Imagine stepping back in time.
Put down your coffee, turn off the smart phone and completely remove yourself from everything you know. Now take all that familiar urban background noise and mute it. When we are free from all of our niceties and creature comforts, we as humans still exist in our most raw form; beings with a desire for adventure and thirst for space and freedom.
When you submerse yourself in the mountains, the deafening stillness around you is shocking. Every piece of the wild is poetically orchestrated; between the babble of the stream beside you to the call of a low flying bird above you, the whispering song of the breeze dancing its’ way through the tree tops, over the mountains and caressing the side of your face; the only constant beat is drummed by the working of your own two legs as your footsteps hike you further into the unknown. You are in your own IMAX theatre- the surround sound is the world as it has been for a millennia; the mountains, untouched by time and progress, the game moving freely; you are stripped of everything you think you are and equipped with your immediate possessions, nothing more. This is sheep hunting.
This is why generations of hunters still flock to the unaltered lands. The mountains hold a certain magic of the unknown. A spell, if you will. Heck, they have even made this old guide somewhat poetic, or at least I try. There have been few nomads of our time that can accurately describe the allure that is sheep hunting, however, one of them is the late Jack O’Connor-
“Sheep Hunters are Romantics, who love high places and solitude. To them the wild ram embodies the mystery and magic of the mountains, the rocky canyons, the snowy peaks, the fragrant alpine meadows, the gray slide rock, the icy dancing rills fed by snowbank and glacier, the sweet clean air of the high places, and the sense of being alone on the top of the world with the eagles, the marmots, and the wild sheep themselves. The sheep hunter is willing to climb until his lungs are bursting, to walk until his legs are dead and weary, to grow hungry and thirsty for great rewards. There is no half way.”
~Jack O’Connor | English Professor, Sheep Hunter
To average folk, sweating profusely as you ascend the first ridge, eating dehydrated food for a fortnight, waiting out wind, rain and sometimes snow in a tent precariously placed between rocks can only be some kind of torturous activity. But to a sheep hunter, it’s the thrill of the next ridge and promise of what might lie ahead that keeps them going. It’s the pushing physical limits of carrying your home on your back, as well as all of your necessary goods for the pilgrimage. It is humbling and it is frustrating at times. At the end of it though, when you catch a glimpse of a mature ram nestled on his throne of rock and moss, you appreciate these mountain monarchs.
It’s sitting and watching the first rays of morning crest the far off horizon from your campsite. A rare glimpse of where Heaven and Earth seem to touch, even if only for an instant. The allure comes with the desire to find these far way treasures and hopefully catch a glimpse of the object of your hunting desire. There’s humility in watching a band of ewes and lambs feed across a hillside. Seeing the next generation frolic and mock-charge each other in childhood games, reminds us of life’s chapters.
Sheep hunting is an emotional and spiritual journey. When you are testing your physical stamina and will power to ascend enormous mountains and cover the greatest distances, it puts you in an awesome place of vulnerability. It’s the rewarding rest after a hike with a heavy pack, the appreciation for the animal you harvest- and the terrain you overcame to get there. Sheep hunting is a journey, both physically and spiritually. It will push you to the limits of your comfort zone and then make you take a leap into the great unknown.
Make sure you give the April/May issue of Eastmans’ Hunting Journals’ a read, in it I have an article to help you prepare for hunting the North. There will be other great articles including a great how to on judging sheep and make sure you give the Rewarming Drill a read and watch.
P.S. Make sure you give the latest episode of Eastmans’ Elevated a listen and set your phone to download every episode!