Len joined us in the Power Hunter Program this year, and he was dedicated and motivated to make the most of the program. It was exciting to hear from Len after his much-anticipated sheep hunt. Thank you, Len, for sharing your experience!Greg
Dear Greg and Denise,
Firstly, thank you all over again for the time and effort you put into creating the PHP. For the motivation and the personal touch you added to it.
My conditioning and preparation were by far the best it has ever been… and that made this 2021 hunt more enjoyable than ever for me—my goal was to be able to hunt harder by hiking better—and with that box ticked, what more could I ask for.
I want to share my 2021 mountain hunt with you, as you guys were actually with me on the mountain with every yard’s elevation. It’s like I heard your voice (Greg ) in my mind when things got tough… and they did, like you would expect from an average day in the mountains.
The two days ride in on horseback is always a highlight. I used those two days to silence the noise in my head. The noise of screaming sirens and the ER, hospital bells and bleeps and (especially this year) the seemingly endless war against the pandemic. On the way in, especially this year, I had the most profound appreciation for the “sound of silence.” Only horses hooves, wind through pines and poplars, the chirping of squirrels as we rode by and the rumbling sounds of the rivers we crossed paths with. The last 90 minutes of our ride in, we hit a section on the trail we call “the gates of Mordor”—I don’t have to say much more. A few years ago, the first time we survived that section, my best friend Rudi turned around on his horse and said, “one simply does not just ride into Mordor” grinning with his branch-beaten face… it was a good laugh. Last year we nearly lost one of our pack horses (Dudley) who rolled backwards down a part of that trail – we now call that steep section “Dudley Falls,” lol.
On the afternoon of the 22nd, we arrived in the valley where we would set up base camp. To me, that valley is a glimpse of paradise. We make camp in a patch of balsam spruce trees. This year it poured rain, and setting up camp, unpacking horses and trying to get dry wood for a fire was quite the challenge. To welcome us even further into the backcountry, it started snowing at 7 pm that night and stopped only at noon the next day, 4 inches later. We slept cold and very wet, but hey—we were chasing bighorns —what else did we expect.
Early on the 24th, my two best friends Rudi and Jesse and I left base camp in the valley while we had two young guns wrangle the horses for us. We packed for three days of spike camping, and by knowing most of the area by now we already had in mind where to look for sheep and where to turn around to get back to camp in time.
The first day we hiked in an inch of snow, but it soon melted, and for the next three days, we were blessed with the most beautiful late summer days we could ask for. By opening day eve, we hadn’t seen any legal rams, although we saw a bunch of ewes and lambs. We made a spike camp in a saddle in a basin we call the Super Bowl—an enormous basin with streams and creeks, forest and rockfall, cliffs and drainages. A band of nine young rams on a south-facing slope in the Super Bowl put us to bed on the eve of August 24.
On opening day, we hiked hard. We glassed harder. We saw a herd of sheep two mountain ranges away, but no rams. We planned to hike to one last point before turning around, to look into a basin we’ve never seen since we’ve never hiked this far away from spike camp. But Google Earth kept teasing us to go and peek over. At around 5 pm, we settled on that ridge only to find a never-ending long basin with a lake and waterfalls. Stunned by its beauty, it took us 20 minutes of glassing before Rudi whispered the word “rams”. We counted 12. They were easily 2 km away, down the valley to the east slope of the basin. With the spotting scope, we saw that one, maybe two MAY be legal. It was 5:30 pm. We knew that we had to get closer to see if one was legal. We also knew that we were setting up to either tagging out and sleeping on the mountain (no tent/sleeping bags, just a small tarp) or finding none legal and possibly facing a night march back to our spike camp. We would easily be a 10-hour hike away.
For the next two hours, the climb and hike were brutal to get within range to see if we had a legal ram to pursue. We got to the opposite face of the basin, and at 1000 yards, Jesse said he was 99% sure the one ram was legal. We agreed to make a play. Dropping down was almost an insane move, as we had no idea how we would get up and out again. We made a lot of noise dropping down, but luckily the rams were grazing next to a waterfall, so our noise was muffled by the rumbling stream. It was a slow approach as some of the rams checked us out a few times. Close to the foot of the slope in some shin tangle brush, Jesse looked at me and said, “Len, you shoot first. We kind of agreed that in case I miss two or three times, he must shoot. I was surprised that he gave the first shot because I had not spotted the rams initially. It was first Rudi, and then Jesse spotted the legal one. But I was ready for this.
We settled in an uncomfortable patch of brush and willow, and Rudi ranged 550 yards. I’ve never shot further than 500. I trusted my scope (Vortex Razor HD LHT 3–15×42), and my rifle dialled for 550 yards. For last time Rudi said, “Len, the one on the bottom right – he is legal. When you’re ready.”
