My Dad is a badass: 2011 NWT Dall sheep hunt

rubberfist

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British Columbia
Disclaimer: While this hunt took place in the NWT, the participants were 100% pure British Columbian!

Warning: Fairly lengthy.

To properly set the stage for the story, we need to go back to April of 2011.

My notoriously healthy 74 year-old father suffered a major heart attack. While the hospital staff had been able to stabilize dad, his heartbeat was very irregular and weak.

Weak...a four letter word he has always despised.

While dad was initially vehemently opposed, the decision to install a pacemaker was negotiated.

"Well now I'm f*cked...I can't do a thing!" dad would complain for weeks afterward. "I'm not allowed to weld...I have this g*ddamn thing in my chest...I won't be able to hunt..."

"Yes, but you're alive." myself, or my brother, or my sister or my mother would always remind him.

"Right." He would snap back.

Fast-forward to June and dad was recovering nicely. Despite the protests of physicians and family, he went on a couple of short fishing trips to Kitimat, however as he would frequently put it: "I'm walking fish bait...I'm not the man I was...I'm a p*ssy."

Fast-forward to August 5th and I had returned from a successful archery Stone's hunt. A couple days after my return home, a buddy from town who is guides for an outfitter in the NWT contacted me via email: "Gratz on the Stone! Now come up here and smash a huge Dall. We have an opening and you should come!"

Having preconceptions and opinions regarding guided hunting, I dismissed the idea: I didn't need a guide to get my animals! Furthermore, while a Dall hunt would certainly be fun, a more practical and domestic mind could translate the cost of said hunt into new hardwood flooring, new granite countertops, some new appliances, or one heck of a round-the-world vacation...so, it was out of the question anyhow.

However...I wondered if my dad would be up for it. With full disclosure regarding my father (i.e. relatively recent heart attack and pacemaker) I discussed the details with the outfitter: Mr. Stan Simpson of Ram Head Outfitters. In a vigorous ping-pong of emails I peppered Stan with numerous questions, and with each response, my confidence in his operation grew.

The timing was tight: the hunt would be during the first week of September - just three weeks away! After much discussion and debate, my brother and I decided that dad deserved to go on a hunt like this (even if he just got to sightsee and breathe the air) and my brother and I would split the bill. Prepared for the onslaught, I broached the subject with our dad.

His reply was as expected:

"You're going to pay for me to hunt! You think just because you killed some poor lamb with your bow, you need to buy me a f*cking sheep? What's a matter with you?"
If you haven't figured it out already, my father is a soft-spoken and seldom tells you what he thinks!

Predictably, he lambasted me with a history lesson on the animals he had hunted, where he had hunted them, and how much harder it was to hunt them in his day...back "then" they didn't have hydration bladders...they used glass Bick's Pickle jars to carry their water, and actually they didn't need water, they drank whiskey...

As he educated me, I drew his attention to the photo gallery on the Ram Head Outfitters website, showing him images of rams taken in prior years.
"You believe everything you see on that internet? J*sus C*rist..." he shot as he stomped out of my office.

To my surprise, he entered my office the very next morning, asking a number of questions that sounded suspiciously like he was interested in the hunt!
"I'm leaving tomorrow for fishing. Investigate that hunt and make sure it's not bullsh*t! I'll be back in a week." dad growled through his thick Bosnian accent.

He added one more thing before leaving my office, "If I go for a sheep, we both go for a sheep...figure it out."

I was now saddled with worry over the momentum of the ball that I had started rolling: three weeks to prepare a 74 year-old for a Dall's hunt in the NWT? What had I done...

Fast-forward to August 26th, 11am-ish as we were leaving home ("Six f*cking hours late...") with a 2,000 or so km drive ahead of us. As the kilometres clicked by, my concerns grew: Would dad be up to the task? What if the strain was too much for him? Would I be able to forgive myself?

Dad too, had his own list of concerns:

"They took a lot of rams last year...what if all the good ones are gone?"
"Why didn't you bring your Sauer? That new gun you bought has plastic parts..."
"Why did you bring that bow? J*sus..."
"We should have brought some good wine. Why didn't you bring wine?"
"Since when do Germans build guns with plastic parts?"
"J*sus C*rist...it's just a dirt road, not a swamp. You can do 100 easy. I should drive."
"We are probably going to be the last sheep hunters there. There won't be much left."
"When I bought that Sauer I gave you, Germans were smarter. They knew all gun parts should be made out of metal. That's okay, you can use my gun..."

