By Jessica Gray
YUK, Stone Sheep
Kane hissed, “Just stay on him, I will adjust your scope.” I settled in to the rifle, watching the white ram through my scope. We had spotted this band of rams three days previously, and after four failed attempts hampered by wind, rain, snow, and everything else the Yukon could throw at us, we were finally within striking distance. There were two rams that Kane, my guide, considered shooters. The first was a dark ram with beautifully flared horns, his striking white face a deep contrast to his blue-colored body. He was our first target, but the days were ebbing away and it was time to make something happen. The white ram had a much tighter curl and looked more like a Dall sheep with tinges of grey. He was in my sights, and I was not going to let this opportunity pass me by.
He was feeding slowly towards me almost 3,500 feet above base camp. I tried to calm myself and make a clean shot. Kane continued to whisper the yardage as I adjusted the turret on the custom long-range rifle I had borrowed from a close friend.
“Okay, he’s turning broadside. Get ready,” Kane said.
I took a slow breath and relaxed. As I started to exhale, my finger gently squeezed the trigger. The bullet exploded from the rifle and screamed across the 483 yards separating the white ram and me only to shatter rock and dust below the ram’s belly. I quickly ejected the spent round and slammed another case home, tracking the ram as he made a hasty retreat towards the ridge behind him. Steve, our wrangler, was reading the increasing distances as the ram made his escape. 500, 650, 780, 920, gone! My heart dropped.
Eighteen months earlier, my heart had experienced the exact opposite emotion when I received a phone call from the staff at Huntin’ Fool telling me my $300 investment at the Western Hunting and Conservation Expo had paid off in spades with a Membership Drive hunt. I was so excited that I called my husband screaming about “sheep” and he thought I had hit a sheep on the highway. Now I lay on the lichen-covered rocks watching 18 months of gym workouts, strict eating, and dreams race away from me across the ridge.
“Come on,” Kane said, “Let’s run up the ridge and see if we can catch him on the backside. Unload your gun and let’s go.”
I jumped to my feet, the slight moment of despair replaced by my constant mantra of “I will do whatever it takes to succeed.” I grabbed the bolt of the rifle, pulled back, and watched in complete horror as the casing flipped out onto the ground. The bullet had remained lodged in the barrel, and the now useless rifle cartridge lay on the ground. Steve knelt down and grabbed the casing as he intoned a few expletives that were racing across my mind. The next hour sped past like three emergency responders trying to save a dying victim with absolutely no tools, wearing blindfolds and one hand tied behind their backs. Kane descended the mountain in a futile effort to make a ramrod from a willow branch. When he returned, my $12,000 walking stick had a custom, hand-carved willow ramrod broken off in the barrel.
The sun had broken through the ominous grey clouds and splayed out across the mountain, and laying a mere 800 yards away in the perfect spot for us to creep within 100 yards was the dark ram we had been praying to see. He was alone and facing away from us.
“It’s going to be a long night,” Steve said, “I will walk back to main camp and grab my Red Rock Precision rifle and we can try again.” I looked at Steve with complete gratitude. He was offering to walk five hours in the dark to get a different rifle and walk five hours back alone in grizzly bear country.
My husband and I have been blessed to hunt all over the world, and to say it is a passion for us would be an understatement. Unfortunately, due to schedules, work, and kids, my husband would not be able to accompany me on this trip. I reached out to Jarrett at Deuling Stone and discussed itinerary, gear, etc. I wanted to make sure I was in the best physical shape possible. When I landed in Whitehorse in the Yukon Territory, I felt I was ready for anything.
From Whitehorse, we jumped on a de Havilland Beaver and flew to base camp for our jumping off point into the wilds of the Yukon. After consolidating my gear at the main camp, we left for spike camp with a pack train of five horses. My husband and I own horses and we ride frequently, but rarely will you ever find me saddling up to ride away in a complete rainstorm. Nevertheless, there were no Stone sheep in our main camp, so we saddled up and started the five-hour ride to our spike camp where Jarrett had seen a good ram the previous year.
