Never in my wildest dreams, did I think I’d be sitting down to write about my second sheep hunt a year after my first sheep hunt! It was May 17th, 2017 when my fiancé and I were sitting on the couch working on wedding plans for our June 28th wedding, when my buddy Carl texted saying that Idaho’s draw results were up. I quickly logged in and saw the words every sheep hunter dreams of seeing, SUCESSFUL!!!! I had just drawn a tag in Idaho’s Frank Church Wilderness. Arguably, the hardest sheep hunting area in the lower 48 outside of Montana’s unlimited units. The great Jack O’Connor referred to that area as “One of the roughest spots on earth” . I had done some research prior to applying to know somewhat of what I was up against, oh how I was still in for a surprise.
The next few months were a whirlwind of Google searches, forum searches, phone calls, reading books, and of course planning for and getting married in Alaska! At times I think my fiancé thought that I was more excited about this sheep hunt than our destination wedding! The correct answer, and honestly true answer, was, “of course not dear this is just a new excitement!” I was surprised on how little info there was on forums and with Huntinfool only having 1 person on record that has drawn the same tag. My luck would have it that the one guy who had drawn the tag just so happened to have a buddy that drew the same year I had and was not willing to help with much specific info. I was very fortunate though through my searching and posting to meet many great people along the way that gave me advice and tips on hunting sheep in that wilderness.
Fast-forward through June and part of July when my wife and I returned from Alaska as newlyweds and it was finally time to set foot in my unit and do some scouting. I had met a guy that used to spend a lot of time in the area I was hunting and had recently moved back to the area. He asked if it would be ok for him to accompany my wife and I on a long weekend backpack trip for some scouting. I was of course very eager to accept his request. We spent the weekend glassing and found sheep, but just ewes and lambs but still I was excited to see them. I was humbled by the look of the terrain and its ruggedness. It made my Alaska Dall Sheep hunt look more like an antelope hunt! A few weeks later my wife and I returned again to a different portion of the unit to do some scouting but we were met with a foe I would grow to hate…. smoke! We couldn’t glass much so we only spent 2 days and left without seeing a sheep. I was still in high hopes and excited for the hunt, which was now only 2 weeks away!
My best friend and hunting partner, Sean, drove up from NM before the hunt and we sorted out gear, weighed every item to the tenth oz. and loaded up as equal as we could. We headed out 2 days prior to the opener to fly in and do some last minute scouting. This proved to be a waste of money, effort, and time. The fires were still raging in Idaho, Montana, Washington, and Oregon making visibility near zero. At one point we had burned grass and ash raining down on us! That coupled with immense 95+ temperatures we opted to fly right back out the next day and go to another location further south and hope the smoke wasn’t as bad. We reached the second location and set up camp. One of the other hunters showed up shortly after, and you could sense both he and I were a little disappointed that we were now in competition with each other. Opening day came and went with nothing spotted except for some deer. Sean and I formulated a plan to spike out and go to the end of a drainage and work our way up back to base camp. We left early that morning in the dark and are heading down a trail when all of a sudden we heard a shot ring out not far at all from where we had just left. My heart sank when we saw the other hunter packing out a sheep not a few hundred yards from where we had walked in the dark. I knew we had walked right by some sheep and never saw them. We glassed and hunted for a few days only seeing ewes and one immature ram. The conditions were worsening from the heat and smoke so we decided to call it and go back to Idaho Falls and go fishing a few days. I left that area a little beaten up mentally but hopeful the conditions would improve soon. I watched the fire activity continue to grow and worsen. 2017 will go down as one of the worst fire years in the west. The devastation the fires caused is insurmountable and I’m sure many sheep hunts were impacted. Each day my hopes dwindled not seeing any end in sight with the horrific fires in Montana and Idaho’s wilderness the north winds brought the smoke straight into my hunting unit. Finally, a cold front entered and suppressed the fires so I made plans to go back in and this time my new friend Mitch, who had gone scouting with my wife and I, went with me. We made our plans and met up in the unit and set up a nice base camp. We spent a day and a half glassing and hunting with no luck. Then an early season winter storm came and set in. I don’t know how much snow we got, over a foot for sure, as it was coming in every way but straight down making visibility near zero. We tried waiting it out a couple days until the weather reports I was getting from friends made it clear that we would not be getting a break for a while. We decided to bag this trip and go back to work for a couple weeks and take our vacation in October for one last hoorah.
