As I looked over all of my carefully laid out hunting gear, I didn’t really know what to make or think of this whole mountain hunting obsession. It was August 2008 when I got my first taste of the breathtaking sheep country and the beautiful Northern BC mountains that Stone sheep call home. By the time that first experience of bowhunting sheep came to an end, I can without a doubt say that that trip had changed not only me, but how I thought and felt about mountains, sheep and sheep hunting. From that point on, it was an addiction.
Over the past 8 years, bowhunting in the mountains has turned from a hobby to a complete obsession. My first time hitting the mountains with a bow in hand was exciting and completely overwhelming. All the things I was lucky enough to experience for the first time: spending numerous days and nights on top of a mountain, chasing Grizzlies away in the middle of the night that were so close we could literally hear them breathe and brush up against the tent wall, and, of course, being surrounded by Stone sheep. There have been more hunts since that first one, but I didn’t shoot my first Stone with a bow until 2013.
Hunting has always been a huge part of my family’s life, especially sheep hunting. Even my mom and sister have been on numerous mountain hunts. We all love it. I was lucky enough to be out with my dad on a 10 day adventure when he shot his biggest Stone sheep ram to date in 2012.
This hunt marked the first time since 2012 that I would be in search of a ram during the month of August. Last year, and in 2014, I found myself in the sheep mountains a little later on in the year, hunting the last few days of September and into October. This year I had booked the time off from work months in advance and John, a great friend of mine and co-worker, had caught my sheep hunting fever and had originally planned to join me. However, due to a work schedule conflict, he was unable to tag along. Just like last year, I was going on solo Stone sheep hunt (you can read that story here).
I’ve been asked a few times now if I prefer to hunt on my own, since I tend to do it often, or if I just didn’t have anyone to go with me? I do really enjoy hunting with others. It doesn’t matter if it’s with friends or family, it’s tough to beat spending time in the outdoors with like-minded people that live to do the same thing as me. But, at the same time, I also like the challenge and feeling of exploring and venturing into the backcountry on my own and hunting the mountains hard in search of sheep, mountain goats, whatever species it may be.
I packed my usual early season sheep hunting gear and proper food, looked at my Google Earth map of the area for the hundredth time and unwound that evening sending a few final practise arrows down range. Before the hunt began I remember feeling focused. The gear was packed up, the bow was dialled in and so was I.
I started my 10 hour driving marathon up north and couldn’t help but wonder about the area I decided to hunt. Did I pick the right area? Should I have gone to a sheep mountain I’d had success in previous years? Will I even find a way up the mountain through all the brush and shrubs I’ll have to fight my way through?
Only time will tell. All I know is that hunting new areas can be extremely difficult, but I was up for the challenge. I was ready to explore some new-to-me sheep hunting grounds.
The first few kilometres of bulldozing through willows were tough. Having small trees and branches snagged up on your pack every few minutes can get a guy upset pretty quick. I did my best to block out this whole bushwacking mess and told myself that I had to power through it and get above tree line. As I gained some altitude, the thick tree line finally gave me a huge break and it started to open up. The seven foot tall brush that towered over me started to fade, in half at first, and I was able to find a few great game trails that allowed me to make up some time as they guided me across “Grizz Heaven” and into the wide open, and amazing, Stone sheep country.
It felt great to get some kind of a break and to finally walk on flatter ground again for the first time in hours. Having only seen the area on Google Earth, I was eager to find a spot on higher ground where I could take a look at the mountain side in person for the first time. Before I even reached my first marked out camping spot, I spotted my first dozen sheep, a curious group of lambs and ewes. Seeing the first wild sheep of the trip, regardless of whether or not they are ewes, lambs or rams always gets me smiling. It’s a special moment for me because, at that point, I realize I’m lucky enough to have made it back to an environment I’ve been thinking and dreaming about every single day for the past year.
The sheep and I went our separate ways and I found myself on a heavily used sheep trail along the steep mountain side cliffs. I figured that, if I stayed on the trail, I would eventually get to my desired camping location. Keeping a close eye on the beaten down sheep trails that criss-crossed the steep terrain, I had the feeling that it wouldn’t be long before I saw more sheep. Within 15 minutes of hiking, I spotted a lone, younger, and full curl, ram. I’d only been on top of the mountain for about two hours and it already looked very promising.
