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My sheep adventures of 2014

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  • My sheep adventures of 2014

    Now that I’m home and finally done at the end of a 40 day season, the words that keep coming to mind are…wow, that was an adventure!

    My sheep season started back in February when I learned that I was incredibly fortunate to draw a coveted drawing permit for the Delta Controlled Use Area. I’d never hunted Delta before, but had long dreamt of it. In addition to getting my chance at a late season Delta tag, this also meant that our early season would be solely focused on trying to find a ram for my bride. My wife has been trying for some years now, and there truly is nobody I’d rather go afield with. She’s incredibly capable in the mountains, and while things haven’t quite worked out for her yet, it’s not for a lack of mountains climbed and effort expended.

    We hit the mountains on the 8th of August and were immediately spotting rams. By the end of the first day we had four rams spotted, and by the next morning we had upped that total to 8.

    We were hopeful as opening day approached, as one of the rams looked like it had serious potential. The morning of the 10th we made our way back up the bowl we had spent the previous day in while glassing rams, and this time proceeded up a ridge that would put us in good position to verify legality and potentially work out a stalk. Unfortunately, it was not to be. The largest ram of the group was close – so painfully close – but ultimately, we just couldn’t justify pulling the trigger on him. To call him 7/8 would be understating it. He was within 1/16th of being legal…or 1/32nd…just as close as can be, but not quite full. I’d be lying if I said it didn’t pain me a bit to turn around and climb back down that day, but overall we had a wonderful time together in the mountains. We spent another day glassing and picking berries, and by the end of the trip we were reminded of why these trips are our favorite times of the year.

    Jump forward three weeks and I was set to embark on my long awaited DCUA hunt. Though I would have loved to take my wife along, some things changed with her work situation this year that made taking time off more difficult, so this one would be solo. In my younger days I had taken a couple rams on solo hunts, and while my sense of nervousness was palpable as I headed afield, I must admit that I was excited to wander the hills alone once again in search of sheep. I had done a fair bit of research and corresponding with friends, and in the process had come up with what I thought was a pretty dynamite plan. Alas, that lasted all of about four hours once I fired up my machine and left my truck. A river that I didn’t figure as an issue had changed course just enough to completely block my progress. I spent an hour or two trying to figure a reasonable work-around, but none was immediately apparent to me. Well…none that seemed workable for a solo hunter. The approach became much more difficult and, quite frankly, dangerous were I to come back out with a sheep, so suddenly I was faced with the need to formulate a plan B. Pulling out my maps and my sat phone, I soon settled on a new direction thanks to the gracious help of a friend. I went back to my truck, licked my wounds over dinner and a beer in Delta, and set out the next morning for round two.

    I should mention at this point that I was greeted on my drive north by snow-draped mountains. I might usually say snow-capped, but that snow was ominously low for late August. The next morning I headed down a different trail, and by early afternoon I had reached the end of the road and was treated to my first taste of what would be my near-constant companion over the remainder of my trip – snow.

    I walked around a bit to figure out a good campsite, and to my dismay I soon spotted a camp about 500 yards over the hill. Of course I was hoping to be alone, but I figured that it was best to go meet my new neighbors so that we could devise a plan together. I was secretly hoping they were moose hunting, but unsurprisingly at that elevation, I learned that they were fellow sheep hunters – a couple with party tags accompanied by their son. They were very welcoming and kind, and once I learned of their plans to hunt the drainage closest to us, I packed up my gear and set out on foot. I spent the next couple hours moving two drainages over, then set up camp at the foot of a promising looking valley. I had no sooner finished pounding in the last tent stake when I turned around and was shocked to see two men walking out of the valley only a couple hundred yards away. Arg!! This was not what I was expecting! I knew that there were plenty of tags handed out for the area, but still, given the weather and the distance off the road I had traveled, I certainly had hoped for some modicum of solitude. Funny thing, though – once again, it was an absolute pleasure to meet these men and it ended up being helpful, as they graciously shared what they learned over the past ~5 days of hunting. They turned out to be forum members who I had met previously at last spring’s sheep seminar (and one the father of one of my students), and we talked for quite a while about their experiences and what they knew of other recent hunters in the area. They were on their way out (though they did manage a moose the next day, I think), so I once again adjusted my plans on the fly based on what they shared and made plans for the following day.

