For years, I would cook for the guides out in camp during the month of August, before Alaska changed the hunting season for Grizzly Bears in our hunting area from September first to opening with Dall Sheep, August 10th.
I may ride out with the guides and clients for the day, but usually I would simply tend the camp and wait for September to roll around so that I would be guiding as well. It never occurred to me, that I would or even could guide for sheep.
After a terrible accident in 1997, my life as I knew it, changed drastically. Learning to walk again was a pivotal moment in my future. Doctors and specialists alike, thought and told me that it was doubtful that, even if I did manage to regain a walking stride again, I would ever be able to ride a horse or navigate on foot the difficult terrain of the Alaska wilderness.
Sixty-eight days after being shot through my left leg, loosing half of my quadriceps, and into my right leg, fracturing my knee, with a 44 magnum hollow point 240 grain bullet imbedded in the bottom of my femur, I mounted and rode out of camp to go hunting. It wasn’t easy and it was incredibly painful. It was also enlightening.
That Winter, so many years ago, was spent in pain and washed with tears of effort and no little amount of self-pity. As the months went by and the sun began to shine longer, I found myself looking forward to bringing the horses back in for the Spring Hunts.
“Why don’t you guide for Dall Sheep?” Master Guide Terry Overly asked on night as we were sitting around a Spring bonfire. I had never considered climbing the mountains to hunt for sheep. Me? Short and fat were definitely not what I had been shown as the profile of a Dall Sheep Guide. How could I?
The months went by and the idea stewed. My hunting partner (guiding partner, as this is how we trained, in teams for safety, advise and convenience) Brian decided that me hunting Dall Sheep was a fine idea. (humph)
That Fall Hunting season, I climbed every time Brian did. Each and every day, while Brian was guiding for sheep, I was there, panting and complaining. (I mean, seriously, who finds this mountain climbing stuff, fun?!)
I could spot sheep and decide whether they were rams or ewes and lambs by looking. I could judge (as much as is possible) from the creek with a spotting scope. My only drama was climbing the mountains and making the final call for our clients. The Fall I spent climbing with Brian, I found that I could make that call and did, each time.
Moose hunting came and went, months went by as time does, and our Fall Season came around again. I went out, as usual, with Brian and at times with Brian and Darin (another of Pioneer Outfitters’ guides) following them up the dang mountains, day after day, with client after client.
I was riding out with Darin, his hunter and my own hunter as well one day on the last Sheep Hunt of the season, when we spotted more rams. Darin and I dismounted our horses and set up our spotting scopes, laying down to take a closer look.
Darin turned to me in the creek bed and asked, “What do you think?” “He looks really good.” I answered him, thinking as soon as he and the client started the climb, my hunter and I would continue on to look for bear. “Go get him.” Darin said, packing up his spotting scope. “Huh?!” I said, mostly expecting Darin to laugh and say he was just kidding.
Wrong. So, feeling more than slightly worried about not having someone to follow up the mountain (I had found climbing was easier for me if I concentrated on matching my partner’s pace and steps.) and making the call, all on my own, we crossed the creek.
We crossed the creek and tied up our horses, pulling bridles off and hobbling them as well. Then, looking at my hunter and his excited smile, I took encouragement from that alone, and began to climb.
As we reached the ridge line that I had been aiming for to take a peak from, we dropped our packs and slowly looked over the edge. There, at 164 yards was the ram we were looking for. My binos were enough with the close distance to see that he was a dandy, well past full-curl, three quarters turned away from us.
My hunter had already proven to me that he didn’t really shoot well under pressure, so I leaned over and whispered to him my directions. “He is a dandy. Full curl and not broomed, he is a beauty for your first ram. Now listen, if you miss…. IF you miss, don’t worry, he very well could offer another shot or even run right towards us, just stay steady and ready. Ok?”
The moment was upon us. He missed. (of course) The ram turned and ran right towards us. Closer and closer. Then closer. He was bigger than my binos could see and he was still covering the ground between us, showing no inclination of stopping until he ran right over top of us. “I can’t take the shot!” My hunter whispered frantically in my ear.
“CLOSE ENOUGH!” I got up on my knees on the ridge and put my arms out as I said the words loud. (yeah, yeah, well I couldn’t let him get any closer!) The ram skidded to a stop less than 20 yards in front of us and BOOM!, my hunter took his shot.
Yipee! Pats on the back, hugs, laughter and a few overwhelmed tears later, we turned to look at the ram that had fallen right in front of us and… where did he go? He was gone! WTH?! Where’d he go?! I saw him fall! Less than 20 yards in front of me!
There. He had fallen into a sheep-sized hole in the ground, completely out of sight and after 15 minutes of looking and sweating, I was happy enough to see him there, not to mind too much that we’d have to pull him out of that hole.
My first sheep. All on my own, I was a sheep guide. The previous year, learning all I could and a lot I didn’t know about the habits and routines that helped with hunting sheep, Brian and I were glassing sheep from another creek bed when I found a rock. A rock that answered the question I had asked myself repeatedly, “Should I even try?” Here is the rock I found. The answer to the question I couldn’t stop asking.
What about you? Have you decided to have a “My First Sheep” story of your own? Let us help you make that dream come true. It is an Adventure you will remember your entire life.
Are you booked for your Dall Sheep Hunt, this Fall? Well, why not?!