My plane landed in Fort St John, British Columbia at about midnight. I collected all my baggage and looked for a cab to take me to my hotel. No cab but Uber did the trick. The next morning I picked up a rental car and made my way through the Peace River region, past the oil and gas fields on my way to Toad River, BC. It was a six and a half hour drive along the Alaska Highway. I made sure to keep the gas tank full because there were few gas stations along the way. Most hunters flew into Fort Nelson, but I wanted the flexibility to bring home the cape and meat.
This would be my third trip to Stone Mountain. The first time I went, it was for a multi-species hunt. I ended up with a spectacular moose and a nice elk. I tried for a mountain goat; despite a lot of riding and climbing it wasn’t meant to be. I came away in awe of the Canadian wilderness and the horses that took me across rivers and through mountain passes. When my hunt ended I told, Lief Olsen, the outfitter, what an amazing experience I had. Lief said what is really special about his concession is the Stone Sheep hunting. I blanched when I learned the price. Lief and the guides told me that many hunters of modest means saved and sacrificed to make the hunt of a lifetime. Still, it was beyond my means.
A year later I returned to Stone Mountain and was successful with a mountain goat. Back at the lodge I met several Stone Sheep hunters that were clearly overwhelmed by the experience. I started thinking, wouldn’t it be great if one day….
These first two hunts at Stone Mountain were among the best hunts I had ever undertaken. The guides were amazing, the horses were incredible, the equipment and planning were first class. In short, anything that could be controlled was managed to perfection. And, to allow for weather, Lief had his hunters arrive early so that weather would not shorten the length of the hunt.
I had a lucky break and with it came a windfall. The means for a Stone Sheep were at hand. So I booked a hunt well in advance but I injured my shoulder just before the hunt. Another lucky break; the surgeon said it would be ok to delay surgery until after my Stone Sheep hunt.
I arrived at the lodge in Toad River three days before the Stone Sheep season opened. For the first time I passed Stone Sheep ewes and lambs along the highway; a good sign. I wanted to leave nothing to chance so I developed custom loads for my 300 win mag. I tested the rifle at the lodge to make sure it was properly dialed in. It was spot on.
The following day I left for the trailhead with my guide, Alex Whyte and a wrangler, Sam Hughes. Another wrangler, Moana joined us. Although it was her first hunt at Stone Mountain, she worked for the department of the environment in New Zealand where she conducted wildlife surveys in areas accessible only by helicopter. She was an experienced hunter and expert with horses.
We mounted our horses at the trailhead and set off into the mountains. Gradually as we gained elevation, the vegetation became shorter. After a few hours, we arrived at the base camp, which had already been prepared. A wolf had stalked some of the horses already at the base camp the day before but it retreated after the noise from a shotgun blast.
After a good dinner and a good night’s sleep, we set off toward sheep country. Two hours ride, up and over two mountain passes and we were above the treeline. An hour’s hike up the mountain and it was time to start glassing for sheep. It took awhile but we spotted a moose in a distant clearing on another mountain. Later we saw some ewes with lambs. At this time of year, the older rams herd separately. We didn’t see any before returning to the base camp for a pleasant dinner.
The next day, it was open season. Alex (Guide) asked me to load the magazine of my rifle and to leave the chamber empty. To my dismay, my accurate custom rounds did not fit in the magazine. All my load development testing was single shot. So all I had was a single shot rifle. Anyway, it was the first shot that mattered …
Riding back over the two mountain passes and glassing all day, we saw the lambs and ewes again. But this time we saw a separate group of rams. It turned out that they were all too young. What we were looking for was a legal ram with either a full curl or eight years of growth rings. Back to camp.
After a few more days, we saw another group of rams, with some that may have been old enough. They were far away and it was late in the day. We went back to the base camp but prepared to spike out the next day if necessary. We headed out with backpack tents and sleeping bags the next morning.
Once we returned to the area where we last saw the older rams, it wasn’t long before we found them again. All we had to do was get close enough to see if any were old enough. Easier said than done. We hiked up a hill and then down into a bowl where we left tents, food and overnight gear. We climbed half way up the mountain and tried spotting the rams without any luck. It rained and we got wet before we could put on our rain gear. Then the sun came out. We set out the wet clothing in the sun to dry, glassing all the while. Alex (Guide) climbed to the top of the mountain to have a better look. It wasn’t long before he found the rams again and motioned for Sam and myself to follow. I was more than twice the age of Sam and Alex. I choked at the thought of climbing the loose scree and rubble for a few thousand feet to reach the top of the mountain where Alex was. Sam noticed. “Don’t worry”, he said, “we aren’t going that high”. He was lying. But it got me to the mountain top, something I didn’t think I would ever be able to do. But I did.
While I was climbing, Alex (guide) continued looking. The rams were bedded down behind some boulders below, on the other side of the mountain. He singled out one and had me focus upon it. We went back and forth to be certain we were looking at the same ram. “He is facing left”. “Just lowered his head”. I loaded the chamber of my rifle and put on the safety. Sam had several rounds in his hand to give me if I needed to reload. “Keep the safety on until I give you the green light”, Alex (Guide) said, “I want to be sure that it’s a legal ram”.
At this point all I could see of the ram were the tips of his horns above the boulder in front of him. I was in a prone position facing downhill, my feet above my head. My face was red. The sharp screen dug into my chest as I kept the ram horns in my scope crosshairs. We were waiting for the ram to stand up so that Alex (guide) could count the growth rings through his spotting scope. After half an hour my arm started to tremble and I had to get up. Once my arm was ok again, I got into position again; cross hairs on the tips of the rams horns. The ram stood up. I waited for Alex to give me the green light . No go. He couldn’t age the ram. We kept waiting. I wondered if good rams escaped when it wasn’t possible to evaluate them properly. (They do.)
After another half hour, the ram stood up again. Alex carefully counted the growth rings and then counted them again. He gave me the go ahead. The ram was quartering toward me. I shot him through the chest. He wobbled. Sam handed me a second round. I shot again. This time the ram tumbled 200 yards down the mountain. We climbed down the loose scree until we reached it and took a few photos. Alex and Sam started caping the ram. When they were half way done, a hail storm hit us and the pocket between the meat and the hide filled with hail. Of course our rain gear and coats were still back on top of the mountain. It wasn’t drying any longer. With a touch of grit and a bit of shivering the caping and meat deboning continued until it was done. Then we climbed up and over the other side of the mountain, retrieved our wet gear and made our way to the spike camp. No one was very hungry; so we made do with some snacks. By now it was about 11pm. The sun had just gone down. Warming up in the tent was first and foremost. It started to rain and the wind picked up but by morning it stopped. Alex used his Garmin Inreach to have Moana meet us with the horses after we hiked out of the spike camp. Riding back to our base camp two hours away I was sad to leave the area we had hunted. A day later we rode back to the trailhead and as we did I noticed the vegetation get larger and more dense as we descended from the mountains. I was sad to go.
Back at the lodge, I reflected upon what had made this such a great hunt, the hunt of a lifetime. It was the incredible wilderness, the expertise of the guide and wrangler, the organization and planning of the outfitter, first class tack and equipment, the horses but most important, the positive can and will do attitude of everyone involved. Everything and everyone was first class.
I returned my rental car in Fort St John for my flight home. The frozen meat was in a cooler and the cape and horns were in my checked baggage. The gate agent asked me what I had been hunting. I told her. She said her husband, a local hunter, had been trying to get a Stone sheep for the past 10 years. I didn’t say anything but I realized how lucky I was to have the support that made it all come together for me.