I spoke at KUIU’s Mountain Academy last year, along with a few good friends of mine such as Alan Bolen, Randy Ulmer and Brendan Burns. KUIU has edited out my presentation in a few shorter videos. Check them out!
It had been my dream for years to walk out my front door, using my own power to move into the mountains to harvest a sheep. At the time, I lived in Carcross, a small community outside of Yukon’s largest city of Whitehorse. Carcross is nestled among good sheep mountains and offers lake-access to other sheep areas. While it was possible to pull this off, it was not going to be easy.
The first part of the adventure was a 30-mile journey on foot and paddling starting a few days before opening day. The plan was to walk, paddle, and trek deep into great sheep country, concluding with packraft float out.
I started by towing my fast racing kayak on a small trailer before putting it into the waters of one of our local lakes. Yukon lakes are the real deal: ice-cold year-round, often “blowing up” with severe winds and waves, and deserted from any other traffic or hope of accidental rescue. Our lakes kill people every year, which is something remarkable when you consider how few people venture onto them.
I have some experience kayaking and knew it wouldn’t be a no-brainer to I have years of racing experience kayaking and knew it wouldn’t be a no-brainer to make it to the end of the lake without incident. Fortunately, I pulled it off without an icy swim.
A Hike to the Sky
Once landing, I began the trek up the drainage. The going was tough, with thick bush and light rain coming down, making the many boulder field crossings treacherous under our heavily laden packs and on top of slick lichen and moss. These are some of the easiest conditions to get injured, so the trekking poles I was using were extremely helpful. Taking a slip under 70+ pounds (32 kg) cost one member of my team a good laugh and a bruised hand. It can get a lot worse, and the remoteness and difficult access make the stakes very serious.
I was not expecting to find rams in the lower reaches of the drainage, but it’s impossible to move through these mountains without pulling the bI was not expecting to find rams in the lower reaches of the drainage. Still, it’s impossible to move through these mountains without pulling the binoculars out now and again. I didn’t find any rams, but we did spot a small group of caribou.
I had studied Google Earth and the topographical map of the area extensively. Neither of these had prepared me for the beauty of the country.
I had expected that one of the many glaciers in the area would represent a serious obstacle to our progress. I could see that there was some kind of cliff through a narrow pass, but without getting there and seeing with my own eyes, I couldn’t say just how much of an obstacle the cliff would be. As it turned out, it was more significant than anticipated.
From what I could tell, the best approach was for us to jump off the cliff I had expected that one of the many glaciers in the area would represent a serious obstacle to our progress. I could see that there was some kind of cliff through a narrow pass, but without getting there and seeing with my own eyes, I couldn’t say just how much of an obstacle the cliff would be. As it turned out, it was more significant than anticipated.
The jump was the only way onto the glacier and through the pass towards where I wanted to go. If we determined that the jump was not possible, we had a solid 12 or more hours of hard hiking to detour the glacier. As it turned out, the jump was doable, and nobody died. After lowering our packs onto the glacier, we continued our trek across the glacier.
The feeling of walking across a lake of ancient ice is something special. Part respect, part terror, the glacier offers a host of potentially deadly hazards. The chief among these is the threat of falling into the seen or unseen crevasses. At the best of times, you may escape with a scrape and require a helping hand to extricate yourself. In the worst case, you could end up in a crumpled, bloody and broken heap a few hundred feet down in the frozen, dark belly of the glacier. Best practices for glacier travel include tethering the team up using proper climbing harnesses, ropes, and careful testing of the glacier to ensure that one is not walking over a hidden crevasse.
The glacier offered a single passage through a saddle into the next valley due to the very steep walls that contained it. The map and our view of the saddle made us believe that it would be a simple effort to make the top of the saddle. We failed to realize that the slope of the valley was covered in a mixture of ice, snow, sand and small boulders. This mixture, while it provided good enough traction, was not stable and threatened to slide. Further, the slope gradually steepened, making our use of ice axes mandatory and making the climb much more difficult, especially given our heavy packs. We reached the top with relief after carefully spacing ourselves to ensure that no rocks or slides we let loose would endanger our teammates.
A River Runs Through It
The mountains offered a new challenge as the miles accumulated under our feet. The river was a landmark we were gunning to make before nightfall. The good news was that it was not too deep. The bad news is that it was as cold as you would expect and was moving fairly swiftly. Karl tried a few times to find a suitable crossing point, but reaching his waist in the current, he was forced back. We finally realized that he had chosen a route that was much deeper than almost any other way across the river, we made the other side. By this point, it was already 11:00 pm. Our pants still stowed in our packs, we made a final push for the day to make it to flat ground before wolfing down our freeze-dry under the bombardment of a hungry swarm of mosquitos.