Two...thousand...



...one-hundred...



...and fifty-three kilometers...



Finally making it to the spot known as Mile 222 in the NWT late on August 27th, we were picked up by Stan Simpson, who flew us to one of Ram Head's base camps in his 185 Cessna.



Touching down at base camp, it's all hugs, high-5's and "F*ck yeahs!" between Johnny and I. What once was a hopeful suggestion is now getting real: he gets to guide two hometown boys for Dall's sheep, and potentially my second thinhorn for the season.

Fast-forward to August 29th. With a very early start, we slowly but steadily march our way into the steep alpine..

"You guys go ahead...I will catch up." dad offered at an early point in the ascent.

"Serge..." Johnny gently dictated, "...we have all day and there is no rush. We go when you are ready."



Having privately discussed a number of game plans and the potential issues, Johnny and I were as prepared as possible (sat phone, first aid kit, nitro sublingual tablets...) for the eventualities of bringing my dad into sheep country.
 
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rubberfist

rubberfist

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British Columbia
At about the half-way point of the climb, it was evident that dad was tired. Sweating and a bit pale, he sat down and took deep breaths.

"We're both tired too Serge..." Johnny consoled as he nodded in my direction.

"Tired? You are both young? When I was your age I would eat this mountain." dad spat as he stood up.

"You are p*ssies. F*ck this mountain!" he scolded before marching ahead.

Johnny and I shared a silent, hysterical laugh. For the remainder of the trip when we encountered an obstacle or injury, this was our mantra: "You are p*ssy. F*ck this mountain!".

Fast-forward to 12:50 pm, August 29th, 2011: we have found our ram!



As we break over the last and highest ridge separating us from the looming mountain ahead, we spot a lone Dall ram feeding his way up the mountain to his little bungalow. Inspection reveals that he is old and heavily broomed on both sides.



In his current position, and over 1,400 yards away from us, the ram is very safe. While I would happily cross a couple of kilometres and over 2,000 verticle feet to attempt a death-from-above, this is simply not an option for dad.

After a careful and lengthy examination of the terrain and every reasonable means of approach and concealment, there is only one viable option: wait for our ram to get hungry and move on him when he returns to feed on the lush benches below.



In the days preceding our arrival, the weather in the area had been characterized by frequent bouts of heavy rain and stiff, cold wind. However on this particular day bad weather was on vacation:



The skies were virtually clear, the wind was light and did not put us at a disadvantage, and the sun showered us with welcomed warmth. This was very fortunate as it took over five hours for the ram to decide he was hungry again: the hunt was now on!

Working his way down the mountain from his perch, the ram was focused on feeding. This gave us the opportunity to move stealthily down our parallel slope to our a destination: a bench opposite the area that we hoped the ram would stop to feed.

In the excitement, Johnny and I set a fierce pace as we aggressively descended over 1,000 vertical feet...and dad was right there with us.





As we approached the lip of the bench, dad whispered to me nervously: "I can't shoot. My heart is beating too fast. You have to shoot."

I calmly told him "Your heart is beating fast because you're about to shoot a Dall sheep!" Nonetheless I offered, "But I'll setup beside you with my rifle just in case."

Throwing my rifle a quick, disdainful glance, he continued on as if to say "With that rifle? Nevermind..."

At times, I thought we were busted, however Johnny carefully orchestrated our moves. At his command we would lie deathly still. Then, when the ram was feeding or descending, we would scuttle to the next bit of cover. All the while, I ranged our target with my Geovids as the ram and our party moved closer to one another: 1,120, 932, 748, 670...

At about 500 yards, Johnny instructed to my father to insert his clip of three 180 grain Weatherby 300 magnum bullets (subtlety has never been one of dad's strengths) into his Sauer 90, to chamber a round and engage the safety.

As I watched him go through the motions of slipping the clip (engineered by Germans and constructed of actual metal) into the rifle, cycling the silky smooth action of the bolt, chambering a round, and clicking on the safety, my dad gave me a wink: dad knew this rifle...they had been hunting together for over 20 years, and the walls of his sprawling rancher attested to their combined effectiveness. The image of the frail, old man lying in ICU with upteen wires connecting him to various beeping monitors was fading.

