Man of Stone Part 1, By Kyle Crawford

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“Dad, he’s up. Get ready to shoot,” l told my dad as he took aim on the 10 year-old, full-curl ram we had been trying to get for two days, but let’s start back at the beginning of our journey into sheep country.

In 2011, after a successful stone sheep hunt with my brother, we could hardly wait to get back up there and do it all again. Three weeks after that trip, we took my dad on his first backpack hunt for mountain goats. He got his goat and, seeing how well he handled himself with the big, heavy pack required for these types of trips, I thought he could do a sheep hunt. We would just not be able to push the pace as hard as we would like since he would be turning 60 in December. The 2011 hunting season came and went all too quickly and it was now early 2012. The planning had begun on our next sheep adventure later that year. Our departure date was set, August 24, 2012, and we would try to be home and back to work September 6. Living in the Vancouver area of British Columbia would mean three days of total driving there and back, which would give us eight or nine nights in the alpine. The plan was set. My Dad and I were excited through the spring and summer as the departure date drew near. He had taught me everything I know about hunting, but had almost no experience backpack hunting aside from the short goat trip. It was time to repay the favor and help him try and get a stone sheep.

Me – 12 years of hunting. 3 backpack trips, 2 mountain goat trips, and 1 stone sheep trip. 26 years old.

Dad – 46 or so years of hunting. 1 backpack trip for mountain goat. 60 years old.

3

Friday, August 24, 2012 1:30 PM

I arrived at my dad’s work, with my mom dropping me off. She said goodbye and good-luck to us. We had stopped at Triple O’s before getting to my dad’s work. I picked up some burgers and fries for the both of us. I crushed that double-double burger waiting for my dad to finish up a few things while sitting in his truck, savouring one of the last good meals before living off of Mountain House and ration bags for eight to 10 days. We were on the highway soon after and on our way up North. When we crossed into the little town of Spence’s Bridge and passed the bend in the road, we spotted some big horn sheep on the side of the highway in the exact same spot where my brother and I had seen some the previous year.

“Maybe that’s a good luck sign,” I said.

“I sure hope so,” my dad responded. After a quick text to my brother, he said it was killing him not being on the hunt with us. My brother had just gotten a new job and could not get the time off work. He even texted back that it might be a good luck sign of things to come. We made it to Pine Pass that night and pulled just passed the summit on the side of the road for the night.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

We slept for about five hours with what sounded like a million semi trucks trying to drive right through us. We got back on the road well before the sunrise, with a quick stop at a Timmy’s in Chetwynd, before our next stop in Fort St. John for fuel. Once we had fueled up, we were back on the Alaska Highway and up to cruising speed. Fort Nelson was our last stop before the secret location where we would park the truck and start to hike. After an uneventful, and long drive, we arrived at our destination along the highway in the afternoon. It took about an hour and a half to deal with a couple of small things on our packs and secure the truck for our departure into the wild. Our packs were around 80 pounds each. I was using a Tikka .300 WSM light mountain rifle, my dad had a Tikka .338 mountain rifle, both of which were being carried in our hands. The first part of the hike included roughly a 400-500 foot hill that was pretty damn steep. The old guy, my dad, was huffing and puffing when we reached the top, but nonetheless, he made it. We hiked for about two and a half hours and came to the creek down low in the valley where we would set up camp for the night. After some Mountain House, beef jerky, and a couple of hard candies, that was it for the night and we crawled into our tent.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

We woke up around 7 a.m., not that early, just trying to keep a pace my dad could handle. I didn’t want to overwork him. We were packed up and pounding the dirt around 7:30, but not before watching my dad try to get the pack on without help. He wanted to learn how and it was pure comedy to watch as he almost fell over a few times. Four hours later we were breaking through the last of the trees and into the lovely scrub brush and blueberries. An hour into this, after only one break, we found a spot to sit down and take the packs off for a few minutes. There were a few caribou around, but neither of us had seen any bulls. I started to devour blueberries. I must have picked ten handfuls worth and, although it seemed time consuming, it was definitely worth it because they were so damn good. After our 15 minute break, we pushed on towards where I wanted to set up our first camp an estimated hour away. We were coming into the part of the hike I liked to call “the rollercoaster”. 30 feet down, 40 feet up. 20 feet down, 20 feet up. 30 feet down, 30 feet up. This went on for about 10 of these repetitions. It was sure a killer on the legs after hiking for five and a half hours already. My dad was starting to get pretty tired at this point. I can always tell because he starts to swear a lot.