    I had hoped the weather would warm quickly and push the snowline back, but it wasn’t to be during the duration of my trip. Still, the weather was reasonably nice that next day (if a bit windy), so I set out early and got to climbing. Within an hour of leaving the tent I had been busted by a sublegal ram, and I spent the next few hours dancing with him among the rocks, hoping that he’d lead me to a larger group of sheep. That plan actually worked out quite nicely, but alas, there were no legal rams to be found in that band. I topped out at about 6,500’ that day and had a glorious time, but it seemed like all the sheep were down low, so I worked my way back down and in the late afternoon hours tried to scurry around the base of the mountain to another vantage point. Just as I was turning around I caught a glimpse of a ram another ridge over, and while I couldn’t see enough to determine his size, that at least gave me an option to try for the next day. I slept well that night, excited about the prospect of what the next day might bring.

    The next day started out well enough, with decent visibility and calm winds. Small groups of caribou moved about the hillsides here and there, with some dandy bulls among them.

    That favorable weather, however, was not to last. As I neared the ridge I wanted to explore, the fog blew in and it started to spit a mix of snow and hail. It wasn’t too bad, though, and I was certainly prepared for inclement weather, so I pulled on my rain shell and pressed on. There were no sheep to be found down low where I had spotted one the evening prior, so after surveying what I could see of the bowl below the clouds, I turned left and started climbing…and climbing…and climbing.

    As I climbed, the clouds became thicker, the snow fell in larger flakes, and eventually I had worked myself to a point higher than I had seen any sheep the previous day. When this was all I could see when peering down a chute, I decided it was time for a change of approach.

    I dropped off the ridge into the next bowl below, and after working my way around it, decided to scale the next ridge further. The visibility still sucked, but I knew there were rams nearby somewhere – I just had to find them. So I climbed and sidehilled my way up and around yet another mountain in hopes that the clouds would lift, but the weather just kept getting worse. The wind picked up significantly, and as I found myself on a steep shale slide in poor visibility at nearly 5,000’, I decided that it was probably time to pull the plug for the day. But then….this:

    My best guess is that it was snowing an inch or two an hour at this point, so clearly these sheep tracks were fresh – very fresh. The only problem, obviously, is that I couldn’t see a darn thing. Still, there was no way I could turn around now. I pressed on, hoping that I would stumble upon them in the clouds. I soon hit the ridge, and while I was praying that they would head down and lead me into better terrain, they instead had turned uphill, their tracks leading into progressively steeper, rockier, more slippery terrain. I thought for a moment, then gave chase. I was just about to turn around (again), when I looked up and saw the faint outline of a sheep peering down at me. Crap! I quickly hid myself, but I was pretty sure that he had busted me. He wasn’t legal, but from the tracks I knew there were more. The next fifteen minutes were a bit of a blur – I worked around boulders and shale slides, hoping that they would stay in place but finding instead that they had moved uphill again…only to see another sheep peering out of the clouds up the mountain still further. And then… Well, the short version is that I screwed up, plain and simple. There were eight rams, two of which were legal, but they were bunched very tightly together at the very edge of my visibility in those whiteout conditions. I could barely see a mass of bodies and horns, but couldn’t tell which body belonged to which horns in the blowing snow. I waited them out, and in a split second one of the legal rams stepped free from the group and gave me a momentary opportunity. And….well, I missed. I’d like to blame it on the long, steep uphill shot in the 40+mph winds, but I simply screwed that one up. Of course they ran a bit at the shot, but then stopped again and gave me another look. The problem was that I wasn’t 100% sure I had missed, and worse than missing a ram and going home without would be shooting two different sheep. In the poor visibility and running bodies I couldn’t be sure which legal ram was which, so….I had to pass on the follow up shot. They ran off, and I spent the next good while walking around, making sure that there was no blood or other evidence of a hit. There was none to be found after extensive looking – as I thought, it was a clean miss – so I headed down with my pride a bit damaged but my spirits still high.