We reached the concealment of the bench's lip just as the ram reached the lowest part of his ascent and stopped to feed on the surrounding bushes. A wide and deep trench separated us and we could not get any closer, just as the ram could not get any lower. I was shocked at the synchronicity.

Quickly, Johnny ushered dad to a spot to the right of him and told him to setup. However for a second time, dad hesitated: "My heart is beating too fast...one of you has to shoot..."

Turning to dad, Johnny commanded the situation and stated fact: "Serge...you're f*cking shooting that ram."

"Right." dad replied.

Flipping out his bipod and removing the bikini cover from the Swarovski Z6i 2.5-15x56 he'd received as a Christmas present from us a couple years back, dad settled in.

"Range?" dad whispered.

"370." I told him. Moving his hand to the ballistic turret of his scope, dad turned the knob to the yellow dot (400 yards), thoughtfully turned it back two clicks, and then pushed his trigger forward into its set-trigger position. While he knew that at this range, fine-tuning with the flat-shooting 300 Weatherby was not entirely necessary, I was pleased with his composure.

I slid into position at Johnny's left. My 300 win R8 is not equipped with a bipod and Johnny hastily flipped his Kuiu Icon 6000 on edge to serve as a shooting rest. As I struggled to find a stable position against the angled surface of the pack and gain a sight picture, the ram cam into view in my scope: he was aware of our movement and was fixated on our position.

I jacked the straigh- pull bolt of my rifle, however the sloping edge of the pack made for an unsteady shooting platform. Suddenly, the ram moved broadside to the left from behind the bush and was in the clear.

"Take him!" Johnny whispered.

However as suddenly as the ram had stepped into the clear, he spun and moved directly away as though he was going to run. Then, the ram moved to the right and again turned broadside to get another look at our position.

Frustrated, I struggled to gain a steady sight picture of the ram...

BOOM - while I was seeking the target, dad and his Sauer had long since been there.

The ram buckled, toppled and then struggled to its feet.

"Reload. Hit him again." Johnny said mechanically.

BOOM - even at a distance of 400 yards I could hear the impact as dad's second bullet ended any discomfort the ram might have been experiencing.

There was a couple seconds of silence, which ended abruptly as Johnny burst into cheer and tackled my dad: "You're a f*cking assassin! You did it! Nice shooting!"

Getting a 74 year-old, recent heart-attack victim with a pace-maker, a Dall's sheep was a tall order to fill...and now the pressure was off!

One of these is an old warrior who has seen many battles...the other, is an old warrior who has seen many battles:



The 12-year old ram was heavily broomed on both sides, with a deep crack and fissure running up the length of his left horn. His pronounced Roman nose gave further evidence to the many clashes this ram had endured. Also of note, the ram was missing several of his front lower teeth, and caping revealed he had little in the way of excess body fat. There is a certain satisfaction that comes from the knowledge that you have spared an old animal the discomfort of suffering through a fatal winter. Instead, the ram will have a cozy perch above the hearth in dad's home.
 
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rubberfist

rubberfist

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Fast-forward to August 31st and a thrill rushes through me as I enjoy the walk to the idling chopper that waits to whisk me to another location for my Dall hunt, while dad relaxes at base camp.





Fast-forward to early morning September 1st as Johnny and I are stare through his spotting scope at a distant group of five rams. Swiftly we worked our way up the slope opposite the rams and made use of the sparse foliage to conceal our movements as we attempted to close the gap and get a proper look at them.

At a distance of just over a mile, we were close enough to observe the rams as they fed on the lush mountainside. As he checked each ram, Johnny finally settled on one. He paused to look at me, and then looked through the spotting scope again.

"Okay...umm...have a look at this one..." Johnny said as he moved aside.

As I peered through his Swarovski 65mm spotter, I reminded Johnny that he needed to upgrade to an HD version. I watched as the large bodied Dall fed broadside to me, his head turned into the hillside.

"Can you see him? Are you still on him?" Johnny asked.

"Yeah..." I replied, "...but he's at a bad angle...I can't get a good look at his curls..."

"Wait for it...wait for it..." Johnny murmured.

Then, the ram turned his head in my direction and I was now able to get a good look at him.

"Oh..." I offered.

"Oh? You looking at the right ram? I was expecting a better reaction..." Johnny seemed disappointed.

"I was going to say, oh my!" I chuckled and then took a few moments to carefully study the other four rams and the surrounding landscape. Fives pairs of roving eyes and the wide open terrain made a successful bow stalk highly unlikely.