“Son of a b*itch! You are killing me Young-son,” his nickname for me. “Where are we setting up the tent?”

“About 30 minutes from here,” I reply.

“I’m just about spent.”

“Yeah, yeah,” I laughed. “We are almost there.”

We made it through the last of the humps and, after that, it was fairly easy going until we reached the creek bed where we were going to set up camp. There were no good spots to set up a tent, except for one spot that was just big enough. It had small, flattish rocks instead of the baseball to basketball sized ones. We brought a couple of small blue tarps to put underneath the tent, so it would be more protected from a puncture. We unloaded our gear, set up the tent and sleeping bags, ate lunch and had a bit of a siesta for about an hour or so. It was hot out, not a cloud in the sky, and probably around 25 degrees (Celsius). I could not handle it any longer in the tent as it felt like a sauna in there. My dad was already loving the Neo Air Thermarest he was lying on compared to a little twenty dollar, foam piece of garbage he had used goat hunting last year. I started to organize my pack for an evening hike and hunt up the drainage. My dad got out of the tent and started to do the same. Two hours later we found ourselves cresting a ridge and looking into a nice drainage with a beautiful set of waterfalls. It took only minutes before we spotted some sheep. They were down low and feeding near the creek running down the drainage.

“It’s incredible how camouflaged they are. I’ve never seen anything like it,” my dad said.

“Yep. This is the way it will be the entire trip, unless they are moving which will make them a bit easier to see.” We spent an hour or so here watching the ewes and lambs before hiking up to our right which took us past an awesome waterfall and into another drainage, this time, loaded with sheep. These sheep were feeding near another creek. Lots of ewes and lambs, along with a few young banana rams. I counted seventeen sheep. They saw us and started to walk away up some cliffs and out of sight, deeper into the drainage. We hung around a little while longer without seeing anything else.

“Where is shale camp from here?” My dad asked, referring to the camp where my brother and I set up on the trip last year. I point towards it and describe how to get there. It would not be easy for him.

“Son of a b*itch,” he replied. “I don’t think I can do that.”

I knew that’s where we would have to go to find some rams as I still thought they were higher up. I had to come up with a plan. It was a long, long way to shale camp and we are already a long way in from the highway, not to mention a bunch of uphill through scrub brush and then climbing a mountain at the end.

“What if we pack up a couple days of food, come here tomorrow morning, and stay a night where we are now? Then we will go from there? I’d like to wake up right at the base of this drainage instead of having a two hour hike,” I asked.

“I guess we can do that,” he replied. We made our way back to the tent before nightfall, got into the sleeping bags and called it a night.

5 Monday, August 27, 2012

We woke up at first light and went right to work packing our bags with everything we would need for two days, including a smaller two-man tent. We were soon headed back up the drainage with most of our gear. It took about two and a half hours before we neared where I wanted to set up the tent. I looked to my left and there was a young ram staring at me 150 yards away, beside him a lamb and ewe were bedded down. I skirted around some big rocks to my right to get out of sight, to try and keep from scaring them away and continued uphill for a few more minutes, where I found a nice flat spot to set up. We took most of our stuff out of our packs to lighten them up, before hiking around to look for sheep. We started hiking and making our way deeper into the same drainage from the previous night. After about an hour of easy hiking, and some not so easy side hill rocks, we crested a little ridge and sat down overlooking a beautiful, turquoise pond. We took out our glass and started scanning the hills. It took a little while, but we finally saw the camouflaged sheep. They were bedded down high up the mountain in some cliffs and perches where a tiny waterfall was coming out of the mountain. An absolutely perfect spot for them to be safe in. Nothing, and no one, could ever make a stalk on them there. It didn’t matter though. We had determined that they were the same group we had seen the night before, just a couple of young rams, ewes and lambs. We hung out here for a little bit before making our way closer to where we unloaded our gear to check the other drainage from the night before. It didn’t take us long to get there, but we didn’t see any sheep after an hour or so of glassing, so we made the short walk back to our stuff. It was another gorgeous day out, and hot as well. We set the tent up as another afternoon siesta was in order. Remembering how hot it had been in the tent the other day while napping, I came up with a plan to set up the Sil-Tarp for shade, but still have lots of air circulating. This took a bit longer than expected because the ground was so soft, but we finally managed to make it secure with rocks on the pegs.

