Stone sheep hunting in British Columbia is very much like winning the lottery -- literally.
As I exited the bush plane, my guide Jeremy Hatala and wrangler Amanda Dixon greeted me with smiles. We took my gear from the small plane to camp, located between the jagged mountain ranges we would be hunting.
Guide Jeremy Hatala did a great job of helping me get within bow range of this beautiful Stone ram -- with three hours to spare.
The terrain was breathtaking, seemingly touched everywhere with God's artwork. Aspen trees clustered among the dark timber flamed bright yellow, forming a green and yellow checkerboard from the river floor up the mountain. The timber climbed up the mountainsides, stopping abruptly at some invisible boundary called timberline. From there the tundra grasses continued up through rocky bluffs to the jagged mountain peaks. From camp we could glass Stone sheep, mule deer, elk, moose, and a variety of other animals. I shot my bow and smelled the forest.
It was a good first afternoon, and I couldn't help but think what an adventure this would be, and how lucky I was to be here -- literally. The year before, I had bought a raffle ticket at the annual Grand Slam Club/Ovis convention. The chances for winning that raffle are about as good as winning the lottery. And I won the lottery. That's why I was on a 14-day, early-September Stone sheep hunt in northern British Columbia.
The morning after my arrival, we set out on horses, and I found myself almost in a trance as the chill air slid across my face and the horses' hooves thumped rhythmically against the trail. My eyes constantly wandered up and down the mountains, trying to glimpse some sign of Stone sheep, perhaps the most camouflaged North American sheep with their mottled white and charcoal hair that blends perfectly with their rock habitat.
Not far along, we saw two bull moose clattering their antlers against each other, not 80 yards off the trail. This made me happy because, along with a sheep tag, I also had a moose tag. But for now we had sheep on our minds and rode on.
Our glassing destination overlooked a vast valley with a teal-blue glacier lake just below us. Before long we saw a band of ewes and lambs across the lake, 150 yards away. The lambs were jumping and kicking, while the experienced moms seemed to be trying to teach them to be more alert for danger. Bowhunting for trophy big game is my passion, but I love watching undisturbed wildlife. We did not see a mature ram that first day, but I still wore a big smile as we rode back to camp that night.
On the second day we went the opposite direction, where we glassed a bull moose still in velvet. "That's a great bull for this area," Jeremy said. With that, I decided if we didn't find any shooter rams, I would go after the moose.
The breathtaking scenery alone makes a hunt in northern B.C. a spectacular adventure.
The third day we returned to the same area, and glassing from across the canyon, we soon saw the bull. He was now with two cows. To make the situation even better, we spotted a beautiful legal ram with ewes 300 yards above the bull.
To get a better look, we rode the horses farther up the canyon. Nearing timberline, we tied the horses out of view in the trees, and a few minutes later we were looking up at the ram. He was legal, but to our disappointment, his horns were thin and very tightly curled.
We would pass on him.
However, by now the three moose had moved below us about 300 yards, putting them in a good stalking position. So we switched focus.
The plan was that I would make my way slowly down the canyon on foot, while Jeremy and Amanda would take the horses onto the adjacent ridge to watch. After 30 minutes of maneuvering down through the thick conifers, I was getting close to the place where we'd last seen the moose. Slowing my pace to almost a crawl, I constantly refocused my binoculars to clearly define every detail through the dense tree branches ahead.
When I made out a brown, hairy hump on the back of an animal, my heart started pounding as if I'd just run a five-minute mile. I was looking at the hump of a grizzly bear!
This Canada moose was a bonus on my sheep hunt. I was amazed at his size.
Seconds later, the head of a cow moose popped into view, and my heart slowed a little -- but just a little. Okay, it wasn't a grizzly, but now I knew the bull was nearby, and I didn't want to fumble my stalk.
Trying to calm down, I watched, waited, and listened, and then I heard rocks rolling to my right. Easing that direction, I found myself looking down a 10-foot bank across a rock slide -- at the bull. I ranged him at 60 yards, but he reached the other side of the rock slide and entered the timber before I could act. Fortunately he started angling down the edge of the trees toward an opening, and just before he reached the opening, I drew back.
As I settled into my anchor, the bull stepped out and paused broadside. I could not believe the immense size of this animal and how much room my sight pin had to float inside the kill area. Focusing on a small dark spot a safe distance behind the shoulder, I released, and the arrow disappeared six inches behind the shoulder.
