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Play Hooky Ram – A B&C Audio Adventure



By James M. Peek
22nd Big Game Awards Program | From Legendary Hunts

I sensed it was about time to hear from Ross Peck of Fort St. John, British Columbia, about a hunt for Stone’s sheep. We had invited him into the Taylor Ranch in the central Idaho wilderness last winter to show him a bighorn, but time and weather prevented his visit.

He asked me up to the Tuchodi River area of British Columbia four years ago, but I declined because of teaching commitments. If he told me he had space this time, I knew I was going, come hell or high water.

The hunt began on Ross’ landing strip. The pilot circled the sky to see which way the wind sock pointed and to make sure no horses were in the vicinity He pulled his flap lever and smoothly landed his Cessna 185. As we taxied to the corrals, my eyes wandered towards those high, sharp-sculpted crags in the distance that sheltered sheep. I had just arrived, and the trip was a success. The country is honest-to-God, bona-fide, top-quality, big-game country!

Our pack outfit left the horse camp and pulled out onto a series of parks or grassy meadows that paralleled the high ridge we were to hunt. We camped where there was no sign of a previous camp. A small group of ewes on one side kept popping over the ridge so we knew we’d see sheep tomorrow.

The next morning our horses carried us through wet brush up a forested section of the slope until it became too steep. I worked hard and stopped often. I gradually got my legs under me and caught my breath as we broke out into the alpine tundra. Rain became heavier, and we saw a series of snow squalls coming our way from the northwest. We walked up the hill through the squalls.

“Well, let’s see what the ridge top looks like. This light snow won’t hurt us,” Ross said.

We trudged out of the scrubby spruce onto the ridge in 10 centimeters of new snow to look for sheep. No self-respecting sheep were loitering around on the windy side of the mountain; only dumb hunters.

“Now, keep your head down or the sheep will see you!” Ross said quietly

Crisp air created some image distortion as the sun’s heat waves wafted from the melting snow on the black rock. Ewes and lambs were below us. I wasn’t pleased because ewes and big rams usually don’t mix this time of year.

“Don’t forget to watch the brush below us on that slope,” he said. ‘They’re apt to be down in the brush on a day like this.”

Ross has the eyes of an experienced hunter. As we examined the country he pointed out three groups of ewes and lambs. Elk were below us in the spruce. I focused on big game with the binoculars but Ross pointed them out using only his eyes. Then I saw the first ram bedded in a little shady shelf below a ridgeline. We studied the curls and determined it had horns that ended below its nose. Were there more rams?

We found a game trail the next day that wound up the ridge. The sky was clear, and we walked to the ridge. We examined the other side of the ridge and went to the same ledge where we saw the sheep. Ross motioned me to stay down while he slowly looked over the ridge.

He instantly ducked and whispered, “Rams!”

We raised up and Ross motioned to the ridge where seven adult Stone’s sheep rams were resting or feeding. We set up our scopes and examined their horns. They were about 1,000 meters away, but all were less than fill curl.

None of the rams were full-curl (the magic size), but we started to whisper about what to do next, realizing we hadn’t seen all of the drainage from this vantage. We moved slightly and I got bolder about appearing above the ridgeline. Ross pointed to the birch below where he spotted four rams slowly moving away from us. I couldn’t be sure if we had disturbed them. Ross studied them and I tried to get my scope set up. We did not think they were spooked.

We spent an hour walking across the cliffs and rocky side of the ridge. Every now and then we’d walk up to see over, then drop back down. We had to keep from disturbing any of the sheep in the drainage, knowing their sharp eyes were looking in all directions. When seven sets of sheep eyes are on a ridge, you can bet they’ll notice any move. Whether or not movement disturbs sheep is another matter, but once you’re spotted, they may stare at you for a long time.

Ewes and lambs were below, but there was no evidence of rams. We found more ewes but the rams were on the other side of the drainage. A rough mountain ridge has a million places for sheep to bed, so we had to examine every bit of the broken terrain; no rams. We moved down the ridge.

We continued this pattern, and I wondered if the rams had hightailed it out of the area when they first walked over the ridge. We decided to move where we last saw them. We slowly inched to the ridgeline, the last place to try to locate the rams today.

Ross doffed his hat looked over the ridge and ducked back down. He saw them. He put his fingers to his lips in the shush signal, and we slowly looked over the ridge. Below in a muddy bank lay a Stone’s ram. The angle was steep, and we couldn’t determine whether it was full curl or not, but it was at least close. Where were the others?

We studied the ram in silence. It moved its head a little one way and then another, but we were never sure whether those big horns crossed the bridge of its nose or not

“He’s legal,” Ross said “Slip down to that green spot when I tell you. Wait!”

I had moved. “If I whistle, stop. Now go!” he said.

I inched down on my back, rifle resting on my chest, hugging the ground. I slid into a solid prone shooting position. Ross whistled, a bit too loud I thought, so I froze. The ram turned its head toward us, but didn’t move. As the ram looked away I settled into a solid rest, slipped off the safety of my rifle and viewed the ram through the scope.

I snapped off another shot but knew it missed, too. Hunting, like any sport, is a series of highs and lows.

I knew shooting downhill meant different trajectories than if I shot across level ground, so I aimed low. The rifle was dead still. I concentrated on squeezing the trigger. At the shot the ram got up and ran over the crest of the spur ridge above it.

“You shot in front of him!” Ross said.

I snapped off another shot but knew it missed, too. Hunting, like any sport, is a series of highs and lows. The absolute low is missing a shot. This missed shot was the lowest point in my 45 years of hunting experiences.

“Well, let’s go down and look. You may have nicked him,” Ross said.

I couldn’t figure what went wrong. I thought I had compensated for the steep angle, but I knew better than to blame the rifle. I was wondering what to do next. I asked my friend to expend a considerable amount of time and energy on my behalf, and he had done more than I expected.

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We needed to check if the ram was hit or not. We dropped down the hill to scout out its tracks for any signs and examined the bed. I wondered why we hadn’t heard the ram clattering across the slide rock.

“There he goes, right beneath us! Get down here! Get down here!” Ross yelled.

Ross was disgusted with the events. The ram had gone below some low ledges on the ridge and stopped. I saw it running and headed directly to the ridgeline for a shot. I was concentrating on the ram and my footing. I got to a spot where I could get into a solid sitting position but the first two shots missed. The ram was scuttling along the far side of the draw, and there would be time for one more shot. I took a deep breath and squeezed the trigger. At the shot, the ram was down.

I bought my .30-06 Winchester, Model 70 rifle in 1959. Since the rifle has so many good experiences attached to it, it’s an important part of my history. The rifle shoots a minute-of-angle group with several weights of bullets, and I chose the 150-grain Hornady for sheep hunting. I was haunted that I missed.

These old eyes were moist as I realized I had just finished an experience backed by about 40 years of anticipation, in an extraordinarily beautiful and wild country. The “Play Hooky Ram” was working its magic, and it would again and again. I realized I would look at him at least 250 days or so out of each year.

I fell into bed, listening to the elk bugle, waking only when the lights of the generator went on at 5:45 a.m. We were on the tail end of the trip, and I was relaxed. The clouds brought snow delaying my flight to Fort Nelson. The elk bugled each night, and I had time to examine the ones that fed on the slopes around the camp.

I took the stolen time to visit, write, wander, and reflect. On the last night; I heard wolves on the slopes, probably examining the elk just in case one might be vulnerable. The unmistakable howl of the gray wolf floated across the ridges in the night air. Hunts are for memories, and I’ve my share of the best.


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-Theodore Roosevelt