The full curl was about 60 yards below me and had no idea I was there. I studied the ram for about 10 minutes through my binoculars, before I made up my mind to pass on this ram in hopes of finding a bigger one. I got to practise my stalking and managed to sneak to within 35 yards of the ram before getting busted. The ram headed down the mountain and I quickly found out why. He had four of his friends bedded on rocks, catching a few of the sun’s late morning rays. I was less than 70 yards above the band of rams and all eyes were on me.
I could clearly see that three out of the four were legal, but very similar in size to the ram I passed on. Although there wasn’t a shooter ram in the band, it was great to see this mountain’s sheep potential so early on this hunt. I continued to hike the trail and, off in the distance, I could make out a large number of sheep bodies. When I caught up to the insanely large bunch, I found a comfortable spot to lie down and I started my attempt to count all the sheep. I couldn’t believe there was 88 sheep all hanging out together more or less. Unbelievable.
I worked my way down a different sheep trail and followed it as it took me away from all the sheep madness I had going on a couple hundred yards ahead of me. Branching off onto yet another trail I managed to follow that up to a ridge that brought me to within about 120 yards of the group. I was hoping to get a nice and close look at the dozen or so rams to determine if any of them were legal. I found a spot with lots of cover, positioned myself behind a few massive rocks and, with as little movement as possible, started to size up the rams. One immediately stood out from the rest. The ram’s beautiful heavy horns and white-greyish face made him stand out from the rest. A nice set of identical, twisting horns stuck out about two and a half inches past the bridge of the nose on both sides, making this ram very impressive. I had my sights set on this monarch from that point on. I was willing, and ready, to dedicate this entire hunting trip to this specific ram.
As all my gear was still stored away in my pack, and the sun was slowly fading behind the cloud covered evening sky, I had to watch what these rams were up to. I needed to know what they would do before dark and, at the very least, I wanted to know which way they travelled to their bedding areas. Eventually, groups of ewes, lambs and younger rams slowly worked their way off the mountain’s plateau and into the steeper terrain and the band I was glued to did the same not long after.
Setting up a tent with a headlamp on isn’t as practical as having daylight, but I made it work. After all, I had nothing to complain about. I couldn’t have asked for a better first day. I had seen about a hundred sheep, including many legal rams, and, more importantly, I found the ram of my dreams. I settled in and got comfortable in my tent. I couldn’t wait to get some sleep and find out what day two had in store for me.
The following morning was cool. Everything outside of the tent was damp and the entire valley was covered by a thick blanket of fog that slowly crept along with the wind. I knew the fog would eventually start to rise up to my elevation and, before that happened, I wanted to get set up at the spot where the rams had vanished last night. I figured if I could find some cover and put myself into a good position, I’d have a good chance to shoot the ram I was now obsessed with. I worked myself into position and picked out a spot that I thought would give me good cover, a shooting lane and, once the fog cleared, a great view of the lower part of the steep mountain. If the rams didn’t work their way back up to me, I would be able to find them hanging out down lower.
Within about an hour, the fog started to lift and everything cleared up. It wasn’t very long before I spotted the rams bedded 300 yards below me in some nasty cliffs. The only way I was getting down to the rams was if I backtracked about a kilometre and took a sheep trail that was strictly meant for sheep. I decided to stay in my high spot and wait for the rams to make their first move. It wasn’t until past noon when any of them even moved and, finally, around 3:00 p.m. they seemed to get restless. Half of them were up on their feet and looked eager to get a move on. Within a few seconds of the big, heavy, white faced ram rising to his feet, the rest of the sheep proceeded to do the same thing. One by one they lined up in a single line and slowly made their way down the trail, following the lead ram into shade.
