The morning of October 10th, 1982 was very cold. Rolling over in my sleeping bag I could hear snow splattering against my little tarp shelter. Willow brush around the camp had been a blaze of fall color the evening before. Now everything was covered in a soft layer of fluffy snow. My leather boots were frozen and I laid them by the fire as I brewed some strong coffee. Not the best day to hunt sheep, but I was running out of time. The rams that were here a few weeks before would soon migrate down toward the Rapid River winter range. For many of the older rams, this would probably be their last winter. I was here on a solo mission to find a ram of my own!
Several weeks previously I had ridden into this same valley with a hunter from Washington. Willard was about 60 years old and a brilliant & successful lawyer. He was almost the perfect hunter, laid back and content with looking over many rams in wild country. Unfortunately, Willard was slowly losing his eyesight to cataracts. At this stage in life his shooting skills were very poor. On day one we put a textbook stalk on a nice 38″ ram that was feeding low in the willows. Seven shots later we watched as the sheep disappeared over a distant ridge. We continued to hunt hard in sunny weather over the next week and soon “struck gold”. Seven mature rams bedded down in a high basin…..their old leader with heavy flaring horns that appeared to be at least 42″. We watched this ram for hours through the spotting scope, a classic Stone with a dark cape. He looked ancient and his horns were battered by years of dominance fighting during the rut. A difficult stalk, several relatively easy missed shots and long faces were all that we brought back to spike camp that evening. Nothing is more disheartening for sheep guides than to watch a superb trophy ram running away on high alert. There was no way that ram was going to live through the coming winter. I really wanted another crack at him and the guiding season was coming to a close. I started to plan my own personal hunt.
Nine hours walking with a fifty pound pack along trails that still showed my horse tracks is not exactly fun. There was constant freezing rain & snow, typical of late autumn mountain hunting. But the vision of that heavy, flaring ram that we missed on the previous hunt was always with me. So I set out from my minimalist spike camp that first morning full of hope. Inching up the slippery slopes toward the familiar “ram” basin I noticed a lot of fresh tracks in the snow. Finally gaining a clear view I immediately spotted seven black dots lying near the top. A quick look with my old Bosh & Lomb’s confirmed it….the big ram was there. The stalk seemed easier this time with no hunter to drag along, one human shape to conceal rather than two. Resting in the snow about 200 yards above the sheep, I had an excellent, but cold, vantage point. I slowly eased the Ruger 270 onto my pack, careful not to get snow in the barrel. One shot and it was all over.
I have always found it anticlimactic walking up to a ram after it is down. Really, the essence of sheep hunting is in the stalk and the daily pursuit. My pursuit of this particular ram had taken weeks. He was a beautiful ram, not 42″, but just about 40″ with both horns broomed. The self portrait taken that day shows it was snowing and I look wet but happy. After 43 years in the mountains, I am more of a guide than a hunter. It was a wonderful feeling of accomplishment taking that ram, but I probably would rather have had Willard, the half blind lawyer shoot him. Still, the ram is on my wall as I write this and I am proud of it!
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