My formative years in the sheep mountains began and ended with horses. Roundup at my grandfather George Dalziel’s Horseranch Lake camp was intense. Long hours of tracking and chasing horses that had just spent the winter in wild solitude on open range. I am sure the horses thought it was all great fun…..lets run away from the wranglers and get the season off! Somehow we always managed to corral the horses we needed. Often there were new colts and occasionally some older horses went missing (wolves having permanently retired them). Horses from nearby outfitters sometimes ended up in our string on the open range. I remember Frank Stewart riding into our camp looking for his lost horses, dressed in leather chaps and a large Stetson hat. Later I met Earl Boose at Grave lake, after one of his favorite horses joined our bunch. These were pioneer outfitters in northern B.C. and I felt privileged to meet them.
Wrangling horses requires focus, physical endurance and patience. It is not just a matter of looking for fresh tracks or listening for bells. There are trecherous streams to cross, bears to watch out for, and sometimes miles to walk on foot when old Joker or Trigger decided to lead all thirty hobbled horses back to base camp…without the guides. Each morning I would try to get the horses in early enough for the guide & hunter to have a full day in the field. Soaking wet, dressed in a thin jean jacket, running shoes, and carrying a 30-30, I sure did not look like a cowboy. But before long I was proficient in saddling horses, packing horses, shoeing horses, and swearing at horses!
Focus, physical endurance, and patience are also necessary traits for a good sheep guide. However, the most important requirement for a decent guide is the ability to spot game. Native guides were the best at this as they possessed a natural, instinctive knowledge of sheep habitat (their forefathers had been hunting this area for generations). I was constantly using my Bushnell binoculars trying to spot sheep before the guides, usually without success. Stone sheep are notoriously difficult to see when bedded in rock and often we would spend an entire day glassing just one mountain. When a group of rams were spotted too late in the day or too inaccessible for a stalk, a decision was made to try for them the next morning. If there was a big ram in the group, the “patience” part was difficult for us all.
Although the prime years of record book Stone sheep were gone, 1973 and 1974 produced some exceptional trophies. I was in a spike camp along the Major Hart river when guide Felix Johnny returned with a heavy horned 42 1/2″ ram. Guide John Porter brought in a beautiful 41″ ram that was taken right above base camp at Blue Sheep lake. Myles Bradford and hunter Ed Stedman harvested a tremendous 45″ flaring ram that has since graced the cover of several sheep hunting books. Binoculars, spotting scope and measuring tape were my constant companions. Finally in 1974 my grandfather presented me with my first guides licence and I was as proud as an eighteen year old boy could be.
My first experience actually guiding a sheep hunter by myself occured at Griffith Ridge, near the Rapid River. I have long forgotten the hunters name, but not the details of the stalk. After several days of hard hunting and seeing few sheep, we located a lone ram, high up on a grassy plateau. It was a difficult stalk and we soon ran out of cover. The distance was probably much further than my inexperienced estimate. This was well before the invention of range finders. A dozen shots rang out and my hunters forehead was covered in blood from a nasty scope cut. Luckily, I was soon skinning my first Stone ram and enjoying the post kill excitement with a very happy hunter. It was a small full curl ram, but I felt I had just passed a big test. Riding into spike camp that evening, Felix Johnny paid me the ultimate compliment; “You did good son. Sheep better watch out or these mountains will soon be full of bones”.