Ken Schultz As Told By Daryl Schultz
British Columbia, 2009, DIY, Public Land
It was day six of our Stone’s sheep hunt in the backcountry of northern British Columbia, and we were finally where we wanted to be. The first storm of the fall had hung heavy and dark in the valley, and had kept us on the floatplane dock for four full days. Now, we were determined that neither rain, fog, sleet, snow, nor plane delays could prevent us from accomplishing what we came to do.
Two sheep were feeding in a basin 360 yards away, unaware of our presence. We watched these amazing animals for some time as cold mists swirled around us, but neither of them were what we were looking for. The oldest was a six-year-old, and although we were excited to see these sheep, we were confident there was something greater awaiting us.
The next day we pressed on farther, slowly glassing as we went and arriving at our camp location in the afternoon. We spent the remaining daylight hours glassing a box canyon we had hunted successfully in the past. It was almost time to head back to camp when we saw HIM. Although he was over a mile away, the spotting scope confirmed this was a special ram – a ram that would fulfill a “bucket list” goal, and create memories that would tie father and sons for a lifetime. We knew that win or lose, this was the ram for Dad.
My brother and I grew up living and breathing hunting. As little boys, Chris and I would spend hours watching Super 8 film of Dad’s sheep hunts from before we were born. He taught us to hunt and how to be true sportsmen. Success in the field was not ultimately measured by how many tags were cut, but by the way our passion was pursued. He taught us to hunt hard, but also to consider any day in the field a good one.
As Chris and I grew up, the three of us spent countless hours talking about every detail of his sheep hunting adventures. We lived vicariously through him as young boys, dreaming of the day we would hunt Stone’s sheep for ourselves. Dad never did get a ram on any of those trips, but he cheerfully helped pack out sheep for his hunting partners, and shared in their triumphs.
The years went by, and Chris and I began chasing our own sheep. We were both fortunate to take rams and would often talk about our adventures with Dad. The tables were now turned, and Dad was living vicariously through us.
Dad hadn’t hunted for Stone’s sheep since we were small boys, and we often dreamt about doing a trip together. We talked about a trip for years, but there always seemed to be a reason not to go. In the spring of 2009, after picking up my ram from the taxidermist, Chris and I concluded that it would be one of our biggest regrets if we didn’t do that hunt.
We knew the spot to take him. It was the same place we had taken our rams - a place many miles from the shores of a remote flyin lake in northern B.C.
With encouragement from our wives, we phoned and booked the floatplane for September. The next day we informed Dad that we were taking him to try and settle some unfinished business - on two conditions. First, he would need to train hard physically to get in shape come September. Second, he needed to upgrade most - if not all - of his hunting gear. We introduced him to modern words foreign to him: Sitka, Gore-Tex, JetBoil, Kenetrek and many others...
Sleep didn’t come easy that sixth night. Question after question rattled through our minds, pushing aside the exhaustion of the day’s exertions. Would the ram still be there in the morning? Were other hunters in the area? Would the weather hold? When the alarm finally sounded, we were eager to see what the day would bring.
Sunrise on a September day in the high country is hard to beat. The yellow and orange colors sparkled as the sun rose high above snow-capped peaks. What a beautiful place!
We picked apart the far box canyon with our spotting scopes for hours, but there was no sign of the ram. We had to move in closer for a better look. A few essentials were tossed in the packs and we were off.
Three hours later we were in position. We eagerly shed our packs and scanned for the missing ram. Shortly afterward the silence was broken. “I’ve got a ram” I said. “Hold on; there’s four rams, and Dad’s ram is one of them!”
Two of the rams were identical in age and color - ¾ curls with beautiful lightcolored capes. The third ram was dark chocolate, heavily broomed, and looked to be around eight years old. The last ram was special. He had the classic salt and pepper cape of a trophy Stone, and carried an impressive set of horns. From this location we were able to count ten rings easily. His mass was impressive, and it was at this point we started calling him “The Cranker.”