We dozed for a couple of hours, with the wind picking up considerably and making quite a bit of noise on the tarp. After the rest we had a quick meal and went back out for an evening scout. Five minutes into walking, a bull caribou was right in front of us. Just a small one, but he sure didn’t mind us, and came to within 25 feet. He kept on walking the way we were planning on going, but we went that direction anyways. After turning a bit of a corner on the side of the mountain slope I heard my dad say something behind me. Or was it a loud fart? I wasn’t quite sure. As I spun around, about to say something to him, I see a baby sheep right behind him and it’s “bahhhhhing” away.

What the hell? I thought to myself. I had not expected to see this. The sheep was literally five feet behind my Dad and it had obviously never seen a human before. My dad stood still as the little guy slowly walked around him stopping a bunch of times to look at us with a curious look on its face. I managed to get the video camera out, but not in time to see when it was really close to my dad. After letting out another “bahhhhh” the lamb walked off towards a bunch of sheep a few hundred yards away feeding in the creek. We didn’t know why the sheep had separated from the rest of the group, but it was a cool thing to witness. The cute little bugger headed off and we decided to sit down for a little while. The rest of the evening was uneventful.

On our way back to camp I said to my dad, “You know we have to go up to shale camp right? The rams are not down this low yet.”

“Yeah, I know. I’ll be able to make it.”

Yes! I thought to myself. My plan had worked, we had not been hiking around that much the last day and a half and his batteries had recharged a bit.

6

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

We woke up the next morning and saw the same group of ewes and lambs we’d been seeing for the last couple of days just a couple hundred yards from our tent. We did a quick one hour walk to check out our two drainages, then it was back to pack up our spike camp. I wanted to be on top of shale camp by dinner time.

We packed up and headed back down to our river camp, pleased to see that the tent we left was still there. We ate lunch and repacked all our gear, took food for five days, and left a bit behind for when we came back. Just like last year, five days of food, balls to the wall, we would not come back from the mountains of shale and see grass again until my dad had his ram. We set off for shale camp around noon. Instead of putting our crocs on and crossing the creek right here like we did last year, I decided it would be better if we headed upstream a fair distance until the creek thinned out and we could find somewhere to cross since we had to hike that direction anyways. Eventually, the creek was narrow enough that we found a spot to cross and then we had to hike up to a bit of a ridge through scrub brush and connect with a caribou trail. For the next hour or so it was easy walking until we dropped down a little bit to another creek where we had to do some pain in the ass bush whacking through some kind of alpine tree/bush with thick branches. It only lasted ten minutes, but it was not fun. We made it through the thick stuff and started to slowly climb uphill again. After a couple hours of gradual uphill through scrub brush, we were now in mostly grass and rock. We took a “pack off” break and had a little snack. Over the past few hours, ugly clouds had moved over top of us, and the wind had picked up. It looked like our stretch of nice weather was about to run out. After a 20 minute break we were back at it, knowing the hardest part was still ahead. I started to feel a few sprinkles of rain on my hand.

I hope this is all it rains. We have about two hours of hiking left and all the rain gear is packed away, I thought to myself.

As it started to rain harder, the hill, now a full-fledged mountain, got steeper. Just as I crested a bit of a ridge overlooking a more flattish spot, I thought I saw movement. I did a double take and quickly realized that it was a sheep. I quickly got glass on the now apparent ram.

“Dad! Rams! Get down!” I loudly whispered and gave the hand signal to get down. The ram was only about a half curl. Damn. I immediately started looking around for more rams and quickly spotted three more. They were starting to move away and uphill from us, when we had first spotted them, they were only about 150 yards away. Two of the rams were close to full curl. “I need the spotting scope, take it out as quickly as you can,” I told my dad. It was difficult for him to quickly get it out of a fully packed bag, but he managed and passed it to me with no tripod.

