Dall Sheep For Foxworthy & Blanton
Hunters: Jeff Foxworthy and David Blanton
Cameramen: Marc Womack, Mike McKenzie
Dates hunted: August 16th-20th, 2004
Hunt Location: Northwest Territories
Outfitter: Ram Head Outfitters, Stan Simpson
For the last two years, Jeff Foxworthy and I have looked forward to going on this Dall's sheep hunt together in the Northwest Territories. Each and every time we talked on the phone over this two-year period we would be counting down the months, the weeks and the days left before we'd go. This hunt came about when the Safari Club International approached Jeff about doing a concert at SCI's national convention. For doing the concert, SCI agreed to send Jeff on a hunt anywhere in the world. He chose to go on a Dall sheep hunt and he also chose to take me with him. I was flattered and honored that Jeff picked me to go.
I remember Jeff calling me and saying, "David, I really want to see one of those white rams. Find out where the best Dall's sheep hunting is in the world and that's where I'll tell SCI we'd like to go." Immediately I put calls in to some folks and one outfitter name kept on popping up as absolutely the best Dall sheep outfitter there ever was. The outfitter was Stan Simpson. Stan and his wife Deb run a place known as Ram Head Outfitters. We got Stan on the phone and he had some openings for this year and before long our hunt was booked. Immediately, the anticipation and the excitement for the hunt began to build.
For this hunt, Jeff and I were able to use any weapon of choice. I toyed with the idea of hunting with bow and arrow and all along Jeff was dead set on using his rifle. Finally, the decision was made to take along my Thompson Center Encore muzzleloader. With those decisions made, we were both ready to go.
We were hunting in the Mackenzie Mountains in the Northwest Territories. Our final destination of commercial flying was Norman Welles. On August 14th Jeff and I along with cameramen Marc Womack and Mike McKenzie met at the Atlanta Airport, boarded our flight through Minneapolis and then onto Edmonton where we spent the night. The next morning we got on Canadian Airlines and flew three hours to Norman Welles where Stan met us at the airport. The next step was little more difficult because of the enormous amount of camera equipment we were toting. Stan assured us that these hunts could definitely be shot on video but he had suggested we bring our big cameras as opposed to our little ones so that the longer and stronger lenses of the big cameras could catch all the action from rifle range. We wound up taking both big and small cameras along with tripods and more. Marc and Mike had special backpacks made so that they'd be able to carry all of the bulky gear across the rugged country. When they got everything strapped to their backs they figured each guy was carrying some 60 pounds worth of gear. So there's our first real obstacle: How are we going to get all this gear and ourselves from Norman Welles to camp? These tent camps mind you are very remote.
Our move was chartering a helicopter to take two trips to Stan's base camp where we picked up our two guides for the hunt-Allan Jones and Carson Nutting. Allan had been with Stan's operation for many years and has guided more than 100 successful sheep hunters. Carson has been with Stan for only a few years. He was still learning the trade but was very good at his job already.
So we flew into base camp where Stan made the decision we would all hunt together. To this point Jeff and I wondered whether or not we'd be splitting up and going to different mountains or what. Now we knew. So the six of us starting shuttling via helicopter from the base camp to the mountain we were planning to hunt. After some time, we all were in place safely. We set up our tents and realized, "We are in the absolute middle of God's Country." It was just awesome. On this particular mountain, our guide's knew of a particular band of rams that lived here. Our jobs were to find them.
Monday morning, the 16th of August we set out of camp after breakfast and starting hiking. Mike had his camera pack on his back as did Marc. They had the hard jobs no doubt. We walked and did lots of glassing. Walking and glassing, walking and glassing. We felt that it was just a matter of time before we'd find this band of resident sheep. The temperatures were very unseasonably warm-highs in the high to low 90s. Warm, especially when you consider we were a mere 100 miles from the Arctic Circle. Obviously with this warm weather there was no snow so the white rams would be fairly easy to locate from a distance. We were about five or six miles into our hunt and we took a short break for lunch. Mike and Marc were ready for the break but I must say that they were really doing a phenomenal job.
