feel my heart pumping in my fingers, It was a rather intense moment as you can imagine.

The funny thing about this situation was that it turned out, two other groups watched this whole thing unfold from a ridge away. They didn’t know I was in the spot and had no idea why the ram turned and walked back up.

With the arrow back in my quiver, I made my way back to camp to ensure I didn’t spook anything in hopes they would be doing the same thing the next day. I relocated the rams from back at camp and settled in for evening behind the glass. What a great day. If the wind isn’t 100%, older rams will not be fooled. Younger seven-year-olds might walk by but those older guys will hang up.

The next morning I was really hoping to wake up and glass the sheep on top of ram castle once again. It was not the case, I pulled myself from the tent a little after 05:30 and gave the castle a quick glass to find it vacant. I then quickly scanned the area around me as I normally do and BAM!!! I see the tops of horns bedded about 200 yards away from my tent. Oh my goodness, can this actually be happening? I grabbed my spotter and crept over to a rock pile about 100 yards away from him to confirm he was the legal ram. Sure enough, he was!!

I got back to the tent and quickly gathered my bow and release and went after him. He was bedded in the perfect spot, strong wind in his face, knoll right behind him and all grass that was super quiet. I was easily able to get to forty yards, and that is where I stayed. I could have probably pushed the issue and got under thirty-five yards around the other side but I didn’t want to risk it. At this point, please keep in mind that I am still a rather green bow hunter with this being one of my first dedicated bow hunts ever. He was bedded and I didn’t know what to do, do I wait for him to stand or make the 40-yard shot in his bed? I tossed my binos on him one last second and that was all it took, he noticed the movement and up to his feet he went. He wasn’t startled but wondering what moved out of the corner of his eye. At that time I went to full draw, settled my pin on him and just as I was pulled through the shot, he bolts. He takes off just as the shot breaks and I couldn’t believe it, arrow smashed into rocks right behind him. The shot felt perfect but there was no animal where the arrow was heading… what a low I felt after that. The ram tucked down into the draw and that was the last I saw him that day.

I went back to camp and had breakfast and got my gear ready for a hike. My plan was to head south and check out the country that I hadn’t put eyes on. I spent a lot of time glassing the draw that the ram tucked into but I did not turn him up. I was afraid he was off to the next drainage.

I put in a good days walk and managed to find a few seven-year-olds around, but nothing that was legal. I had a great time exploring the country and checking all the little areas that I would normally find rams. On the way back towards camp, I ran into the couple guys from day one. I went up and had a chat about my few days and I heard stories about theirs. It was nice to catch up, share some laughs and talk about the plans for the next few days. It was an early night with me glassing ram castle into the evening, hoping that the band would suddenly appear. The only guy that showed himself was a little five or six-year-old bedded close to where I hid on opening day.

Today was going to be a big hiking day. I wanted to cover the entire complex and try and turn up some sheep. I figured if I covered enough ground, I would surely get into more rams and I was right. I found a few seven-year-olds pretty quick but then it got pretty quiet. I logged about 30 km that day, and much of it was up and down. I was very careful to pick areas apart and pay special attention when cresting ridges to peer into blind basins and draws. I knew that the chances of me finding sheep bedded in a small draw were pretty good but even with all the miles I put on, I didn’t manage to find anything legal.

It wasn’t a very exciting day other than the fact I got to see a lot of new country that had plenty of potential to hold rams. I ran into a couple guys once again and did a quick catch-up of what was seen over the last few days.

I arrived back at camp after an 11 hour day. I was pretty beat both mentally and physically. I spent a lot of time thinking about the last few days and the chances that I had at the ram. I kept on replaying those situations over and over again in my head, “what if I just shot, what if I got to thirty-three yards?”. It took a real toll on me and is just one of the reasons why people find bow hunting so addictive. It is truly an activity with huge highs and ultimate lows and very little can prepare you of the coming events.

The morning of day four. The roller coaster of emotions that I felt that day will be something that I will never forget. I got up a little later as I was pretty beat from the previous day. With the rams spotted on top of ram castle once again, I had high hopes of getting it done today. I was going to be very careful and ensure that there was a 100% chance of positioning myself in a good wind area.

I made my way up the ridge once again and snuck over to the same draw that they came down a few days ago. This time, I wasn’t going to position myself in the little rock formation because it didn’t work last time. I got to really thinking, I needed to be in a spot that had a very consistent wind if I wanted a good chance. Since the slope that I was on originally was East facing, it would be in the sun all day and the other side of the ridge would only have sun later in the day. There was a pretty good thermal coming up the East side as I approached once again as well as a thermal coming up the West side. With the rams going to funnel down right on top of the ridge, I had to make a decision, and quick. I thought to myself that being on the West side would make the most sense as I hoped that the thermals coming up would not be as strong as the ones coming up the other side so my scent would not get to the top of the ridge with both of the thermals colliding. It made sense to me and once again I got myself hidden thirty-eight yards from the two rocks that the sheep all came through.

I sat for 4 hours and waited for the blessed sound of rocks falling as the rams worked down off the summit. They came through the rocks I had set up on, and my plan with the wind seemed to be working perfectly as they didn’t seem to hesitate at all. I was expecting the big guy to come down slowly and cautiously so I would have a few seconds to get settled for the shot. After about ten minutes of rams moving down, I saw a glimpse of my ram. He was with three others and they were on the move down. I saw the ram enter the rocks and I lost sight of him for a second or two before he popped out the bottom. He emerged but didn’t stop, didn’t hesitate, just kept walking. I tried to get myself composed for the shot but one major oversight on my part made itself clear. I couldn’t get my feet into a stable area, I was tucked down amongst rocks and out of sight but as I stood up I struggled to get balanced. I was up, at full draw, sheep in the sight housing, steadying pins, and the shot breaks. I watch the arrow sail over the back, and off the rams go. I couldn’t believe this had happened. I ranged the spot where the ram was and it was about twenty yards, not the thirty-eight yards I was shooting for. I was so focused on making a good shot that I didn’t even realize the ram didn’t stop walking from the rocks and closed the distance considerably. I was not expecting to have to rush the shot, but once again, things were out of my control. On a positive note, my plan and location worked perfectly with the wind.

