We spent the last two hours skirting ridges, having to backtrack two miles through steep terrain, and then belly crawling to get to within 200 yards of a group of ewes and lambs that had a few sublegal and one legal ram mixed in. Of this group of 25 sheep my dad and I had slithered our way into I could only see one of the rams and it was the second biggest of the group, a nice ram but not quite legal, the typical ram of all my other hunts. I set up my spotting scope and just watched this one sheep knowing that it was just a matter of time till the legal one I knew was there would stand up and give me a shot. We had a couple hours of daylight left and I was content to just wait and see how it unfolded. I was now within range of the first legal ram I have ever even seen while on any of my previous sheep hunts. I was about to make a dream come true and I was doing everything I could to calm my nerves in preparation for the shot I was sure to come.
We had been in position for only about ten minutes and I was having my tenth look at the sublegal just a short distance away wondering how long it would be till the legal one stood up when I hear my dad to my right say "grizzly". At first I was thinking that he seen a grizzly on the opposite mountain and as I started to look across the valley for it I asked where it was and he motioned to our right. I look over and there 150yards away is a grizzly feeding and walking over the rise straight to the sheep. He was going to spook the sheep and run them off there was no doubt about it and all I could think of was what are the odds, all the time, all the miles, the blood sweat and tears, the money spent sore muscles, blistered feet, and the frustration to finally get to within range and to have it ruined by a grizzly that showed up out of nowhere.
A little over 23 years ago I was 12 years old and I had hiked up a mountain with my dad to an area that he had pulled a ram out of a few years earlier. We had stalked to within 200 yards of a group of five rams feeding in a chute and one of them was about half an inch from being legal. We watched those rams for hours and no matter how hard we tried we couldn't make a hundred percent sure he was legal and we didn't want to take the chance. We hunted this place a few more times but never again seen anything close to legal. I can remember looking through the rifle scope of my mom's 243 I had borrowed and remembering how beautiful they were and it was on that hunt I vowed I would someday get my hands on one of those animals. I never would have guessed it would take me over two decades, and ten hard hunts and a few hunts that got weathered out to compete that quest.
It's been two years since my last sheep hunt and it wasn't looking like I was going to be able to make it out this year. With two small kids and work it makes getting away alone harder. I had already started making plans for another go of it in 2017 and was just going to stick to moose and deer hunting, you know the type of hunts I can do as a family. However that plan of not making it to the mountains changed and I found myself scrambling for child care, baby sitters and a blessing from my wonderful wife after a call from my dad that he had found "my" ram while on a moose hunt. The ram was in a group of three and he was absolutely sure he was legal. We made plans to leave home the following Friday morning. I still had four days left at work before I went home for a week and that was the longest four days of my life. I was working nights so I spent a good amount of time looking at maps and Google Earth trying to find the best way into where the sheep were at. Finally Thursday morning came, go home day, and I spent the rest of the day getting ready to leave the next morning. We were up at 530am kiss the kids and wife and we're on the road with the truck headed north for a long drive. We made it to the trail head at about 2pm that afternoon and unloaded the side by side that we would use to get to the base of the mountain and about an hour later were shouldering packs to start the several mile trip to the far end of the Mountain. We hadn't gone far before we seen our first group of sheep and stopped to take a look through the spotter. We were still miles away but I knew the ram could be anywhere since it had been almost a week since my dad had seen him. A quick look through the spotter and it was only a small group of ewes. A quick shot of water pack back up and on the move again. The wind was relentless and was blowing a steady 20 with higher gusts and we were continually pelted by hail that felt like the stinging of bees from passing squalls but visibility remained good. We had gone a few more miles and we're skirting the back side of a ridge that provided some protection from the wind and I decided to take a look on the other side. As soon as I crested the top I seen about 5 sheep 800 yards distant and put the binos up and could immediately see a ram.
We dropped the packs grabbed the spotter and belly crawled over the top into a low spot to have a better look. From our new vantage point we could see 25 sheep and mixed in with the ewes and lambs was a couple rams and one I could see was legal. It was hard to get a really good look at the rest because the wind was shaking the spotter and I tried everything to get it to hold still to no avail. I knew the one was legal and that was good enough. We spent some time there trying to find the best way to get into position for a shot and from where we were I could see a small ditch that ran parallel with the sheep and it looked like it would provide cover for us to get within 200yards for a shot but only if they stayed put long enough for us to get there. Back up the mountain on our belly and over the top, from there we had to go around the backside of the tallest peak and down the other side to where the ditch started. I was able to get to a spot and see the sheep before we dropped into the ditch and when I did I seen that they were feeding away from the ditch and would be out of range if we kept on this course, so back the way we came up the steep hill around the peak and into the small valley on the other side of them where we could hopefully find a way into range but I didn't like the looks of it as it looked like it was too flat but we had to try. On the way back we had a big black wolf watch us for a bit from a nearby Ridge about 600 yards away, he was beautiful with a white chest and he was black as night. Any other time and I would have tried to get this guy but I had another mission on my mind.