Finally at about three in the afternoon, we located this band of rams some several hundred yards away. As we were watching them feed, we could tell there were several rams in the mix. Eventually, they all fed out of sight down into a ravine giving us the perfect opportunity to get a few hundred yards closer to where we'd be able to set up with the cameras. This really was a stroke of luck because right after we got set up the rams started drifting back up and out of the ravine they'd gone to for water. When they got back to the feeding area they were only 200 yards from our cameras. The sheep were out of range for my muzzleloader but were well within range of Jeff's rifle. As we sat there watching, Mike and Marc were gathering some of the most incredible footage I've ever seen of Dall's sheep doing what they do-feeding, bedding and the like. I mean to tell you again—I've never seen Dall's sheep footage this good. To my knowledge, I don't know if anyone has ever taken the big industrial-sized cameras into that country.
Finally these rams starting popping out but we really didn't have any shots at rams that were old enough to take. Up there at Stan's operation they really like for hunters to take only rams that are at least 10 years of age or older. To say the least, Stan is very protective of his resources. To put it in perspective, Stan hunts more than nine million acres-it's absolutely incredible how much land he has to hunt. On with the hunt—We could still see some rams back in the thicket just out of total viewing range. Finally, the last ram that came out was a definite shooter. He was a really big ram. It was awesome to watch this all take place. The ram got to about 240 yards and Allan told Jeff, "I think you'd better take him now." Jeff did just that. It was late in the evening by now and out in those parts it doesn't get dark until around midnight. Allan told us to stay put right after the shot because he thought we might have another shot at a big ram in that same band. There was one other ram in the bunch that looked marginal. Allan thought that this ram might be the perfect one for a muzzleloader shot, but to this point he was unable to get a really good look at the animal.
As we sat there waiting the rams starting coming right to us. With the cameras rolling--it was unbelievable-they got to within 50 yards of us! The lead ram was the one Allan wanted to get a better look at. I had the crosshairs on the ram, the cameras were running and again, it was the most incredible footage I've ever seen. Allan carefully glassed the ram and finally got a full count on the ram's growth rings. He whispered to me, "David, I just don't think he's quite old enough. He looks to be an eight- or nine-year old." I was completely okay with that because we already had one on the ground, it was just the first day of the hunt and we were pumped and ready to go down to get a better look at Jeff's trophy.
We got down to Jeff's ram and did our high-fives and said our congrats. We took several pictures, dressed and quartered the ram and loaded back up for the hike back to camp. That's when it hit us: We've got a six-mile walk back to camp. Now that's as the crow flies because if you figure in all of the ups and downs we were looking more at about 10 miles total. On we went with the meat, the cape, guns and all of the camera gear. At this time I knew our camera guys were already warn out, but those guys are so tough and they wouldn't give in to the burning legs. It took us nearly four hours to make it back to camp. By the time we got back it was 11:30 at night-a total gut check! We all were completely exhausted, but nobody was more spent than Mike and Marc. Yet we were all really pumped because of what we'd done.
The next day was Tuesday and it was to be my turn to hunt. We were so tired we couldn't even have walked those mountains if we wanted to. We decided we'd just lounge around camp, enjoying each other's company. We ate and napped, admired Jeff's horns, laughed and cut up big time! We did at one point get up and went looking for a big caribou because we did have a couple of tags. We didn't find a 'big' caribou and that was that.
We knew we'd seen the entire band of rams that lived on that mountain and also knew that there were no more shooters in that band. So are next move was to get to another mountain. On Wednesday, the helicopter came in and picked up all of our gear. It took us two trips, but eventually we were moved to a different mountain some 15 miles away. The helicopter set us down near this beautiful creek and we set up our camp again. We were pumped about the next day's ram hunt. Sure enough, that next morning came and we had a hearty breakfast together. Allan and Carson were looking through their spotting scopes at our camp way down at the bottom the mountain. They glassed way up towards the top probably some 2 Ω miles away and they spotted two rams feeding. As it got lighter it appeared that both rams deserved a closer look. We all finished eating and packed up all of our gear. This time we decided that Mike and Marc should split up the load-one of them would pack up and carry the tripod and the other would carry the camera. This made things a lot easier on them. It was a good thing too because this new place we were hunting was quite a bit more hilly. Walking was a good bit more difficult.
