Evan Saugstad: The adventure begins

Good hunters, with hard work and perseverance, will eventually find their quarry, and it’s the search that makes most hunts rewarding and meaningful

Second in a six-part series. Read part one, ‘Ram’s the word’.

Last week, I wrote about why I chose to hunt mountain sheep with Scoop Lake Outfitters in the Kechika Mountain ranges of northern B.C. I also referenced a successful 2020 mountain sheep hunt on the eastern slopes of the Rocky Mountains. This time, my sheep hunt was to be different. I was searching for a ram with a distinction, one that was much older, or larger, or uniquely different from what I already had, and was willing to pass on legal rams and come home without one, if that was the way things turned out.

I also learned from my last five-part series about my sheep hunt in Alaska Highway News that many B.C. residents are extremely interested in knowing the locations where rams hang out, as sheep tend to frequent the same habitats year over year. When one makes those locations public, the following years can result in an inundation by hunters. With that in mind, this time around, there will be little information on the size, number and type of rams observed, no real location names given, and more about the adventure and why I think hunts of this nature are one of B.C.’s hidden gems.

Kechika River Valley. (Evan Saugstad)

Good hunters, with hard work and perseverance, will eventually find their quarry, and it’s the search that makes most hunts rewarding and meaningful. A mountain sheep hunt should be much more than just pulling the trigger and watching an animal become yours. A hunter who doesn’t appreciate the place, the rugged beauty and remoteness of the mountains, and feel some sort of hurt and pain in the process, is a hunter who missed the best parts of being there.

After a short flight from Watson Lake on Sept. 29, I arrived at the Scoop Lake landing strip with one other hunter to begin my 12 day hunt. We were some of the last hunters of the season, and if I stayed until the end, I would be the last one in camp, the last hunter in the mountains.

Ready to land at Scoop Lake airstrip. (Evan Saugstad)

The weather was exceptional, warm, and very dry. Black flies still abounded, and the forecast was for more of the same. Except for the flies, it was literally T-shirt weather. I was also going to begin my hunt at a high elevation lake, which would freeze up with the first cold weather. The plan was that I would have to ride for most of two days to get back to Scoop Lake at hunt’s end.

I knew from my earlier years when I too was a big game guide, that today’s plan was just that, today’s plan. Tomorrow’s events could and would change those plans. This trip started with no exceptions. The hunter I was replacing was due to come out on this day, on the same plane as I went in on, but a last-minute billy goat the afternoon before changed all that and I was delayed until the following morning.

Scoop Lake base. (Evan Saugstad)

Scoop Lake float planes. (Evan Saugstad)

A short flight in a float-equipped Super Cub to Wiser’s Lake and I was in sheep country. Gone were the previous hunter and his guide, and I was now with my guide, Nick Fabish, a 30-something from New Zealand and Richard Craig, a 20-something southern Albertan as wrangler and guide’s helper, along with eight horses. It was Richard’s first year working at Scoop and Nick’s third, but first in two years, as he had to stay home during the COVID mess. After a non-scheduled aircraft flight comes the mandatory six-hour wait and no hunting period.

Since I was first a big-game guide at Yukon’s Kluane Lake in 1982, some things have changed, the main one being satellite communications and horses with GPS units that show their location on the receivers. In less modern times, one was dropped off and unless you were at a place where the plane could land, there were no communications. Today, each guide and wrangler carry satellite-linked receivers/GPS where texts can be sent and received.

Bullmoose spotted last day of season. I had a tag, but this guy wanted nothing to do with moose.(Evan Saugstad)

A quick check of the forecast showed continuing warm and dry weather, so we decided to pack some food and two tents, take the horses and head for a distance to Spike Camp and stay four or five days, hunting an area that had less pressure during the earlier part of the season, as it’s more inaccessible to most hunters.

As we waited our six hours, we readied for the next day’s departure, and after that, it was a short hike to a nearby lookout to glass for rams. Nothing legal, though one legal bull moose and one grizzly bear, on a slow march, heading straight for camp. It was a hurried retreat, and we beat the bear by minutes, and with a few bellows and hollers, deterred it from entering camp.

Packing up for Spike Camp. (Evan Saugstad)

After a good sleep in the hunter’s cabin, we were up at 6, had coffee at 6:30 and breakfast at 7 (this became the norm), then saddled three, packed four, and with one horse spare, headed out with a plentiful supply of alfalfa cubes and crushed oats, as horse feed at elevation would be in short supply.

Ride, stop, glass, walk, ride some more, and repeat; up, over, and down the hills, through brush and timber, but with the dry weather, mud almost absent, and so we went for a few hours until, just before our destination, those words: “Rams. Two were spotted on a distant mountain, travelling fast and disappearing behind a hill, yet nothing seemed to be chasing them.

Rain shower coming. (Evan Saugstad)

With no confirmation on whether one was legal or not, off Nick and I went while Richard continued with the pack horses to unpack and set up our tent camp.

After an hour’s ride in light rain showers, which turned out to be the only day we truly needed to put on rain gear for rain (used mainly for cutting the wind), we finally spotted the rams. Alas, not legal this time, but it was a good start and there was no need to check this mountain again tomorrow.

It was another hour’s ride back and we arrived at Knob Creek Camp at 6 p.m., shortly before dark, and ready for the first of many dehydrated and quickly prepared meals. I hit the bed at 8 to rest my tired and horse-stretched knees.

Next week, Part 3, on guides and guiding.

Taking a break on the way to Spike Camp, glassing for sheep. (Evan Saugstad)

Evan Saugstad lives and writes in Fort St. John.

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