So You Want to be a Sheep Hunter?
by Jason Housley (Host, The Hunter's Journal)

In the early spring of ’07, my buddy Kevin Gross had told me he was planning on booking a Dall Sheep hunt in the Yukon with Dave Dickson and wanted to know if I would join him to film a show and also book a hunt.  I would take one of my cameramen to film an episode for The Hunter’s Journal and he would take his cameraman to film an episode for Hunting with the Pro’s.  We both had been on sheep hunts in the Yukon before but I had only filmed my friends but Kevin on the other hand had taken one of the largest Stone Sheep ever taken out of the Yukon territory the year before.  This would be the first actual sheep hunt I had ever done in which I would be the one carrying the gun.  Needless to say, I felt like I had paid my dues and was more than ready.  You see, I love sheep hunting, but more importantly, I love the Yukon.  When I first went to the Yukon I wanted to explore new country.  What I found was a wilderness that was big and open and mostly unspoiled,  the last frontier. Kevin and I would fly up to Whitehorse on the 29th of July and start hunting on August 1st.  We would spend the night in Whitehorse then Tina, Dave’s wife, would drive us 4.5 hours to Dave’s highway lodge.  The next day we would horseback into a bush cabin about 3 hours up the trial.  From there we could branch out in different directions.  Most mornings consisted of a 2 to 3 hour horseback ride to the base of a mountain.  From there we would hike into a position so we could do a stalk.

The first day we got a late start because it took the wrangler a while to find the horses but Dave was determined to get out of camp and across the White River where we would then start the long pack up the creek and on the mountain in search of some sheep Dave had spotted while flying before season.  It was a hard first day for everybody – the first day of sheep season always is…you’re still trying to get your legs and you soon realize that you aren’t in as good of shape as you thought.  We spotted 20 rams that first day and got above them, but the bigger rams moved out of the bottom of the bowl before we could make our move.  The descent back down the mountain took a while and the creek crossings were tough.  I had a wet ride back to camp that night because I fell in the creek on the way back.  There was a lot of moaning  that night back at the cabin about sore backs and knees but Dave’s upbeat spirit kept everything in perspective and we all had faith in his experience and skill.

Day two we went scouting down into a deep valley – it was a pretty good horseback ride but Dave spotted some nice rams and forged a game plan for Kevin’s sheep.

