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As is often the case with parents, we tend to pass on our passions to our children. At the age of three or four, my son Paul was already following my every footstep when bird hunting in southern Ontario. Then with the move to Alberta in 1990, the hunting intensified.

In his mid-teens, he “graduated” from grouse and duck hunting to pronghorns, whitetails and muleys. In his 20’s, the focus was on elk and moose. Like all young hunters, Paul would measure success in whether or not he harvested an animal but as he got older, he started to see the bigger picture. As I had always told him, there’s hunting, and then there’s sheep hunting. By his late 20’s, he was hooked and had the infamous “sheep fever”.

My man cave displays countless lifelong hunting memories, most capturing father/son moments involving moose, elk, antelope and countless deer that we had taken together. Paul, now 36, already had a couple of rams of his own but what was glaringly absent was “THEE” picture of the two of us together with a bighorn. It was the one piece of the puzzle missing, as we were after all, sheep hunters first and foremost.

Something we didn’t need to talk about but it was definitely on our minds, more so with me; the sand in my hourglass was quickly running out. At age 68, how much longer would I be able to chase rams with Paul, each year the mountains seemed to grow a little bit higher. Despite my age, my passion had never diminished. In fact, it increased, as I truly treasured, more than ever, every minute on the mountains shared with my son. But I also had to be very realistic, if I wanted to continue my passion in what most consider a young man’s game.

When I hit my early forties, my game plan was to get into better shape. I got into long distance running right up into my late 50’s until my knee started talking back to me. At the same time, I lightened my load. I carried no tent, no air mattress, and no spotting scope. The majority of hunts were day trips but for the times I overnighted, I carried only a ten-dollar emergency tent, basically a large garbage bag with two holes at each end. My mattress was the product of ten minutes of gathering fresh evergreen boughs. In the place of a spotting scope, I’ve used a compact camera with a 35 zoom, works like a damn. I even retired my 270 pump of 40 years and purchased a Sako Finnlight—every single ounce counts.

Most would call me nuts for going so light but the end result works, I’m still out there. Plus, at my age, I do have one big advantage over younger hunters and that’s perspective. If rain or snow becomes part of my hunt and I feel a tad uncomfortable snuggled in my cheap, ultralight sleeping bag, it’s all good. I truly feel so very fortunate and blessed for every hike into God’s Country so I can make do with a bit of roughing it. My son calls me “old school” and he’s probably right.         

For the past six or seven years, Paul had found himself a real solid hunting buddy, Clint McFarlane. Both were from Okotoks and both were in excellent shape and shared the same work ethic and passion in their search for rams. As hunting partners, they first got into bowhunting but they soon found that chasing elk in September clearly got in the way of sheep hunting. They shared their first ram kill together in 2015, and then in 2017, Clint knew where some rams were bedded down so he and Paul skipped work the next day and both came home late at night with a ram each. Although Clint and Paul were classy enough to invite me in on that hunt, I had work commitments and I truly thought I would simply slow them down—it was their turn. So, as happy as I was with them getting their rams, I often thought how stupid I was not to slowly follow up behind them. Did I blow the one opportunity to share a successful sheep hunt with my son?

Fast forward to 2021. I was to get a knee replacement in 2019 but they took me off the list at the last minute, said to try knee injections, go to physio, lose weight, and walk more (I interpreted that as more mountains!). Paul and Clint, by now, were not only hunting machines but they were very generous in continuing to include me in on their plans. They might go in a few days ahead of me, or perhaps day trips, and they would hit the mountaintop a couple of hours ahead of me and get in some solid glassing before I joined them. However, we would all share a few laughs around the campfire at the end of the day—how lucky was I to have my son, and his best friend, continually go out of their way to make me feel welcomed. And how touching it was to see the circle of life in our hunts, when it was once Paul who followed in my footsteps and looked up to me with pride and confidence, it was now the total reverse, me following Paul and so very proud and confident of the man he had become.

Over my lifetime, I have shot four Dall rams (lived in the NWT for eight years) and one bighorn, way back in 1994. Although I would get out each year, a very quick 27 years had flown by since I last shot at another ram... until October 20, 2021.

With headlamps on, we started into our hike. The three of us would stay together until we gained enough elevation to get out of the trees. The grizzly population seemed to be thriving, Paul and I had already seen a combination of 22 grizzlies during the summer and fall so there was no need to take any chances.

