My dad and I were nine days into a 14-day hunt. We had all but given up on the idea of shooting a Stone ram, but we had each taken tremendous mountain goats. It was late afternoon and we were following our guide and outfitter, Fletcher Day, across a high mountain pass on our way to Level Mountain where we planned to hunt caribou. It had been a long day in the saddle and my thoughts were focused on camp and dinner when I saw Fletcher spin his horse around, quickly dismount and motion for us to come quickly.
When we reached his position, he gave us the unexpected news that he had spotted a ram but he was not yet sure of his size. We closed the distance to about 600 yards and were just starting to evaluate his horns when the ram dropped into a canyon and out of sight. Daylight was fading but the wind was in our favor, and this was our chance to move in for a closer look.
Gingerly, we crept toward the canyon rim. Suddenly, Fletcher barked, “He’s a big one. Shoot! Shoot!” I would gladly have shot, if I could have seen anything to shoot at. Frantically, I scanned the bottom of the canyon to eventually discover that the ram was only 50 yards away and virtually in my lap. The coal black ram against the black rocks blended in so well that I simply had not seen him.
He plunged down the slope and disappeared behind a boulder just as I raised my rifle. The next time I saw him, he was boiling up the far side of the canyon about 200 yards away. My first shot passed just beneath his horn and broke a rock below his face. He reared up, and then shifted to a new gear that he had not previously revealed. Three missed shots later, he was gone from my life forever.
That was 1971, two weeks shy of my 18th birthday and this hunt was my high school graduation present. We went on to shoot two trophy mountain caribou bulls and Dad shot a moose on that hunt. The entire trip was an amazing, eye-opening journey that I would cherish for the rest of my life, but that miss would haunt me for decades.
For at least 20 years, although I hunted constantly, another Stone sheep hunt was simply unrealistic. I had an education to complete, a career to start and a young family. In my late 30s, I began hunting internationally and did manage to shoot a Dall ram in 1995. My miss at the Stone ram, however, continued to gnaw at me.
The seemingly forever-inflating price of a hunt was daunting (in 1971, the cost of a 14-day Stone sheep hunt was $1,190!). In 2012, although the price was astronomically higher, I was 59 years of age and if I were ever to take a Stone ram, it would have to be soon. I booked a hunt with Leif Olsen of Stone Mountain Safaris.
Leif’s hunting operation had a wonderful reputation in one of the best Stone sheep areas in British Columbia, so it was with high hopes that I boarded the bush plane for the flight into Churchill Camp. My guide, Derrick Stevens, is widely recognized as one of the top guides in B.C. and Derrick demonstrated his skills from Day One. We wanted to explore a basin that held some good rams in the past, but was rarely hunted. No horse trails existed into that country, but by bushwhacking with the horses we managed to ride nearly to timberline.
We failed to locate any sheep, and over the next two weeks covered an enormous amount of country as we explored every one of Derrick’s favorite basins. We saw tremendous numbers of goats, several legal moose and lots of caribou, but I refused to be distracted again from my main goal of finding a ram. We also found lots of sheep, but they were all ewes, lambs and rams less than eight years of age and less than full curl and therefore not legal game.
On Day 14, we finally located two rams that appeared to be legal. With our hopes high, we climbed into the basin to get a better look. For reasons known only to sheep, the rams decided to take a walk about, disappearing over the ridge and into another basin. Leif allowed me to extend my hunt for two more days to go after them. Unfortunately, the weather did not cooperate. Snow fell heavily, reducing visibility to zero. The hunt ended in disappointment, but before I left camp, Leif made me a deal I could not pass up to try again in 2013. I headed home, exhausted, eight pounds lighter, and more determined than ever to get a Stone sheep.
While I had been in good physical condition prior to my 2012 hunt, I spent even more time in the gym to prepare for 2013. Leif would send me into Sheep Creek, which was a somewhat easier country to hunt than that of the previous year, but the words “easy” and “sheep country” are really an oxymoron. I hunted with Dan Leonard, a seasoned guide with more than 60 rams to his credit.
I arrived in camp early in the day and got settled into the cabin. We waited the requisite six hours after flying to begin hunting, so Dan and I got to know one another. Dan is a loquacious sports nut, much like myself, so I could immediately tell we would hit it off well. He had spotted a band of rams not too far from camp on the previous day, so we headed up the trail to try to relocate them.
Sure enough, the rams were in the same basin. To my amazement, Dan declared that one was a legal ram. Although it was late in the day, we decided we had time to make a try for him before dark. Could it really be this easy after all the difficulty on my previous trips? The climb was a gut buster, but within 90 minutes we peeked over the ridge and spotted the rams about 300 yards away. I eased the .300 Win. Mag. into position and settled the crosshairs on the ram’s shoulder. A goal of a lifetime was finally in reach.
Then Dan blurted out, “Don’t shoot! He only has one horn.” Sure enough, the left horn had broken off all the way to the core. He was still a legal ram as his one good horn was well past full curl. After all the time I had spent looking for a legal ram, I actually considered shooting him, but I came to my senses and held off.
Dan had more than one ace up his sleeve. He had spotted two rams in a different drainage about a week earlier and he thought at least one might be legal. We took two saddle horses, two pack horses, a wall tent and enough grub for several days and headed that direction. We had the camp set up by early afternoon and saddled up for a look around. Within an hour, we found the same rams Dan had seen a week ago, and sure enough there was one dark black ram with a full curl. This ram had two horns, so the hunt was on.
The climb was actually quite easy, and the rams appeared to be heading down toward us. We eased into position and let them come. They apparently were going to cross the mountain face above us on a route to the next basin east of us. The brush was too tall to allow me to lie prone, so I would have to shoot from a seated position using shooting sticks. The rams were slightly more than 400 yards distant. Dan urged me not to pull the trigger unless I was comfortable. He felt that we could relocate these rams in the next couple of days provided we didn’t run them out of the country with a missed shot.
I had an important decision to make and I desperately did not want another miss at a Stone sheep. I decided that now was the time. I believed I could make the shot. I got the crosshairs as steady as I could make them, then tickled the 2 ½-pound trigger. A distinctive wop indicated a hit. He was not down, however, so I shot twice more; missing once as he ran across the mountain face and hitting him a second time when he stopped. Down he went. I had done it!
It took three tries over 42 years, but the quest of a lifetime was accomplished. Placing my hands on that ram was the most satisfying moment of my hunting career. Looking up at the sky awash with stars as I rode to camp with the ram’s head in my pack filled me with gratitude for God’s blessing me with this amazing 42-year journey.