Tactics to take sheep hunting to the next level
Spring is here, draw results are trickling in and the countdown to mountain hunting season is on. As you’re checking draws and making arrangements for your summer and fall hunts consider these three tips to help take your mountain hunting game to the next level.
1) Skip the practice range
We walk back to marked distances, shoot on a flat plane into square targets, large bags or 10 ring circles all from a comfortable stance. The practice range is garbage time! Just like hitting a homerun in the ninth inning of a 10 to nothing baseball game. Sure, it might feel good and you can get some cool pictures for social media but the reality is that it’s not bowhunting and that’s not preparing you for a bow shot in the mountains.
This year, invest in a 3D target, hit the hills (or mountains) and make that your new practice range. A general rule to remember: a third of your shots are across the hill, a third are downhill and a third are uphill. Shooting in the mountains will be uncomfortable and challenging, especially in the beginning. Practice from different stances (sitting, kneeling and standing) to make things even more challenging and realistic.
Shooting in unfamiliar situations will help you develop a repeatable, simple and reliable routine for that once-in-a-lifetime shot. Visually, shooting in a variety of scenarios and environments trains your eye for realistic mountain shots that you’ll likely encounter. Most importantly, shooting in different positions at different angles teaches you how to “level” your bow, use your sight bubble and consistently locate a solid anchor point.
2) Sit around
Fact: You kill more sheep with your ass then your legs.
Hiking hard is hard. Glassing hard can be even more difficult and is much more important. The longer I hunt sheep the more evident this becomes. Insert cliché here: “Hunt smart, not hard.” Glassing, glassing often and glassing well will take you to the next level of sheep hunting.
I’ve learned that the first step to finding more game is spending more quality time behind your optics. A typical day in bighorn country starts by climbing to a glassing spot before daylight where I’ll spend the first three or four hours of the day. When I get to that spot I'll change into a dry shirt, throw on a jacket, set up a foam sitting pad (for comfort) and get my tripod and optics ready.
Then, it’s time to sit back and let the mountains come alive. Commit to spending the next three or four hours behind your optics even if there’s nothing there. Pick apart every rock, cliff, shadow and “stone” sheep, scour tree lines, ridgelines and avalanche chutes; then, repeat. Shake off the fog! Every 15 to 20 minutes stand up and grab a snack or drink to keep your mind and eyes fresh.
I was reminded of the importance of glassing while hunting ibex in Asia. We met an old time ibex hunter. The hunter, a local legend in his nineties shared epic stories with us in broken English about ibex hunting in the 1940s and 1950s and feeding his village with those ibex. As I got up to leave, the old legend walked up, grabbed my upper arm and pushing me out the door. In clear English he said, “You kill ibex with your ass, not those,” as he pointed to my feet.
3) Never underestimate a ridge or skyline
To me the most exciting part about sheep hunting is the moment right before I peek over a ridge to see what’s in the basin below or the mountain on the other side. I have this recurring dream where I peek over a ridge and 30 yards below lays an old, heavy, busted up dark caped stone ram. That is still a dream but, in reality, it’s the way you should approach every ridge and skyline.
I’ve had the opportunity to hunt with outstanding sheep guides and hunters — guys that I’d call “pros.” By watching these pros, I’ve learned that they never nonchalantly approach a ridge. It’s more than trying to not “get skylined.” Pros approach with diligence and heightened awareness, concealing any motion, noise or outline (“skyline”) that might alert their prey of their presence. It’s impossible to quantify by how much, but I can guarantee moving to vantage points, ridge tops and skylines undetected will result in more game spotted.
Through the years I’ve developed my own “skyline system.” Every ridge and skyline is different. Generally, as I get closer, I look for a good solid spot to rest my pack. Under the cover of the ridge I’ll take a few seconds to catch my breath, grab a drink and confirm that both my rangefinder and release are handy. Don’t rush, take the time needed to look over the new country and avoid any unnecessary movement and noise. I want my bow and pack close but I also want to be able to “slide” to the edge with the least amount of movement and figure exposed. I use pieces of the terrain to cover any shape or movement that may be revealed. As I move closer to the ridge’s edge, I scan newly exposed country layer by layer with my naked eyes and then with binoculars.
In reality, there’s no better training than the real deal and making your own mistakes. There are a lot of things to keep in mind when preparing for a mountain hunt, but you have a lot of control over how positive your hunt will be. Take the time now to make your next hunt your best hunt.