Making my decision I turned to Johnny and asked, "You know what that is?"

"A dead ram?" Johnny returned without missing a beat, having read my mind.

"Yep...guess I packed some dead weight..." I stated as I looked down at my bow.

"You sure?" Johnny pressed.

Was I sure? On a practical level yes. However on a spiritual level, definitely not. I prefer to bow hunt. The satisfaction I get from a stealthy stalk, a well placed shot, pass-through, and a fast clean kill is otherwise unobtainable. Had I not already taken a beautiful Stone's sheep in August in that manner, I probably would have given it a shot, so to speak.

Some say, "They all look the same hanging on the wall." I would say to everyone else but yourself, perhaps. However the way the hunt lingers in your memory is entirely a different matter.

Nonetheless, the pragmatist in me won that day, and the poet can whine about it for some time to come...

"Yeah, I'm sure. That ram is definitely coming home with me."

"F*ck yeah man..." Johnny offered his clenched fist.

"F*ck yeah!" I punched it hard.

Shedding layers in anticipation of the gruelling climb ahead, I removed the archery release from my wrist and affixed it to my Destroyer 350. I could conduct a formal inquiry into whether or not I made the right decision later. As to the immediate task at hand, Johnny and I had to descend over 1,000 feet to the valley floor and then ascend over 2,000 vertical feet up the opposing slope in very short order. We had to ensure that we gained a manageable position before the rams broke over the ridge, and onto the wide open face of the mountain. If that happened, we would be hard pressed to close within 500 yards of the five sets of sharp eyes.



The pace was a flat-out sprint. At 5'7" and scarcely 130 pounds, Johnny moved with an effortless gait, one which my 6'3", 215 pound frame struggled to maintain. Johnny's occasional interjections of "You are p*ssy. F*ck this moutain!" provided the motivation I needed. We worked hard but also had a blast as we cracked jokes back and forth, mostly at the other's expense.

Hardly resting during the entire ascent, we reached our desired location in a time that Johnny was impressed with. More relevant than breaking some non-existent record, we managed to gain a position above the target ridge, downwind of the rams, well before they fed over it.



"Drop your pack." Johnny commanded. "Full rain gear." He added.

While the sky was now clear, a dark wall of storm clouds had materialized and was heading our way, right behind the rams.



Ushering me to stay put, Johnny pressed himself against the mossy mountainside and crept forward to the all-important ridge. Clearly aware of something, he stayed deathly still for an indeterminate amount of time before coming back.

"Eyes just below us. Our ram is feeding this way but he's over 500 yards away. He's way behind them. If they see us, he's gone." Johnny warned.

The countdown had begun:

"Get your gun ready...this will happen quick." Johnny informed me.

Having left my bow with my pack, I went through the motions of preparing my new, and thus far, unproven Blaser R8. In fact I had only fired seven shots through it since acquiring it late in July.

"How are you feeling?" Johnny whispered.

"Fantastic..." I responded.

"Make sure that Hubble telescope of yours isn't set too high..." Johnny teased.

"Yeah, yeah..." I shot back.

"How many in the clip?" Johnny quizzed me.

"Three." I hushed.

"Hmmm...got any more? I've seen you shoot..." The ball-breaking continued.

"F*ck you..." I smiled.

"Okay, stay right behind me." Johnny turned and pointed directly behind himself.

"Yep..." I nodded.

"When I stop...you stop..." he continued.

"Oookay." I whispered.

"One wrong move, if one of those other rams sees us, they're gone..." Johnny motioned below.

I nodded in acknowledgement as I stared at rams #1 and #2, partially visible some 400 yards away, feeding intently below us.

As we crept further along the steep mountainside, Johnny again turned and looked me square in the eye, "This is a great ram...one of the best I've seen all season..."

"Really?" I asked.

"Really...so try not to f*ck it up..." he smiled as he turned away to lead us closer to the all important ridge.

Now, merely a couple of steps away from the ridge, Johnny turned to me one final time and whispered "He's in the draw on the other side of that ridge, feeding towards us. I'll range for you. He's all yours buddy."

As I peered over the ridge, the vast draw that opened up before me and filled my view. I could see another ram #3 feeding below and to the right, near the bottom of the draw, and my ram was working his way down the opposite side of the draw towards them. That accounted for four of the five rams...where was ram #4?