I’ve been asked if I would consider using hip waders in this situation. The answer is a hard no on that one. Not only would hip waders be potentially very dangerous in waters this deep and fast, acting as an anchor that would keep you down if you were to fall, but they are really only good for one thing. They would be outrageously heavy and bulky the remainder of the hunt.
The Road is A High One
The next day was about as hot a day as we ever get in the Yukon. The bush was tinder dry, and the sun was beating down. We began a substantial climb of about 4500’ (1400 m) from the valley to the ridge above. This is more than the usual 3200’ of most sheep ridges in the Yukon, with our camp and filming equipment and with the heat, proved to be a real grind. While Yukon forests are quite open compared to those further south—we don’t have the precipitation to support super-thick bush—this particular hill offered us steep, slabby rockfaces to shake things up.
In situations like this, when we’re all tired, dehydrated, sun-baked, and loaded down, one’s mental toughness, grit, comes into play. These are the moments when all the hard things you’ve done in the off-season months come to fruition, or when all the easy things you did in the off-season months will hold you back. These grinding minutes and hours will test your mind. These are the times when I bring out the humour, the ’80’s hits, to keep the team moving.
We made the ridge that evening and had time to look around a bit and get the lay of the land. We located a decent “campsite” with access to water right up high.
A Bruiser of a Ram
Waking up the next morning, we set eyes on a bruiser of a ram. The heatwaves, caused by the sun warming the ground, causing the air to rise and swirl, were heavy that morning. I couldn’t get a great look at the ram in terms of ageing him or being 100% certain that this was the ram I was looking for. However, I could see he carried awesome mass and looked to be broomed. The hard day of hiking and the hard miles of the previous days were all but forgotten!
The main issue facing me was that the opening day of hunting wasn’t until tomorrow! We got to a good position to watch him from afar and ensure he didn’t wander off or down into a nearby gully and out of sight for good. This was a great plan, but a large herd of ewes and lambs were also feeding on the plateau, meaning we had to be cautious of what winds and a curious sheep could do to alert the ram and his companions of our presence. We remained out of sight for the day and “put the ram to bed” before heading back to camp.
There is a powerful urge in the human mind to stay in bed until (at least) the first rays of sunlight break through closed eyelids. For me, there is a much more powerful urge to harvest a great ram. Thus, well before sunrise, my watch began beeping, raising us all quickly out of the comfort of our sleeping bags. Before long, the stove was fired up, and we had broken the thin sheet of ice that formed over our water source. It might be the height of summer in the Yukon, but down clothing, a warm hat and long underwear were as necessary as on the darkest winter day.
My plan was to head up to the top of the plateau and sweep my way down to where we had last seen the rams. We came across the ewes and lambs and had to stay out of their way. They were moving over the top of the plateau into an opposing basin, and my initial worry was that the rams had preceded them or were somehow mixed in with them. Despite our early start, the sheep were not lazing about. They were up and moving before first light: a good lesson for your next hunt. Don’t expect your game to be staying in their beds for long.
Still up high, I was glassing every square foot of the plateau in search of the ram. Finally, I found him feeding far below. Now it was Go Time! It’s my style to move as quickly as possible once I know where I need to be. As I began to drop towards the ram, I made double-time. The goal here is to reduce the time spent out of sight as much as possible, reducing the possibility that the ram will feed off in an unanticipated direction. The risk is that I will come over a rise and be spotted by the ram before I see him. Thus, it’s a balance between moving quickly and being very cognisant of sightlines that appear as one moves across the country.
The Stalk is On
As it turned out, the ram did not spot me before I saw him. Belly crawling to a slight rise, I stayed prone and set the rifle up on my bipod. I was about 200 yards from him and was set to wait for him to stand up. As it turned out, the commotion of three men in close proximity drew his attention. While he did not know who or what was close by, he did know that something was going on. He stood up in a relaxed fashion to gain a better view, presenting me with a great shot opportunity. That was all I needed, and I took the shot.
As I held the ram, the months of anticipation and the incredible adventure of this hunt, as well as the realization of my dream to move under human power to harvest a mountain animal, all hit me. As hunters know the feeling of time standing still, of all the worries of life falling away, and the power of these moments. While it wouldn’t be long before my pack was heavy and the steep descent off the mountain would be calling for more grit, I always take my time to soak in the moments after the harvest.
Adventure is the Goal
The final stage of the adventure was to call in our airdrop of rafts. The packraft is an incredible tool that provides astonishing access in a tiny package. Packrafts are also fun—we’ve always got big smiles when transitioning off our tired feet to these boats. A friend flew my Piper PA-18 SuperCub to our location. We found a good opening where he could easily see us and where we could easily retrieve the packages. With the Super Cub flying low and slow, the packages were released, and we were on our way.
