Humbled by a Stone Ram

by Jim Winjum

It seems that whenever you chase and catch a dream, there’s always a bigger one around the corner. When my hunting partner Bob Sherer and I joined forces with others to start Kenetrek Boots, it was a little self-serving at first. Yes, we wanted to build a business… but more importantly, we wanted to design a boot that would serve us as we sought to achieve the hunting Grand Slam of all four species of North American Mountain Sheep… a dream we were both chasing. Well, we not only built the boots and the business, but we both were successful in achieving the Sheep Grand Slam with our rifles. But then I started getting more heavily into bow hunting.

Fast forward a decade or so and some gray hairs, when I threw out the idea of trying to achieve a Grand Slam with a Bow.  Bob and I looked at each other like we were both nuts. But hey, we’re not getting any younger and the mountains seem to be getting steeper with each year… so we decided why not?  We both agreed that although all of the sheep species can be difficult, the most difficult and expensive would probably be the Stone Sheep from British Columbia.

I called good friend John Schapansky who books for Cassiar Stone Outfitting in British Columbia.  John chuckled at my goal, but after some discussion, he also said why not?  I booked a hunt where I would have 14 hunting days available and John thought I should see several legal rams in that timeframe. But he made it clear, getting close with a bow – that was all on me.

I flew into Whitehorse, Yukon Territory, the jump-off point for many sheep hunting adventures. I met my guide Warren Lees, and after a long drive south, we gathered some gear and headed into one of their horse camps to begin our adventure. Warren and I took off from camp and almost immediately saw some mountain goats and a couple of stone sheep rams. We were awed by a giant ram with one horn who we dubbed, “onesey".  Forget a bow stalk on him. He popped over the highest peak around like it was nothing - even a younger me couldn’t keep up with that beast.

horses grazing in the backcountry

Five days later, Warren and our assistant guide Rueben loaded up and we moved the camp 20 miles away.  Just riding horses in a pack string through some of the most beautiful unspoiled country in North America was worth the price of admission. I don’t ride a lot, consequently, my butt and my knees were flaming hot by the time we made it to camp. When we mounted up the next day for 35 more miles, Warren joked that I may have just set the record for distance ridden in one day by one of their hunters.  My butt was not at all amused. Good thing I was on a bow hunt and didn’t have a gun, otherwise I might have been tempted to end my misery.

Mountains of British Columbia

I dropped into my sleeping bag as soon as we trotted into camp and passed out.  First thing the next morning we started glassing sheep.  They seemed to be everywhere. Just above our camp on the mountain, we spotted a band of 7 with two good mature rams.  The stalk was on.  We left Ruben as a spotter and Warren and I dropped way down below and attempted to sneak up the stream drainage near where the sheep bedded down.  By the time we made it, they were up and feeding.  We had no cover and no choice but to lay flat and blend with the tundra as the rams finally moved by us about 150 yards away.  An easy shot for a rifle, but they might as well have been on another planet for a bow. We were disappointed at the lost opportunity but excited over our first stalk on a mature stone ram, one of the most prized trophies in North America.  That was the closest we got to anything all day and all the next day. But that’s sheep hunting. You just keep on climbing and glassing.

The following day we headed up the valley into new country and within a couple of hours of glassing Warren spotted 2 rams almost a mile away – one of them looked great, with full curl horns and a striking coloration with an almost white head and dark gray body. We sent Rueben to the other side of the drainage so he could keep an eye on the sheep as Warren and I began stalking. We climbed up to get level with the sheep and started around the mountain towards where we thought they were. When stalking animals like stone sheep, it’s absolutely vital that they don’t see you first.  They have eight power vision compared to humans and they live their lives in constant threat from wolves, grizzlies, wolverines, and eagles.  To say they are wary is an understatement. 

Looking down into a valley

As we closed the distance we looked back at Rueben just as he signaled that the rams were moving down to the valley floor.  We finally spotted them and then hurriedly but carefully tried to descend to cut them off, but we didn’t get down in time and had to again watch them walk by us at 130 yards.  Argh! 

We sat amused and frustrated watching them graze flowers and grass off the valley floor for over an hour, then they started coming back towards us.  When they went out of sight below a small hill I started moving.  I was off, half sliding half falling down the mountain trying to get over the top of a big rock, headed for a ravine that might offer some cover.  I made it to the big rock and dangled my legs over and was just about to get down when the two rams poked their heads over the skyline of the hill.  I was absolutely pinned with no cover at all!  They walked right towards me up to within bow range and the big ram laid down. 

