In 2014, my brother-in-law, Scott Pearson, was diagnosed with stage 4 cancer and had a challenging surgery scheduled. To keep him focused on the future, I purchased a subscription to the Huntin’ Fool magazine for him and received two Membership Drive tickets.
On March 2nd, I received a call from Austin Atkinson at Huntin’ Fool saying that I had just been drawn for the Stone sheep hunt with Golden Bear Outfitting. I was so stunned. When we hung up after the call, I had hair standing up on the back of my neck and my wife, Leslie, asked me, “Do you know what today is?” I couldn’t think of anything until she told me it was the one-year anniversary of my dad’s death. I figured someone was looking from above, and all I could think of was “Karma.”
My flight left Phoenix on August 22nd, and I arrived in Juneau, Alaska, picked up my gear, and headed to the hotel to await the charter flight the next morning. In the morning, we landed at Rock Island camp where I met Clayton Steffey, my guide. He told me we would be hiking out of the camp up a valley to the southeast and climbing up the mountains to hunt a group of rams they had seen.
After almost seven hours of hiking with a 70-pound pack, I was absolutely beat. We set up camp and had a quick dinner. I was exhausted after a long day but was excited for the next morning to start looking for sheep.
I awoke to see it was going to be another beautiful day. We got our gear ready and headed up the mountain. We made it to the top and began glassing the upper recesses of the mountaintops. Clayton spotted a band of 12 rams, which I ranged at 1,800 yards. We watched them for over 30 minutes, trying to determine if there were any rams worth pursuing. Once they moved over an ice field, we saw there were two rams that were full curl. One had a white face, and the other was a dark ram, which was the biggest. I took several pictures through the spotting scope and verified that the two rams were greater than full curl. We discussed the approach at length and decided to go back around the mountain.
After a five-hour hike, we crept up to the ridgetop but didn’t see any sheep. We plotted a path through the benches that would take us within 400-500 yards of where we believed the sheep would be bedded while keeping us in cover. I spotted a young ram up and feeding around 200 yards away. We instantly dropped down and crawled up to a better vantage point. We counted 10 non-legal rams but were missing the two legal ones.
We watched the rams for the better part of an hour without them knowing we were there. Finally, a young ram started moving away from the other rams and was headed to a spring that was directly downwind of us. On the way to the spring, he walked into our scent. He looked around and suddenly had us pegged. We played the staring game and then he started walking stiff-legged back to the other rams. We quickly crawled up another 10-15 yards to get clear of some grass that might block a shot. The bedded rams started standing up, and then the big ram stood up. There was no shot as another ram was directly behind him. I had ranged the group of rams at 160 yards, so I was ready as soon as there was a shot. The ram moved, and Clayton said, “The big ram is clear. Shoot!” I squeezed the trigger and saw the ram drop.
We had beaten the odds, and our first stalk was successful on the first actual day of hunting. We took our time taking pictures and then started to take care of the sheep as we had a long hike back down the mountain to camp. We measured the Stone sheep’s horns at 39 1/2" on the right side and 37 5/8" on the left side. I had told Clayton when I arrived that I had brought ashes from both my parents and planned on releasing them on the top of the mountain when I was successful. After we finished getting everything ready for the hike back, I told Clayton about my parents.
Of all life’s lessons, there are three that stand out above all from my parents – generosity, compassion and empathy, and work ethic and ethics of work. More than a few tears were shed on the mountain as I spread their ashes while remembering them at that special place.
Next, we were off to a remote lake to look for a goat. Once camp was set up, we decided to go for a stroll up the valley and see what goats we could find. We saw several goats, and it appeared that the biggest were several thousand feet directly above our camp. We decided to make a run at three nice billies.
We carefully evaluated the terrain between us and the billies and made a plan to work our way up a gully. We crept to a spot to take a look, and it wasn’t very long before we saw the big billy about 600-700 yards away and feeding downhill. We scrambled to get within shooting distance. I hurriedly got down in a prone position and ranged the billy at 485 yards. I squeezed the trigger and saw the hit through the scope. The billy headed down the ridgeline and dropped out of sight. I was ready to fire off another round in case I saw the goat again. The goat came over the ridge, still heading downhill. I could tell he was hit hard, but I wanted to ensure he was done. I ranged him at 350 yards and dialed the scope. One more round downrange and the goat was down for good. He rolled down the hill and ended up about 250 yards away from us. I was excited to get another animal.