As the bull vanished into the timber, I heard a loud crash followed by silence. Could I really have shot something so big? I was wondering as Jeremy and Amanda made their way down to me. When we went to the point where the bull had stood at the shot, we had a pretty easy tracking job. The bull had gone only 70 yards. I have killed several bull elk with my bow, and this moose dwarfed them. We were fortunate to get the horses up to the bull.
We spent the next day taking care of the moose, and, then, for the three days after that we hit the sheep hard again. However, we saw only a few young rams, none we wanted to stalk.
So five days after getting the moose, we packed up camp and ventured into another area. Jeremy had been there earlier in the year and had seen a legal ram he felt I would take this late in the hunt. On the ride in we saw a wolverine, an animal I had always wanted to see i
n the wild, so this was a bonus.
Our destination, a huge mountain bowl, was glassing friendly, and right away we saw a band of rams. Looking at them through spotting scopes, we found the ram Jeremy had told me about. Jeremy was right -- with four days left, I would take this one. The rams were far out in the open, not in a stalkable spot, so we watched them the rest of the day in hopes they would relocate. They never did, so we backed out.
The next morning, we found the rams in the same spot and again decided to wait them out until they moved into a stalkable position. As the day went by we glassed a black bear and about 20 elk. But the rams never moved, and at dusk we headed back to camp. With only two days left, we resolved to try for the ram the next day -- no matter what.
In the morning, nothing had changed, so late in the afternoon, Jeremy and I decided to try a push. Working my way up the adjacent side of the canyon from the sheep, I got into position and signaled Jeremy that I was ready. Jeremy then headed up the back side of the bowl to get upwind of the rams. When the rams smelled him, they ran above my location, out of bow range, and into the next canyon.
The last day we set out early and tied the horses at the base of the canyon where the rams had disappeared. To get a bird's-eye view, we hiked high up one of the canyon walls, and when we reached a good vantage point, my prayers were answered: There they were -- eleven rams, three ewes, and two lambs bedded in the bottom of the canyon.
Unfortunately, they still were not in a good stalking position.
Watching them until 2 p.m., Jeremy and I made a plan. I would sneak to a point we estimated at 125 yards from the rams, where I would wait in hopes the rams would get up and feed toward me. Jeremy would signal me if the rams were on the move, because I would not be able to see them from my position.
Feeling good, I set off down the canyon. However, I soon realized I could not close the last 50 yards to the spot we'd agreed upon. Jeremy could not see me there, so I backed out and returned to his position, where we discussed an alternate plan.
Then I immediately headed toward a new ambush spot where, with only hours left in my hunt, I waited -- and hoped. Fifteen minutes later, Jeremy signaled that the sheep were up and heading in my direction. I nocked an arrow and prepared for a shot or, if necessary, a fast stalk. As I kept an eye on Jeremy, he indicated I should be able to see the rams above me. Sure enough, a legal ram popped his head over a small hill and continued to feed on by. This was not the ram I was after, but I took a rangefinder reading on him, figuring the biggest ram would be close behind.
Two rams later, he stepped out, but he seemed more alert then the others, looking around more than feeding. Finally, his hunger overpowered his senses, and as he lowered his head to take a bite of grass, I rose from my crouched position, drawing my bow at the same time. The angle was very steep uphill, so as the ram stood broadside, I focused on the lower section of his chest, knowing my arrow would exit out the middle of the opposite side.
It was hard for me to clear my mind from thinking this was my last opportunity at this magnificent ram. Only hours remained in my 14-day hunt. Still, I concentrated on aiming, found my mark, and made a clean release. My arrow hit the top of the heart and bottom of the lungs.
When the ram disappeared from my view, I glassed up to Jeremy. He had his binoculars up, and I could tell he was following the ram running down the canyon. When he stopped his binoculars and shook his fist in the air, I knew my 14-day hunt had ended -- with three hours to spare.
Arizona resident Matt Liljenquist, 28, has taken the Grand Slam of North American sheep -- Stone, Dall, bighorn, and desert -- with his bow.
Author's Notes: I used a PSE Mojo at 74 lbs. draw weight, Carbon Force Radial X Weave arrows, Rocky Mountain Turbo broadhead (moose), Vortex broadhead (sheep), Winner's Choice Custom Bow String, Bushnell rangefinder, and Swarovski binoculars and scope.
My Stone sheep officially scored 157 P&Y, my Canada moose 1644„8 P&Y.
I would like to thank Jeremy Hatala for his excellent work as a bowhunting guide, and Barry Tompkins' High and Wild Wilderness Safaris for the awesome experience (www.bignine.com).