We got to the small valley that ran along the west side of the sheep and dropped our packs about a mile up hill to start the process of closing to a comfortable distance. My worry was that they would have reversed course and fed away or even worse they would pop over the hill and bust us. The wind was in our favor and was helping keep our approach unheard. Once we reached our decided spot to work our way over we were greeted with a series of small rolling berms that we were able to hide behind, using these we were able to crawl and slither to within 200 yards when I caught sight of one of the smaller rams. We laid there watching for about 10 minutes when the bear showed up. My dad turned and asked if I think he should shoot it. Man what a decision to have to make, we were 200 yards away from a legal ram "my" ram, if we shoot the bear the sheep will spook at the shot, if we don't shoot the sheep will spook at the bear. I was sick knowing that whatever happened the sheep would be leaving and the work we had just done was for nothing. I told him to hold off and see where the sheep go when they run from the bear. The bear ambled over the hill and the sheep scattered 24 sheep went to the right around the next hill and I was trying to see if my ram was with the group. Some of the sheep were lower and I couldn't see them go but the ones I could see I didn't see the legal one in them but assumed that he had followed the rest. At that point I was disgusted and told my dad to kill that bear. At 200 yards he took a perfect shot the bear ran a short ways and went down.
He didn't know it but I was able to dig my phone out and get a video of his shot. Assuming all the sheep had gone we started to slowly walk towards his bear when he sees my ram run to the left from under us, every singe sheep had run to the right and disappeared and the only sheep to run to the left was my ram. I didn't see him until he cleared the bottom of the hill we were on and started around the the bowl we were in. A quick range put him just over 300 yards and moving fast. The direction he was going he went through several low spots he would dissappear into when he would dissappear I would sprint down the mountain after him when he would pop up again I would hit the ground. I wasn't loosing ground doing this but I wasn't gaining ground either and he only had one more to go through before he hit the Flatts and this game wouldn't work anymore. Just after he came out of the last small Creek bed he stopped long enough to range him at 352 yards with a 20mph full value cross wind, I hit the ground in a prone position propped my rifle on my arm calculated in my head drop and drift held for both steadied and slow steady squeeze on the trigger. The rifle went off and even through the wind I herd the bullet hit. The sheep then did a 180 and started slowly coming back my way. At 300 yards he went into the first of the small creeks and disappeared I again used this to get closer. Each time he would walk over a high spot I could see him and he was shaking his head and I couldn't see any blood, I knew he was hit but was starting to wonder where I had hit him. I felt confident in the shot but he was still up and moving. I played the same game of I can't see him run, there he is, down. When he went through* the last of the low spots I seen his head cresting my side of it then dissappear he was within a hundred yards and with a few more steps would be in the open and I would anchor him but he never showed. I could see both the top and bottom of the ditch he was in so I didn't think he could get away so I slowly started working my way uphill of where I had seen him last and backed my scope off knowing it was going to be close and didn't want to be zoomed all the way in. I made it almost to the ditch and seen him, he had collapsed just before cresting the top and giving me another shot, he was only 30 yards away and I could see blood coming from his nose and mouth and knew he was hit in the lungs. At that moment he looked up and seen me, jumped to his feet and sprinted down the mountain away from me, at 30 yards I don't miss and I wouldn't miss this shot either. The second* shot put him down and the third shot anchored him for good. He fell in the rocks facing down hill and I looked up and could see my dad still standing from where he had shot his bear from, he had seen the whole thing unfold.
I let out a yell that anyone on the mountain would have herd, I had done it I had a ram on the ground no more reading stories and thinking maybe next year will be my year. I would not be packing out of the mountains with a lighter pack than I went in with after eating all my food, I would be coming out heavy and I would have the picture of my own of my pack heavy with meat topped with sheep horns I had wanted so bad for so long.
That spot on my wall I look at wondering how my sheep will look up there will now be filled and I will be able to look at and remember this hunt.
This quest started as a young boy on a mountain* next to my dad and looking at one of the most beautiful animals in North America and was completed 23 years later as a man on a mountain next to my dad looking at one of the most beautiful animals in North America, but this one was mine.
I wouldn't have it any other way.
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