Making the most of a once in a lifetime sheep tag
It was Saturday afternoon and I was out working in the yard when the phone rang. It was Butch Whiting of Kryptek Outdoor Group, calling to invite me to the sheep banquet that night. It seems that they had two extra seats and thought my wife and I would enjoy a evening out with them. So, a few hours later, we were at the Idaho Wild Sheep Banquet with some the neatest people in the outdoor business.
Having saved the money for the entry into the banquet, I had a few hundred dollars burning a hole in my pocket. Not being the biggest sheep fan in the world, I decided to buy one of my best friends a lifetime membership to the Idaho Wild Sheep Foundation. Heck, it was only $500 and you had a chance to win a Yukon Fanning (stone) sheep hunt. So, I filled out the paperwork and entered him into the drawing. Unfortunately, half way through the banquet, I saw a sign that said you had to be present to win the sheep hunt, which makes sense because it drives people to actually show up to the banquet that night.
After the speaker finished his talk, I walked up and asked the life membership person if a friend could win if I put him in… he wasn’t there but I was and, for goodness sake, I was the one who entered him. They said “No, the rules are the rules and he needs to be here.” So, I asked them if I could pull his name and throw my in the hat. They said sure and found a young girl out of the audience to find and pull his name out of the barrel. I proceeded to fill out the needed paperwork and entered my name in the drawing.
By now, I’m sure you can see where this is going. Yes, my name was drawn. At the time of the drawing, the announcer said that the person who was drawn should get on the phone and call his buddy in Texas and thank him for not showing up. I turned to our table and said, “I won, you guys.” They replied, “No way.” I said, “Yes, I did.” And then announcer said my name and the table erupted.
Never in a million years would I have thought I was going to go on my own sheep hunt. Trust me, I love sheep and hunting them but usually I have a camera in my hand and I’m filming a hunt for a client or friend. Never have I thought I would have a tag in my own pocket and a ticket to the Yukon in the other.
It happened all too quickly to really let it sink in. One day I win a sheep hunt and, a few months later, I’m checking in my luggage and headed to the vast expanses of one of the most beautiful places in the world: the Yukon in Canada.
Two days later, I flew into hunting camp with four other sheep hunters, sharing hunting stories and laughs. The next day the other hunters left camp.
Unfortunately for me, I didn’t have a guide. My guide was called out on another hunt with another long time client of the outfitter. So, I stayed in the main camp for three days and helped the owner tie up odds and ends. It was pointless to get frustrated and mad; it usually never helps out in any situation and, for heck's sake, I was in one of the most awe inspiring places in the world learning what it took to run a totally off-the grid base camp and ten spike camps. Holy cow, it is a never ending job, running supplies and keeping camps happy and warm.
Finally, at the end of the third day, I flew into Wolverine Lake with the owner. He was dropping me off in a fly in/hike out 25 miles drop camp with experienced guide and sheep hunter Logan Hodson. Logan and I were to hike and hunt our way to another camp with a longer landing strip to be flown out. It would take us four days to work our way to the other camp, hunting and setting up camp every night thereafter.
After being flown into camp and looking at those mountains with a 90 pound pack on my back, I was regretting that I didn’t have more time to get in shape. Yes, a little fear set in, but it was soon overshadowed by the pure beauty of one, if not the, prettiest places I have ever seen.
When I reached camp and met up with Logan, he informed me that he had already found a legal ram right out of camp. It was too late to go after him that night because we had to wait the required six hours after flying to pursue big game. That night I hardly slept and not because I knew there was a sheep within a mile a camp; it was because of the huge rock under my sleeping pad and my pad would only hold air for three hours before I would have to blow it up again.
The next morning came about the time I had to blow up the pad for the third time. Fortunately, we were heavily fogged in which allowed me to catch up on some needed sleep.
By noon, the fog was starting to lift and we were hitting it hard, looking for the sheep from the night before. Within an hour, Logan had spotted five of the rams from the previous night and, within minutes, I had located the shooter ram. He was running with another legal ram. It was time to make a move.
It was 1 p.m. and we scrambled to lighten our packs and hit the mountain that went straight up out of camp. The sheep were just over 1,600 yards away, but the stalk on them took over five full hours of busting our tails to the final crawl within shooting distance. At every rim or rock outcropping, we would stop and scan before busting our tails to the next canyon or rock outcropping that could hide our quarry. Draw after draw, canyon after canyon, every rock pile and outcropping, nothing was overlooked till we finally got to the draw where we had originally spotted them that afternoon. They hadn’t moved more than 400 yards in five hours. After being pinned down by other rams, we were finally able to crawl within 310 yards and set up for a shot. By the time the camera was set up and the gun was steady, the sheep had fed out to 349 yards. 349 yards, a chip shot for today's rifle hunters, but I was a bow and muzzleloader hunter. My farthest shot to this point was 310 yards on a elk. I was calm and confident in my skill.