September 30th came and I met Mitch in Challis, ID to fly into the unit to a landing strip on the Middle Fork of the Salmon River and hunt from the river up. Our hopes were that the sheep would have moved down a little with the winter storms the area got the two weeks prior. We got to Challis and flew out, beating a low cloud layer by minutes to slip in and land. We brought a raft with us to float across the Middle Fork. We got our gear situated and loaded up the raft, half way across the river we broke an oarlock and our rowboat turned into a paddleboat! We got across, laughed about Mitch’s luck with boats, loaded up our gear and headed down river. We made our first camp and went for an evening glass with no luck. October 1st we made our second camp mid morning and set up camp quickly then headed up the hill for another evening glass. Approx. 6pm I was glassing a drainage that I had been told by several people they had seen sheep in during the late tag hunt. I had glassed the same area several times when all of a sudden there was a ram standing in the sun!! I couldn’t believe my eyes I was looking at a ram!!! I could tell it wasn’t a very big ram and quickly started picking apart the hillside around him; 2,3, 4 Rams appeared!!! I got my Swarovski spotter out and started studying each ram. The fourth and darkest ram was “The One” we could tell from over a mile away he had great bases and was broomed off on both sides. I loved the character of his horns and knew that was the ram I came for. Pete, with Stone Glacier Packs, said it best. “Its like you found Santa Clause” The excitement I felt was unlike anything else I’ve ever experienced hunting. Just seeing them I started shaking! I looked at Mitch and we both came to the same conclusion, it was too late in the day, and they were not in an ideal location to make a move on them that night so we would have to come back tomorrow. I didn’t sleep much at all that night thinking of those rams and the dark one in particular. We got up early the next day and headed up the 2000’ vertical feet to get to the spot we could see from. We climbed and climbed and climbed with anticipation building with each step. When we got up to the knob we started glassing to find the 4 rams again but with no luck. My hopes started to dwindle with each new glassing spot we would climb up to in hopes of seeing those rams bedded down in a cut or on the other side of some brush. We had climbed nearly 3000’ to the top of the ridge and we were both getting tired. I looked over at a large rocky spot and we agreed it looked like a good spot to see the one last rockslide that maybe they were hiding in. We worked our way over to the rocks and Mitch went to the edge and looked over. He quickly ducked back down and pointed down and mouthed “SHEEP”! I dropped my pack and grabbed my rifle and worked my way to the edge, while staying in the taller grass and looked through my binos down in the chute and saw 2 rams lying in the sun. Neither was the dark colored ram. I looked in the shadows and there laid the dark colored ram facing us at 188 yards. I instantly started shaking with excitement. I spent a few seconds collecting myself and calming myself down. The shot was going to be difficult with the steep angle, tall grass and brush, and narrow spots to get a rest. I got a spot in-between two sharp rocks and using one as a rest I put the crosshairs on the rams chest. I took a deep breath to calm myself once more and squeezed the trigger. WHOP!! I hit him!! He stood up and spun broadside mostly behind a tree branch. I could see a small opening around his shoulder that I wanted to try and fit a second shot into. WHOP!! A positive second hit and I lost sight of him. Mitch and I gathered our packs and gear and headed down an incredibly steep rocky chute. I took one rolling rock to the calf and ripped a hole in my pants on a rock on the decent. We got down about 100 yards and there were rams standing there staring at us! I threw up my rifle and looked and none were the dark colored ram. The three were just standing there looking at us and seemed to be confused about what just happened. I had heard that sometimes when you shoot the lead ram the others don’t always run off and don’t know what to do. We got over closer and they wandered off. Mitch looks down and points, “There he is! He’s down”. I scrambled and half fell my way down the chute to where he was. I let out a WAAAHHOOOOOO!!!!! I couldn’t believe it I had just killed a Bighorn!! I put all my gear down and went over to him and just sat there admiring how beautiful he is and how much character his horns have. I picked up his head and marveled at how heavy those horns really are. We took pictures, high fived, and got to work. It was about 2 miles back to camp with the last mile being done with headlamps but we got back to camp without incident and with an immense sense of accomplishment. Again, I didn’t sleep that night with every little noise keeping me awake wondering if a bear was coming to claim my trophy as his. The pack out up river to the landing strip was another 7 miles and it was a brutal one with a pack weight of 110 pounds of sheep and camp. We got back to across the river from the airstrip that night and opted to cross the river the next day with better light and rested bodies. Our bad luck with boats continued when we crossed back to the landing strip where we broke an oar half way across the river! I flailed us across with one paddle narrowly making shore at the end of the landing strip. We still had half our gear and the meat on the opposite bank. We stood there thinking of what to do and were about to do something stupid when a group of boaters came through and ferried me across to gather the rest of our gear and took me back across to the landing strip. Weather came in and delayed our flight a day but our spirits were high every time we looked at the ram. We stayed at the strip with a nice campfire and the views of the Middle Fork and the incredibly beautiful views of the Frank Church. When the plane finally came in to pick us up and we were in the air I sat in the plane looking out across the hills and river amazed at its beauty and in the people that came before me in wooden boats exploring, and the sheepeater tribe that called this place home hunting sheep as I had just done. I spent 18 days in there scouting and hunting and the mental and physical tests I endured came close to breaking me several times but the quest of finding my ram kept me going. I came away from this hunt knowing it was the hardest thing I’ve ever done, and I did it! I will have memories of the hunt, the time spent with friends, and the things I learned about myself to last a lifetime.