I didn’t want to force a stalk, I was certain of that. I preferred to anticipate the big ram’s moves and wait for them to work their way out of the cliffs and back up towards me. The hot August sun was something else that day. With very limited shade, I needed to make a move to a different area. I had to get out of that sun. On my second day of hunting I walked maybe half a kilometre. I watched the band of rams all day long, until the last half hour of daylight. My goal was to get into bow range of the big lead ram. How was I going to make that happen? Lying in the tent that night, I found myself going through the day’s videos and pictures that I captured of the sheep. That ram was really something else. I wasn’t even interested in sleeping. All I was doing was waiting for that first bit of daylight so I could get back out there and make something happen. Hopefully.
Morning rolled around quick. The wind had picked up from the previous day, but wasn’t too bad. I was grateful I wasn’t dealing with the chilly October gusts I had dealt with the last two years. I skipped the oatmeal breakfast that morning, throwing a couple Snickers into my pack instead, and headed out. I worked myself back to the same spot I had been glassing the previous day and watched the rams work their way up towards me. They were lower down on the mountain side than yesterday, something that had the potential to work to my advantage. I scanned the layout of the terrain with my binoculars and picked out a route where I could work myself down and, hopefully, use a giant 10′ by 10′ rock I had spotted as cover.
The rams were now bedded down in a fairly open area and the rock would put me within roughly 130 yards. Making sure the wind was in my favour, I slowly and carefully started my way to the big rock. I avoided loose rocks as I stalked down towards the rams and was actually surprised at how quietly and efficiently I was moving along. Taking it one step at a time, and doing my best to keep the noise to a bare minimum, I had reached the large rock. I peeked out from behind one side of the rock to get a look at the rams and ranged the closest one to me at 125 yards. If the Rams continued on the same trail and direction of travel, it would lead them right past me. The 60 yard mark is where I had the best chance at a shot. I waited for nearly three hours for the rams to stand up.
“Please move towards me,” I thought. Scratch that, I BEGGED.
After the sheep stretched their legs and fed for about 15 minutes, they slowly, but surely, moved my way. As they were grazing along the grass covered slope, my heart began to pound. I had my arrow nocked and my single pin sight set to 60 on my yardage tape. I hadn’t ranged the big ram at all since I made my way down to the rams. I just focused on keeping my movement and noise to a minimum. As I had hoped, the big ram was leading the way, with the others following close behind him and, best of all, they were coming right at me. It was perfect. I had a specific part of the sheep trail ranged and knew that, if the lead ram stopped for just a few seconds, I would have my shot. The rams kept coming closer. It was hard not to shake like crazy from all the excitement. I had my release hooked into my bow’s D-loop and I was ready to draw back and take a shot once I had the chance.
“Take ten more steps towards me, please!” I thought.
I don’t know what caused the sheep to do this, but, out of nowhere, they decided to run for 20 yards and stop slightly below me. I didn’t have time to range the big ram and I don’t think I could have without being spotted. Using my ranged out 60 yard location for reference, I drew my bow back, settled in and held the pin about five inches low on the big ram. At that very moment all set of eyes were turned towards me. I didn’t have too much time, but I felt great about taking the shot. The arrow flew true and I watched as it blew through the lungs of the ram of my dreams. It all came together on day three of the hunt. I was speechless. I didn’t know what to think or do. I just let myself fall back towards a grass covered hill. I had just arrowed an absolutely beautiful, heavy, full curl Stone. It was a dream come true.
After looking at, and handling, this great ram, I was simply amazed. I couldn’t believe it had all come together. I guess it was just meant to be and luck was again on my side. To this day I feel like the luckiest sheep bowhunter alive.
Getting everything packed up first thing in the morning was a little bittersweet, to be honest. I was excited, of course, and insanely happy about the awesome ram I’d arrowed, but I couldn’t believe it was time to leave this gorgeous sheep mountain already.
After a gruelling near 13 hour pack out, seeing wolves and Grizzlies down in the valley, (luckily far from me) I arrived at my truck. It felt great to drop the pack for the final time, kick off the boots and just try to wrap my head around what I had just accomplished. I was on cloud nine. Hitting the mountain backcountry in pursuit of sheep will always hold a special place in my heart. Every single thing about these adventures makes me want to go back year after year. It’s an addiction for me and many others as well. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.