Anyone who has hunted sheep more than a few times understands the incredible feeling of excitement when a truly large ram is located. Having guided hunters for over forty years, it is safe to say that I have seen only a handful of rams that would make my hands shake. These are always heavy rams, measuring at least 43″ in horn length. My excitement level increases a notch or two. I have been known to swear and forget things on the mountain, like cameras or sunglasses. Stalking a big ram takes intense focus, as they do not get to be their size or age by making mistakes. Of course there is also the challenge of keeping the hunter calm enough to take a steady shot. The adrenaline rush is about the same for everyone, guide, first time sheep hunter, or veteran sheep hunter.
Large trophy rams are almost always old. Teeth are worn and their bodies not as robust as when in the prime of their life. Often, the coming winter will be their last. The first thing a good sheep guide does after walking up to a freshly killed ram is count the horn growth rings. Spending twelve or more years evading hunters, wolves, heavy winter snowfall, and rutting dominance clashes with other rams, is a tremendous feat……a life well lived. These are genetically superior rams. Many of the new born lambs we see racing across alpine meadows in the spring are their progeny.
Respect for the animal you harvest as a trophy seems to be a difficult concept for non hunters to understand. After the shot I usually let a hunter walk up to a ram by himself, to savor the moment. I follow behind, taking my time and living completely in the moment. I am in awe…..not only from the visual impact of the massive horns, but also of the sum total of the animals life experience. This feeling can only come from years of studying sheep in the natural habitat, following ram tracks along narrow sheep trails, seeing rams bedded in totally inaccessible cliffs, watching vigilant ewes with lambs on a mineral lick as a pack of wolves wait patiently nearby, and simply admiring the graceful beauty of these animals. For an experienced sheep guide, trophy hunting is as much about respect for the animal as it is about inches. Yes inches do matter, but only in the broader context of the “hunting experience”.
So what happens to the sheep trophies years after they leave the field? Apparently, the massive 45″ Stone sheep pictured here was never mounted and lays abandoned in a dark basement. The 43 1/2″dall ram pictured was recently offered to me for sale, as the hunter is now elderly and must downsize (no one wants the trophy). Both rams were taken many years ago when I was a young guide, the Stone in Northern British Columbia and the Dall in my current outfitting concession here in the Yukon. Both hunts were long, difficult backpacking trips, without horses. The memory of these big rams and the incredible challenge they presented are still with me today. I am happy to be able to share these photos for posterity.