Adventures like this are why mountain hunting is part of who I am. I begin planning these trips each winter, finding good locations, figuring out not only how to find a good ram, but how to build a good adventure. While I am in search of a trophy, I think this hunt clarifies that I am not looking for the easy path. The hard road is where I find satisfaction and meaning.
Often, when breaking camp in the morning, we tend to pack up and head out. We are tempted to move on without glassing the immediate area, as one gets the feeling there couldn’t possibly be something in the immediate vicinity where we have spent the last eight to 12 hours. This temptation can lead to a big mistake: We all know stories of people who’ve seen game as soon as they’ve gotten out of the tent, or even before leaving the tent. I’m going to tell you why glassing in the early morning is critical.
Most game animals rise before dawn to move into feeding areas. They could walk over a ridge or into view, and they wouldn’t have been visible the previous night. They may also be unaware of your presence, and your evening activities will have had no effect on them. Thus it would help if you disregarded your intuition that they are “somewhere else.” and make a priority of looking around while you wait for your water to boil.
Morning light is fantastic for glassing, and it helps to cast shadows from feeding animals, making them more visible. The glare of the mid-day sun will not yet be washing out the landscape. In the morning light, the animal’s colors will pop more readily. The golden hour at sunset is well-known as the best time to find your animals. The morning is equally as good.
On a recent sheep hunt, glassed from camp before leaving. We didn’t pick anything up initially. However, a few minutes after leaving, a ram came up out of his bed and over the ridge. Had we been in camp with our heads down, we would have missed him.
On the Move
Once leaving camp, don’t watch the ground as you move to your destination. Keep your binos at the ready and your head on a swivel, always looking around. As your movement through the terrain reveals new lines of sight, be looking all around. If you are moving camp, you may be losing view of slopes and valleys for hours or even days. Your knowledge of the landscape and your continued focus on looking in all directions will serve you well.
It’s a best-practice to go to be with a plan for the next day. If that plan sees you moving camp, or moving far from camp to glass, taking the time to do a quick check of the skylines and approaches to your tent site will open a bonus hunting opportunity sooner or later.
There are times you are going to experience a lot of snow on the ground. This can happen because you’ve signed up for a winter hunt: Kudos to you if you are out there when most people are hunkering down to watch Netflix. Other times, this can happen with a freak snow event or pure bad luck. When it happens, you have two options: Option 1 is to turn tail, go home, and complain to your buddies about how lousy it was out there. Option 2 is to get after it, and use smart glassing techniques to create an adventure.
You know which option I prefer.
I enjoy hunting Dall’s Sheep as much as any species I pursue, and they are found high in the mountains of the Yukon. The Yukon is a place where snow can happen in any month of the year, so I’ve developed some techniques to make the most of my time out there.
While these sheep are white, they carry a yellow tinge when you compare them to a pure white snowfield. Rather than looking for white sheep, I have my eye tuned to this yellow tinge. This small mindset change is much more effective than you might guess, and your eyes will see them pop a bit more this way.
Sheep tend to avoid the snow when they can, so looking for open faces of grass and even rock will be high-percentage locations to search first. As you travel the mountains, be aware if south-facing slopes are opening up. Check your maps and head for vantage points that will allow you to glass the faces showing snow melt. Sheep will prefer to bed and feed where they have ready access to snow-free ground.
You may not be fortunate to have snow-free areas. In this case, you will be forced to look for animals traversing snowfields and searching for tracks. While tracks are difficult to read from afar, you may be able to identify a direction of movement with your spotting scope. In this case, follow the tracks to their end, and there’s a chance you will find a sheep there. Even if you have snow-free areas, you should move on to the snowfields and look for tracks if you’ve come up empty in the open areas.
When the snow melts, you’re going to be tempted to avoid glassing in the snowy areas. All of us are inherently lazy, and glassing snow for sheep isn’t ideal. When the snow is only partially melted, and you have sporadic open areas, it’s even more difficult, as you need to look for yellow sheep on snow and look for white sheep on rock and grass. Your brain needs to switch between these two modes of searching. You need to stay disciplined and continue to glass the snowy parts of the mountain.
These tips will help you make the most of winter and fall hunting. It’s much better to return home with a great story of hardship and suffering, possibly with a trophy, than to return home with excuses.
A couple of companies make a green powder that is a mix of nutrients and the essence of various fruits and vegetables. This kind of product is a game-changer for me. A small scoop of this product puts you well on your way to cover your bases in terms of getting proper nutrition. They are giving us a short-cut to eating properly and covering all the nutritional bases we, as hunters, need to watch. Eating properly and moving and sweating every day are at the foundation of my philosophy of well-being. My super greens are a staple of my diet and you need to check it out.