It will have to do for now, I thought to myself.

The sheep were 300 yards away now and still moving up the mountain. I rested the scope on my pack, set it to 20 power and could definitely see that there were two close to full curl rams, but the angle I had was not good for determining if they were or not. 400 yards now and I still couldn’t age them. The scope was a little too shaky and they were not stopping whatsoever. I made the call to relax and that we did not have a confirmed shooter in the group.

“How’s that for excitement?” I asked my dad.

“I had the scope on 12 power and all I saw were horns and thought we had a shooter for sure. What a nice looking animal, though. But damn, that would have been a great spot to take one,” my dad said.

“Yeah. Tell me about it. Now we have to go to the top of this mountain to shale camp, an hour and a bit left to go,” I reply.

We got our packs back on and started up the mountain again. The last hour was very, very steep and rocky. It was basically a one or two foot step-up every time and was a major burn on the quad muscles. I knew my dad would be huffing and puffing on this one. I pushed up a little before him because I wanted to film him coming up the last little bit. I was happy to see that the flat spot my brother and I made the previous year was still there. I turned the camera on and filmed my dad coming up the last little bit. What a trooper, but definitely huffing and puffing.

“You are going to kill me son,” he said, out of breath.

“Man up, dad. The sheep will make you work for it. There are no ‘gimmies’ in sheep hunting.”

“Just put me within 300 yards of one.”

“Oh I will because we are not going home until it happens. Work is not a factor.” (Although work actually was a factor, he had to be back to work September 6th. I was just talking big.) We spent the next hour setting up camp here and then it was an early bed time. I thought about climbing up the ridge 300 feet above to look onto a nice bench above the drainage on the other side of the mountain, but I was a bit lazy and tired so decided to pack it in early and get a little extra rest. A quick call on the Satellite phone back home confirmed that there would be rain tomorrow. My brother did not let us hang up either. He needed to know every detail: what we ate, where we exactly walked, literally everything. It was killing him not to be there.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

We slept soundly through the night and woke up to a cold, dark grey sky. The weather was definitely not looking good, but at least it wasn’t raining…yet. We packed our bags for a little hike, just to the top of the mountain 500 feet above our tent and checked out a couple drainages while we kept an eye on the weather. It was very windy and very cold. Walking wasn’t too bad, but sitting down for a little bit while glassing was pretty nippy. We checked out a couple drainages, but did not see any animals. They were probably being smart and staying out of the wind somewhere. It started to snow after a couple of hours. We were at 7,500 feet, so that was to be expected. The ceiling dropped lower and the snow started coming down heavier. Visibility dropped and it was time to head back to camp, since we couldn’t see anything anyways. We were back inside the tent at 10 a.m. It was a good thing we had a pack of cards because we were in there until the next morning. Another good thing was that the snow didn’t really start to stick until around 6 or 7 p.m. If had started sticking when it first starting snowing, we would have woken up to a foot of snow. It was a recharge-the-batteries type of day in the tent and beating my dad at Rummy made it more enjoyable. We are a very competitive family.

8

Thursday, August 30, 2012

We awoke to a nice coating of about four inches of snow. It was amazing how different everything looked when it snowed up there. It might as well have been a different planet and it already seemed like a different planet to begin with. We got our things together for a day hike and headed up the hill, the goal being to head towards where the rams from the other day had been and to go up and over the mountain to scout a couple of drainages in that area. 10 yards from the tent there were some very fresh tracks in the snow. To my surprise they were not sheep tracks, they were wolverine tracks. He or she would have cruised by not much more than an hour before we got up. I had never seen a wolverine before, nor the tracks of one. We continued to walk in the now transformed white world and found that side hilling on sheep trails is not any harder with snow, or without. I thought it would be much more slippery, but we tracked pretty well. A 45 minute hike from camp put us just below the crest that would overlook the first basin. It was the same drainage where I had shot my ram the previous year with my brother. We took our packs off and crept up and over the edge to get the view we needed. We set up our binoculars and spotting scope. After two hours of glassing and/or waiting for movement, I decided it was time to move on. I only took about 30 steps before I decided to take one last look down where we were looking for the previous two hours. As soon as I put the binoculars to my eyes, I thought I saw something. I didn’t even get settled in a proper stance to look, it was just supposed to be a quick check, but I thought I saw something. I steadied my balance and looked again. Sheep! And I’m pretty sure I saw good horn with my non-expensive 10 x 42 Bushnell binoculars from about 1,500 yards.