    It took me quite a while to make it back to camp, and while I was hoping that I would eventually descend below the snow, the temperature continued to drop throughout the day and this is what I found upon my return:

    Looks cozy, doesn’t it? At this point, I had to make a decision – wait this out and hope for a significant change in the weather, or consider doing something else entirely. The forecast wasn’t favorable and I had blown what was likely to be my best chance at rams given what I knew of the recent hunting pressure, so I chose to at least pull camp and head back to my ATV where I would re-evaluate in the morning. The hike out that night was long and tiring, but…well, how could you not enjoy such lovely sheep hunting weather?

    When I got back to my machine that night, my nagging fears were confirmed – my machine wouldn’t start. I had trouble starting it a couple of winters ago, and with the snow and ice I was concerned that the same problem would rear its head. When I turned the key there was a whirring sound, but the starter wasn’t engaging. Since my mechanical knowledge is extremely limited, my hopes now turned to the family I had met on my first day. Thankfully, they were still camped over the hill, though their camp was quiet when I walked by that evening. With that, I rolled the machine forward to expose some dry ground, set up my tent, and had an uneasy night of sleep.

    Thankfully the next morning my neighbors’ camp was still there. In a last-ditch effort at a self-rescue I tried heating up my battery and engine by placing my stove under it for 45 minutes or so. No dice. Soon I saw one of my neighbors walking up to my camp, and after talking for a few he graciously offered to help. We tried jumper cables at first, but that didn’t seem to fix the problem. The next 10-15 minutes was mostly spent banging on the starter and surrounding area, and amazingly, right when we were about to give up the effort we heard a “click” at the sound of the key. The starter had engaged! We quickly hooked the jumper cables back up, and the engine fired right up. WHEW! Man, that was a huge sigh of relief for me. From that point forth the four of us traveled together, slowly working our way out over the next few hours. Of course I had hoped for a sheep from that second hunt of the year, but at that point I was just happy that I wasn’t going to have to walk out while leaving my machine behind. I was also very happy to make some new friends – they are seriously great people and I hope I can somehow repay the favor someday.

    I can honestly say that I returned home feeling blessed. I was hungry for more, of course, but I felt so blessed by the adventure I experienced and the people I met.

    Flash forward two and a half weeks, and time was growing short. The season was to end on Saturday the 20th, so on Wednesday the 17th I made the last preparations to make a final long-shot attempt at filling my tag…or at the very least, at experiencing another new area. In discussions with a very helpful friend, I had decided to leave the machine behind and walk in to a drainage that I had overlooked previously. I drove most of the way that night before camping north of Paxson, and by 7am on the 18th I was climbing towards sheep country. The weather was markedly better than my previous trip. A week of warm weather had pushed the snowline back to near the ridgelines, and sunshine and calm winds lifted my spirits as I passed through treeline and onto an alpine ridge. That day I covered more ground than I had originally planned, working my way 7-8 miles into the high country, traversing far enough that I could thoroughly look over three drainages, and eventually camping at 4,750 after topping out earlier in the day at 6,700’. Many sheep were spotted that day, and I got to spend 20 minutes or so dancing with a small group of ewes. Until the wind shifted and they caught my scent, they didn’t seem the least bit concerned about my presence at all. Instead, they closed the gap from 100 yards to less than 50 over the course of that time, taking a few steps and then watching, walking and watching. It was such a cool moment, and though they weren’t legal quarry, those few minutes captured so much of what I love about sheep hunting.

    Just before topping out on the highest ridge in the area, I also jumped the lone ram that I saw that day – a thin-horned 7/8 ram that gave me a surprise at relatively close range. I was surprised that I hadn’t seen more rams given the amount of country that I covered, but I still had a good chunk of terrain to hunt, so I descended to camp and made plans for the following day.

