Well, if the Raven was sitting on top of the mountain where this event took place, he had a guaranteed belly laugh.
It happened several years ago in a guide camp in Northern BC where I worked as a hunting guide, and even though it happened with the other crew, I can relate all the details as it made a very strong impression in my mind as well as put a grin on my chin. As it happened, the camp I worked in was unusual in that we had a three man crew take two clients hunting; this was a deluxe service as generally a one-on-one hunt was the rule, meaning one guide for each hunter. The third man could take up the slack, watch the camp, skin capes or help either of the hunters find their game; it certainly upped the chances of success.
One of the hardest to hunt and most sought after trophies in North America is a Stone sheep ram. They are smart, wary, elusive and have eyesight equivalent to an 8x power set of binoculars. They are camouflaged into the rocks and very difficult to even spot, and the older rams are generally venerated by the younger ones and are usually surrounded and protected by a group of sharp eyed sentinels. Thus there are many sets of eyes watching for danger and at the first sign of trouble they flee.
So back to the hunters. It was the first day of the season, a very hot August summer day and the boys had set up their camp beneath a well-known ram mountain. They were out early in the morning with the optics scanning the mountain when they immediately spotted a group of rams near the top, a large over-mature ram set in the middle, overlooking his mountain kingdom. Now a foot note to understand what happened: Hunter X had hunted with our outfit the year before and he knew our routines. He knew that we always took two hunters to the same area at the same time, so to stack the deck in his favor, he invited a hunter who would be no competition for him securing his trophy – because it was the most important event in the history of mankind for him to get his Stone sheep, an extreme case of ambition and covetousness. So Hunter X invites Hunter Y, one of his friends, to accompany him on a very expensive hunt. Now the truth of the matter was that Hunter Y was not a hunter; he just packed a rifle along to be part of the game. He was a very large and overweight heir to an oil fortune who was far more interested in taking photos than hunting. The expense of a sheep hunt was a drop in the bucket to him. He was more interested in having a nice vacation in the Cassiar Mountains and taking pictures of wildlife with his expensive photo equipment and documenting his friend’s hunt. There was no way on God’s green earth that he would get a Stone sheep. The rigorous and exhausting marathon of this type of hunt precluded him from success from the beginning – the very reason Hunter X had selected him for his hunting partner, thus eliminating all competition in the camp. So of course the spotting of the ram was Hunter X’s trophy with no contest from anyone else.
So up the lads trekked, two experienced mountain hunters and the covetous and conniving seeker of the holy grail of sheep hunting. Again it was the first day of August and a sunny and very hot day, the route to the top was long and arduous and very demanding. As the sun rose higher the heat and the ensuing swarms of flies and mosquitoes turned the ascent into an ordeal, not to mention the absence of any water on the mountain. It took most of the day to scale the large peak around the back side; the strategy was to come over the top and look down on the rams sunning themselves on their mountain ledges without the sheep ever seeing them. Down at the bottom by the camp was the guide accompanying Hunter Y. They had set up their optics on a small knoll in the center of the valley and were watching the drama unfold. Now we had developed a very accurate system of hand signals by which we could talk to each other over long distances through binoculars. A hand with a corkscrew movement on the side of the head meant ram, two hands simultaneously stretched out from the waist meant laying down, sidewise silhouette walking meant moving, and the two arms upraised as the face of a clock gave a surprisingly accurate message of the unseen animals location in relation to the hunter. The guide with Hunter Y was a very funny fellow and probably the luckiest guide I ever met. He could have fallen into an outhouse and found a gold nugget or diamond ring. He was at the bottom of the mountain giving the sign signals to the crew on top from his little knob in the center of the valley bottom. As the crew pulled themselves exhaustingly to the top and began to stalk down the mountain where the rams were they ran into an unexpected obstacle. The face was steep and very treacherous to descend. In fact it was so steep that despite the accurate hand signals they could not see the rams.
As the day wore on and time became a factor they began very carefully to descend the slope. According to the guide at the bottom they were within several metres of the unseen rams when Hunter X slipped and showered the resting rams with small rocks causing them in alarm to jump up and head away from the intruders down the mountain. When a Stone ram is alarmed, he leaves the country. I have seen them go down the mountain to the bottom and up the next one in minutes; the amount of ground they can cover when disturbed is phenomenal. So down the mountain they came fleeing the danger above. As they came down quite fast, it took the guide several minutes to realize what was happening and then as he realized the turn of events taking place, he hurriedly set up a shooting position and began to ready Hunter Y for what was looking like a possible shot. Down the rams came in a straight line and through the timber to approach the small knob they were set up on. At a range of about 125 meters, Hunter Y, despite weighing in at about 350 lbs, took one shot and brought down the beautiful over-mature Stone ram, the trophy of a lifetime. The impossible had happened but the most amazing part of the story is that where the ram dropped left his front legs on one side of the horse trail and his rear legs on the other!
As the tired, exhausted crew that had climbed the mountain and worked so hard to make Hunter X’s dream come true descended to the bottom, they were just in time to help the other guide load the whole ram onto a pack horse and head back to camp with Hunter Y’s impossible feat. Sadly to say, this trophy lust was so strong in Hunter X that he would barely talk with his friend for the remainder of the 14 day hunt. The Shining Mountains have a way of bringing out the best and the worst; they can be a crucible that manifests the good and the bad in the soul of a man. There is no place for lust and greed in that environment, humility and an open heart to listen and learn from the mountains causes you to move with them rather than against them. I certainly don’t wish anyone bad luck but I think that wrong thoughts in a man’s heart can boomerang and hit you unexpectedly in the back of the head in that extreme environment. The hunters I always enjoyed were the ones who were overwhelmed with the beauty of the mountains, the thrill of the entire trip, and basically the encounter and overall experience. These kinds of hunters always had the best and most amazing forms of luck and were always pleasantly surprised with success. So be careful what you take into the mountains. They can be cruel or benevolent teachers; that is one thing I have learned in a lifetime of wandering around them. The mountains are holy ground; tread lightly and with respect that all will be well with you. And don’t forget, the Eye of the Raven is always upon you.
About this column:
The Eye of the Raven is a forum of interesting and unusual animal tales exploring the viewpoint of the four-legged and feathered members of our community. As a raven lives as long as a human and has incredible eyesight, the forum is based on observations that perhaps only a raven would see in the course of his life, encounters that we as humans are allowed to see only as the veil that hides the mysteries of nature is briefly parted. The forum is open to the accounts of anyone who can articulate an unusual or remarkable encounter with a wild animal under 500 words. It is subject to the editor’s approval. Email firstname.lastname@example.org