After returning to our spike camp with my now useless rifle, we quickly downed some food and Steve departed for base camp and his rifle. After drying our gear, we ensconced ourselves inside our tents and prayed for good weather and redemption.
“I’ve got him.” As Steve spoke those words, my heart leapt.
“Which one?” I asked, trying not to sound as anxious and excited as I felt.
“The dark one!”
I quickly panned my scope to the ridge Steve was glassing and picked up the band of rams. At over three miles, they were not an easy target to see, but once my eyes picked them out I could easily see the darker ram. It was later in the day than Kane liked for this type of assault on the mountain, so we grabbed a few extra essentials in case we ended up spending the night on the mountain. As we hurried down the valley, it took my legs almost a mile to start to warm up. Since the band of rams had crossed the valley, we were able to keep them in sight for most of our hike. At the base of the ridge, the rams were obscured from sight due to the near vertical approach we were forced to take. The clock was approaching 2 p.m. when we finally crested the ridge and crept forward, scanning for the band of rams. Kane motioned to our left, and we all froze in place. Eight of the rams were feeding to our left, but there was no sign of the larger ram we had seen with them less than two hours ago. We slipped back below a small ridge and worked our way to our right.
Suddenly, Kane stopped and hissed, “There he is. Get ready.” I slipped my Mystery Ranch pack to the ground and slid it forward as a gun rest as I settled behind the rifle. The ram had taken up purchase on a steep cliff overlooking the valley below. He was only 168 yards away.
“Don’t shoot him there. We will lose him if he falls off that cliff,” Kane whispered.
We settled in to watch as the clouds slid past. I pulled the bolt open to make sure I had loaded a round. As I opened the bolt, the cartridge I had loaded flipped out onto the ground. I reached down, searching for the shell I had dropped, when Steve said, “He’s getting up.” I glanced up to see the ram stand and stretch his horns. I glanced back down, trying to grab the round I had dropped. “Just leave it,” Steve said. I glanced up again as the ram turned, took two steps to our left, and disappeared around a small outcropping.
As I got to my knees, I saw the cartridge I had dropped and quickly grabbed it, sliding it back into its rightful place. I hurried behind Kane, and as we neared the outcropping, he motioned with his hand and I peered around the rock. The ram was less than 100 yards away, slowly feeding straight away.
“Shoot him when you see vitals.” I nodded to Kane’s instructions as I settled the scope on the ram, but he didn’t stop. We watched in disbelief as he fed over another slow rise. Kane jumped to his feet, and I dutifully followed. When we reached the next rise, we dropped to our bellies and army crawled up the rise. I saw Kane freeze. There was the ram, his majestic horns framed against the brilliant blue sky. Kane looked at me and mouthed the words, “38 yards.” I eased the rifle forward as the ram stopped and looked directly at me. I flipped the safety off, looked through the scope, and realized all I could see was hair. From the corner of my eye, I watched as he swung his horns and started to run. I squeezed the trigger and missed!
As I quickly reloaded, the ram was gaining speed and headed for the nearest cliff and safety, but now I could see his whole body in my scope. I put the crosshairs on the point of his shoulder and pulled the trigger again. I heard the bullet smack home, but the ram never faltered. I loaded the final round and found him in my scope just as he jumped over a small ridge of grass. I held right on his shoulder this time and shot again. The bullet found its mark, and the ram tumbled and fell.
He had fallen just over the rise, so we ran to the ridge so we could see him. As I crested the ridge, my body was overcome with gratitude. He lay there, his indescribably perfect horns and his unique and distinctive coat all enveloped in a rich shroud of lichen. I fell to my knees as tears of happiness, relief, and ecstasy coursed down my cheeks. Kane ran over and gave me a hug, “For someone with so many miss-adventures, you sure know how to make it count when it matters!”
We aged my ram at 14 years old, tying him with one other ram as the oldest that has been taken at Deuling Stone. Many thanks to Deuling Stone for memories-of-a-lifetime, Huntin’ Fool for this amazing opportunity, Sitka for keeping me dry and warm, my husband for always supporting my crazy miss-adventures, and my kids for their daily inspiration.