In 12 years of
hunting the majestic mountain sheep I have never met a man who does not admit
to a sense of great excitement when at last he encounters this wild and elusive
monarch of America's high fastnesses. In part, it is the arduous nature of the
hunt—the hours of climbing, waiting, climbing, usually in freezing cold; in
part, the awe inspired by the remote wilderness in which he lives; but always,
it is the regal, untamed vision of the sheep himself, his head erect with his
great, curling horns, his forefeet planted on the crest of the world—a vision
that can pull a man again and again through hardships inconceivable to anyone
who has never experienced such visions.
difficult stalk I ever made was that on a Rocky Mountain bighorn, from a pack
train trip out of Tay River Ranch, near Ricinus, en route to the headwaters of
the Ram River. On arrival at base camp I took one tent and a little food and
left the main party. Harold Jameson and I hunted for 13 days of a 15-day hunt.
At night, by the light of the camp-fire, I wrote out each day's happenings in a
hunt diary. The following is an account of the last two days of that memorable
SEPTEMBER 14: Up before daylight. We have only two days left. We start down a
new valley and are three miles from our camp when dawn breaks. We leave the
horses tied to a scrub timber-line tree and begin climbing a likely looking
peak in a vast block mountain. Halfway up we stop, glass for 30 minutes, see
two moose below but no sheep. On up we go. Just below the top we flatten to the
rock and inch the glasses over, hoping rams are on the other side of the crest.
Nothing. After an hour we slide down to the horses and proceed on up the
valley. We're rising fast, getting into permanent snow fields. A canyon on the
left is big and long. It looks good—plenty of basin pastures just below the
rim-rock. The going is too rough for horses, so we tie them again and climb.
The walls of the canyon are fairly wide and very steep as we ascend. We are
within a mile of the crest when we run into a wall of rock across the canyon, a
60-foot wall covered with a sheath of ice.
We can't get
up—nearly straight up and down. On the right wall we find a narrow ledge, a
possibility. For the first hundred yards it's negotiable with care, a foot and
a half wide. Then it thins down to a slick foot with a bulging overhang above
and severe drop-off below. No room to crawl. We inch along on our stomachs, my
rifle pushed ahead of me. We slither past the overhang and come out above the
rock wall, using handholds to make our way around the last of it, a kind of fat
man's terror. We're soaked with sweat in the biting cold. Here is a beautiful
little basin, filled with the green smear of graze, at the foot of a small
hanging glacier. Very slowly we push up until we can peek over the rim. Three
hundred yards away are five rams! I hardly can hold the glasses steady as I
check them. Not good! But not bad, either. There are two small rams, about
28-inch horns. One medium-size. Two large rams with horns that look about 35
inches. They are good rams, creditable, but not trophies.
We watch them and
debate in whispers for an hour. We have only one more day to hunt, so we try to
make the horns grow. We study formation of skull bone, width of brow, placement
of horn, basal thickness, but it's no good. Any time I have to argue with
myself I know I should pass them. A trophy head is a trophy the instant you see
it. We inch our way back down that breakneck ledge and leave them
15: When I wake, the tent sags ominously over my head with the weight of
wind-pushed snow. Real storm under way, first of winter. The temperature has
dropped overnight to 10° below zero. Harold and I head back toward the high
places in driving snow. I can't see a thing. In an hour we ride out on an
elevated plateau. The storm has lessened, visibility improving, but cold is
more intense. I get off my horse and make my way to the edge of the bench and
look out across the valley. The storm will drive sheep down, just as it's
forcing hunters out of the country. Rams! Twelve of them! They're across the
valley, traveling up an eroded arm. They're trying to get out of the wind,
blowing against their pale hindquarters as they climb. They go up and over and
disappear. We wait, but they don't come back in view.
There are two
peaks here, a thousand yards apart with a steep saddle between. We move
down-valley to get a long look up between the peaks. There they are! Bedded
down just over the summit below the rimrock. We can't approach direct up the
valley. No cover. We decide to go back around and follow the sheep trail
We climb for an
hour with the wind tearing at our backs and finally realize we'll never be able
to surprise them, for, as we approach the crest, wind will eddy our scent over.
We decide to drop down and try to go around over the second peak. Rough going
in bitter cold. So near they are, and yet so far! We make a wide circle, climb
the second peak and inch around its crest. There they are, 1,200 yards away,
and we have no way to get closer.
We decide to go
back and start over, taking the sheep trail straight up the snow-pocked scree
slope, climbing very slowly until we get close to the crest. Then we'll race
over and hope to get a single shot before the startled sheep are out of range.
We climb slowly within 50 yards of the top, then attempt to run the rest of the
way up and over. We don't figure on loose new snow. When we hit the cornice,
curved over like a generous dip of ice cream on a cone, the whole wind slab