This story starts nearly a year ago when a friend came back from a sheep hunt and told me stories of an excellent location, nice rams in tough terrain, and solitude in the hills. Over the past year we bounced around ideas and slowly started to settle on the idea of returning there together along with our wives. From the outset the idea was a tall order logistically, mostly because I’m still pretty new as a Cub pilot. I’ve been flying plenty long enough, but have only been doing off-airport stuff for the past year and a half after getting my tailwheel endorsement from another member on here almost two years ago. Still, I figured that with lots of effort and time in the field I could get my skills up to the task. My wife and I had originally planned on going with an air service into a different area this year. Both teachers, our start date of August 17th was the latest we’ve had in the last 10 years, so we knew we wanted to make a real effort this year to finally get her on a ram after many years of trying. We knew that going with an air taxi would probably be our best bet of getting into a solid area, but still…the idea of flying ourselves in really appealed to me. Ultimately, we decided that it would be a better investment to put that money into becoming a better pilot through lots of avgas and through a few improvements to the plane that my father graciously allows me to fly. Summer went according to plan for the most part, and I burned a lot of fuel and hours working up to the point where I felt we could actually pull this off. I visited the strip we wanted to hunt off of in late July, but still, with the opener approaching it was hard not to feel anxious about all the things that could potentially come up with such an endeavor.
On August 6th I packed the last of my gear and lifted off for the start of our adventure. I had hoped to put in a lot of hours that afternoon and get our camp established, but the winds had other plans. I ended up camping halfway there on another strip due to gusts that were exceeding 30. Nothing dangerous, but it wasn’t much fun and I decided that some rest was in order. The winds on the ground were a bit improved come morning, but the winds aloft didn’t abate much. For one two hour stretch I averaged 30mph ground speed, sometimes hitting speeds as low as 26mph. Time dragged on, but soon enough I found myself setting down at our base camp. It was hard not to be concerned about other hunters being in place, but I found the strip abandoned and set about establishing camp with a smile. Five hours later I began the process of ferrying my wife, friend, and his wife into our secluded mountain hideaway. It took some time, but that evening closed with smiles and high hopes all around.
The following morning we did some scouting around and soon decided to part ways and concentrate on separate drainages. My wife and I headed up valley while our friends climbed the ridge behind camp before descending into the next valley over. We would miss their company, but this area has fairly low sheep densities and we knew we’d be better off covering more ground. Our goodbyes and well-wishes shared, we laced up our boots, strapped on our packs and set off with sun on our shoulders. We didn’t know it then, but that fleeting bit of sun would be a rare thing in the days to come (though from the sounds of it, we had it better than much of the state).
Late that evening after many miles and much climbing, descending, more climbing, rock scrambling, and a bit of brush busting we found ourselves nearing the end of the valley. I kept expecting to see a ram around each corner we rounded, but it hadn’t yet come to fruition. We were close to the point of needing to set up our camp for the night, but we realized that if we could get to the next rise that our visibility off to the right might extend quite a bit. It had started spitting rain and we were getting tired and cold, so I set up our paratarp for my wife and quickly scooted around the corner to take one more look before figuring out camp. This is the sight that greeted me:
Actually, there were three rams in the group. I set up my scope on the one farthest right and worked my way left. Over the course of 15 seconds I scanned them – nope, banana ram….nope, a small 7/8…boom. That’s the one.
This was exactly what we had hoped for. In the past few years we have looked at more almost legal rams than I can recall. Some of them were soooooo close that I’m sure they were age legal and would probably even pass muster with some hunters. We’re not after numbers, but still, we wanted to be absolutely certain when we finally chased that first ram for my wife, and had just never before found one that was clearly legal without any doubt. Finally, this was that ram. I crept off the rock pile I was on, made sure I was out of sight of the sheep and then pumped my fist in the air. I knew my wife was looking through her binoculars, and it turns out I was right. I tried to play it off when I got back, but she knew from the smile on my face that there was every reason to stick around until opening day. Excited, nervous, and ready to rest, we quickly found a place to lay our heads for the next few nights.
The next day was wet. Wet, wet, wet. Ultimately that wasn’t such a terrible thing, as we didn’t have much to do but watch and wait. We spent the day alternating between watching the rams, napping, sitting underneath the tarp, and watching the pikas that chirped at us all around camp.
The only excitement of the day was trying to wave off two Cubs that circled around the rams three times while we were watching from ½ mile away. The activity caused the rams to move up into some pretty nasty escape terrain, but by late in the evening they had returned to feeding and seemed to be back to their normal activity. Sleep would be uneasy that night, as it was hard not to be consumed with dreams of what might come and of all of the various “what ifs” concerning the stalk.
My wife and I aren’t exactly morning people, so we weren’t sure exactly when daylight hit at the latitude we were at. We decided to set the alarm for 5am and hope for the best. It was a bit lighter than we would have liked when the bell rang, but our hearts were immediately lifted by the patches of blue we saw over the mountaintops. Excited to get going, we tried to be as methodical as possible - breakfast, double check the gear, a quick shared prayer and we were on our way.
About 10 minutes of climbing out of camp provided our first glimpse of the sheep. The young ram was visible and had moved a bit lower through the night and was in a position that we had hoped would provide a good stalk. I really need to emphasize the word hope here, as we really didn’t have a solid plan. Sheep country is open country by nature, but these rams were really, really exposed. The mountainside they were on was in full view of miles of terrain, and each side drainage seemed to curl around just so it would be in full view. We had discussed early on that it might be a slow day full of stillness and waiting, and that turned out to be pretty close to accurate.