Now it was time for caribou. Since we arrived late in the afternoon, we didn’t have more than an hour to go to some high points and glass. We headed to a couple of high ridgelines and glassed up several herds of caribou. There was definitely excitement for the next morning.
The morning couldn’t arrive soon enough, but when it did, it was a beautiful day. After some hot chocolate and oatmeal, we headed out of camp. As we made our way to a hilltop, we would glass every so often. Clayton with his eagle eyes softly said, “Caribou.” He was looking at a hilltop over four miles away. We couldn’t make out if they were legal but counted at least 12 caribou with several appearing to have large antlers. We carefully evaluated the terrain and decided the best way was to move toward them through two different drainages. As we worked our way closer, we kept our eyes peeled to ensure we weren’t seen. When we were within a mile of where we thought they would be, we slowly worked up to the ridgeline. We didn’t see anything in front of us. However, we saw several small drainages heading up toward the hilltop and decided the middle drainage looked the best.
We snuck up through the small drainage and figured the caribou would be on the hillside just above us. As we peered over, we saw caribou 250-300 yards away. We belly crawled to a rock that would give me a high point from which to shoot. We counted 11 caribou bulls. Now the hard part was picking out the legal bulls and finding the biggest and best of the bunch. At the same time, we both said, “Found him.” He was bedded down, and I ranged him at 250 yards. I checked my scope and confirmed it was dialed to 250 yards. In a minute of calm, I slowly squeezed the trigger. Boom! I saw the bullet strike the bull right behind the shoulder, and he rocked forward. He was down for good and never moved from his bed.
Walking up on the bull, there was nothing small about him and his antlers seemed to grow. We took pictures and started to debone the animal. Once complete, we knew we were in for a hike, but it was another happy trip back to camp. Clayton mentioned we had made it three for three. Never in my life had a hunt gone off so perfectly.
I’ve realized how lucky I’ve been in life and how my parents influenced who I have become. I’m sure they were with me every step of the way over the entire adventure. During the trip, I met some amazing people – hunters, guides, and the outfitter. This was truly the hunt-of-a-lifetime!
The Call of the Mountains By: Clayton Steffey (one of Greg William’s guides/Paul’s guide)
As I lay on my bedroll, the rain falling down,
The cold wind a blowin’, the tent whippin’ round.
I wonder and ponder on this life that I’ve chose,
Why be a hunting guide, God only knows.
For there’s many a day, that put our strength to the test,
And cause us to wonder, why we’re not like the rest.
Sleeping in comfort on a soft cushioned bed,
In a place where it’s warm and you’re always well fed.
But it just isn’t in us to be like the guy,
That works nine to five, as life passes by.
So each year in spring, with the melting of the snow,
The mountains start calling, and we know we must go.
We thirst for adventure, to see new things each day,
To live in the mountains, in that land far away.
To climb to that ridge, and look down on that shelf,
To see a big ol’ white billy, just sunnin’ himself.
Or look over that basin, as the sun starts to pass,
And watch a small band of rams, in the tall lush green grass.
It’s that bright mountain sunrise, the clear flowing creeks,
The blue glacier lakes and the high rocky peaks.
It’s the scream of an elk, when yer ridin’ in at night,
With the packstring behind and the moon shinin’ bright.
The mist on the lake when morning comes round,
The cry of the loon, what a beautiful sound.
The rutting bull moose, at the first break of day,
That grunts every step, as he goes on his way.
The howl of a wolf as your ridin’ along
And soon there’s a pack of ‘em, singin’ their song.
To look over that lake and see a huge grizzly boar,
Searching for salmon as he wanders the shore.
It’s that high meadow camp, on that clear and crisp night,
The sound of the horse bells and everything’s right.
Cooking sheep backstrap on a small balsam fire,
After a long heavy pack, before we retire.
Tellin’ stories ‘round the fire, of good days gone by,
With the beautiful aurora lighting the sky.
It’s memories like these, that bring us back every year,
And each time I come, I’m glad that I’m here.
I just couldn’t get by without freedom to roam,
In this wilderness land, to me this is home.