We crossed the Canadian border in our B36T turbine-converted Bonanza on a Saturday afternoon in August and raced north into the vast wilderness of British Columbia. It was oppressively hot and humid, but the excitement was building between us. When the shores of Williston Lake, British Columbia appeared before us, my husband, Michael, and I felt the long-awaited anticipation of our Stone sheep adventure settle on us like the rush of a cooling thunderstorm. A trip that had been put on hold for two years due to COVID-19 border crossing restrictions into Canada had finally come to fruition, and it was time to put ourselves to the test of hunting Stone sheep in the rugged terrain of Canada’s northern Rocky Mountains.
Williston Lake Outfitters hunt and fish 1,500 square miles of true Canadian wilderness that is comprised of spectacular mountain lakes, gorgeous vistas, deep, lush valleys, raging rivers, creeks, and waterfalls abundant with moose, elk, bear, caribou, mountain goats, and coveted Stone sheep. Lead by Marianne Andersen and Travis Mayer, this team knows how to create successful hunts, fishing expeditions, and adventure travel. You won’t find a group of better humans who support adventure travel and respect and know the backcountry and the management of harvesting beautiful animals. It was by coincidence that Michael and I were connected to Travis Mayer (referred to him by another guide on another sheep hunt), but thankfully, we made the connection, booked two hunts, and started preparing for the road ahead.
This isn’t a hunt for the faint of heart. You can expect physically demanding conditions, daily horseback riding, and miles of hiking in steep terrain, rain, and/or snow, bugs, and overall harsh mountain conditions. Hunters should be fit physically and mentally should they choose to take on this type of sheep hunt.
Day one started out with a full day of horseback riding into the hunting unit high camp, and in true sheep hunting fashion, it was cold, wet, and miserable with a lot of bugs and rain that poured down like there was no tomorrow. Our lead guide, Stan Newton, a former rodeo cowboy and one of the best backcountry guides we’ve hunted with, lead the way in what seemed to be a never-ending slog through willows, wet timber, muddy trails, and stream crossings. Our team of horses was fantastic, and I immediately fell in love with my horse, Silver. Little did we know we would spend the next two weeks riding hours every single day into some of the most gnarly mountain conditions we could imagine. Trusting our guides was paramount, and never once did I doubt we were in the best hands possible. Stan is strong, stable, confident, and incredibly adept when it comes to high- mountain hunts as well as managing horses in challenging conditions. Backing him up was Johan Ladegaard Andersen, a young Danish subguide with the best attitude of any young guide I’ve encountered. Always smiling, always offering to help, it was a complete joy to spend the days of our hunt with these two men.
Travis and his team had established a really nice, well-organized high-mountain base camp for us to hunt out of. Once we arrived and got settled, we made a plan for the hunt ahead. Since Michael and I both had tags, we knew logistically we’d have to focus on one hunter at a time, and because chivalry still exists in this world, I got the honor of being the first shooter should we find a shooter ram. Over the next two days, we hunted hard, riding every morning into the high country and then scouting, hiking, and glassing for “Mr. Right.” We saw caribou, grizzly bears, and rams that were just out of our reach in the big mountains. On day three, we spotted a band of boys we knew we could get a stalk on and then the race was on.
Setting out on a stalk midday with the likelihood of shooting in the late afternoon means you run the risk of having to sleep out, and we knew this going into my stalk. However, it was a risk we were willing to take. After several hours of moving into a massive basin, Travis was able to get me set up on my shooter ram and I sealed the deal with our Nosler 28 built by Brent Jacob of Western Precision Rifles in Safford, Arizona.
After photos and field dressing, we loaded him up between us and started the long hike out of the high country late in the day. At dusk, it was apparent that we would not be able to make it back to camp. The terrain was just too steep, and with little light and heavy packs, we dropped our gear and made a makeshift camp for the night. In these situations, it’s best to accept that you are sleeping on the ground with little food and comfort. Put everything you have in your pack on your body, huddle together, and try to rest. Stay positive and wait for sunup and then get moving again. I was so grateful for the good team of hunters who surrounded me, and to have killed my beautiful trophy ram, it really wasn’t that bad! Stan built a nice fire and tended to it all night which brought us a little comfort. I can’t say everyone felt the same way I did, but nonetheless, we made it back to camp the next day and had a day of rest and recovery before turning our attention to Michael’s hunt.
It was now rinse and repeat for my husband. For two more days, we rode back up into the high country, fought the rain and snow, glassed and hiked, and finally found another band of rams worthy of a long stalk. This time, our lead guide, Stan, made the decision that we were going to ride our horses as far into the backcountry as possible in the event that we killed late in the day again and might need the support of the horses to retrieve Michael’s ram. It turned out to be the best decision he could have made. Although it was a real rodeo getting the horses that far into the deep wilderness, we were so thankful to have them on the pack out. It was an unbelievable backcountry experience from start to finish.
Stan, Michael and Johan, made a fantastic stalk on our second ram with me trailing behind. We climbed high into a massive basin, and Michael made a perfect shot on his trophy. By the time we got back to the horses, though, it was dark. Again, we ended up sleeping on the ground and waiting until morning to pack out. The evening was brisk, but we had Mountain House to eat and a campfire and then the Northern Lights! It was spectacular and an experience we’ll never, ever forget.
Over the next two days, we packed up the high camp and made our way on horseback to Williston Lake Lodge. Exhausted and elated with the success of our hunt and our close-knit hunting team, we rejoiced in the companionship and stories of the last few days that created a bond between us that is always indicative of a life well-lived in the backcountry. Once back at the lodge, Michael and I spent a day fishing on Williston Lake with Stan before saying our goodbyes and flying our Bonanza back to the U.S.
This was truly one of the greatest hunting experiences we’ve had to date. Marianne, Travis, Stan, Johan, and the rest of the team at Williston Lake Lodge were simply top notch. The entire experience from flying ourselves to B.C., the horseback riding, hiking, hunting and fishing, big mountains, and big experience couldn’t have been better. Not to mention we harvested two amazing Stone sheep in the same hunt, it goes without saying that our gratitude is beyond imaginable.