Trying to judge horn size on all seven rams was difficult. Two of the rams were real twisters. Unfortunately, both of these old boys had their other horn broken almost completely off.
The seven rams had us pinned down in a wide-open basin. We couldn’t move and they were too far to shoot. As the rams fed, a mountain goat came from the high ground and joined them. They didn’t seem to mind one another. Finally the rams drifted off over the ridge.
Now was a good time to make our move, I told Devon, my lanky 26-year-old guide. He suggested we wait until the goat was completely out of sight. About that time, a helicopter flew by. The chopper made a big circle around us, then dropped altitude and headed directly to where the sheep would have been feeding.
I looked at Devon and asked, “Do you have some kind of anti-hunting organization out here?”
“Heck, I have no idea what is going on,” he replied.
The sheep reappeared, running up the opposite mountain side as the helicopter flew directly over them and landed between us and the rams. Devon and I were in semi-shock at the moment. Two guys jumped out of the bird with a backpack. I didn’t know whether they were going to take pictures or shoot one of the rams.
I never really considered myself a sheep hunter. But lately, I have been bitten by the sheep bug. Having previously taken a desert bighorn and a Dall, it seemed like my natural progression was to tackle either a Rocky Mountain bighorn or a stone sheep. After several conversations with Guy Anttila, we developed a plan to hunt stone sheep in British Columbia. Guy and Elsie have been guiding and outfitting in B.C. for 30 years and came highly recommended.
My wife, Karen, and I were spending our vacation in this pursuit of stone sheep. After we arrived in Atlin the day before sheep season began, Guy flew us to a remote lake where we would use a small cabin as base camp for the next few days.
That afternoon we enjoyed trout fishing and even managed to catch a few small lake trout. After a nice fish dinner we began glassing the adjacent mountainside for sheep. Because it didn’t get dark until around midnight, we were able to spend several pleasant hours glassing and discussing strategy for the next morning. I eventually located a band of rams almost on the top of the mountain, and Devon verified it with his spotting scope. During this time of year, females and their young separate themselves from the rams. We watched for quite some time as the rams fed their way around the mountain and out of sight. Devon thought he knew where they were heading, and we were optimistic about the day ahead.
Early the next morning we packed our gear and started the long journey up the mountain, leaving Karen to guard the cabin. I asked Devon how long it would take to reach the top. He said that he could do it in three hours. I then informed him I was 53 years old. We worked our way through the forest, finally graduating to the alpine. The farther up the mountain we went, the steeper the incline became. It was moments like this that remind me why it’s important to get in hunting shape long before the hunt begins.
With the top finally in sight, I thought I heard a shot. But I was huffing and puffing so much that I couldn’t tell for sure. Devon said the noise might have been snow or rocks sliding. About that time, a mountain goat came lumbering around the mountainside above us. We took a welcome break until he moved out of sight, and then continued the ascent. It took us four hours, but once on top the view was remarkable.
We took our packs off and began glassing the area where the rams were last spotted. It wasn’t long before Devon said, “I’ve found them.” They were much farther than I had anticipated and were situated in a place more likely to hold an ibex.
We started working our way toward the rams along the back side of the ridge, out of their sight. After a few hundred yards, we peeked over the top, trying to see if they were still in the same location. Devon, with a discouraged tone, told me he had seen a hunter. I took a look through my binocular and, sure enough, there was a hunter gutting a ram. Neither of us could believe it.
We worked our way over to the hunter and his ram. While an outfitter has exclusive hunting rights in an area, British Columbia residents have the privilege of hunting in this territory. The resident hunter had climbed the mountain from the other side and beat us to the punch. However, he had taken a ram that we would not have shot. He even acknowledged that he had taken the baby in the bunch. Now, if we could only find them again.
An hour later we were glassing some deep canyons where the sheep might hide. Sitting down for a lunch break, I could tell Devon’s spirits were dampened. Mine were about the same. What the heck. We had run into an obstacle on the first day of the hunt. It wouldn’t be the last.
After lunch we continued looking for the rams. Devon wanted to check out a huge basin where rams were known to dine on the plentiful grass. As we walked near the edge of a plateau, Devon dropped down quickly. “Three rams feeding way over there,” he informed me. We dropped our packs and Devon pulled out the spotting scope for a better look. The rams were about 500 yards off. One looked huge, but he had a broken horn on one side. The other two rams didn’t appear to be full curl. For some reason I raised up a bit and noticed movement. Not 300 yards away were four more rams. They were working their way toward the others.
They all looked good to me, but judging a ram from behind doesn’t tell you everything. One ram in this group also had a broken horn, although his other side was tremendous. Devon said he had encountered the ram the year before, and estimated he was 14 years old. As the rams met, they continued to feed. But we couldn’t do anything because we were basically pinned down in the wide-open basin. That’s when the mountain goat came down the mountain to join the group. What a beautiful sight.
After the helicopter landed, I could hardly wait to talk to the pilot and occupants. The pilot, a woman in her 30s who worked for the government, and her two colleagues were on a mission to collect rocks. I hope none of the rocks they took were splattered with sheep droppings.
Devon and I continued on, hoping to find the rams again. At the end of a long ridge, we stopped to glass in some convoluted and steep ravines that seemed a likely spot for the rams to hide.
Late in the afternoon, we spotted a ram walking over to the ridge we were sitting on. Directly below us, I spotted movement. Three more rams were looking for a place to bed. Jagged rocks obstructed our view, but we finally saw them lie down for a nap. Devon confirmed that the ram on the far right was at least 9 years old, having a full curl. The rangefinder said 230 yards separated us. After scrutinizing the horns for quite some time, Devon was convinced that this was our ram.
Placing the backpack in front of me, I rested T/C’s Icon and made sure a Winchester 130 grain Ballistic Supreme round found its way into the chamber. I was shooting a .270 Winchester. It was a rock-solid rest. The Leupold VX-3 scope was sitting on 10 power. Everything felt good as the crosshairs settled on the target. Slowly, I touched the trigger. At the shot, all the rams jumped up and disappeared over the boulders. Devon told me the shot was good. I needed to hear that.
We carefully made our way down to where the rams had been. At first we found nothing. Then we saw six rams crossing on the other side of the mountain. Because there originally had been seven rams, we could only assume that our ram was down. I noticed a white spot so far down the slope that I had to use my binocular to tell whether it was snow or not. Sure enough, it was the stone sheep. He had fallen, or rolled, some 700 yards down the mountainside. It took us more than 30 minutes to get to him.
Devon estimated that the ram was 11 years old. We both were pleased. Patience and perseverance had won the day. After taking photos and completing the caping chores, it was now about 5 p.m. I was afraid to ask how long it would take to reach camp.
The trek back took more than four hours. With both packs filled, it was slow going. At least it was for this 53-year-old hunter. Camp was a welcome sight, and Karen was there waving at us. Although we took the sheep on the first day, we had actually done about three days’ worth of hiking. But coming off the mountain with the right stone made it all worthwhile.– Mark Hampton