    The next morning dawned beautiful as the one before, so I quickly wolfed down breakfast and headed towards new terrain. As with the previous day, I was soon seeing ewes and lambs, and as I climbed hope rose within me. Alas, with every ridge I crested, the new country proved to be either empty or inhabitated by only lambs and ewes. I wasn’t surprised exactly, as that was what I was prepped to expect, but still…I figured there must be a ram in one of those draws somewhere. As I had told myself before I left, I only needed one. I kept at it, again topping out near 7,000’ in mild winds with good visibility. Clouds were moving in the distance, though, and I knew my window of favorable weather was closing, so I moved as quickly as I could to see as much country as possible.

    I circled around the last summit that I could possibly extract a sheep from given my limited time away from home, and as I did I had one more moment of excitement - but again, the same 7/8 ram from the day before proved to be the one in my spotter and again he appeared to be alone.

  • #2
    At this point, I had to be honest with myself. I had covered a substantial amount of country in two days, but it seemed to be bereft of rams. Given another day in the field I could potentially move one more drainage further, but there was no realistic way that I could get a sheep out of there in two days or less were I successful. I thought through things there on that summit for a while, and came to a place where I was at peace with my sheep season. I tried – man, did I try. I had put in all the time I could, climbed through snow and wind, worked through the challenges that come with a new area, and at the end of the day, I was happy with my effort and my memories even if it meant turning in this coveted tag without a ram to show for my efforts. With a smile on my face and a sense of peace in my heart, I looked at my watch and figured that with a really serious push I could make it out to my truck by dark. I scurried off the peak and down into the valley below, gathering up my camp in quick order and climbing back out of there to the ridge that would lead home. The wind picked up significantly as I did so, and as the wind gathered speed and the clouds darkened, I was looking forward to seeing my family the next day and to the creature comforts that awaited at my truck at the end of the long trek ahead.

    Along the way I jumped a cow and calf moose along the alpine ridge. Weird, I thought. But something stranger awaited me a few hundred feet lower.

    Nearing the end of the ridge, I found myself looking for the place where I was to drop off the side towards the rudimentary trail, but I was very unsure of myself. Yes, I looked at my GPS, but even then I wasn’t quite certain I was in the right place, so I backtracked headlong into the wind about 40 yards around a rock outcropping to make sure I hadn’t passed my descent point. Though I had been in the right place to begin with, I’m so very glad that I doubted myself.

    As I edged over the side of the ridge to peer down into the cut below, I was shocked – absolutely, positively stunned – to see the white rump of a sheep below me. Not only that, but I could see the back of dark horns, an obvious indication that I was looking at a ram. To be clear, at this point I was below 3,500’. I had already descended below moose and the highest of the scraggly spruce and willows that try to eke out a hold in the subalpine. I was certain that I was done sheep hunting, so I packed my rifle away in my pack so that I had my hands free for a short section of rocky hiking on my way down. Well, at the sight of that sheep, I hit the deck immediately. I don’t know how long it took me to pull my rifle out, but it couldn’t have been more than a few seconds. I quickly scurried over the edge of the cut in the side of the mountain where I had seen the sheep, but now his perch about 200 yards below me was empty. Obviously I was worried that he had busted me, but at this point, I had to pursue. Not only was this the only ram I had seen that had potential, but it was getting late in the evening and time was growing short. I tried to move quietly yet quickly, but from that point forth I was climbing down through thick alders and spruce, working my way around the top edge of this cut and around the side. I was so thankful for the wind at that point, as it masked the crashing sound I made as I picked my way though the alder jungle below. I finally made my way to where I thought he might be and eased my way to the slide. Crap…not there. That said, the alders here stretched out a good 5-6 feet over the edge of the chasm, so there was still a slim chance that he was hugging the edge of the cut bank below me. I was already feeling a bit disheartened at the missed opportunity, but hope persuaded me to step out onto the rocks to take one last fateful look. I clambered off the bank I was on, scrambled over a few outstretched alder limbs and slipped momentarily on some rocks, looked downhill directly below me and…

    I don’t know who was more surprised – me or the ram. Yet there he was, standing broadside only 40 yards below me. I pulled up my rifle instinctively and centered on his chest, then paused a moment. He was standing in a potentially tough spot – he could have easily rolled many hundreds of feet into a very tough place to access. I thought for a few seconds about waiting, hoping that he would step slowly up towards the edge. But if he lunged away in fear, only two steps separated him from an alder jungle from which he would never emerge. Done. One shot from my 30-06 later, a quick roll arrested by an alder branch caught in a horn, and it was over.