Day three we all hiked up after the rams Dave had spotted the day before.  I was hoping that at least two of the rams would be shooters so we could pull a double – unfortunately the rams had laid up in a tough spot and the wind wasn’t working with us.  So Dave decided to pull back and stalk in from the other side the next day.  Kevin and I decided to split up since there was only one shooter ram.  I would head out on day four with Dave’s nephew Matt – who represented the fourth generation of Dickson’s Outfitting in the concession. Matt was only eighteen but stood 6’5”tall and around 225 pounds.  He’d been helping Dave pack out meat and wrangle horses since he was nine so he had some hunting experience and  he could walk like a goat. We headed out spotting in a predominately good Moose hunting area.  There were sheds everywhere in the big basin.  Jake, my cameraman, Matt and I rode up into the basin as far as we could and then set out on a climb up a big boulder slide – the going was rough but Matt felt confident we would find some rams.  My knee was really hurting from a tear or something so all the climbs seemed long to me because I had to push through every step.  Once we got on top we peaked over the summit and there were some rams, one really nice one with a good curl below his jaw and three or four inches of horn above the bulge on his nose.  Just about that time we heard a shot from across the valley – we knew it was Kevin, we quickly turned our scopes in that direction and saw Kevin and the guide at the top of a mountain looking down on a nice ram – then all of a sudden we heard another crack from his rifle and the ram fell and began to roll and roll and roll.  We all said to ourselves “those poor bastards have to go all the way down and then back up and over again to get to the horses”, but it’s a nice trade for a great ram.  His exhilaration would get him home, no doubt.  We turned back to the rams we had been waiting on as they continued to sleep on a small ridge some 300 yards below us.  After careful observation, we guessed the best ram to be around 7 years old.  We carefully pulled back and backed down the mountain as we were not quite as fortunate as Kevin and Dave.  That night we ate well on sheep meat, we all laughed, told jokes, and relived Kevin’s hunt; we hit the hay as early as we could.  The next morning Matt and Dave decided it would be best if I went deeper into the concession to a place called Antler Camp, Dave would stay with Kevin and search for grizzly as soon as he finished capping and salting his sheep hide.  After about three hours of riding we arrived at Sheep Camp – the nicest camp you’ll ever find in the bush – log cabins, a kitchen in the main lodge and a meat house all sitting on a beautiful lake surrounded by snow capped mountains, but this was only a stopping point.  That day we enjoyed eating some of Kevin’s sheep meat, and drinking a few cold ones out of the well – we would then venture another 2 ½ hours further into some of the most beautiful basins I have ever seen.  Once we arrived at Antler Camp, we quickly set up the wall tent and ate a quick bite before turning in for bed.  On the 6th day of my hunt Matt took us to where he had seen an older ram the year before.  We would cross over a saddle, around a basin and then traverse along the side of the mountain.  Matt spotted the sheep we were looking for around lunch as the winds on the mountains picked up with gusts over 50 mph.  The climbing was tough but we did it.  The ram was down in a big valley with some other smaller rams.  By the time we had made our final stalk, the lambs and ewes had walked up the valley towards us and then turned sharply uphill, not because they winded us, but because they just decided to head uphill.  My ram was now going away from me and fast.  I propped up on my pack and brought my CVA single shot 300 Win Mag to my shoulder.  My 1st shot went just over his back.  “High”, Matt said.  I couldn’t believe it.  I was expecting the sheep to just fold up.  I’ve shot a lot of North American big game with my CVA with a 4200 Bushnell Elite without ever having a problem.  When I missed on the second shot, it was clear that I had knocked off my scope somewhere along the way.  I couldn’t believe it; I was upset that all this preparation and hard work was going down the drain.  Finally, I placed one of the Federal XBT Barnes into the sheep but it was far back.  How much had the 50 mph winds pushed the bullet or was the glass moving in my scope?  I was desperate – as the sheep ran down hill, I could see the blood running down his left rear leg.  Was it just a meat shot or would it be fatal?  The ram soon disappeared around the mountain towards the valley floor.  Jake stayed back and kept spotting for the ram, Matt and I hurried down and around so we could finish him off.  To our surprise there was lots of blood but the blood trail petered out and we couldn’t find the ram anywhere.  It was like he had vanished.  It soon turned late as we continued our search – my heart sank in my chest – I couldn’t believe what was happening.  We all had worked too hard for this sort of outcome – It just wasn’t fair.  Jake and Matt were both willing to stay with me on the mountain that night but we all knew the weather wouldn’t  hold.  My knee was pounding from running through the rocks trying to get in front and on top of the fleeing ram.  I decided to try to make it back to the horses but we had to leave right then if we planned on not riding the horses in the dark through the bush to beat out the storm.  I did not want to walk off that mountain without my ram but a storm was coming and we had to play it smart.

The next morning we woke to rain – not good.  We all decided it would be best to go back and find Dave and have him fly the basin so he could get an eagles perspective.

We had to get Dave’s help to get my ram.  I remembered the ram as heavy, dropped on his right and tipped on his left – it would take 9 hours back to the highway to talk to Dave.  His experience and confidence was evident.  He said “we’ll get your ram”, and as soon as the weather broke Dave flew the area. He saw my ram laying down by a pond that was not far from where we had last looked for the ram.  He said he would go retrieve the ram with his next group of hunters but when he got into the basin he found no sign of the ram. Needless to say, when I got the news I was more than a little disappointed.

It had been a team effort all the way but what impressed me the most was Dave’s management of predators by running trap lines in his concession, how well he knew the mountains, his skill with the horses and his determination to make his clients’ dreams come true.  Sheep hunting is hard work and the Dicksons are old school outfitters with a success rate of over 95%, you can’t argue with old school.  Knowing everything that the Dicksons do to make your dreams come true, and the trials and tribulations that you could face to get your ram, leads me to ask….What hardcore hunter doesn’t want to be SHEEP HUNTER?  I’ll let you think about that….