Sheep Hunt 2009

It all began when my husband, Ben, put in for the walk in sheep hunts for us both in Dec. ’08. Now, that he’s married he has a double chance of getting to go sheep hunting in his favorite spot. I was 7 mos. pregnant at the time and we figured I should be in shape to go by the following Aug., with the baby at 6 mos. Our other little baby would then be 23 months.

Ben was ecstatic when the results came out and I had drawn a sheep tag! He immediately began planning. I was just getting larger and more uncomfortable as the birth of our baby drew near and wasn’t too excited yet. Finally, it happened, Feb. 14, God blessed us with a little Valentine girl. We thought all was well until 3 days later found her and me being medivaced to Anchorage and a day and a half later a leer jet took us on down to Seattle Children’s where our little girl underwent open heart surgery at 9 days old. She had a rare condition called Transposition of the Great Vessels. In other words her blood wasn’t becoming oxygenated and she would have died within another day or so if it hadn’t been detected. God had her in His hands from the beginning and we praise Him for allowing us to get to keep her and have her become a perfectly normal, healthy little girl. During this whole period, when I would think of our plans for sheep hunting, it all seemed impossible. How could we go now that we had a baby who needed all this medical attention?

Well, little did I know…when Hasrah had her 1 month checkup with her cardiologist in Anchorage we asked him how to treat her. He said, “ Well, you’ve raised one baby, Hasrah’s normal now, just treat her the way you’d treat the other one.” We wondered if it was safe to take her to our wilderness camps, like sheep hunting. He assured us we could take her wherever we would take our other baby! Wow!

Ben excitedly planned a cache to deposit before the snow was out so he could use snow machines. Bringing his wife and two babies with as little gear as possible would be enough to pack in there in

Aug. He wanted to have a comfortable camp, not the normal, bare bones, sheep camp. So, one week after returning home with our newly fixed up “ heart” baby, Ben, his dad, and a couple brothers were towing two cache drums up to the top of the mountain where we would hunt from.

The next step in our hunt began when we realized it wasn’t very realistic for me to sheep hunt alone while Ben stayed with our babies in the tent. This was such a “ once in a lifetime “ hunt for me and being raised in Idaho I’m not familiar with knowing a legal ram when I see one. We wanted to be successful, so decided we needed a babysitter. We flew my younger sister up from Idaho to accompany us and babysit up on the mountain, so that Ben could be my “ guide”. Ben has not only Dahl sheep hunted for himself, but has professionally guided many successful sheep hunts, as well.

August rolled around quickly, Ben had planned very well and we were ready. My sister, Audrey, was here and we left Aug 4th to ride the 25 miles in to our lower cache.  The season opened Aug. 10, but the area was closed to motorized vehicles Aug. 5, so the 5 of us rode in on two 4 wheelers. It was a gorgeous, sunny day and we thoroughly enjoyed the ride. We finally make it to our lower cache at about 11:30pm.

The next day Ben and I hiked back about 2 and a half miles to bring up the rest of our gear, since it had gotten too late the night of the 4th to make another  trip by 4 wheeler.

We camped at our lower cache until the 8th. We had quite a bit of rain and our mountain campsite was concealed by fog some of the time. We enjoyed sitting around our campfire knowing that we wouldn’t get to enjoy that luxury up on the mountain, for lack of wood. The day of the 8th the weather broke and we decided we better get up there. It was a long 3 and a half mile hike with heavy packs. Ben had our 23 month old girl, Adalia, and as much gear as he could take. I had Hasrah, plus a load of stuff, and Audrey had the rest. We slowly made our way through brush, across 3 creeks and up the mountain. It took us 7 hours, which included rest stops. As we hiked up that last long hill the fog rolled in obscuring our cache. Ben prayed that it would lift, so that we could find our stuff and before we were quite there it lifted just above where we were headed. We got our tents set up and finally got to bed late.

The next morning we were socked in with rain, fog, and cold. Ben crawled out of our tent, while we stayed inside because it was warmer. He made us all some Mountain House lasagna which we thought was a delicious breakfast! Boy, were we ever glad that we had made the long hike the day before. It would have been miserable trying to do it today for the kids. We just sat in our tents pretty much the entire day.

Opening day dawned clear and mostly sunny with a stunning view of the large mountains to the west of us. Ben and I left early with the babies sleeping peacefully. We hiked up and peeked over the ridge into the valley we wanted to hunt. After glassing for a couple hours we decided to move on up the ridge line. We saw Audrey getting the girls up. Being a stay at home mom I was missing them already. I went down for a few minutes with them and then Ben and I headed off up the ridge farther. We saw a group of 5 rams bed at the base of the cliffs about a mile and a half across the valley. Being the first day we thought we’d look around some more even though atleast two of those rams were good ones.

As we worked our way up the mountain we saw some sheep nearby. Not seeing any good ones we continued on. Soon, we came to some again and thinking they were the same ones, we paid little attention to them. All of a sudden Ben found himself staring at a legal ram less than 100 yards away. Ben was in the open and when he tried to ease back behind some rocks to tell me to shoot, the ram took off. Fog had already rolled in and now it began to snow. It was a really neat experience to actually watch as the fog came whistling in and surrounded us. Our whole valley was now obscured, so Ben and I found a large boulder and huddled next to it while he heated some water for cocoa on his little MSR stove. The fog did lift before dark and we slowly headed back to camp. Those 5 rams laid at the base of that cliff the entire day. Later we wished that we had gone after them, because Ben got a better look and he judged two of them to be over 40 inches!

Aug. 11 we awoke to about 2 inches of snow on our tent and we were fogged in. We weren’t able to hunt until later in the day. Ben peeked over the ridge and saw those 5 rams, but it was already too late to go after them. It would take hours to hike under cover to the other side of the valley and sneak up on them.

Aug. 12 Ben saw those same 5 again, so we hiked off keeping the ridge line between us and them. Once in a while we’d peek over and locate them. There was patchy snow which made spotting them difficult and we lost them after a short time. Ben glassed and glassed, ( about 8 hours while I roamed in search of blueberries)  never seeing them again and finally decided they’d dropped into a smaller, neighboring valley. Once again it was now too late to ever think of going after them without having to spend the night in the open.

Day 4 we took off and headed towards that smaller valley. We hiked just shy of 5 miles on the GPS and never located those rams again. They must have left the area and went into another drainage, we thought. At this point we decided that I should shoot the first legal ram that we had an opportunity at. We were seeing lots of sheep, so it was just a matter of getting close enough to a legal one to shoot. Later in the day we spotted a legal ram. It was beginning to get late and we were a long way from camp. Needless to say, just as we decided that I should shoot this legal ram we looked up and saw a beautiful ram dancing it’s way down the mountain. Now, this ram was a real dandy. Some people like the gnarly busted off horns, but for some reason I think those lamb tips really make them look sharp. This one not only had the lamb tips, but he had by far the widest spread that we’d seen, even above those 40 inchers. Well, we quickly abandoned the idea of shooting the “ legal” one and decided this was the one we wanted. He was obviously seeking the shelter of this valley. He was very squirrelly and nervous. We hunkered down and hoped that he would come near us as he crossed the large valley coming to our side. We couldn’t see him much of the time and he went deeper into the valley where there was more safety. We didn’t get him this day.

Day 5 began much like the others, by trying to spot our target animal. We located that beautiful ram where he felt very safe. He was on a rock outcropping low in the cliffs where he had a good view up and down the valley. We knew we’d need to go far out of the way to keep from being seen. We were still thinking that I shouldn’t pass one up if it was a legal one, so we were very careful as we slowly spent the day in search of a good ram, although we headed towards where we’d seen that beautiful one. This was a harder hunt than I had realized it would be. I was feeling a bit depressed because it seemed like we could never get near enough before the sheep would be gone. There were a lot of ewes and immature rams in the valley which didn’t make things any easier. On we went working our way along the base of the cliffs to the back of them where our trophy was last seen hours earlier. There were many rock chutes. As we neared the chute where our ram had been stationed Ben carefully crawled out to a view point to look, and carefully he crept back to where I was despondently sitting, feeling like I was a  failure. Almost in disbelief I listened as he said the ram was still there! With a dream like response I followed him around a large rock face where we came into view and faced this wily trophy we’d been looking for all day. I was in a total state of disbelief as I watched him standing there in a beam of sunlight. The sun was low, it was now a quarter after 10pm. He felt totally safe as he stood there shining in that ray of sunlight. I tried several positions to make the shot from. I finally lay down, nearly sliding on the steep slope, trying to brace myself on the rocks. I kept expecting him to run off as all the other sheep had done. I was working in slow motion. Ben said to aim at his back bone. The ram was atleast 300 yards off across a couple of rock chutes. The wind was literally howling in our faces. I precariously made the shot, he dropped. I thought, “ good deal, he’s dead”. But, Ben said “shoot again” as the ram popped into sight. In my dream like state I fell into auto mode and forgot to aim high. “ Shoot again” I heard him say. Two more shots and then it was all over. Our ram disappeared UP into the steep craigs. Oh no. We had to leave, it was growing dark and we didn’t want to spend the night up there.

The next day Ben went to the ridge above our camp and spotted him. He was bedded high up in the cliffs. He was definitely hit and moved very little that day only getting up and turning occasionally. The weather was nasty and raining but later in the day it lightened up, so Ben took off. I stayed on the ridge and watched as Ben went way out of his way to cross the valley, go up the other side, and begin working his way up a rock chute to get in a position to finish the job. He miscalculated and accidently headed up the wrong chute and came to a dead end, too dangerous to go on. It was about a mile and a half straight across the valley from me. The next two days we couldn’t do anything except try to keep an eye on the ram, because of weather. He stayed right there, though. One of those days the fog only lifted long enough to see him for 7 min. Atleast, we knew he was still there.

Finally, four days after I shot him the weather cleared. In the mean time while waiting for the weather to lift we were also praying that the ram would come down out of those cliffs. Well, this 4th day Ben watched our prayers be answered as the ram came down all the way to the grass at the bottom! He was still very ill, but seemed to be getting better.

Now, a party of 3 had shown up, also planning to hunt this valley. Ben knew them and spent the entire day hunting with them. They had spotted one of the big 40 inchers that we’d seen at the beginning of the hunt. They slowly made their way deeper into the valley where my sheep was located. Ben didn’t want to blow the sheep out of the valley for them by just marching up to mine. I was again watching from the ridge. Very late in the day the group of sheep with the big ram winded the party, as the wind shifted, and took off. They clustered around my ram trying to get him to follow. Thankfully, he was too sick and stayed behind.  Ben and I had radio communication this time and I was able to tell him where the ram was. He hadn’t been able to see the ram for most of the day. The fog was beginning to whistle in around me. Just before my whole view of the valley was obliterated I saw Ben and the others heading deeper into the valley in search of my ram. I was now all alone in the bleakness. It was soon going to be dark. I sat there listening and waiting for a shot. Ben finally spotted him at only 80 yards, because of all the terrain, and as soon as they saw each other the ram jumped up to take off and Ben made 2 shots dropping him for good. I was elated and so relieved to hear those shots, because I knew that we finally had our trophy ram! Ben came back very late, but thrilled. This ram was better than I could have hoped for. He is beautiful as he now hangs on our wall and brings back such fond memories.

Our total trip was 18 days. We had to hike about 7 miles to where our bikes were stashed and ride the other 21 and a half miles to get out to the highway. My bike broke down so I ended up in walking about the last half carrying Adalia on my shoulders. We had a bike cart, but it was so heavily loaded with gear and horns and Hasrah that it was tough pulling through a lot of the muddy trail, so I carried Adalia to make it easier for Ben who was towing the cart. We got home Aug. 21st. That was a great experience for us all and having my sister along made it even more memorable. We don’t see each other much because of the distance between here and Idaho, so that was a special time making memories together. And, now we girls can say we’ve been sheep hunting!

My ram measured 38 ¾ in curls each side with 13 15/16in bases. It’s very symmetrical and has a 31in spread from tip to tip.