Although I was completely exposed I got an arrow on my bowstring and ranged the ram.  All I needed to do was to turn my adjustable bow sight to the correct yardage, slowly sit up and draw my bow.  The ram would most likely stand, look at me for a few seconds, and I’d take the shot.  It sounded like a great plan until the smaller ram came closer to me and laid down right in front of the big ram!  Now I was really stuck.  I had to wait them out.  Mountain sheep typically bed down for about 2 hours before getting up to adjust or eat again.  All I could do was settle in and force myself to be ready to conduct my shot sequence as soon as he got up.  I was laying flat on my back with my legs hanging over the rock.  I soon started shaking with chills and tried to do full body isometric flexes for over an hour to stop the shakes.  It actually worked and eventually, the shakes stopped.

Finally, the big ram stood up but instead of standing and stretching for the few seconds I needed, he immediately stepped down into the gully right behind a big rock leaving only his horn sticking out the other side.  Having already started the shot sequence with the little ram looked at me trying to figure out why this big rock started moving.  He walked toward me then scooted across the little draw and stopped to look back. 

When the big ram took notice, he trotted up and looked toward me, but failed to locate me. Already at full draw and not moving, I could not believe this was happening.  I steadied, leveled and released the arrow.  It flew fast and true and looked to hit the ram exactly where I aimed.  The sound of a solid hit came back and both rams ran around the corner. 

Unable to contain myself, I think some kind of sasquatch-like noise erupted from me.  Warren popped out of no-where to give me a giant bear hug and said you got him.  After gaining back emotional control we recognized we still needed to not further spook the sheep.  So we sat down and took a break.

Thirty minutes later we moved toward were we last saw the rams and found their tracks and a little bit of blood.  We waited for Reuben to come across the valley.  Then we picked up the tracks and continued around the mountain and up a small stream.  Additional tracking turned up only very light blood sign. I decided to wait an additional hour before continuing on, so we took turns talking about the shot.  Although the ram was quartered forward, I thought the shot hit him perfectly and saw the arrow where it exited out the back leg as he ran away.  We all agreed the shot looked good but when we picked up the tracks again the blood was very sporadic and minimal. 

The ram seemed to move in the small stream bed heading uphill and I expected to see him at every turn… but nothing.  We painstakingly tracked him on our hands and knees all the way up the drainage to the head of the stream and a giant cirque of rocks, we lost all blood and tracks. No ram.  I have tracked many animals over the years and I always feel a little sick about not having them expire within sight - but it is part of the hunting experience which has impacted my life so positively, for so long. 

As darkness fell, we made our way back to the shot and located the arrow which wore only dark blood.  I could not understand where the ram went, why there was so little blood and why he didn’t ever lay down.  Our emotions see-sawed from elation to doubt to depression.  I began to think that I did not see what I thought I saw and had only hit the ram in the leg.  Warren tried to stay positive and hopeful that we would find the ram in the morning.

We awoke the next day to a pounding rain, thick cloud cover, and no visibility.  No tracks or blood sign would survive this type of rainfall.  Our depression deepened as we realized we would spend the rest of the hunt looking for the body of a mountain sheep in a vast incredible maze of mountains.  The proverbial needle in a haystack.

arid mountain of British Columbia

The following day the rain continued but we knew we had to search no matter what the weather was doing.  We made a miserable climb to the top of the mountain cirque and tried to glass through rain squalls to see anything.  At one point I spotted two rams on a bench off the other side of the mountain, and one had similar coloration, to the big ram, but it wasn’t our ram.  We resumed covering some very slippery and dangerous boulder fields.  I know we were all praying as we moved toward the top of that lonely ridge that day. 

I tried to get out of the wind and rain by looking through one barrel of my binocs around a big rock when Warren came and grabbed me saying, “Buddy, I found your ram and he is stone dead”.  He went on to warn us that it might be a little bit dicey and one of us might die getting to him… but we found him.   At that point, none of us cared and off we went.

Jim, Reuben and John with Stone Ram

I did mortally shoot the tough ram, but due to the steep downward angle of the shot, no blood flowed from the entrance and a piece of fat had corked the exit hole. The only blood we found came from the small wound on his back leg where the arrow had nicked the ram when exiting. The ram had followed the stream all the way to the top, crossed over the cirque to the other side and followed a narrow ledge where he finally bedded down at the top of a 200-foot cliff.

Of all the luck I’ve experienced as a hunter, nothing compares to whatever forces guided us to finding that ram.  When a hunt gets really tough, you do a lot of soul-searching.  There seems to be a bittersweet component to most things in life and this hunt was no exception.  I came out of my archery stone sheep adventure to British Columbia completely humbled and with a thankful heart full of gratitude to God and the many people that assisted me on this adventure of a lifetime.  And in the end, those benefits end up meaning more to me than the best of hunting trophies