Solid guidance from family and friends can help turn big dreams into big realities.
My story really starts in 2003, when I was 17 years old. My father, Stan Simpson, owns Ram Head Outfitters in the Northwest Territories, and the Ram Head base camp on Godlin Lakes has been home away from home for my sister, Meghan, and me since we were born.
Meghan loved hunting at an early age, and while I have always loved the outdoors and fishing, hunting took a little longer for me to appreciate and enjoy. Now I am very thankful for every animal I bag, because every successful hunt involves taking a life. The summer of 2003, my dad guided me for Dall sheep, and I took a beautiful ram, my first big game animal, with Dad's .270 rifle. With that I developed a good case of sheep fever. A couple of year's later, Dad took me on a Coues deer hunt in Mexico, where I shot a buck, again with a rifle
At the time I was going to school in Arizona, where I lived with our family friends Bonnie and Randy Liljenquist. Randy and his son Matt are avid bowhunters, and when I expressed an interest in archery, Matt got me my first bow, a Browning Micro Adrenaline, for Christmas. He also taught me how to shoot
I loved it, and by January I was pulling just over 40 pounds and was ready to hunt. Again, Dad took me to Mexico for Coues deer, but this time I hunted with my bow. When I shot a nice buck, I was addicted to bowhunting!
To combine my new addiction to bowhunting with my sheep fever, Matt and I made a pact that I would go after another Dall sheep, this time with my bow. To help me get ready, Matt surprised me with a new PSE bow, and within a few months I was shooting it at 55 pounds draw weight.
In early August, my dad flew us into a remote area, where we set up camp on top of a mountain. It was a beautiful place where we felt like the only people in the world.
I felt ready for sheep, so Matt and I proposed our idea to Dad. After watching my progress with the bow, he agreed that I was ready, and we set a date for the next summer.
Our hunt began on August 8, when Dad flew three of us into a remote location in the Northwest Territories. I was very grateful to Meghan for agreeing to guide me, because she had to miss a friend's wedding to do it. Matt, a very experienced archery sheep hunter, accompanied us to give me guidance and to watch me go for a dream that we had hatched together.
That evening, when we set up camp on the top of a mountain overlooking a beautiful valley, we felt like the only people in the world. Early the next morning we hiked up a ridge in front of camp to glass and immediately spotted a band of nine sheep on the mountain across from us. Three of them were nice rams, and one in particular deserved a closer look.
My dad has a policy that hunters not shoot rams younger than eight years old. Looking at this ram carefully, Meghan determined that he was at least nine years old. One of his horns curled up past his eye, and the other was broomed back to a heavy point.
I was truly grateful to my sister Meghan, right, for agreeing to guide me, because she had to miss a friend's wedding to spend time with me in the wilderness.
While eating lunch, we planned our stalk. Then we descended the mountain, crossed a dry creek bottom, and started slowly up the far mountain. A quarter of the way up, we realized the wind was blowing hard at our backs, straight up the mountain -- and right toward the sheep. This would not work.
We ended up stalking those sheep three times, and the last time we bellycrawled 200 yards, which put us within 70 yards of the biggest ram. Still, that was too far to shoot, and the sheep clearly had winded us. They soon headed for the far side of the mountain, a jagged place not bowhunter friendly. Arriving at camp that night, we radioed my dad to pick us up to fly us to a new spot.
By the third night we were setting up camp in a place that looked like moose country -- boggy and wet. But beautiful sheep mountains surrounded us, and on the fourth morning we were up early and hiking up the mountain behind camp to get a good look. The country was stunning, and the weather was perfect -- warm and calm.
At the top of the mountain, we immediately saw several bands of sheep. The closest group was feeding on a flat high on the next mountain across from us. When they moved off the flat out of our sight, we assumed they had dropped into steep terrain to bed down for the day. We ate lunch to give them some time to settle in.
About 1:30 p.m., we set out on our trek to reach the sheep, slowly descending our mountain and hiking up the other. We didn't know exactly where the sheep had gone, but we knew they had to be on the other side somewhere.
