Strange things can happen in the sheep mountains. It's a place where one can learn quite a bit. Not only about sheep hunting, but about himself as well. Here's my story and hopefully the armchair judges won't slam me too bad. But, I figure maybe someone can learn from my lesson that I learned last week.
My Pastor friend and I went on this sheep hunt together. I had been planning another walk in hunt and asked him if he wanted to go. That was in Feb after finding that neither one of us drew DCUA or TMA. We committed to go and then one day he says he knows someone who can fly us in. We planned on the Brooks but time and logistics would not allow. So we came up with another plan and location. He shot a brooks range ram about 12 years ago and had not been sheep hunting since. He knew I'd been trying to reconnect on a ram for a few years. Came home sheepless the last two years. The year before that Roland-AlaskaCub and I got one but Roland got to lower the boom on him. We stalked it together but Roland was the designated shooter. It was awesome. Anyway, I digress…. This trip my partner, Andy, said I should be first shooter.
After getting dropped off on the 8th we humped it up the drainage through the brush, across the river through the brush and up to about 4800. This took all day and into the evening and found us out of water. Our mission the 9th was to find water and a flat spot to pitch the tent not too close to where we wanted to hunt and of course scout for some rams! Water was nowhere to be found except down over into a steep narrow chute. I was able to see the water with my spotter quite a ways down. We pitched the tent at about 5300 in a saddle that did not afford any protection from the prevailing winds that howled off the BIG mountains down the drainage and pummeled us for the rest of the trip. We were thankful for the Hilleberg Tarra tent. I call it the bunker. Man that thing can take the wind. We dropped down, got water, humped back up and headed out to do some scouting. A mile or two later and up higher we peeked over a little ridge and bingo…. across the head of the bowl in the saddle is a band of 10 rams! 3 of them look pretty good. One has quite a bit of drop, horns go pretty much straight down and past his jaw, tips turn out and he looks full curl. Another one looked like he might reach full curl on one side but maybe not on the other, hard to tell. The last one looked full curl but hard to tell. Anyway, we were stoked. We got back to the tent and thought about our water situation. No way we wanted to have to drop down and get water every day so we took two trash compactor bags down and filled em up with 5 gal each in our packs and humped it up….. that takes care of that!
The next morning we head out up to the band of rams. About half way there we spot 2 rams down on a finger ridge. One looks possible. I scoped him out, he might be the one that could go full curl on one side but I can't be 100% sure from the angle. We have no cover so we lay low and watch. Finally they move up the ridge to the rocks and bed down. We scootch around a little cover and then see 3 more rams bedded right where we need to go. We're pinned down. The two rams get up and mozy over the ridge just out of sight. We wait, the three little rams finally get up and move on down and over a different part of the ridge. Now it's game on!
They next scenario plays out in the span of about 2 minutes I'd say….
We get up to the ridge and belly crawl up and peek over a little clump of rocks. Right there about 30 yds out are two rams. One bedded and one feeding, I can't get a clear look at the horns and then see just beyond them 3 other rams! But, we have a problem, one of the two closer ones thinks something is up. I think he heard us and caught a little movement. He was on high alert. He kind of nervously moves away a little and the other one jumps up and they both run away from us, up jump the other 3 and then out of nowhere, beyond the 5 a bunch more rams jump up! They all bunched together in a big swirling mass of white fur and horns, they were all kind of reacting off each other but didn't bolt. They are at about 250 yds now, I'm looking through my binos and count 14 rams! I'm trying to get a close look at the biggest one but he's being surrounded by the smaller ones. Mostly all 3/4 to 7/8 no banana rams. He looks good, oh wait, maybe not… oh wait he looks good… They are moving away up to the top of the ridge. This going to have to happen quick. I grab my rifle chamber a round, safety on and I'm trying to get a clear look and hopefully a clear shot at the bigger one. Maybe, just maybe I'll get a shot. Suddenly there he is, standing broadside, no rams in between us or behind him, just the hill side. He's looking right at me, crosshairs in the kill zone, I'm resting on the rocks. I hesitate…. is he legal?? He's looking straight at us….. but the tips are below the eyes from this angle…. that may or may not matter… then Andy says…. you've got a shot… he looks good take him… I hesitate…. I squeeze the trigger….. the safety is on!?!? This is where it gets strange for me and the lesson comes in. My first reaction internally was …whew…. and a sense of relief and that possibly divine intervention saved my from killing a sublegal ram, then I said "Oh crap, the safety"…. I flipped it off, the ram turned away and around, still giving me a shot for a brief moment. I didn't pull the trigger, all the rams went over the ridge and we never did see them together in the bunch again….. I had gotten a second change to shoot… or not to shoot. I didn't shoot. I then became haunted by the event….
"What just happened here?" I said to myself. Did I just blow my chance at a legal ram? I've been waiting all year for this, and then at the moment of opportunity did I forget to flip the safety off like a young boy shooting his first deer? I can't even remember the last time I ever did that. Or, was it because when I shouldered my rifle I was not sure of my target? I was not ready to shoot, I still needed to make sure he was legal and I didn't want to take a chance at hitting the wrong ram. I wrestled with this for a few days and of course my partner and I talked about it. He thought the ram in the bunch was the one we watched go up the ridge and was sure in his mind it was legal. I wasn't 100% sure that ram was legal, or that he was the same ram in the bunch of 14. In the heat of the frenzy of the flocking rams I deferred to someone else's judgment and pulled the trigger, the safety was on but… I did pull the trigger. Here's a pic of the two rams I took through my spotter at 52 power. After getting home and looking at it I don't think he's legal. I think I was very fortunate my safety was on and that I did not shoot when I had the second chance.
Here's a blow up, his left horn curls up but hard to tell here. Anyway, this may or may not have been the ram I had in the cross hairs.