I’m nervous about being rusty. It’s been almost 3 months since I went backpacking, and while taken as a whole it isn’t exactly a perishable skill, the profusion of little things which come together to make a backcountry trip go smoothly make it easy to forget stuff. So I’ve got a nice pile on the couch in the guest room to ruminate upon for the next 24 hours before I shove it in a pack. It already took longer than it ought to both remember and then find tent stakes.
Some background is in order, starting with why sheep hunting is such a big deal to hunters. The obvious answer is scarcity: there are less than a thousand bighorn tags available in the lower 48, and a lot of folks who apply for them every year. Premium units (read: places that have particularly large-horned sheep in fairly accessible places) take somewhere near a decade of applying before your odds go above 1%. But why so much demand? I’m not entirely sure. I think part of it has to do with how many hunters seem to be hunters only, and will never visit sheep and goat country without a tag in their pocket.
In any case, when my application for a ewe tag (in the best-odds unit in Montana) was denied this summer I started thinking seriously about this hunt. Sheep were pushed perilously close to extinction by the early 20th century (at least on sub-species was extirpated), and repopulation efforts have in the past fifty years become serious business, as states have realized that more sheep in the hills means more revenue from tag sales and the increased traffic that comes with greater prestige as a hunting destination. Unfortunately sheep are fragile, at least when it comes to diseases which are often carried by domestic livestock, and many herds (both reintroduced and native) have been plagued by die-offs. Exposure to domestic sheep leads to an outbreak which often takes out over half the population, a serious matter when even the most robust of the herds in Montana are genetically isolated to a large degree.
In the light of serial die-offs Montana Fish and Wildlife, for lack of a better option, has decided to kill off the entire Tendoy Mountains herd via hunting, and reintroduce other sheep which will hopefully be healthy. An unlimited number of tags were sold in the first two weeks of August (rumor is that it was 314 total). With an estimated 30-40 sheep after the most recent epidemic, things were always going to be interesting. Lots of pressure and the bad behavior which often follows was predicted, and in at least a few instances seems to have taken place. My first goal for any backpack hunt is to see no one else, which had me thinking long and hard about whether I wanted to do this, but in the end opportunity ran out. The only way to learn more about sheep hunting is to do it, so in a few days I’m off for the rifle opener, hopefully with a plan to avoid too many people while still having a decent chance at a sheep. Worst case, I get a good dusky grouse hunt in while backpacking in a place I’ve always wanted to go.
Weight is a priority because the Tendoys are high, and I am not in good shape. Over the past month when the choice has been between a morning workout and playing with Little Bear so M can sleep for another hour, I’ve always chosen the later. There have been lots of stroller walks with a heavy pack, but I know my legs and feet are going to suffer on this trip. Highlight, going from top left to bottom right, are as follows.
Sierras Designs Dridown Better vest and Rab Strata hoodie, which will probably be overkill, but glassing at 9000′ can be cold. Bringing both also allows a lighter sleeping bag.
Rain gear is a Haglofs Ozo and Wild Things wind pants, as usual. Work layers are Patagonia Rock Craft pants, and the Sitka lightweight Core hoodie, which is very nice (review will appear at Rokslide late this month). The BD Alpine Start is of course coming too, as every time I haven’t taken it on a trip in the last 18 months I’ve regretted it.
Sleep gear will be my Feathered Friends Vireo Nano with overfill, a torso sized ridgerest (not shown), a 5′ by 9′ silnylon tarp, and a wind bivy (Montbell with Pertex Quantum top). Having not camped out all summer, a small camp appeals, even if I get a bit damp.
Optics are the usual Meopta 6.5x32s and the Vortex Razor 11-33×50, which is new, and a very welcome upgrade over the Minox MD50. Vortex tripod and Outdoorsmans Bino adaptor. Pack is my modified Stone Glacier Solo, and rifle the Kimber Montana in .308. I’ll have food for 72 hours, a ti cup, and an esbit stove. Plenty of coffee.
Last, and most important, and thanks to grandma and grandpa, who are coming out to visit Little Bear and providing M with the backup necessary for my little outing. It will be weird sleeping through the night again.