    Disbelief. Utter and complete disbelief is the only way I can describe my initial reaction. Did I really just stumble upon a legal ram at 3,100’? Did I take a ram below treeline? Unreal! In the days since I returned home I have had numerous friends make comments like ‘You earned that one!’ or ‘You sure worked for that ram!’, but in reality, this sheep was pure blessing. No doubt I worked my tail off in pursuit of sheep, but I can’t claim any special credit on this one – I was in the right place at the right time (on the way back to my truck, no less!), and was simply blessed beyond belief.

    It was getting late by the time I pulled the trigger, and after climbing back up to get a knife and removing the guts, darkness was closing in. I had considered working by headlamp, but at this point the wind picked up from strong to borderline crazy. I know that Delta is known for being windy, but it was to the point where I had to lean into the wind just to stay upright. I knew that trying to butcher into the night on such a slippery slope was going to be difficult enough, but with the wind compounding things I decided to prop open the body cavity with a stick and find a place to camp.

    Setting up the tent that night was an adventure, but soon enough I was inside the fly, warming up the most delicious freeze dried food I think I’ve ever had, and relaying the story to my wife via sat phone. The night was a long one - I didn’t have a wind gauge, but I’d wager that an estimate of sustained 75 mph winds throughout the dark hours is a conservative one. My tent shook violently all night long, and sleep was in short supply if it occurred at all. That said, at first light I eagerly laced up my boots one last time and set out to recover my sheep. I had to climb an extra 500 feet or so to pull water from a tepid puddle, but soon enough I was back at my sheep, relieved to find that it had only been mildly pecked at by a bird overnight. A few hours of butchering and deboning later, and I was ready to head home. I heard it said years ago that happiness is a heavy pack. Indeed it is.

    What an adventure this year was, and how full of unexpected blessings it was. As a teacher my time in the sheep hills is sometimes limited by the reality of my job, but thankfully everything aligned this year. My wife was incredibly supportive in sending me out repeatedly, the weather challenged me at times yet relented when it mattered, and a number of friends were hugely helpful in aiding my planning process. I am a fortunate man, and my 2014 season will long be among my most treasured memories.

    As a bookend, when I got home my six year old son proudly gave me this. My wife had already framed his picture, and I can assure you this will remain on my wall throughout my life.


    • #3
      Fantastic, Brian! I have been waiting for this hunt account. Silas's illustration sure sums it up. I remember asking my father when I was Silas's age if he would pack a sheep hoof back so I could make tracks in the sand box. He did not disappoint, either. Well done, my friend.
      sigpicSpending my kids' inheritance with them, one adventure at a time.


      • #4
        What a fantastic story! Congratulations for a well earned ram - there's no luck unless you make the effort to put yourself in the right place.


        • #5
          Awesome story and amazing ending. That's some real adventure and excellent hunting. The plaque from your son is priceless.


          • #6
            Nice Ram Brian! And thanks for a most excellent sheep hunting story as well. :topjob:


            • #7
              Great story Brian. that was a lot of effort. Glad it all worked out for you.


              • #8
                Wow, what an incredible journey. So well documented. Huge congrats at your perseverance.


                • #9
                  Wow - what a story! You never gave up and you put yourself in the right place at the right time - good job!


                  • #10
                    Congrats! Really enjoyed the write up!


                    • #11
                      Sometimes best not to ask why, but just smile and be thankful. Well done Mr Brian, you did good Dad.

                      "I refuse to let the things I can't do stop me from doing the things I can"


                      • #12
                        Unbelievable hunt man. Congratulations on a truly blessed a adventure.
                        Responsible Conservation > Political Allocation


                        • #13
                          Thoroughly enjoyed the story Brian. So glad things fell into place and the Lord blessed you efforts even if it was in a way you weren't expecting! Great to see ya notch the tag. Well done man and thanks for taking the time to write it all out and compile the pics!


                          • #14
                            Excellent! Excellent! Excellent!


                            • #15
                              Congrats man! Very good work.


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