It was just after 8:30 pm. The moment was surreal. As if it didn’t sink in… too big, I guess.
I was beyond tired, numb in my gluts and shoulders, but my breathing was perfect. I had my crosshair on his left shoulder as he was grazing broadsided. They grazed high up—shooting maybe 30 degrees upwards. My aim was dead on. Lying stretched out, I rested my bipod on my pack.
I settled, prayed, took a deep breath… and squeezed the trigger. Then time stood still—kind of slow-motion—waiting to hear the thump, and waiting to hear Rudi and Jesse shout out that he’s down… but the echo of the gunshot brought out Rudi’s calm voice saying, “High Len. You just shot over him”. They ran further up. I reloaded. Rudi said 570 yards. I dialled. Aimed and squeezed. “
“Just left Len, just left…………”… that was so painful to hear.
They ran up further.
Instantly I doubted my scope. Maybe it bumped on the ride in? How could I miss? I was so darn sure of both those shots. I feared we were going to lose this herd altogether.
We decided to run closer, across a creek and take a position on the upward slope of the ditch. Against all odds, the sheep settled again, at 530 yards. Then I made the tough decision.
I told Jesse it’s all his now, while I’m biting my lip not to swear and cry at the same time. I just didn’t trust my scope.
530 Rudi said. Jesse aimed. Squeezed. The ram dropped dead on the spot.
The beauty about hunting mountains with friends who are like brothers is how my misery disappeared before the gunshot’s echo did. The “madness-sadness” turned into a chaotic jumping on each other, rolling in the grass and yelling and laughing.
This was Jesse’s first ram.
Our joy was immeasurable.
It took us an hour’s climb to get to him. He was a beast—big, bulky chipped horn, full curl warrior.
Interestingly – we saw no blood and no bullet hole.
We were done field dressing him and deboning him in the moonlight by 1:30 am. We left the meat up there and dropped down to make a fire, eat and try to sleep between a patch of young balsam spruces under a small tarp. It was a long night on mother earth’s belly, to say the least. But a great memory sleeping under the stars with nothing but fire and all the clothes we had, in the company of two hunters who shared my sentiment for the grit and greatness of mountain hunting.
At 8 am the following day, we packed the deboned meat and headed out of this unforgiving valley. 13 hours later, we arrived at spike camp. We ate some freeze-dried meals and passed out in the comfort of our sleeping bags. Up with the sun the next morning, we hiked back up and down and up and down and up and down to get to base camp at 7 pm.
Like starved wanderers, we immediately grilled all the good parts of that ram (tenderloins, back strap and heart) and ate it off the fire (no greens, lol) while the excitement around the campfire was one for the books.
Jesse caped the head, and well well well.
A small round hole one inch below his left horn base above the left eye… yep.. Jesse shot his first ram at 530 yards in the head.
So listen to this…
Jesse aimed at the centre mass of the ram, standing broadsided with his head to the left. He hit that ram in the head: from where he aimed… high and left.
My first shot was high. My second shot was left.
We both failed to account for two of the most crucial components of long-distance altitude shooting: wind drift and shooting at an angle. The wind was drifting down the valley from right to left, and we aimed about 30 degrees up. We were always going to shoot high and left under those conditions. I’ll never make that mistake again. In the end, my scope was working perfectly, but I failed to consider critical elements of long-distance shooting.
The ride out with a full curl bighorn ram on the packhorse was a moment I will treasure my whole life. The sense of accomplishment for us was so great: this was OUR ram. And I believe only those fortunate enough to hunt the mountains will genuinely understand what it means to say that “a ram in camp is a ram for all.” The three of us hunted that ram together, and we packed him out leaning on one another. The abrasions on our hips from the two days of packing out will leave scars that will be reminders of this epic hunt in the Canadian Wilderness, done with men with whom I can trust my life.
Without a doubt in my mind, I will say that my physical conditioning through the PHP made it possible for me to get to that ram and get back to camp safely. Our packs were just shy of 100 lbs each on the last day of hiking back, and I remember saying to myself for hours at a time, “just chip away at this mountain… nothing but a big old rock, just chip away at it.” The PHP focuses on mental and physical strength and endurance, and I believe that’s why I could KEEP ON KEEPING ON. “Do the work” paid off.
So, to conclude—so bitter, no ram for me, yet so sweet—I was next to my mountain brother when he shot his first ram—and I had the rare privilege of packing out a rocky mountain bighorn full-curl ram.
I am looking forward to the next chapter!
I asked Jesse permission to share this photo of his ram with you… he smiled and said, “please do.”
I believe this picture says it all.