"480..." Johnny ranged with my Geovids.

Unable to lie prone, I struggled to find a comfortable position.

"450..." Johnny continued ranging.

Finally managing to put together something of a shooting position, I turned my Swarovski Z6 onto my ram as he strolled downward and to the right. At a sharp down-angle and just over 400 yards away, I took the measure of his widely flared and unbroomed tips, the right one nearly horizontal.

"420..." Johnny counted down...

Suddenly the wind picked up, and though still in our favour, it now carried heavy flakes of snow - the looming storm now engulfed us.

My heart pounded and I could see the effect as my reticle kicked up and then drifted down.

"370..."

I was mesmerized by the sight of the magnificent Dall within my riflescope. As I tried to command the moment, I was still overwhelmed by the coolness of it all: I had a bonafide twister in my sights.

"350..."

As the ram approached the bottom of the draw, the angle grew even steeper and I again struggled to find a comfortable shooting position.

"320...take him when you can..." Johnny whispered, his voice tense.

The wind intensified as did the snow - why now?!?! I said to myself in disbelief.

Then I noticed something that I hadn't noticed before: there was another small ridge below us that obscured the area at the bottom of the draw, precisely where my ram was headed. While I could see a gravelly horizontal strip at the base of the opposing slope, a few feet more in our direction and the small ridge blocked the view.

Worse yet, ram #3 had fed to a distance barely 200 yards away. Meanwhile ram #4, which had been hidden by the same problematic slope, had now worked its way upslope, to the left at a distance of about 300 yards. We were pinned.

I settled into my position and reacquired the ram.

"Range?" I asked.

"300..." Johnny whispered.

Now angling slightly to the left, my ram was nearing the bottom of the draw; 25 maybe 30 more yards and it would be out of sight. Did I risk shooting now...essentially an overhead, frontal shot? Did I wait to see where the ram might reappear? What if ram #3 or #4 spotted us and they all spooked? What if...

BOOM! I fired. Sometimes...thinking is overrated:



 
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rubberfist

rubberfist

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As quickly as the storm had rolled in, it vaporized. Instead, we were treated to a picturesque blue sky, filled with puffy clouds and a bright warm sun as we enjoyed fresh brewed coffee while we caped-out the ram.



Johnny insisted that, as my guide, it was his professional duty to pack-out the cape and head. And while I felt as though he was dancing a little too closely with my prom date, the walk-out was 100% pure awesome-sauce:







Fast-forward to September 2nd: Johnny and I have moved a considerable distance and are now atop a vast and highly-elevated plateau.





I am staggered by the sheer scale of the highland...



...the uninterrupted steepness of the terrain...

 
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rubberfist

rubberfist

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...and the abundance of cariboo...







While the weather was clear, the temperature was sub-zero which was amplified by a sharp, ceaseless wind.

Not wanting to press our luck with the weather, we took advantage of the favourable conditions and scoured the landscape looking for a choice bull.

Ultimately, I settled on one that had a good bit of everything:



What had started out as an improbable suggestion, turned out to be a nice little adventure.




With the trip coming to a close, I was already missing the place...



...and looking forward to coming back.

Thanks for reading!
 

Becca

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Rubber fist, I enjoyed this post more than any I have read in awhile! Congrats to you sir, and to your father, on a job well done! As a nurse working in cardiac care, I am familiar with your Dad's experience and how life changing a cardiac event can be, for both the patient and their family. I am thrilled that he is still getting out there, and that both of you are bringing home such awesome trophies! Well done, and thanks so much for sharing!
 

Matt Cashell

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Western MT
Awesome story.

I love the dialogue. Special congrats to your dad. Seems like he is really one of the old thick-skinned men of the North.

Thanks for posting this.
 

tstowater

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Iowa
Great story. I need to remember the motivational speech: "You're a p***sy, F**k the mountain." Awesome. Congratulations to everyone.
 

SDHNTR

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Aug 30, 2012
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Holy crap! One of the best hunting posts I have ever read on the internet. Great read! Congrats to you and big props for taking the old man on a hunt like that!
 

couesbitten

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Feb 29, 2012
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East Wenatchee, WA
Great read and pics, congrats to you and especially your dad, you're blessed to have each other. As others have said, I too enjoyed the frank dialogue and play-by-play. I know that "You're a p***sy, F**k the mountain" will echo in my head more than once while hunting this year, as I'm sure it will with others.
 
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