The guide asked me if I wanted to take a practice squeeze of the trigger and I said “No.” I was confident I could make the shot. I felt great with my shooting ability and the ability of the Weatherby .257 Mag to do the job. It’s not the biggest caliber, but with a well placed shot it can take down almost anything including a sheep. At the sound of the report, my full curl, 9 1/2 year old ram took its last step and rolled down the grassy crease to his final resting place.
24 hours after being flown into spike camp my hunt was over. After a few hundred pics and video, we made it back to camp just after midnight.
My hunt was over, but the experience was just beginning.
A hunt is not just about the harvest and, when you travel to hunt, that is very evident in your surroundings and experiences. It may have been midnight; however, it was still light outside. I was able to see where the outfitter got their business name now. We positioned the sheep about 30 yards from camp to keep the grizzly bears at least that far from our tent.
I didn’t sleep at all that night. The adrenaline, large rock under my failing sleeping pad, rain, and the thought of protecting my snoring guide from the grizzlies kept me awake till 8 a.m. when Logan woke and made coffee. It didn’t look like we were going to hike the extra 25 miles out to the other camp with all this extra weight. We were swamped in; rain and fog made for an absolutely beautiful picture but would have made the trip out dangerous and possibly deadly. It made more sense to call the outfitter to fly in and grab us than try to make the hike out.
Little did we know it was going to take three more days for the weather to break just enough for him to come and extract us from this high mountain lake overlooking the tundra of the arctic circle. Two more sleepless nights, grizzlies, snoring, rain, wind, growing rocks and my lungs hurting from blowing up a failing pad every two to three hours.
We couldn’t move the tent because we were on the the only flat area around and it was the least rocky, plus we kept hoping we would hear that sweet sound of the super cub flying up through the canyon. It never happened, and every night felt like I was reliving a scene from the movie Groundhog Day. At least we had plenty of sheep meat.
Yet, all of this stress was worth it when the rain would subside enough to poke our heads out of the tent and see God's amazing landscape. The Yukon is one of the most beautiful places I have ever beheld. The colors are straight out of the most colorful Picasso painting. The tundra was colored with 20 shades of greens, 20 yellows and tans. Mash that all up, throw in some blueberries and an occasional pillar of rocks shooting up 2,000 feet and you have the Yukon.
I miss it more sitting here writing about it. Words and pictures cannot describe the pure beauty of the outdoors and wildlife of the Yukon. The Arctic Circle is not a place I ever thought would have this much life and beauty. Granted, I was just on the fringe of it, but the landscapes, vegetation and animals of this place is honestly second to none. I have traveled to other continents and countries and what we have right here in North America takes the cake.
After three days being water logged and stuck within a half mile of camp, the weather broke and the silence of the day was interrupted by the sound of the super cub echo coming up the canyon to rescue us. On the flight back to base camp, I couldn’t help but catch myself shaking my head in amazement at what had just happened and the experiences that I would now get to share with family and friends. Flying out of the most beautiful place in the world and looking down at the untouched nature, a 60” moose bachelored up in the wetlands below us, grizzly bears and sheep escaped around the mountain side from the large predator in the sky. Sounds like a movie. Nope, it's better. It’s a dream that you couldn’t script if you tried to.
We made it back to base camp just in time for another front to move in and isolate us from the outside world one more time. This time it was snow. Snow in August? It is the Yukon! Not only was it snow, but it was the strongest and most snow that the outfitter had seen in August since he had been outfitting in the Yukon—over 20 years. For the next three days, I spent time between my bunk house and the main lodge, eating and conversing with the others stuck in camp with me. Finally, on the third day, the snow broke enough to run the four wheeler up and down the runway so that the incoming plane could pick out the runway along the white covering the Yukon. His GPS could get him there but could he put it down and pick us up? Nope, the first plane turned back mid flight. The weather had turned bad so the pilot made the decision to head back to Dawson City. Hours later, the owner of the charter company flew in and grabbed us. Finally, the hour flight back to civilization.
One trip to the Yukon and I got to experience all the Yukon could throw at me. Well, at least all that I wanted it thrown at me. It was way more than I bargained for, but I wouldn’t trade those memories for anything. The hunt only lasted one day, but the experience lasted nine days and created memories for a lifetime. One day, I hope to get back and take my family. I love sharing that kind of beauty with my family. Nature is all I need to inspire me.
Thank you for this awesome opportunity Idaho Wild Sheep Foundation and a huge thanks to my buddy, Mike, for not being present that night of the banquet. If you want to experience a trip of a lifetime, come and join us at the next banquet. This could be you writing the story of your winning sheep hunting adventure. Thank you Butch Whiting for the invite. What a great night we all shared together. Till next time!