Making our way across the flat, we stopped every few steps so that in case the sheep heard us they would think we were other animals. The wind was perfect, and the sun was at our backs. The day could not have been better. It took us about an hour to reach the far edge of the flat, where a cliff dropped about 1,000 feet to the Keele River.
Peeking over the edge, we saw no sheep, so we backed out and made our way to the next draw. Three times we did this with no luck. Where had they gone? With each look I was getting more excited, because I knew we had to be getting closer to them.
And then, as we were backing out the third time to head to the next draw, I got a strong whiff of sheep. "Did you guys smell that?" I whispered. They looked at me and nodded.
We had to be close, and now my heart was beating faster with every step. Calm down, I kept reminding myself. Calm down!
Cautiously we made our way forward, and as we dropped over the edge, Matt instantly spotted the sheep. "Get down!" he hissed, and we pushed ourselves into the side of the bank. As we crouched there, I could see the white of a sheep's side about 40 yards in front of us.
Meghan and Matt were able to see the sheep better, and finally Matt whispered, "He's a good one, Bailey. He's about eight years old and broomed off. But he's looking right at us." I still could not see him well and was n
ervous about getting a good shot angle.
When he died, my ram fell off a cliff, and we were not able to take pictures until the next morning back at camp. Our friend Matt Liljenquist not only got me into bowhunting but also went on the sheep hunt to encourage and support me.
While Matt and Meghan studied the ram through binoculars, I tried to stay out of sight against the bank. Suddenly Matt grunted, as if to say, "Oh, my goodness!" Then, looking at me, he said, "Do you want the big one or the smaller one?"
How could I answer that? At least five questions were running through my mind. If both rams were old enough, I would take either one. I just wanted to make a good shot.
I still could not see the sheep when Matt said to me, "Okay, get ready, they're getting up." I was just drawing my bow when the biggest ram stepped out onto a knoll right in front of us. "He's 35 yards," Matt whispered.
The moment I was about to shoot, another ram stepped out beside the big one, and Meghan and Matt said in unison, "Don't shoot, Bailey, you'll hit both of them. Don't shoot!"
"I can't hold back anymore!" I said, and was just about to let down when the smaller of the two stepped into the clear. Taking careful aim, I released, and the shot looked good.
They ran about 60 yards and then stopped to look back. The ram was bleeding freely.
With the sun at our backs and the wind in our faces, the rams could not see or smell us, so we just sank down to wait and watch. After several minutes, the rams went over the side of the draw out of our sight. Overcome with excitement, I could not stop shaking.
We backed off down the hill a ways and sat down to talk about the stalk. I'd shot the ram about 4:30 p.m., and we decided to wait four hours before taking up the trail. We got more excited with each passing minute.
When we finally made our move, we had no problem locating the dead ram. However, retrieving him was another matter. He had died among jagged cliffs and then fallen some distance. Matt did not want Meghan and me going down the rocks and getting hurt, so he did all the work, and we were unable to take photos at the spot where he had died.
By the time we got back to camp with the field-dressed ram, it was very late, and we ended up taking photos of the cape and horns the next morning. When I'd first got my bow, I had set a goal for myself, and I had reached that goal. To share the experience with my sister as my guide and our good friend Matt, who had got me into bowhunting, only made the experience more special. I could not have been happier -- or more addicted.
Bailey Simpson, 23, is a resident of Alberta, Canada. For her entire life, she has spent every summer in the wilds of the Northwest Territories at the base camp for her family's outfitting business. For information on Ram Head Outfitters, go to www.ramheadoutfitters.com.
Author's Notes: My ram's beautiful, heavy, dark horns measured 154 with 133„8-inch bases. My equipment on this hunt included an AR-75 (PSE) bow set at 45 lbs., Gold Tip Ultralight Entrada 500 arrows, 75-grain Muzzy broadheads, Kahles 10x40 binoculars, and a Leupold RX-II rangefinder.