So we set out walking down the creek for about a mile or so all the while stopping to glass the rams that were feeding and bedding periodically. Finally we got out of sight of them and started our way up the mountain. Two hours later we got to a point where we were about 800 yards downhill of the rams. Peaking over the rocks we glassed them and could instantly tell that both were shooters. One ram was not broomed off at all (meaning his horns weren't worn down at the ends). The other was broomed off at both sides (meaning he was likely an older ram, a fighter, a warrior, most likely a dominant ram). But once again we were in a position where we really couldn't make a move on them. We had to wait for them to make the first move. Allan said that after years and years of sheep hunting he'd learned to be more patient. "When you get to a point where you've got rams bedded down," he said, "you've got to just play it cool and just let them make a mistake." He continued, "If they don't make a mistake on that first day, then you go back and try your luck on the next."
So we sat there for an hour or two baking in the hot weather. Again, it was unbelievably hot in the upper 90s. Finally the rams got up from their beds and started walking over the ridge. Allan said, "Guys it's time to make our move, I'll bet those rams are headed for water." The time was about one in the afternoon. When the rams disappeared, on we went up the mountain-Marc, Mike, Allan and myself. Carson and Jeff kind of stayed behind. It was one of those treks up a mountain that makes you feel as though your lungs are going to explode. We finally got up to where we could see the bowl the rams disappeared into. We started looking hard and I of course grew increasingly anxious. y heart started to pound and Allan already prompted me to put a primer into my muzzleloader. The cameras were rolling and we were peeking and looking every few steps, but we still couldn't see the rams. Finally Allan and I looked at each other and said, "They've got to be here somewhere because we would've seen them leave otherwise." We walked a touch more and Allan stopped us and said he heard water running down to our left just out of our sight. He said, "I'll bet there right down there drinking water." Allan took about three steps, peeked over and could see the back of one of the rams. Immediately we hit the ground and the camera guys got set up with the tripod. I had a good rest on a pack.
Allan peeked over again and quickly said, "They're fixing to walk out." I asked him how far and he ranged them with his Nikon rangefinders at 147 yards to where he thought they'd step out into range. Sure enough, out walks the first ram. It was the one with the broomed off horns. The other ram was the one we really wanted to get a better look at. As the first one came into view we knew he was going to peg us because we really had no cover between us. I had the crosshairs on him as he stared in our direction. The ram was facing us and I had the 'hairs right on the base of his neck. At 147 yards I felt very comfortable with the shot. I asked Allan what he thought and he said, "Boy I'd really like to get a better look at that other ram, but he doesn't seem to want to come out." Finally he said, "I think you should take him because I think he's about to bust." I squeezed the trigger and the shot went exactly where I wanted it to go. The shot didn't drop him, but the ram turned around and you could tell he was hit hard. I knew I'd hit him good. The other ram then came out and we looked at him as Allan said, "Man that's an awesome ram, but it seems to be a little younger than the one you just shot."
The ram went down into a little creek bottom and died. Once again the good Lord smiled upon us and allowed for us to get into position to get some of the most amazing footage you'll ever see. We did the recovery and took pictures of the ram. We realized that we have done it-we killed two fantastic rams, got all this great footage and shared one truly remarkable hunt. We all were completely worn out yet our feelings of accomplishment were as high as they've ever been.
After dressing, quartering and packing up, we realized that this hike back to camp was going to be a whole lot easier than for Jeff's trophy. Our trip was all downhill from our vantage point.
When we got back to our camp by the creek it was about 7:30 and it was still quite hot out. We all were hot, tired and sweaty and would do just about anything for a cold shower. Next thing I saw was Mike McKenzie jumping into that 39-degree water in the creek. He washed his body, his hair and face. We told him he was crazy. He told us that after about 10 minutes it stops hurting. Before long I got up the courage to jump in. That water was so cold you could hardly breathe. It hurt so bad, but after my body got used to it, it felt darn good. Shortly thereafter Marc jumped in and Jeff was right behind him. We all took ice baths!
What an awesome trip it was. We did have a chance to stay and hunt caribou but decided that we had done what we wanted to do. As it turned out, both of our rams were 11 years old. Both are great rams but Jeff's is an absolute monster. So the next day the helicopter came and got us. It took us three days of traveling to finally get home. I must say though, it was all very much worth all of the tremendous effort on everyone's part. The trip on the whole was everything I thought it would be and everything I'd hoped it would be. Stan Simpson, Allan and Carson did a fantastic job taking care of us all.