It’s July 29th at 8:00 a.m. and the phone rings. It’s Al, one of my sheep hunting mentors.
“Good Morning Tom, what time are you guys leaving this morning?”
This Morning? Holy shit! What day is it? How could I possibly be so mellow that I’m a day off on something that I’ve looked forward to all year?
“Thanks for the heads up, Al. I’ve got to go meet Jeremy or I’ll miss my ride. I’ll call you later.”
Off I go, shaking my head in disbelief. What a way to start a sheep hunt! Amazingly, I hooked up on time at our rendezvous location and we hit the road. 19 hours later we arrived at Muncho Lake. One leg of our journey was now out of the way and we grabbed an hour and a half of shut eye in the truck before the second leg started.
By 7:00 a.m. people were mulling around the parking lot of the airport. The doors finally opened up and in we rolled for coffee, breakfast and our flight itinerary. There sure were a lot of camouflage clad souls anxiously awaiting delivery to the lake of their choice. By 1:00 p.m. we were standing on the shore of our lake watching our pilot, Urs, lift off and fly away. The real adventure had begun.
We had been given intel about a certain trail to taske up the mountain, but unfortunately someone already had a base camp set up there. We had no choice but to start bushwhacking right from the start. We made it over the top of the first mountain, side-hilled around the second, bush-wacked up the third and, after several hours of torture, we broke out onto a small benched clearing. That was enough for one day, so we set up our camp.
While sitting around and waiting for our Mountain House to steep, a skylined ram showed off his hardware on the ridge above us. I spotted two more while glassing – another contender and a banana tip. The show was short-lived, however, as they went up and over the ridge. A fine way to start our hunt. Things were looking good.
The next morning we were up, packed and on our way early. We needed to go up through the area where we had watched the rams the night before. We wanted to skirt around the mountain, but it just wasn’t passable, so we went cautiously over the ridge. And, wouldn’t you know it? The sheep were right where we left them. All hell broke loose. The rams were dazed and confused and bumping into each other. After a little while, they finally got their bearings and continued their journey around the mountain.
There were definitely two contenders in the group, but we still had miles to cover, so we continued our trudge. We found a nice basin to camp in for the night and had a sound rest.
Pleasant weather greeted us the following morning as we crawled out of our tents and we went up the mountain to do some glassing. We found a band of six immature rams, ewes and lambs and lots of goats, but there were no shooter rams in the basin we were hunting. While on top of the mountain glassing back, I found the three rams from the day before out feeding in some buck brush flats. We decided to leave them behind as an ace in the hole and we packed up our gear and continued down the mountain.
It had been decades since any major activity had occurred in this area and the trail that we were following had become grown in. We wanted to maintain our elevation and decided to sidehill our way around to the pass. While caught up in the tangled bushwhacking jungle, I managed to get myself up into some rock bluffs. You know the ones? The kind that looks like the easy path and then, all of a sudden, you’re sitting on a ledge with a 60 pound pack on your back, rifle in one hand, hiking pole in the other all while telling yourself, “Get a grip, man. You’re not getting hurt today.”
We were somewhat beat up by the time we made it to the pass. I had a big, shiny blister and we managed to get the tents set up just before the monsoons hit. It rained all night long and off and on throughout the following day. I stayed in camp to rest and doctor my foot while Jeremy climbed the east mountain for the day. He found lots of sheep, but again no shooters.
It rained all night long until about 7:00 a.m., when we finally crawled out into the fog and had a coffee. We watched a band of ewes and lambs feed down the hillside just above camp then take a trail down one side of the saddle and up into the rocks on the other side. All of a sudden, the biggest wolverine I’ve ever seen rolls out of the fog, on a downhill lope headlong into the herd. I yelled at Jeremy to have a look and startled the wolverine. Off he ran. It was a super close call for the lambs.
Over coffee we discussed the eight some odd kilometres left to get to our “Ram Mountain”, how many days we still had left in our hunt, the weather and my beat up foot. Should we stick to the original plan and continue further out or drop back and hunt the rams that we had seen on the way in? Eventually Jeremy gave way to my rationale to head back, so we packed up and started back tracking. On our way back I found an awesome caribou shed, 25 points. Wouldn’t it be something to see a pair of those roaming the hillside?
