How has the life of a sheep guide changed over the past four decades? Wow….then and now! Here is what a typical spike camp accommodation looked like in the 1070′s. Camp shelter consisted of an open air, plastic tarp stretched low to the ground to keep out weather. Today we use roomy mountain tents with two vestibules and zippered mosquito mesh doors. I slept on fragrant Balsam Fir branches instead of a Thermarest mattress stuffed with feathers. Cooking was done over a smoky campfire, with pots hung on small green spruce sticks. No lightweight stoves or even a campfire grill. Of course we had no chemical fire starter cubes, only dry branches to kindle a fire on a rainy day.
As you can see from the pictures, Levi’s were standard issue camp clothing. When the jeans got wet (which was pretty much every day), they chafed my legs with each step. Today I wear lightweight, synthetic, fast drying tech pants. Raingear was the old yellow, “school yard” variety, where as today my Sitka Gear is worn from dawn to dusk. Warm synthetic fleece was not even on the market until 1979, so heavy wool sweaters kept the chill away (if it rained when wearing them, they weighed about 15 pounds!). Camp shoes were most likely black canvas, high top sneakers, instead of the Goretex Solomon Trail runners I wear today.
We carried our hard earned trophies off the mountain with a rigid, Trapper Nelson back pack (sturdy wooden frame with one large canvas bag). Today’s guides favor lightweight internal frame packs, with a multitude of compartments. Optics were usually 7 x 35 power Bushnell or Bausch & Lomb products that would “fog up” with the slightest moisture. This season I will be glassing with very expensive Swarovski 10 x 42′s with a built in rangefinder! Camera’s used to be the large bulky rolled film variety where a successful picture depended on what light setting you manually applied. Modern sheep guides can pack a waterproof, crush proof, ultra lightweight digital camera with HD video capability and then download photo’s to share with friends over satellite internet in seconds.
Hunters rifles have also undergone dramatic change. Wooden stocks have largely been replaced with tough, scratch proof synthetic. Scopes are entirely waterproof and easy to adjust for distance. Short magnums did not exist when I began my guiding career and hunters certainly did not brag about their 700 yard accuracy prowess!
Perhaps the biggest change that I have seen over the years is in the communication field. Satellite phones did not arrive in the bush until the mid to late 1990′s. Prior to that, the venerable single side band, SBX 11 radio was our exclusive link to the outside world. Used only in base camp, they were a “party line” to gossip in other outfitting camps, as well as a logistical lifeline to our head office in town. Today every guide & hunter has a satellite phone with instant communication capability. Independent spirit and wild solitude have been replaced by social connectivity and increased safety.
Change, like death & taxes, is inevitable and the quality of life in sheep camp has improved over the years. However a few things never change; morning frost on our sleeping bags, the anticipation of horse bells near spike camp, drinking water the way it should taste from a high mountain stream, fat sheep ribs slowly roasting over an open fire, a double rainbow after an August shower, and savoring an evening sunset over majestic mountains that wild sheep call their home.