After an exhausting seven-mile journey around a mountain area known as “the Knob”, Clubhead succeeded where we failed and our ten-day pursuit of him came to an end. It was as though he had vanished from the mountains.
We shifted gears and got ready to move our base camp to a place called Sheep Mountain. I thought this would be a good opportunity to rest my muscles and relax a little before they flew into to pick us up. However, in order to get to Sheep Mountain, Cam told me we were obliged to build an airstrip in order for the Cessna to land.
This was not an easy task. Building an airstrip turned out to be a lot more physically demanding than I ever expected. We had to move large boulders and uprooted trees away from the riverbank, using only primitive tools to level out the holes and low spots. Four hours later we finally had a place where they could safely land. Once we got to Sheep Mountain, we had to wait twelve hours before we could hunt again, because of flying in an aircraft, so we decided to build a cardboard sheep decoy. Because our whites had worked so well previously, I added them to the decoy so that it really looked like a sheep. Who would have thought …you just never know what you’ II have to do for the sake of the hunt. But, go figure?when we tried stalking in on a group of rams with our decoy the next day, it was as if they had seen a ghost and they disappeared over the top of the mountain in record-breaking time!
As I saw the hunt going the distance, I was more than ready to let the air out of one of those rams. This stalk would require me to trudge another eight miles, uphill and over new and hazardous terrain. Determination and perspiration got me to the rams but somehow we spooked them and all I got out of it was a sweaty shirt that froze to my body before I got back to camp. Not wanting to lose my opportunity for a good size ram I had spotted, I went up Sheep Mountain the next day and embarked on one of the most grueling stalks I have ever been on. I overcame the perils of water, ravines, and steep ledges and got within range of the high-scoring ram I wanted.
Cam and I waited two and a half hours for the shot, but the ram suddenly moved over the ledge and again the stalk and shot were gone in a split second.
It took forever for me to get warm by the fire that night. I’m still not sure if it was the cold from the outside or the cold inside of me that I was feeling. That evening we received a call from base camp that I dreaded hearing?we had to move out?severe weather was coming in and we had to get off the mountain the next morning. As the Cessna flew into to pick us up, the weather became increasingly violent and I felt we were lucky to be getting out when we did.
I told the outfitter, Kelly Hougan, that I eagerly looked forward to the “seventeenth” day of my hunt next year. When I started getting ready for the sheep hunts, I weighed approximately 240 pounds. Three months later, after hiking up and down hills at home, while carrying a 60-pound backpack, I weighed in at 220 pounds. But now I was really a slim man-down to 214 pounds. I was in “sheep shape” and ready for my next hunt! Going into the second hunt, I was more determined than ever to bring home a ram.
After returning home from my Dall’s sheep hunt I received a call from an outfitter who had lost all his scheduled hunters due to 9/11. I was originally scheduled into their camp for the following year. After checking the weather forecast for their area, it looked good, so I jumped at the opportunity because I was mentally and physically ready for the hunt. Upon my arrival in Dease Lake on October 1st, I met my guide’s brother, Lester*, who told me that he was going to guide me for the week because my guide took a gun hunter to another area. After picking up my licenses the next day, I headed out by horseback into the mountains guided only by the camp cook, Molly*! The wrangler and Lester were going to meet up with us later in camp. We traveled for hours through the valley along the mountain streams. It didn’t take me long to figure out that Molly didn’t know quite where the camp area was.
We decided to wait on the trail for Lester and about an hour before dark, he and the wrangler finally showed up. Lester said we were going to an area at the base of the mountain where he thought it would make a good camp. At the camp area we hobbled the horses. Using my Swarovski 10×42’s I could see several rams up high on the mountain from where we were going to be camping. As darkness came, I was eager to get to sleep and head up the mountains after the rams. I thought now that this was going to be an easier hunt than my previous hunt because of the use of horses.
At dawn the next morning I was getting my gear together for the long climb. The wrangler left to get the horses and never came back until noon. Several times that morning I had said, “forget the horses, let’s climb the mountain”, but Lester was in no kind of shape to be climbing up the mountain without being on a horse. Besides, I think he was content just spending time with Molly the camp cook. It seemed to me it was as though they were on their honeymoon instead of on a hunt.
When the wrangler finally returned he told us that the horses had wandered up the valley. I figured it was about a three-hour climb to where I had spotted the rams so Lester and I saddled up and headed up the steep terrain for an afternoon hunt, weaving back and forth and often dismounting in the slippery, shale areas where the footing was not safe.
After reaching a plateau on top, there was a large flat, grassy area that seemed to go for miles with several rock outcroppings. Almost immediately, we spotted a group of rams that had two magnificent rams with them. Leaving the horses behind we started a stalk. Using the rock outcroppings, we worked our way to the animals trying to get ahead of them in the direction they were moving. Just when I thought we had everything going our way the rams laid down in an open area with no possibility for a stalk. It was now getting late in the evening and I knew darkness was soon to follow. Lester said we had to get off the mountain before it got dark but I didn’t want to leave. I told him it was senseless to go all the way back down the mountain and ride all the way back up again in the morning. It was a nice enough night that we could stay out of the wind and sleep in the rock outcroppings. It took some convincing but he finally agreed.
The moon was full that night. We used the saddles and horse blankets to cover up with. About 1:00 am Lester woke up shouting, “whose got the flashlight on?” I couldn’t figure out what he was so upset about. It took me a minute, but then I realized it was the brightness of the moon that he was yelling about. After he settled down again he said it was too cold to stay where we were. He wanted to go down to the timberline and make a fire at one of their old camps. We saddled the horses and about an hour later we arrived at their old camp. After collecting wood, the rest of the night was spent laying next to the open fire, but for some reason, I couldn’t get back to sleep again. Lester had taken some large rocks that he had warmed up in the fire and used them to keep his feet warm.
When dawn finally arrived, I was eager to get back to the area where we last had spotted the rams. After getting back on top of the plateau to the rock outcroppings where we had last seen the rams, I realized they had moved. We located them again, but when I tried stalking up on them, there were too many “eyes” and I got “busted”. For the rest of the morning I kept trying to get myself into a good position to take one of the big rams, but it just wasn’t meant to be. Lester kept complaining that we had to get off the mountain because Molly was going to have a nice dinner made for us. He sounded like a broken record, but my thoughts were, “I could live on the peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and water that I still had in my saddle bags”.
I watched the rams work their way into the rock outcroppings across a shale face on the side of the mountain. I figured this was my opportunity to get in close enough for a shot. I’ve never had a fear of heights. The shale I was walking on was a black as coal. I stayed on the sheep trail where it was flat, but only about 10″ wide. I came to a washout that I had to cross before continuing along the trail. That’s when Lester told me how hungry he was for the last time. I told him I was going to follow the trail through the rock outcroppings to where I thought the rams might be bedding. Then I would walk down the grassy slope and meet him and the horses at the base of the mountain. That’s when Lester left.
After crossing the washout, I started across the black scree trail that had been worn into the rock by the sheep, taking my time, watching for the rams in the rock outcroppings in front of me. I was about half way across when suddenly I found myself, flat on my back, sliding out of control heading toward the cliffs below me. I was trying to stop myself by using my hands and my legs in a “spread eagle” fashion. Everything happened so fast that I didn’t even know what was going on.