After our first glimpse we climbed up behind the lip of a glacial moraine that I had hoped would give us cover for an extended distance. Unfortunately, 500 feet on it dissipated and left us with the option of descending about 800’ to a glacial creek below that we would need to cross. With the lovely combination of loose rock and nothing to obscure our movements, it seemed like a foolish option. Instead we decided to descend back the way we came and then some. It burned some time for sure, but 30 minutes and a fair bit of elevation later we found ourselves along the stream with no indication that the rams had noticed our movements from the next mountain over.
Now that we were at the stream, our concerns from the day before that it might prove to be difficult to cross came to fruition. It wasn’t super wide, but with the heavy glacial silt it was tough to gauge depth. More concerning was the fairly steep grade and the near-constant sound of rocks rolling down the stream. A few of our previous hunts have ended at such water, but my wife was undaunted and suggested with a smile that we move up towards the glacier to find a better spot. It took some time, but eventually we found a suitable crossing and eased across after changing into our water shoes (and stopping for a drink, of course!)
The next 30 minutes we climbed slowly and deliberately. It was the only place in the valley that was obviously obscured from view, so we worked from one moraine to the next, eventually deciding to climb to the high spot that the sheep had settled on when startled the day before which we hoped would provide a good view from which to spot and plan a stalk.
When we topped out we could clearly see the youngest ram, though the other two were out of sight. That was welcome news assuming that they weren’t too far away, as one set of eyes is certainly better than three. We slid off the cliff and began our decent, soon hidden behind a slight roll in the mountainside. I had hoped that roll would continue to conceal us for the rest of the way to some rock piles near the bottom, but as we moved down the young ram decided to go on a walkabout. Only a couple hundred feet down from our perch with at least 500’ to go, he walked out onto a raised knoll to feed. Why he chose that spot is beyond me – it was like browsing for food in a parking lot when an all-you-can-eat buffet is 30 yards away, but apparently there was enough green amongst the rocks to keep him occupied for a while. Quite a long while, actually. As he fed into view, the only option we had was to stop moving and wait. And wait. Annnnnd wait…. Other than a few whispers back and forth, the next 30-40 minutes consisted of about as much movement as a ground squirrel in January.
Up and down, left and right…each time we thought he was about to feed out of view, he’d turn around for no apparent reason and go the other way. It could have been much worse, though, as we had feared he would cross a small creek and continue out into the open from which there would be absolutely no hiding our presence. Eventually, though, he finally joined his fellow rams and allowed us to continue. We laid as flat as we possibly could as we slid further down, every once in a while catching a glimpse of white but feeling pretty sure that we weren’t being noticed.
Finally we found the sanctuary of a few perfectly placed rock piles that dotted the bottom of the mountainside. My best guess put us at 400-500 yards at this point, so things were getting serious. I couldn’t have imagined a few days prior that we would be in this position – on the cusp of a stalk on a legal ram – but here we were and the excitement level was running high. We worked our way carefully and quietly up between the rocks through a cut that was perfect for our approach, hoping that our quarry waited just beyond.
I should clarify here that we hadn’t actually seen the legal ram nor his 7/8 brethren since the previous evening. We assumed that they were close to the little guy, but really we had no certainty of this. Still, what could we do but push on? Hope is a powerful force, is it not?
Right near the top of the cut between rock piles we found a significant depression that seemed the perfect spot to drop our packs for what we hoped would be the final approach. I’ve made the mistake many times in the past of dropping my pack too early and having to go way back for it, but everything felt real and right in that moment. Our packs off, we started to inch forward. Not 20 feet later we saw the little guy, then a few feet further the first glimpse of white came into view. One more sheep became two, our hopes confirmed that the larger rams were still in the area. Hitting the deck, we whispered back and forth and soon moved forward on our bellies. Watching my wife move inch by inch is a sight that will stick in my memory for years to come. First one limb, then the other….carefully slinking forward, then moving her rifle carefully….lifting her head just a bit to check for alarm from the sheep, then another few inches. Slowly, deliberately we closed the distance a yard at a time.
Soon the ground started to roll away from us again, and we decided that we had met the end of the line. My wife has taken four animals previously, and while she’s made excellent shots on all of them, her longest shot prior to this was probably in the neighborhood of 150 yards. In this moment looking at the three rams before us it was obvious that we were a fair bit further, but we felt comfortable that it was still well within her effective range. Calm winds, unspooked sheep….now it was just a matter of time.
The young ram was still milling around, but seemed no wiser to our presence than at any point prior. The two older rams were lying down, with the legal ram facing almost straight away from us and the 7/8 ram facing straight our way. It’s hard to say whether he knew we were there or not, but he certainly spent a fair bit of time looking in our direction. So, like before, we decided to wait…and wait….and wait. Looking through the scope at sheep doing their thing is one of the best parts about hunting, but still, in time the wait became tough. After about 20 minutes my wife began to get chilled. I noticed her shiver and asked if she thought we should force the matter. She agreed, so slowly I started to wave my arm above my head. I figured it wouldn’t take much, but the middle ram just looked my way nonchalantly and….well, he did nothing. I tried a few more times, each time waving more emphatically, then decided to lift myself to my knees. Same story. Eventually, though, after a minute or two of waving my arms one ram began to lift his body from the rocks followed closely by the other. Still facing away, I whispered to my wife to get ready for when he stepped broadside. I didn’t need to say a thing – she clearly knew what to do. A few moments later and a couple shots from her 7mm-08 and the ram tumbled to the ground.