“Dad, I’m pretty sure I see a ram,” I said.

“Really?”

“Yep, get the spotter out.”

Once again, we took off our packs and I set up the tripod and spotting scope. I looked through the eyepiece, zoomed it out to 20 power and adjusted the focus.

“Yep! Big ram! Yeah baby!” But before I could zoom it up closer for a better look I saw another sheep. “I see another big ram!”

“You are not sh*tting me, are you son?”

“No. I’m not and I now see a third and fourth. Wait. Nope. I count seven big rams. Holy sh*t this is awesome!”

My heart was now going a thousand miles a minute. In total there were nine rams, with at least three of them that were about full-curl which needed closer inspection. Four of them were just under full-curl, one half curl and one banana ram.

“Any shooters?” My dad asked.

“I don’t know yet. I need to watch them for a while and figure this all out. My brain is in overload, I’ve never seen this many rams before in group. This is awesome!”

The rams were just feeding and slowly moving up the drainage, which was towards us. I wasn’t expecting them to come close to us, but they were, in fact, slowly coming closer. For the next two hours we sat there and took turns at the spotting scope. Something cool happened next. A caribou was walking up the mountain right towards us. A small two-point bull caribou in velvet. He ended up coming to within ten feet of us with not much of a care in the world. I got amazing video footage of him too. As he walked passed us, we saw something moving on the snow-covered mountain-side. Getting my binoculars out it showed that it was a grizzly bear about 1,000 yards away from us. How cool was this? A Bull caribou at almost petting distance, a grizzly bear and lots of rams all at the same time? After the excitement died down we went back to glassing the sheep for another three hours. Since our arrival at the ridge five hours ago, I had been sitting on snow and not moving for the longest time. I didn’t think about anything other than sheep and, when I had to get up and take a leak, I realized my ass was completely numb. I hit it as hard as I could, nothing. I felt nothing.

Well, I guess the feeling will come back eventually. I hope… My dad took his turn with the spotting scope while I geared down to my underwear. Over the morning, the clouds had moved out and there wasn’t one to be seen in the sky. It was warming up, so I put the three layers of pants that were soaked to dry out in the sun. I brought out my Sitka raingear and sat on that.

Should have done that in the first place Kyle. You’re an idiot. A few more hours went by. We checked out all the sheep and we were going to try to make a stalk. We knew one was definitely worth getting closer to.  I put my clothes back on, which were now mostly dry, and continued to look for another half hour or so.

I came up with the best possible game plan for this situation, and it was risky. All the sheep were bedded down and the way they all positioned themselves, they had 360 degrees of coverage. They were right in the middle of the drainage. We could not go around any mountains and come up behind them because we would still be too far away. The only option was to go side hill to our left and try to make it to a ravine that came up behind them while staying near the top of the mountain and hope that we would be far enough away to not scare them off. Like I said, it was risky. Sure enough, even while being quiet, they had locked on to us with their amazing eyesight. We still tried to make it to the ravine, where we would be out of sight from the rams and we could stalk within shooting range, but the rams got up and started to slowly trot away, even from 1,500 yards. We sat down and let them calm down, since they hadn’t moved too far and were not really spooked. They had taken up a position on the opposite side of the drainage, which I thought was a stalkable position. The only bad thing about that was that there was not enough time left in the day to do so.

“Let’s hope they stay there for the night and we can find them in the same spot tomorrow,” I told my dad. “If they are not there we will go to a good spot I know and maybe find another ram.”

“Alright, that works for me,” he said. We started to follow our path back to where we previously were watching the rams on the ridge for most of the day. 30 minutes later we took one last look at the rams, who were still watching us. They looked calm and content where they were. We crested over the ridge and got out of sight from the rams as we hoofed the last leg back to camp before nightfall. I hope those rams bed there tonight and we can pick them up again in the morning. We had a quick Mountain House meal and were off to bed dreaming of rams.

Continued in Man of Stone Part 2

9a

 


 

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