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Craig Francis | Photos By Steven Drake | 5.26.2020

The Gift: Two in Four

Dustin Roe has been a sheep guide for nearly half of his life. Along those many adventures, his network in the outfitting business has grown to include like minded people across much of North America. One such friend is Glenda Groat, owner and operator of Canol Outfitters. Over the years Roe has sent Groat a handful of clients, and as a thank you for that business, Groat had a gift for Dustin: a tag for Roe to hunt a Dall Sheep of his own.

Dustin, his client Chris Peccia, fellow guide Kash Mair and SITKA photographer Steven Drake took flight deep into the McKenzie Mountains, eventually making basecamp alongside a remote lake in the crook of an ominous and impressive valley. The plan was for Dustin to guide Chris on a rifle hunt and, time permitting, they would stay out for Dustin to try and fill his own gifted tag with his bow. Now, standing beside the lake, witnessing this wide-open country of scree slopes and short grass parks firsthand, he realized, “this place is not conducive to bow hunting.”

The team wasted no time. They hiked five or six miles south along the valley and set up an afternoon glassing spot. They spent a few hours glassing but turned up no sheep, so they opted to hike back to camp. Then on that hike back, they spotted some rams. “One of the rams was impressive, exactly the type of mature animal we were looking for,” Roe remembers. ”It is never supposed to happen this fast.”

The crew waited for the wind to switch, and then climbed up and sat on him, hunkered out of sight and watched the hands tick away on the clock. It was July 14 and the season opened July 15. There are no nights in the far northern summer, so the season opened at 12:01 a.m. All light was legal light, and when the clock rolled over they got ready. At 12:40 the ram ambled near a spot with cover. Peccia and Roe made the stalk to a scant 150 yards. Peccia made an expert shot, taking the ram quickly and cleanly.

“Chris knew his tag was the priority. I wasn’t going to have him shoot just any ram so that I could get to hunting myself,” Roe says, “but he knew that the sooner we were able to find him a mature ram, the more time I would have to hunt.” By 7 a.m., they packed the ram off the mountain to their spot back at the lake and got in a few hours of sleep. Soon, Groat was back with the helicopter to pull the sheep.

“She flew in, and we all thought she was going to move us to a spot with better country for bowhunting,” Roe remembers. “She got down, and said, ‘I’ve decided you guys can hunt from here.’ I thought, really? Really? But in hindsight, that was a second gift.”

Peccia, now excited to play the part of the guide, was excited and led the charge into higher country. “I was in the back yelling for Chris to slow down,” Roe remembers with a laugh. They set a new camp in a boulder field, then got to the top of a ridgeline to glass.

It didn’t take long to find the ram.

An old solo sheep, broomed-off on one side, laying in the wide-open slope, rested a mile away. “There were a few little green bushes on the scree slope and one green spot on an adjacent hill,” Roe remembers. “When he gets hungry, that’s where he’s going to go,” Roe thought. The waiting game began.

The ram didn’t move. The team passed time drawing on shale rocks, keeping track of the time in the endless sunshine. 2 a.m. 3 a.m. 4 a.m. Then, finally, the ram moved to the green patch, but the wind was bad. “It’s hard to wait like that, then when the sheep is in the perfect spot but the conditions aren’t right, it's hard to stay tight, to continue to wait, but we had time,” Roe says. After his meal of green grass, the sheep went back to the scree slope.

“He’s going to get up again,” Roe told the team after 27 hours on post. The wind was good and he wanted to be ready when the sheep moved to feed. “This is my chance, I thought, and if I don’t take it now my brain isn’t going to function after another 27 hours.”

The country was so wide open, Roe and his guide friend Kash Mair made a three-hour hike around the mountain the sheep was on, and came up the backside, hunkering into some scrub pines along a ridgeline. They were 40 yards from the green spot, and between them and the grass was a boulder. When the sheep walks behind that, Roe thought, I can draw.

What they didn’t know is there was a lush green bush behind the boulder. The sheep walked out, 40 yards away, and stepped behind the boulder. Roe drew, but the sheep didn’t show on the other side of the big rock. Roe held the bow at full draw and slowly stood to look over the boulder. All he saw was horns, the skull cap, and eyes. The ram pegged him.

It took off on a fast run. Mair ranged the ram as he ran, giving Roe the yardage. Then the sheep stopped. 96 yards. He’d been practicing all spring and summer at 100 yards. Roe set his slider sight, drew, collected all his focus, and loosed the arrow. It found its’ mark.

“That’s the longest shot I’ve ever made, and I never expected having to make it. But the ram was standing broadside, there wasn’t much wind, and the arrow went where it needed to be.”

Packing the ram back to the lake, Roe and his A-team of client, guide and photographer only then realized they did something really special. Two rams in four days. Sheep hunting is known for being a long and strenuous endeavor in tough country, but things had fallen into place in rare fashion.

The victory celebration was sheep ribs roasted over an open fire. It was an adventure none of the crew would ever forget.