We climbed the mountain and up onto a bluff that would become our new temporary home. It was about 4:00 pm by the time we started to set camp, Jeremy had his tent together and mine was half up when the real bad wind and rains hit. We battened down the hatches, crawled inside and boy did it blow. Although I was only about 15 feet away from Jeremy, it turns out my tent was right in a natural wind funnel. Live and learn.
Did I ever get hammered! I pulled my pack in and placed it against the prevailing wind side of the tent and sat with either my left arm or head up against the wall of the tent to keep it from caving in until I had no energy. Then I would sleep until I was woken by the brutal winds, and the whole process would start over again. The main pole was torqued sideways so badly that I was sure it was going to either splinter or just simply collapse, leaving me lying in pools of water.
Somehow the Big Agnes held together for the night and thank goodness for that. 11:00 a.m. brought a very brief reprieve. I cleaned out my tent, tore it down and moved it about 75 feet away from the edge to get out of the worst of the wind and we almost had it back up before it all started back up again. We scuttled back into our cocoons, happy to have some kind of shelter. The heavy winds and hard rains continued on until they broke the next morning. I’m sure there were many other sheep hunters caught up in that mother of a storm. It was brutal to say the least.
By 7:00 p.m. the storm finally broke and we crawled out of our caves, excited about the possibilities. We went off in separate directions. Oddly enough, nothing but goats were moving around on the neighbouring mountain and, after a couple of hours, we both ended up back at camp. I had located a couple of standing dead snags down in the valley below and suggested we drop down to start a fire and dry our boots out.
That turned out to be a great moral booster and, with warm boots and glowing hearts, we climbed back up to our camp. I noticed that my muzzle cover had been lost somewhere during my travels and thought that I had better take a look down the barrel. What a mess! As I was sitting there cleaning my gun, up pops Jeremy.
“Pssst!” and he nods his head, beckoning me to follow. I knew what was happening and didn’t need to be told twice. We rounded his lookout perch just in time to see the last of a white rump disappear around the distant mountain. The stalk was on!
As we were making our ascent, Jeremy reminded me to keep my breathing and heart rate in check because the sheep were going to be laying on the next ridge down. He told me to be prepared to shoot. I broke over the top of the ridge slowly. First my head, then my eyes, expecting to see sheep at any second, but the coast was clear. I crawled through the grass on my belly, sliding my rifle and pack in front of me. Jeremy followed right behind me. At the far left edge of the ridge was a thick patch of dwarf birch and, in the middle was buck brush, which faded away to grass off to our right. We snuck forward and to the right in order to peer through the brush. All of a sudden I saw them bedded 150 yards below on the next ridge.
I turned to Jeremy and whispered, “They’re right there.”
Out comes the spotter and the aging process began. Two legal rams and a banana tip lay before us. This was about to happen. All of a sudden there were two loud booms as two shots went off on a distant mountain. The sheep before us were immediately on their feet and moved over to the edge looking directly towards the shots. I was sure they were going to bail over the side, but, to my surprise, they settled down and went back to their beds. Two of them went back to sleep, but the ram I wanted bedded with eyes fixed directly on us. He knew something wasn’t quite right, but wasn’t very concerned. I slid my rifle up onto my rest, took a breath and squeezed the trigger.
In one fluid motion he reared up, pivoted and dove straight off the cliff. At the same time Jeremy told me to shoot him again because he was going to bolt. I knew there wasn’t any need for that. We gathered up our gear and headed down.
Jeremy got there first and yelled out, “Eight! Yahoo!”.
I circled this fine animal, taking it all in with mixed emotions flowing through me like I’ve never felt before. Finally, my quest had come to fruition. We reflected for several minutes and then dragged him back up to his former bed and had a proper photo shoot, paying homage to such a magnificent specimen in his mountain domain.
We then proceeded with the tasks at hand, loaded up and headed back to camp. When the meat and head were hanging, we had a quick bite and it was off to bed. Wow, what an incredible day.
So, as they say, patience is a virtue. After hunting Stone Sheep over a period of 36 years and 5 trips, I finally had my first Stone ram.
Upon arriving home and hugging and kissing my wife, she looked me straight in the eye and asked, “So, I guess you can stroke that one off your bucket list?”
I just smiled.