Ask any serious sheep hunter to name the toughest of the four North American sheep to hunt, and the answer will most likely be Stone’s sheep. Not only do Stone’s inhabit some of the most rugged mountain ranges in northern B.C. and the eastern Yukon, but their populations are small and pocketed. Then there’s their coloration and choice of habitat, making them very difficult to spot. Add to that some of the most brutal weather in Western Canada, and you’ll start to get an idea of what this type of hunting is all about.
Stone’s sheep can be hunted by pack horse, but if you want the toughest hunt of all, strap on a backpack and venture into the Cassiar Mountains of northwestern B.C. In the nearby town of Dease Lake, they have measurable precipitation for 156 days of the year, so it’s not a question of getting rain and snow on your trip, but a matter of how much. I once had a Stone’s sheep hunt that lasted 18 days, with rain and snow for 14 of them.
Living out of a pack that you carry on your back for 10 to 12 hours a day doesn’t permit many luxuries. By the time you throw in two weeks’ worth of freeze-dried food and protein bars, a tent and your hunting gear, you haven’t got space left for much else. Expect to lose 10 per cent of your body weight; on my hunt, I suffered from hypothermia and dehydration, and lost nearly 20 pounds. You can also expect to come out smelling worse than you’ve ever smelled in your life.
The Cassiars are some of B.C.’s toughest mountains, and you’ll routinely see sheep well above the goats in extremely treacherous terrain. While the fall might not kill you, the landing sure as heck will. Be prepared to walk for days on end, glassing the mountains until you feel your eyes are ready to bleed, just hoping for one glimpse of a ram. It can be a two- to three-day journey between sheep mountains, even in the best Stone’s sheep range, so don’t be surprised if you go a week or more without seeing a single sheep.
Freezing, wet weather—“It’s not a question of getting rain and snow on your trip, but a matter of how much.”
Lightweight, high-quality gear is the name of the game in surviving a backpack hunt for Stone’s sheep. Temperatures in August can range from the 30s during the day to below freezing at night, so you need plenty of layers. Synthetic, fast-drying materials are a must for clothing, and you need the best GoreTex raingear you can afford. Boots must be sturdy and waterproof; a pair of gaiters is also invaluable for keeping out water. Even though your guide will have one, bring your own spotting scope. The more eyes, the better when searching willow-choked avalanche chutes for these well-camouflaged sheep. Finally, stainless-steel rifles with synthetic stocks are the rule. Stone’s aren’t hard to kill, so any flat-shooting calibre from .25-06 to 7mm should serve your needs well. That said, some hunters opt for something a little bigger, just in case they encounter one of the area’s many grizzlies. Oh, did I forget to mention the grizzlies?