This was my 8th season hunting. I started out bowhunting elk & deer and, after a few seasons, I started going after Bighorn Rams. Each year has been a progression in the understanding of hunting, bow hunting, sheep, terrain, and myself. For sheep it's been a matter of learning how to find rams, their behavior, how they move and how to get close to them. The previous season I finally felt pretty dialed - I had a number of good chances on rams and knew it was just a matter of time before I'd connect. Moving towards success should have seemed like progress, but really I was haunted by the failures and close calls throughout the past years. Not content with failure I dedicated the entire season to getting a ram - failure wasn't an option. Honestly, I was so confident in my approach that I didn't think it would take too long. But the reality is that hunting rams on an otc tag is not all that easy, let alone with a bow, and I was humbled by the end... It takes some luck in addition to everything else.
Of my 7 previous seasons hunting, I've managed to tag an elk every time so there has become a bit of an expectation for the freezer to have elk meat each Fall. Archery Elk season opened on Sept 1st and general sheep opened on the 7th. I knew I wanted to scout a bit before the opener but figured a few days of elk hunting would be worth it. I was not going to be picky - first elk that comes in gets it. I made it out hunting with my buddy Liam. Liam and I together have packed out at least 10 elk (he's helped with all but 1 of mine) so it's pretty much a tradition at this point. I was on the calls for the morning but as it worked out an elk snuck in from behind to check out the action. I paused calling and Liam didn't miss a beat and finessed the elk in the last little bit. 30yd shot and we were loading up the packs within an hour or so.
With the freezer now stocked it was on to hunting sheep! My buddy Andrew booked off 9 days to come down and help get me find a ram. We worked hard the whole time and came up empty even finding a decent ram. We had a couple days of awesome elk action (can't ignore good elk action when they're bugling at you...) and had a lot of fun. We saw lots of bears - even watched one grizzly dragging another dead grizz into the bushes to eat. So it was sort of a success, but in terms of getting a ram, it was tough. All of September was tough. By this point I was feeling like the incredibly wet & cold Summer we had changed the patterns up a bit and I wasn't figuring it out.
In the beginning of October, I got close to a decent ram. I was drawn back on him but another ram that wasn't legal stood right behind him for a moment and then they all jumped into cliffs where I couldn't get a shot. A glimmer of hope turned into another haunting encounter...
We got a lot of snow this Fall and most of October was like Winter. I put in a lot of effort into getting a ram but the work wasn't paying off. Lots happened in that time - found rams, found short rams, found close rams, found a LOT of grizzlies, but just never had any great chances. Andrew said he'd come down for the last 4 days of the season to help out; we decided to pack in a camp for that time and give it all we had. On the first morning, while hiking in, we had a pretty good snowstorm and by the time it cleared in the early aft it was evident that sheep were moving. The next morning we got moving early and found some rams almost right away. Nothing legal but some were close and I stayed to watch and see if more were in the area. Andrew headed to another bowl that we knew sometimes holds sheep. A few hours after splitting up Andrew signaled me to come up. I hustled to him knowing it must have been a decent sheep. When I got to him he pointed out the lone ram and I got out the spotter and put it on him. I knew right away he was good without even seeing the profile (needs to be 4/5ths curl in AB).
The ram was in a tough spot so we watched him for a bit. Just when I started moving in to put on a stalk a short ram popped out of the trees near to him and they ended up dropping off the ridge they were on and down deep into the bottom of the bowl and bedded. Again we sat and watched for a while. Uncertain as to how to even get down to him, or whether a stalk was possible, we bounced the idea around of what the rams would do. Rather than wait and possibly never get a chance I decided to make a move. I studied the slope I needed to descend and picked a route down. Over a couple hours, I snuck down into where the sheep were bedded. The short ram was bedded on a hump in the wide open, quartering away from me. The legal ram was hunkered down in a little crease 10yds off and out of sight. The snow was mid-thigh deep and had a crust on it making stealth a challenge. Thankfully, the wind would come through in howling gusts and I used it to cover my movement. Sometimes when the gusts stopped there would be snow sliding down the slope and the short ram would pay attention to that but I was able to stay along the edge of some small trees to break up my outline.
Finally, I got to a point where I was 70yds from the short ram but still couldn't see the one I was after and I had no cover left. The whole way along I was continually ranging spots where I thought the rams might go through if they got up. I tried sliding over a few yards to get an angle on the ram. Just as I took a step the wind died and I rolled on a loose rock beneath the snow. I crunched the snow and instantly the short ram snapped up and locked onto me. When he got up so did the bigger ram but all I could see was his back. The short ram ran and then the bigger ram jumped up a few steps onto the little knob that the short guy had bedded on. I already knew the number (73yds line of sight, 51 corrected for angle) so drew back and released. That arrow seemed to take forever to get there. If you were to imagine a dot on that ram where you'd want to hit it; I watched the arrow go right through the center of that dot. The ram ran off the knob out of sight and back up the other side of the chute about 30yds then paused and rolled. Andrew had been watching the whole time from above and I heard a distant "woohoo!!"
I was relieved but also nervous to see where the ram stopped. He ended up literally a foot away from a big drop. I waited for Andrew to get down before touching him. We dug out a hole above him and rolled him uphill into the pit to give us a little breathing room. Snapped some pics, sent a few DeLorme messages to the people that needed to know and got to work.
I shot him around 4:30. We had him all processed and packed up by 7:30, made it up the slope to the ridge above by 10:30, across the alpine and back to treeline/camp by 12:30. A buddy of mine, Thanos, hiked in that night to bring us some Gatorades and help with the extraction. We packed up our camp gear and made it back to the truck by 3:30AM.
Overall, getting a ram with my bow has been a huge challenge. I was days away from the end of another sheep season and success seemed like a slim chance. I had a lot of different feelings but relief was one that was high on the list. I know my wife was relieved!
My daughter is always excited to be a helper and never misses a chance to work on processing our game.
I hunted a few days in November for Whitetails with my longbow and managed to connect with a nice one. Also, spent a lot of time hunting with Thanos as he drew a late season archery sheep tag in Canmore. He got a nice ram with only days to spare as well. But that's a whole other story.
After all the sheep hunting though there was a lot of catching up to do around home and my daughter really wanted to get some time in with Dad. We got out for a few days of grouse hunting and managed to find a few birds. She brought along her bow and arrows as well. With a bit of teamwork we got this grouse - the way she tells it, I missed and then she snuck in and shot it. She was so proud. It's a hunt that I'm sure we'll always remember. To this day she'll still tell anyone that will listen about it.
Other than that, found these little guys out in the hills close to the house - thankfully didn't run into momma at the time.
Those are the highlights. A little light on true photography but this year it was all about the bow and less time spent on the camera.
It's always amazing to me when a hunt works out: I know all too well the struggle that bow hunting feels like sometimes when you just can't connect, and then, the next moment, it seems simple. I love it.
Thanks for reading! Dan
p.s. my username is showing up as shutter but should be DanJ... not sure why.
She is a cute little one ya have there.
Thanks for sharing
Good luck, Robb