With the rams spooked, I went up to the area he had been standing in to try and locate them. They ran down the draw and were now at the bottom feeding. I couldn’t believe it, they seemed to have settled right down as if my shot didn’t even take place.

Now I thought to myself – what do I do??? Do I let them feed and relax fully? Set up thinking they will come back up? Follow them with distance to find where they bed? Well, the choice was easy, I glassed them from a ways away and planned on following them to hopefully see them bed or at the least know where they would be tomorrow.

I let them feed for a while and they fed right into a small basin that had a little water running through it. I had seen rams bedded in the area before and figured they would be bedded if I had any more luck. I snuck up on a cliff that stared straight down into the basin and from about 150 yards. I peeked over to see them all bedded. Oh my, I was getting a second chance today!

I had a decision to make once again, do I sit and wait or go after them? They were at the bottom of the basin, so no chance of shooting from the top but there was a very nice rock formation that I could use as cover to sneak over to just next to them. I dropped all my gear once again and dropped in under the cliff I was on. I didn’t count on bumping a ewe and lamb that were bedded at the bottom of the cliff but they just walked off. I waited for all of the rams to work up behind the rocks so I had a clear path along a sheep trail to the top portion of the rocks. The wind was good, and I mean really good. It was about a 20mph wind straight up the draw so no chance that would screw me over. I slowly made my way over to the rock and that is where I sat for a minute not knowing my next move.

I thought to myself, “Do I climb over the rock and take the five-yard shot? Do I sit and wait?” Once again, my rookie bow hunting skills were shining through. Although I am a rookie bow hunter, I do know sheep and had a good idea they were going to work out the bottom on an evident sheep trail so that is what I chose. Not thirty seconds later I see my ram on the trail right below me, he was the lead ram of a group of four. Luckily, I had already nocked an arrow and clipped my release to my D-loop. I ranged at forty-five yards and he was walking away. I came full draw, levelled the sight bubble and steadied my fifty-yard pin on him. He kept walking but as he was walking, I was counting his steps. Since the other rams were trailing him, they all stopped and looked at me which caused the lead ram to also stop and turn to see what was going on. At that point, I had counted fifteen steps from the location I ranged him at, and settled my sixty-yard pin on him, pulling through the shot. The arrow broke free and flew true and towards him. I heard a big thwack and saw blood right away. I hit him a little far back and looked to catch the far side lung as he was quartering away slightly. I sat and watched him run down the draw while pondering why my shot hadn’t been perfect. At that moment I realized that at this distance, I needed to take a twenty mph wind into consideration and I had not. Since he was bleeding and it was a solid hit I wanted to get another arrow in him. He had bedded about forty yards from the location of the hit but as soon as I saw him he saw me. He got to his feet and made his way to a green area on top of another cliff. I tried to get another arrow in him at that point but he worked over the cliff and down the other side, with only the sound of falling rocks filling the basin. I backed out and circled down under the cliff, searching for a solid twenty minutes (there is not much to hide in around there, all open rocks/shale). I was concerned, I couldn’t find any sign of him and was scared that he worked down into the timber below. As tough as it was, I chose to back out and circle around above and try and locate him from the top of the ridge with my spotter. Between each ‘bumping’ he had only gone about thirty yards, so I hoped he wouldn’t be far.

After the grind back out, with emotions running high, I got to the spot and set up my spotter and within minutes I had him located. He was about eight yards away from where I was standing at one point but in a hole that prevented me from seeing him. Emotions came out and I could barely keep my shit together. I was overwhelmed.

With it being 19:30 already, I made the decision to give him the night and go in first thing in the morning to pull him out. The last thing that I wanted to do was pack out an animal in the dark with a can of bear spray on my side. I got back to the tent, made dinner and sat. I can’t remember what I thought about but I do know that the events that happened that day will never be forgotten.

I was up early and with high hopes of getting to place my hands on my sheep. I didn’t sleep more than 2 hours the night before as I was so wound up from the day before. I started my trek down to the sheep all while making mental notes of the best route to come back up. It was steep, very steep and the rocks slid. I was a little concerned about getting out safely but figured I had a good route picked as I approached my ram. The ram was right where I had left him the night before, he was magnificent. Once I got my hands on him, I was able to age him at 9 years; I was in complete bliss. Not only did I arrow a ram but I also took the first archery animal of my life.

I caped him out in a hurry and left the bone in as the wind was heading straight down the valley. The valley bottom was thick and with the scent of fresh sheep carcass, I didn’t want to spend any extra time dealing with my ram. I packed him up, got to my feet and proceeded to try and take one step up while sliding back down ¾ of the distance. Oh shit, this is heavy and the ground is not solid. I kicked, crawled and climbed out of the basin and managed to cover the 300-yard distance in an hour and a half.

Once back at camp I made the decision to flesh out and turn the cape, debone the meat and try and pack out that day. I left camp at 14:45 with a full load of 130+lbs and many hills in front of me. It was a six-hour pack out, one step in front of the other, all while trying to gather the energy to keep going. I made it out before dark and welcomed the sight of my vehicle. I couldn’t wait to strip down, get changed and head straight for a burger.

It was a trip I will never forget and personally think it has ruined rifle hunting for me. The emotional roller coaster that is bow hunting for sheep can’t be described to anyone, you’ll just have to experience it for yourself.

Posted by Nolan Osborne