From our vantage point, we watched as the rams fed from the canyon floor up the loose shale and into the cliffs. The canyon narrowed at the back and we felt that if we could get in deep enough, we would have a shot. Using the ever-changing fog banks as cover, we worked our way toward the back. Once we were in position, the magnitude of the canyon became evident. The rams had bedded high enough that they were out of rifle range and had an exceptional view of the canyon floor. We had to hope they would come back down to feed. As the fog banks dissipated, we realized we were pinned down. We sat behind cover and spent the majority of the day watching.
Shooting light was fading when The Cranker rose from his bed and began feeding down toward us. He was on a mission and quickly covered a lot of terrain, forcing us to make a decision. He stopped and offered a 272-yard shot, but it wasn’t an ethical shot. It would have been impossible to recover him where he stood, and if he fell there wouldn’t be much to recover.
As darkness fell, we backed out of the canyon and began our three-hour trek back to the tent. Exhausted, we arrived aided by headlamps. We concluded that we would move camp closer to the canyon in the morning to bring ourselves closer to the rams.
The next morning we watched the rams in the inaccessible cliffs above. It was an amazing experience to see these monarchs in their element. They seemed so majestic as they foraged for the little available feed found on the tiny ledges. Darkness fell again, and we wondered if the rams would ever leave the safety of the cliffs.
At 4:30 p.m. the next day our prayers were answered. The Cranker began to work his way down. We would finally have our chance. I stayed back and observed as Dad and Chris cut the distance.
They ran out of cover and I watched as they removed their packs and made a solid rest. I found The Cranker in the spotting scope and time slowed down. Like a dream I watched all the pieces fall into place. The big ram closed the distance to 325 yards and I held my breath in anticipation.
At the thunder of the shot, the dream I had envisioned became my worst nightmare. I watched in horror as rocks exploded above the ram - a clear miss! The ram was off and running for the safety of the cliffs. As we watched him climb higher, the only comfort we found was in knowing it was a clean miss. The sheep was determined to leave the canyon, and with every step he took, our dream of a ram for Dad faded. It was a heartbreaking and quiet hike back to the tent.
Two days later we were on our way back to base camp. We had looked high and low, but the ram was nowhere to be found. We knew the reality of the situation, and with only a single day of food remaining, Dad said, “Boys, this is a trip we’ll all remember forever. We’ve given it our all. I’m ready to go back.”
We decided to glass for one more hour before turning our backs on our dream. As the hour drew nearer, the silence was broken once again. “Rams!”
We had found them! A mile up the valley from where we had last seen them, The Cranker and two younger rams had found a new refuge. We were emotionally and physically spent, but we knew what had to be done. Three hours later we were in position, so we set up camp one last time. The next day we had to be at base camp - with or without Dad’s ram.
The sheep picked an ideal place to bed high above the valley floor, and as before, there was nothing we could do but wait. With an hour of light left, it happened; the rams worked their way down to feed. We had to go for broke. I stayed back and would once again watch things unfold through the scope.
Desperate times called for desperate measures. Chris decided to try an unproven method we called the “caribou crawl.” Trying to imitate a caribou, Dad held Chris at the hips and bent at the waist, the two hunters now morphed into a four-legged creature. I held my breath as they walked into plain view and cut the distance. Almost immediately one of the rams spotted them and stared - and then went back to feeding! Dad and Chris reached the safety of the cliffs and picked their way within 150 yards.
I settled the spotting scope on The Cranker and waited. As the shot rang out, I was horrified once again to see an explosion of rock above the ram’s back. He was on the run for a second time.
As I sat there in a fog of amazement and despair, I watched as the ram slowed, offering one last chance before heading to the safety of the cliffs. Now at twice the distance, it had all come down to this moment. I found the monarch in the scope and saw the hit before I heard the shot. Dad finally had his ram.
We were overcome with emotion. Never before had a hunt pushed our mental and physical capabilities so far. It was a surreal feeling to get a close-up view of the amazing ram, and see the pride and emotion it brought to our Dad. The ram was 11 years old and his 38-1/2-inch horns carried mass unlike any other Stone’s we had ever seen.
We had experienced a hunt impossible to duplicate. Chris and I had always dreamt of being with Dad and helping him get a ram, but we never dreamt it would be a hunt like this.