By the time we discarded the headlamps, it was time to separate: Paul and Clint would hustle up to the top of the mountain; I would eventually make my way up, pick my spot to stop, get comfortable, and work my binoculars. Just before 9:00 am, the sun started to break over the mountains. In some spots, it was damn near impossible to glass; in others, it was perfect, depending on the angle. It didn’t take long before I caught a glimpse of two ewes in the far distance walking away from me. Ten minutes later, I saw about six ewes about 1500 yards straight in front of me. After some more intense glassing, another eight or nine ewes appeared but to my shock, it was a ram that immediately took all my attention. 

I reached for my little camera that goes with me everywhere, and jacked up the zoom to 35. I didn’t want to text Paul on my in-reach until I was positive this ram was what I had been waiting for all these years. I knew he was broomed off on his right side but it took another 40 minutes to see his left horn—he was indeed a dandy! I immediately texted Paul and before his in-reach dinged, he already had his scope out, sharing his findings with Clint.

Within seconds, they had packed up and were literally running down the mountain to join me. They were pumped and they were both confidently saying this was my long-awaited ram.

The stalk was a simple one; down the mountain, across the valley, back up the next mountain, stay out of sight and pray they would still be there. We knew the wind was not in our favour but we had no other approach. Once at the bottom, they convinced me to take off my pack, as the game plan was to get me in a shooting position ASAP. This would be the ultimate test for me, knowing a trophy ram was at the top but I was nervous how quickly I could get up there and make a shot without disappointing Paul and Clint. It wasn’t that many years ago that I took pride in my fitness, running a total of 23 marathons, but arthritis in my left knee brought an end to my running days.

During the stalk, there was a mature black bear watching our every move; fortunately, he ran in the opposite direction of the sheep. As we climbed, Clint asked me if I was comfortable at taking a shot between 400-500 yards? I told him I was a lot more comfortable at 200 yards.

By 11:30, the long awaited moment had arrived. Paul ranged him at 159 yards. Under normal circumstances, this should have been a gift. But there was no sense of confidence with my new rifle and I was shooting from a sloping knoll of grass; it was without a doubt, the most uncomfortable shot I was ever going to make. Despite not being able to feel “right”, I hit him good, right behind the shoulder on my first shot. But he didn’t go down. I shot again but was convinced I missed him, so I immediately stood up and chose to shoot freehand, as that was my comfort zone. I hit him again but a bit further back than I wanted too. He was still standing. I hit him one or two times more but we couldn’t see him drop.

We walked over to the boulder-filled drainage and followed his path of blood... then, nothing. I guess he must have bounced 75 to 100 yards because there he was, folded up against a huge boulder. One beautiful but beat up ram when we finally got to him. His best horn had been broken off during the tumble, but his right horn, despite being broomed, was huge! The three of us were ecstatic and I couldn’t help but feel how happy Paul and Clint were for me; that was the best part of it. Despite the age difference, Clint had become a very close friend and I greatly respected his passion and commitment to sheep hunting. And Paul and I were finally going to get that father/son picture that two hardcore sheep hunters wanted so badly—the two of us together with our ram, and it was indeed OUR ram. Countless mountains shared together, over the many years, hoping for this very moment!

When all the picture taking was over—and there was lots—Paul and Clint wanted to retrace where the ram had bounced down the drainage to see if they could find the broken horn. I appreciated their offer but was confident there was absolutely no chance of finding the broken horn. In less than ten minutes, they stunned me; Paul had found it!

The ram was 35 4/8 on his right side and 35 6/8 on his left (when attaching the broken part that Paul found), with giant bases of 16 and 6/8 inches.

Each ram taken is so very unique in his own way with memories to last a lifetime. It was just over 40 years since I had shot my first Dall ram. But this father/son ram was indeed the ultimate moment, so very special for so many reasons. Going 27 years before seeing a ram you wanted to take, approaching my 70’s, and most important of all, sharing the moment with the best hunting buddy a dad could have, his son. As I said earlier, I am so very fortunate, and blessed whenever I’m in the mountains with my son. 

I have no idea how many more years I have doing this but I’m going to give it my very best to keep kicking butt, and treasure every single moment for as long as I possibly can because to me, age truly is just a number! ■

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