For most hunters in Alberta the mere mention of the words "bighorn sheep" gets their hearts pumping a little faster. For the truly addicted these same words can result in a zombie-like state with the hunter staring off into space dreaming about the perfect ram on a distant ridge, while a little bit of drool dribbles out of the corner of a mouth which happens to be hanging open just a little.
I had my first bout of Bighorn Fever in the mid 90’s. I was fresh out of college and was looking for work as my summer job up at Lesser Slave Lake was coming to a close. I got a call asking if I was able to move to Hinton, Alberta for the fall/winter for a little bit of work. "Sure," I said (nothing else is happening) "What does the job entail?" I learned I would be helping out on the last few months of a Bighorn Sheep telemetry study. I would be tracking sheep via radio collars and recording their locations. Little did I know what this job would do to me. I spent the next seven months in and around the coal mines at Cadomin. For those of you who don’t know, it is the place of worship, where sheep hunters go to pray, also known as Wildlife Management Unit, or WMU 438. There are sheep everywhere and big huge rams just lounging beside the road. The mine sites were closed to hunting and to the public except for a couple of access trails. I saw big rams every day and that is when I got hooked.
An area close to the coal mines is WMU 437, or the Red Cap as it is known locally. This zone is the end of the front range of the Rocky Mountains. There is only one main ridge that holds sheep in this zone and it can be accessed easily from both sides. For that reason WMU 437 had been closed to hunting for many years because the population could not tolerate the hunting pressure.
In 1996 WMU 437 was opened for hunting through a limited entry draw. Myself and a number of other sheep hunters immediately started putting in for the draw. Every year I would put in for the draw and every year I would get a negative when I checked my draw results. I could have hunted sheep in another WMU in the province where general tags are available but life was always getting in the way. Every year I would say to myself “next year I will make the time to get out sheep hunting” and every year October 31 would arrive and I would start the cycle all over again.
That all changed in 2012. For some reason when I did my draws for the year I had a feeling that I was going to get my 437 draw. I daydreamed about chasing sheep more than usual and I caught myself looking through old photo albums from when I worked out there. This was my year….
July 12, 2012 arrived and I check my draw results like usual. Only this time it said that I was successful on WMU 437 Tr.ophy sheep! I had been drawn! I was going sheep hunting!! After phoning the draw results line 3 more times and checking online twice more it was confirmed: I was going sheep hunting in one of the most sought after regions in all of North America!!!
Then it started to sink in. I was going sheep hunting. This isn’t like chasing deer out on the prairies. If I got one I would have to carry it out on my back. Switching areas isn’t as easy as driving down the road and opening up the next gate. While chasing sheep in the mountains in October there is a good chance it is going to be cold and snowy and there is no hotel to stay at. I started getting nervous.
This is my chance at this once in a lifetime draw; I will never get this tag again. After 17 years of applying I had pulled it and I had better get serious about this.