With a snowfall warning in effect, my good buddy, Andrew Hartley, and I were headed for the Rockies. After a 10-year wait, I had a late-season Rocky Mountain Bighorn tag in my pocket. There was one catch…this was an archery only tag. Though the days were becoming shorter and the snow was piling up, the rut was drawing near and we had made plans to focus our efforts in the last two weeks of November. Head-lamps led the way to our stash of supplies that we had hauled into the mountains a month prior.
Snow was falling as our wall tent was rising and before long, we had a place to call home for the next 15 days. Anxious to see what was above us on the mountain, we hiked up to a lookout point and found ewes, lambs, young rams and one heavy horned mature ram. At 90 yards the ram decided that was close enough and he moved off with his ewes.
The next morning welcomed us with fresh snow and sheep in the cliffs.
After watching the biggest ram for the morning, we decided to put a stalk on him. At 66 yards the group of rams we were following busted us and no shot was presented. With our tails between our legs, it was time to head down the mountain.
As the first week wore on, we were faced with extreme Alberta temperatures and dangerous winds.
There were several days that were futile to be carrying my bow, because if a shot did present itself, there would be no way I could ethically take a shot at a ram in the wind.
On the fifth day of the hunt, I spotted the mature ram at the base of some cliffs, bedded off the beaten path and virtually inaccessible. I got a good look at him from 200 yards with my spotter and confirmed 100% that his right side was legal.
3 days later, the ram was still bedded along the same cliff ledge, making us wonder why he hadn’t moved. After a long vigil, the ram stood up and began to limp along the cliff edge. His front right leg had been injured and discomfort was keeping him in the vicinity.
Seeing this mature old ram injured began to tug on our hearts. Andrew and I were finding it hard to watch the ram in pain. The discovery of the ram’s injury fueled our determination to get down to where the ram was held up. Andrew inspected the cliffs above the ram to see if it was possible to get down to his level, but ¾ of the way down, he got cliffed out. After an in depth discussion, we decided that we would put it all on the line and descend an avalanche chute, circle the mountain along the cliffs and ascend to the ram’s position through the timber.
3 tense hours later, we had closed the gap considerably and it was time to get sneaky. We took off our packs and began our stalk along the cliffs toward the ram we assumed was still bedded. A mistake that we made before making our move on this ram was not making a mental landmark. We both thought the ram was around one more corner and when we looked up, he flew out of his bed at 40 yards and bolted into the timber below. It was a rookie mistake that took a lot of energy out of our depleting supply. I strapped my bow onto my pack and followed Andrew through the waist deep snow and up out of the cliffs. As we made our way to the top of the mountain, I took off my pack for a drink of water and noticed that my quiver full of arrows had fallen off my bow in the timber way below! Fortunately, I had more arrows and broadheads at camp and with Andrew’s quiver I was good to go. The next few days found us sitting and watching ewes being chased by non-legal rams.
On November 27, there was a noticeable increase in sheep activity as 3 rams were breading ewes all day long. Time was running out and we still had not seen another legal ram on a mountain full of ewes. Frustration began to creep into my mind when I only had 2 days left to fill a tag that I had waited over 1/3 of my life for. I fought with my mind on the hike back to camp and forced myself to remain positive. Staying in the game mentally is sometimes harder than physically when on an extended extreme conditions hunt, but I had too many people believing in me and I was too stubborn to give up.
Friday, November 29, started out the same as the last 13 day. Wake up, eat porridge, gear up and head up the mountain.
What we found at the top of the mountain were the same ewes and the same three breeding rams. Andrew looked at me on the top of the mountain and said, “We have 2 options: We can head further north and look for new rams, or we can drop down onto the cliffs again and see if we can find your quiver as well as investigate where that ram went… it’s up to you, it’s your hunt.” I chose the second option and we were on our way down the avalanche chute.
An hour and a half into our scramble, Andrew found my quiver laying on our old trail where the trees had taken it off my bow. Part 1 of our mission was complete, now we just needed to find the ram. Once we got to the ledge that the ram had busted us on a few days earlier, it was, once again, time to take off our packs and get stealthy.
Following the ram’s crusty exit trail through the thigh deep snow, we found where he had descended a few cliffs. With a large cliff face on our left and steep timber on our right, we followed his trail along a bench to a corner in the mountain. As I slowly peered around the corner, I could see a path continuing out the far side of the recessed bench. My binos confirmed that no sheep tracks traveled that trail and no tracks jumped off of the bench we were standing on, meaning only one thing - the ram was on the same bench as us and he was close!
I looked at Andrew and whispered my findings while I hooked my release onto my string that already held an arrow. Leaning further forward I slowly began to discover that the cliff face on our left recessed into a small cove and I suddenly saw a small black tail and a tuft of white fur. I could see the ram’s rump and he was bedded less than 10 yards from where I stood. My heart kicked into overdrive and my hands instantly became tingly. I closed my eyes and took a second to regain my composure and get in the zone for a shot that I had dreamed of for many years. I took 2 slow steps forward and as my weight shifted, the snow crunched. The ram quickly stood up and his horns were all I could see around the rocks. Nervously turning his head back and forth, he bounded toward a cliff on the edge of the bench we shared. At this point I was at full draw and as I said, “baahh”, he stopped and hesitated his escape over the edge. My arrow didn’t take long to cover the 15 yards from my bow to his heart and he shot off the bench into the powder below.
He plowed a trench for 15 yards through the snow below and collapsed under a spruce tree. 10 years of anticipation had come to a conclusion and a dream was now complete. The highlight of my hunting adventures had just unfolded after the hardest 14 days of my life. After many high-fives, fist pumps and hugs, Andrew and I started the picture and deboning process.
With packs loaded heavy and the short winter daylight running out, we began what would be the most physically demanding pack-out we’d ever done.
The cliffs, timber and avalanche chutes were major obstacles, but once we crested the mountain and were on our descent to camp, the reality of what we had just accomplished together began to sink in.
November 29, 2013 was a day I will never forget. Not only did we find my quiver and fill my tag on what is known as one of the most difficult Canadian hunts, but we were able to harvest a mature 11.5-year-old ram that was injured. Not able to paw for food, he likely would have starved to death in the cold months that were ahead. It was a satisfying feeling knowing that his meat would be in my freezer and his memory in our minds, rather than suffering and becoming a casualty of the mountain.
Andrew was the best hunting partner a person could ask for on this hunt and his mountain awareness kept us safe and efficient. This ram is as much his as it is mine, and from the bottom of my heart, I say thanks for helping me fulfill a lifelong dream.
Be sure to checkout the video of the hunt here: