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Dall Sheep NWT - Round 2
Round 1 was in 2014 with MacKenzie Mountain Outfitters and was a fun hunt. I came home that year with a good Mountain Caribou taken on the last day, but had no luck on the main goal of taking a ram. Saw a few, but never got into archery range.
The 2015 schedule was already full with a Stone Sheep hunt and others, but I had an offer from MacKenzie Mountain to come back in 2016 on a potential cancellation hunt to try for Dall Sheep again. Unfortunately by April of this year, it looked like that wouldn't happen. So when I heard of a 2016 opening with another NWT outfitter.....Dave Dutchik of Redstone Trophy hunts, I grabbed it. The time slot was Aug 27th - Sep 10th.
Two of our fellow bowsiters, bigpizzaman and cajunarcher, would also be hunting Caribou in camp at that time.
Flights went through Edmonton, then on to Yellowknife and finally Norman Wells, NWT. We all loaded off the Canadian North flight and made arrangements to get on the Twin Otter charter flight to haul us with our gear to Hook Lake, the location of Redstone's base camp. We learned we'd be delayed 2-3 hours, as a group heading to Gana River would be taken first. Unfortunate (for us) that we drew the short straw, because the first flight was just in time to beat the weather. A low cloud ceiling prevented us leaving for the rest of the day on Saturday. So we'd have to wait out the weather overnight at the local hotel.
No dice again on Sunday....we were once again stuck in Norman Wells for the day. We stayed hopeful for clearing weather, but it never happened Sunday. We had nothing to do but enjoy more eating and drinking at the Heritage hotel. Luckily they've got a decent restaurant and bar, and we made the best of their facilities. Here's two of the hunters in our group, brothers Joe & Steve from California, who'd be rifle hunting Sheep & Caribou:
Monday morning we awoke optimistic, but once again a low cloud ceiling held up our flight. The Twin Otter operates under VFR, so they can fly only with good visibility all the way up to the peaks of the Mackenzie mountains to our west.
After more waiting, conditions finally started to clear Monday afternoon.....it looked like we were finally on our way. We'd lost two days of hunting, but were thrilled to finally be cut loose.
Here's the group Monday afternoon at North Wright Air's float base in Norman Wells, about to board the Twin Otter.
Pictured left to right are John from Wyoming, Steve from California, Richard from Reno, myself, bigpizzaman, Joe from California, and cajunarcher.
After a 45-minute flight, we lit down at the shore of Dave Dutchik's base camp on Hook lake.
A view of the lake from the cook house.
The boss himself, Dave Dutchik.
First order of business is checking out all the rams and 'bou taken by prior hunters. All these rams were rifle kills, and all dandies....a good sign!
The camp cooks were busy getting us ready to hunt. That's Dave's wife, Dallas, at left.
By Tuesday afternoon our guides (who also serve as wrangler and trail cook) were preparing the horses that would take us to our respective camps.
bigpizzaman, cajunarcher, and myself would head out to "Salt Creek" spike camp. From there, those two would stay and hunt caribou, while I'd leave on horseback with guide Dustin, to set up a smaller spike camp at "Slippery Creek" where we'd try to kill a ram.
A 2-hour ride brought us to Salt Creek where Tim & Lee set up their camp. I'll let those two share the details of their hunt as they wish. But just a hint...it got real interesting at times!
On Wednesday, which was 5 days after we arrived in Norman Wells, we were all ready to do some hunting. Tim & Lee headed out on foot to search for whopper caribou. Dustin & I departed on horseback for our own camp.
En route, we saw a few caribou, and this young quill pig who fled up a tamarack.
Guide Dustin at left, Dave mounted. Dave came along so as to return our riding ponies and pack horse back to Salt Creek camp while we hunted sheep.
We set up camp in the timbered valley at center of this pic, where two drainages meet.
First evening after setting up camp, we climbed some cliffs above camp to glass for sheep.
View looking down into camp.
We spotted a band of 8 ewes and lambs upstream of our location that first evening, Wednesday, but saw no rams.
Unfortunately, the fog and rain were back once again.
The next day Thursday, the foggy & rainy conditions continued. We donned our rain gear and headed up anyway. Temps were in the 30's farenheit.
Once up high we found we were pretty well soaked, and so we started a small fire to warm up a bit.
We encountered caribou every day that we hunted. Dave's area seems to have a high concentration of these animals.
We headed off into the fog hoping it'd clear up to allow for glassing. We stumbled across this dead-head ram in a drainage.
Looked to have been a 7.5 year old that died this past winter of unknown cause.
More caribou skylined in the next drainage.
The persistent fog made for difficult glassing.
From time-to-time the fog banks would pass on by and give us a quick glimpse of the higher slopes.
We covered a lot of country, but found no live rams Thursday.
On the trip back towards camp, I couldn't resist putting the dead head back together to pose for a pic.
The next day Friday, the fog & rain conditions were pretty much the same. Glassing opportunities were limited to the low & medium slopes.
Luckily that's where most of the sheep were hanging out, although most were ewes/lambs.
This group of 13 ewes were the first we spotted that day.
Finally on Saturday, the fog and rain started to blow off the mountains.
Now maybe we could get up high and glass a ram.
Dustin carried a rifle at all times, due to the ever-present danger of bears. Grizzly are not hunted in the NWT for all practical purposes, and therefore exist unchecked in numbers and reportedly less fearful of humans.
After all the gray days, the mountains were much more cheerful-looking on this day!
Finally some rams! These were over 2 miles away, and feeding near the base of a distant snow-filled cirque. We'd climbed about 2500 feet to reach our glassing point.
Getting to these rams meant dropping down the same distance over the back side of the mountain, then up about 2000 feet over the next ridge, then back down the far side of that one, and finally working our way up into the snowy cirque to see if we could encounter the rams.
By the time we'd spotted the rams, it was almost noon. But with these being the first rams we'd found, and no other leads in mind, we made the choice to bomb in after them. There were no real gaggers in the bunch as best we could tell, but we thought we should get a better look, at least.
After the long haul down, then back up and around the next mountain, we'd cut about half the distance. Once we reached the top of the next ridgeline, the rams were gone from their previous spot.
We suspected they moved off to the right and up toward the snow bowl out of view, so we launched downhill toward them.
Here we reached bottom and were hiking up the drainage leading to the rams. They're hopefully just around the corner (past the farthest trees) and off to the right ahead. You can see the snow-line in the pic at top right.
A massive chunk of "glacier" lay in the stream bed, left over from last winter.
We reached a spot giving a decent line of sight into the cirque, but saw no rams. We continued slowly picking our way up the drainage, but no luck finding them. We continued all the way to the snowline and beyond, checking all the chutes, shelves, and slopes. But still no rams.
Since it was getting late and we were a long haul from camp, we actually discussed the possibility of spending the night on the mountain. But with lack of supplies, freezing conditions, no sleeping bags, and our tired legs, we thought it probably best to try and bomb it back down to camp by following the drainage all the way.
About that time, we glanced up to see a single ram skylined about 2000 feet above us. He'd spotted us, but wasn't too concerned. After a long stare, he continued feeding again.
We were too beat-down to try anything with him, and we knew it was too late in the day to take off after him anyway. He was a modest-sized ram, not real heavy, but possibly a "last-day shooter" type of ram. I told Dustin if I had him at 40 yards right then, he might get shot!
As to where his compadres were located, we could only wonder. Only the single ram was visible, and he soon slipped over the rim and out of sight.
In order to avoid thousands more feet of up-and-down climbing, which we had no time for anyway, we elected to try and head straight down stream, which would take us right to camp. But we knew the risk was multiple waterfalls and cliffed-out areas, especially far down-stream, where the water got deep and swift.
Along the way we ran into this big porcupine. He was exceptionally large, and featured a blond to near white color.
We crashed down the drainage as fast as we could go, got our boots soaked when crossing the stream a few times as darkness neared, and busted our backsides slipping on moss-covered rocks a couple times. Then it turned out we had to climb a thousand feet up and back down to get around the last waterfall anyway. But we made it back to camp in the dark around 11 pm that night.
The next day Sunday, Sept 4th, was more eventful....not in a good way though! Weather was cold and clear, just about perfect. We rolled out of the tent early, had a nice breakfast of bacon & eggs, and headed off to climb the big ridge west of camp to find those rams again. For the first time during this hunt, I strapped my bow onto my pack, for easier hiking. We knew the rams were 2 or 3 miles away, so no need to keep the bow in hand yet.
Our route up the mountain required passing through a grove of thick birch and willow brush in the beginning. At one point I felt a small twig hang up on my pack or bow, so I sort of backed up, wiggled and pulled against it a little to break it loose. It came free with a light snap sound, which I assumed to be the dead twig breaking off, and on we went. But as I'd find out later, the snap sound was not the twig breaking!
After reaching the top of the mountain, I took off my pack and unlashed the bow. We pulled off our boots which were still wet from last night's water adventures, to let them dry in the sun while we glassed for the rams. Meantime it crossed my mind to give my bow a routine practice draw, just to be sure all was well. I normally do that about once a day. That's when I noticed the string loop was about 3 inches lower than it should be. How weird, I thought. Glancing at the top cam, the ugly truth was revealed. The bowstring was completely off the cam, wrapped around the axle on one side, and snapped down over the buss cable at the cam module on the other side.
The bow seemed unharmed, except for the string being off the cam. Now I recalled bringing along a bowmaster press, with which, if it was in my pack, I could've fixed the bow in a couple minutes. But since the portable press weighs in at more than a pound, unfortunately I had opted to leave it back at the main camp on Hook Lake.....Crap!
After brainstorming any possibility to fix the bow where we sat, using the few tools in hand, a potential fix came to mind. Using two lengths of paracord, and with Dustin's knot-tying skills, plus my fold-up Allen wrench set, I made my own press. I backed the limb bolts out first, as far as I dared, to make the bow easier to press. Then by slowly twisting together the two strands of paracord connecting the left and right pairs of split limbs, I got the bow pressed enough to slip the string back around the top cam. I had to press it again after finding the peep had rotated 180 degrees. But basically we were back in action. Whew!!!....disaster avoided.
Meantime, Dustin had found the 3 rams again. They were way up high in the same snow-filled cirque as before. However, the bow-fixing process had taken us the whole afternoon to sort out, and it was now far too late to consider going after the rams. Dustin assessed that two of the rams were dinks. The 3rd ram was probably the same one we saw skylined the prior day.
We decided to use the rest of our daylight to follow the ridgeline west and check out any other part of this country that we hadn't yet glassed.
We came across a small band of 3 ewes, and one 3-1/2 year old ram.
The 4 sheep watched us curiously for a while from about 140 yards, then bedded down.
We glassed lots of the remaining country from some excellent vantage points, but no more rams were spotted.
We considered our options going forward with this hunt. Our supplies were starting to dwindle, and no good rams had been spotted yet, other than the marginal shooter which was too distant for reasonable access from this camp. So with all things considered, the best choice was to call in for the horses and start fresh in a different area.
The next day, Monday, our horses were brought back to us, and we headed back to Salt Creek camp, where Lee & Tim had been hunting caribou.
Either we'd hunt some of the areas above that camp for rams, or we'd get access to the chopper service to take us to a more remote location.
The Redstone hunting area is about 6000 square miles, therefore only a small percentage is reachable by horseback. With just a few days remaining to hunt, air transport might be the best option.
Here we're packing up camp.
We arrived back at Salt Creek after dark on Monday night. We'd sent a message by Sat phone to headquarters to send the chopper for us if available. Otherwise we'd go elsewhere on foot or horseback, hunting some of the nearby areas for the three or four more days we had left. But the next morning, Tuesday at about 8 am, we heard the rythmic thumping of a helicopter approaching our valley. They lit in a clearing just downhill from camp, and from there it was a quick 5 minute ride back to main camp.
We re-supplied and headed out to a new area right away. We flew about 40 miles to a valley with some rams living nearby, arriving just before noon Tuesday. We set up camp and prepared for hunting the next day.
We placed our camp in a beautiful spot that was at about 3200 ft elevation, on a gravel bar next to a crystal clear stream fed by snow melt.
On Wednesday we were ready to get this hunt restarted. A group of three sheep were grazing about a mile above our spike camp.
Glassing we saw that two of these were younger rams, but one was a shooter. He was tight-curled, but an old mature ram, with his right horn tip flaring out nicely, and with his left horn broomed off a good bit.
His right side:
Left (broomed) side of the same ram:
The two other rams in this group were 5- or 6-year old type rams.
In this pic, the ram on the right had his neck and chin stretched out, resting his head flat on the ground.
Dustin had lost the tripod for his spotting scope, when it fell off the back of his horse on an earlier hunt. I didn't bring my spotting rig on this hunt. So we just had to make-do!
The other 4 members of this ram group were hanging out separately, on the next ridge down.
Those 4 were comprised of three younger rams, and one good mature ram.
He had a noticeably huge body, with horns past full curl, good mass, a deeper drop than the broomed ram, but with lamb tips that didn't flare out much.
Both rams were no-doubt shooters, but the second (unbroomed) ram appeared to be in the best position for an archery stalk that morning. So we took off after him.
The only way up involved scaling a massive boulder slide up 1000 feet or so. This wasn't the "tight" type of rock slide, but the extra-loose kind, ready to give way at every step.
This pic was in the lower part of the slide that wasn't as steep. Up higher was steeper and more dangerous, so no time to take pictures, just tried to focus on getting off this death trap asap!
On reaching the top we found the 4 rams feeding calmly in a grassy bowl.
We took note of the massive body on this bruiser.
He was so heavy in body that he seemed to have no neck.
Unfortunately, this part of the story with regard to those 4 rams, will be brief to tell. At first we had the wind perfect, and were just waiting them out while hidden behind a rocky lip as seen above.
But after a couple hours waiting for my chance to move in, the wind began to shift until it was blowing straight to the rams.
Right away they all went on alert and started moving off towards a distant bowl. That was the last time we'd see those 4 rams.
After that disappointment, we turned our attention back to the other three rams.
We found those three again, bedded on a slope about 1000 yards upwind of us. We quickly dropped over into a deep ravine and back up the other side to access the slope they were on. We inched along, trying to get above the spot where we'd last seen the rams. That's when things started happening fast.
I spotted the back line of a ram with his head down, feeding along, 100+ yards below us in the rocks. His direction of movement was angling him slightly closer to me as he moved left. We hunkered down in the rocks, Dustin got his binos up and whispered "that's our ram!" It was the old broomed-off ram.
He fed along, looked our way a few times, but never pegged us, and the distance was shortening a little. But he was located steeply down slope, so the pin selection would be tricky. Dustin was hidden behind a boulder about 7 yards to my right, and had no angle-compensation on his rangefinder. My Leica binos, which I usually prefer to use for ranging, also don't have it. I took out my small angle-compensating rangefinder and placed it on a nearby rock. I picked it up 2 or 3 times and ranged him, but with the continued movement by the ram, it was tough to keep up.
I nocked an arrow, once he'd gotten about as close as I thought he might, and readied for a long shot. He stepped up on a large flat rock, slightly quartering away, and stood still. Dustin whispered the yardage off his Leupold, and I set the MBG Ascent sight to my best guess. When he turned his head away I stood, drew, got steady, and promptly sailed one right over the ram's back. Left & right were perfect, but I assume he was way closer on the horizontal than I thought.
Luckily the ram hopped forward a few steps and froze behind a bush. He had no idea what just happened. Meantime his two buddy rams had wandered in to a couple hundred yards above & behind us. After a few minutes he saw them and started up slope to join them, heading right at me.
With another arrow nocked I got up on my knees. As he reached about 30 yards, and was about to cut our wind, I drew the bow and took a frontal shot, striking him pretty good. Dustin watched him run off through the binos, and saw blood running down both front legs. We saw him getting wobbly as he ran, and then disappear around the corner of the mountain. We took off after him immediately.
We then spotted his two buddies about 1/2 mile in the distance, but he wasn't with them.
The two small rams wouldn't leave, even though they could see us, so we knew the broomed ram was probably down or bedded in between us and the two rams.
Dustin and I split up to search the brush and rocks, and within about 10 minutes, Dustin whistled me over. The ram was down and couldn't get up. I walked over and put a finishing shot in him.
We took lots of pics, so here are a couple, and I'll see about posting a few more kill pics later.
The wildlife officer who later plugged the ram in Norman Wells counted his growth rings at 13. I had him at about 11-1/2, but either way he's somewhere in that ballpark.
I have a few more pics that I will try and post later.
Thanks to all for following along. And thanks especially to Tim & Lee for everything they added to this great hunt experience.
We got some cool group pics from departure day, showing everyone's results, but I won't spill the beans on those just yet.
Incredible recap Greg! (as usual)
Congrats my friend! Had alot working against you on this hunt and still found a way to get it done.
Three down and one to go!
Great story Greg! Congrats on a great ram! Way to stick with it!
Great job Greg! Awesome adventure.
That bow repair must have been stressful. Amazing work.
Great story congratulations!
Awesome story! Thanks for sharing.
Congrats, Greg! Glad you had an awesome hunt. Hope my 2 "coonass" buddies treated you well. Ha!
Great stuff Greg. Congrats on another great adventure.
Awesome - Thanks for sharing!!
Great job getting the bow fixed. Congrats!!!
Holy Cow Greg. What a great story with excellent pictures and narrative. Felt like I was in your shirt pocket for the total hunt.
Dall Sheep with a bow. Very nice indeed.
my best, Paul
Another great Spurgeon Adventure! Way to overcome a series of adversity to get a great ram!!!
Well done!!! What an adventure!!!
The ram's two buddies wouldn't leave while we broke down the ram. You can see them in this pic perched in the rocks a few hundred yards away (above the ram's back in pic).
You wouldn't know it by this picture, but shortly afterward the skies opened up and poured rain the rest of the evening.
Cleaning off an arrow with baby wipes.
Awesome story Greg and fantastic photos to go along with it! Congrats on a great ram and thank you for sharing it with us!
An epic adventure, solid effort and a great reward!!
Congrats on a fine, old ram.
The picture/narrative format really made the story come alive to! Thanks for the excitement.
Congratulations, Greg. Awesome recap as usual.
Congrats again Greg!!! I'm so happy for you man!
Wow! Great job detailing the highs and lows. The pictures are incredible. What kind of camera did you use?
Great story and pics..Congrats!!!
Awesome ram! Makes me want to go back up there for another trip...
Chief419, an Olympus OMD E-M5 with a 14-150mm lens. About the biggest lens that's practical while still allowing the camera to fit in a quick-access belt pouch.
Treeline, I'd encourage you to make the call. None of us are getting any younger!
Congratulations... thanks for taking us along.
Congratulations! Enjoyed the read - on my bucket list!
Congratulations! Great photos and write up!
Thanks for the adventure.
One of the advantages hunting in the NWT is generally thought to be better weather, on average, as compared to say, Alaska or coastal areas. But as a word of caution...don't assume anything! Good gaiters, good boots, and good raingear are still a basic necessity. I had the boots part covered, but my space-rain gear fell short. It has a limited life span for sure, especially the pants. By that I mean it will keep you dry for a while. But hours upon hours of busting through knee-high, soaking wet brush, the water eventually finds a way to soak through the pants and infiltrate the top of your boots....and then you're toast. For future trips like this, I might choose to take a heavy, rubbery type like Helly Hansen, even though they're non-breathable and weigh more.
The other do-over would be to keep a Primos sling on the bow anytime it's on a backpack. I actually had one along with me this trip, but got a little lazy and didn't use it when I should've.
Overnight after taking the ram, the rains changed into snow and dropped a few inches in our valley.
Man what an awesome recount of an awesome hunt!! Congrats!!
A Pika monitors our cutting up the ram.
Stopping for a brief rest at dusk during packout of the ram. Finally near the bottom with just a couple miles to go to camp.
Congrats and thanks for sharing.
Awesome thread. Great pictures and story. Thank you for sharing.
Please tell me that you cooked some of the tenderloins that evening!!
We sure did Jake. The actual (inner) tenderloins that is. Mild flavor & delicious! Then back at main camp, they tried to snatch the 2 backstraps away from me, but those babies came home fully intact, in my carry-on luggage ;-)
Wow fantastic hunt...great ram!!!!
Sticksender, thanks for bringing us along on your adventure. My compliments on a well told story and especially on your photos. That country is special and your photos allow us to imagine we were there. If you have any more, don't be bashful, post'em up. Congratulations.
Wow. That's a incredible adventure. From The bow fix to the helicopter ride. And then top It off with a 10 year old plus archery ram. I am So impressed. Congratulations ! Hunt
Way to go Greg! Sounds like a fantastic adventure and shows that when you stick with it, it can be done! ALso really enjoyed your pics.
Wow! Awesome adventure. Lee told me keep keep my eyes open for this report. Glad I listened.
My heart did sink a little when you were stalking the four rams and said that the rest won't take long to tell. I thought maybe you were going to grab the rifle. But no!
Just made the rest of the story that much sweeter.
Amazing adventure and an even better ram, congrats!
Congratulations on a great hunt and thanks for the awesome pictures and story! The tenacity of archery sheep hunters never ceases to amaze me.
Awesome hunt and ram! Congrats
Thanks for the reply on the camera Greg. Congrats again. Request for more pictures please!
Congrats--a beautiful ram!
The week's haul. The west coast rifle guys all doubled up on rams & bulls.
Returning to Norman Wells with a full load.
And just to throw in a 'fun fact'....according to the pilot, the Twin Otter aircraft burns about 600 lbs of fuel per hour.
Nobody deserves a Dall Sheep bow kill more than Sticksender. I'm glad you got one this year, I'm sure it was worth the wait. Most guys would have caved in and shot one with a rifle on your last hunt. Congrats!
the 'Steroid Ram'
Ram down, as he lay. You can see his 2 buddies waiting below.
Flying brass he was commited to bow only and that takes a special person ! My hats off to Greg on that hunt I knew he was gonna get it done ! Positive attitude goes a long ways and he never showed any sign of switching towards a gun . With all the bow issues he had on the mountain he still never had to excuse to switch . Real deal archery hunter right there!!
Congrats, awesome ram and adventure
Grats! Great recap!
Looks like you had a great hunt.
Awesome story and pics!! Congrats also!
Awesome! Awesome! Awesome! Thanks for sharing!
Congrats Greg! Well told as usual.
Whoa, what a hunt and great story....Congrats big time!
Great pictures and storytelling, way to go!
Awesome trophy and story! Congrats!!!
Awesome hunt and story, congrats!
Congratulations on a great Ram. Thanks for sharing.
wow what an adventure congrats to all just awesome
Great Read Greg!
Good luck, Robb
Wow good job !!! What a trip and way to go
Great write up. Congrats!
What a great recap of an awesome adventure! Congrats on a great ram and thanks so much for sharing your hunt with us.
Congrats man! Great pics and story!
Thanks for sharing. What an awesome hunt
Greg, great ram, great story, great photos! Congrats on your hunt this year! Way to hang in and get your Dall! Kurt
well earned and well told! Livin' the dream
That was great! Thanks for sharing!
Congrats on a great ram and hunt! Even more kudos for sticking with your bow!!
Thanks for sharing your adventure with us!
Awesome! So real was the story, it seemed like I was there!! ;^)
Congratulations on a great hunt and great ram, Greg. Thanks for sharing.
Awesome... great story and pics.... thanks for taking us along.
If it were me I don't think I would ever clean up that arrow.... =D
Outstanding story and photos, my friend!
Congratulations and well done!
Thanks for the ride!
Fantastic story and pics!!!great job hanging in there,and not getting rattled after the miss! Pat
Congrats Greg!! Totally epic!
You are incredible and can find a way to get thru everything!
Top shelf pics and story as always! Thanks for taking the time to share all of it with us.
Congrats love the photos and story!
Not sure how I missed this on the first go round but what an awesome hunt! Huge Congratulations Greg!