I’ll use this in the field when I am going days and days without something fresh, or at home when I want to be at my best. I’ll add it to smoothies with berries, or drink it alone. Combine this with a post-workout protein mix and almond milk, and you’ll be recovering strong after a good workout with a delicious drink.
Greens Powders Pancakes
Take your favourite pancake recipe, whether it’s from scratch or from a dry mix. Add a scoop of your favourite green powder. If it tastes good, add two scoops the next time and see how it turns out. Keep adding more until you find the taste too strong.
I also add blueberries and use almond milk instead of dairy milk.
Step-ups (SUs) are a fantastic, low-cost and highly effective workout for any mountain athlete. While I would love to perform every workout in the hills, life gets in the way. Having a step-up box in the garage, on the back deck, or in the basement will allow you to get some legit training in with a minimal time commitment. If you are familiar with indoor training on the bicycle or the rower, step-ups are the equivalent workout for mountain people, whether skiers, mountaineers, hikers or mountain hunters.
Variable for any athlete
Make mountain training accessible for the flat-lander
Not a real outdoor workout (no fresh air or sunlight in the basement!)
Potentially very boring
While I can’t recommend SUs as the one-and-only workout, they definitely have a place in the training regime. Whether you are a family person without the time to get to a good set of hills, or you live in a flat part of the city/world, these can be added to your training a few times per week to spice things up and build both the eccentric and concentric movements of your quadriceps muscles. Gym stepper machines work only that concentric movement, leaving you in a world of hurt the first day in the hills when you are walking down. Step-ups have you covered for both up and down.
Additionally, time under load with the pack is excellent for your core and shoulders, getting you ready for the real deal.
I am 6’0″ and use a 16″ box. You can adjust your box height to work well. I tried an 18″ box but had some knee discomfort, so I ditched it.
You can count your progress in your head, by using a hand clicker, or by the time on the clock.
If you’re indoors, open a window and/or use a fan to cool yourself. Wearing the pack indoors increases your core temperature more than you might expect.
Make sure you have good hydration and nutrition, as this can be a sweaty workout. I love using a carbohydrate beverage before the workout if I know it’s going to be a taxing effort, but also during the session.
Don’t forget to get outside and go for a real hike!
600, 1000 or 1,200 step-ups. You can also pick your own goal.
1 hour (moderate effort)
Max step-ups in 30 minutes (hard effort)
The basic step-up is right leg up, left leg up, right leg down, left leg down. Left leg up, right leg up, left leg down, right leg down. That’s two SUs.
SU with wide legs and out-turned toes.
Cross overs: Step onto the box laterally, crossing your legs over at the top as you step down. Cross overs work your legs and core at new angles.
Step right over and then shuffle around to the front to step up and over again, this time turning to the other side.
Round 1: One step up, go over the box and shuffle back to the front, one step up, go over the box and shuffle back to the front.
Round 2: Two step-ups, go over the box and shuffle back to the front, two step-ups, go over the box and shuffle back to the front.
Round 3: Three step-ups, go over the box and shuffle back to the front, three step-ups, go over the box and shuffle back to the front.
Round 4: Four step-ups, go over the box and shuffle back to the front, four step-ups, go over the box and shuffle back to the front.
Round 5: Five step-ups, go over the box and shuffle back to the front, five step-ups, go over the box and shuffle back to the front.
Your Step-Up Box
Your box needs to have a few key attributes:
Strong enough to handle the impact
16″ in height is a good starting point, but test this out a bit before you commit
Wide enough to handle your entire foot with some extra room
You can purchase plyometric boxes from places like Rogue Fitness, or you can build your own. I know someone who built this box, but you can build something pretty simple using lumber and a bit of plywood. In a pinch, you may have a park bench or some other natural platform in the neighbourhood to use.
You can use any backpack, but having a pack with a hip belt is a wise choice. Thus, a weight vest is not ideal. You can fill the pack with something heavy, but whatever you choose, you don’t want it to be too angular or hard to ensure you don’t have a corner digging into your back. Well-sealed bags of sand, salt or gravel are some choices, but a padded kettlebell or steel plate can also work. Outdoorsman makes the Atlas Trainer, a specific product for this kind of training, and you can test that out.
I am using 30 lbs for this workout. You may be tempted to go heavy, but that’s not the purpose of the workout. You can do some heavy rucking outside, but on the box, you will risk injury with too much weight.
Do you want to be a better hunter? Do you want to be fitter and stronger, mentally and physically? Do you have problems getting outside on a mountain whenever you want to train? Then you need to do step-ups. Get some! Tag me on Instagram or Facebook story if you’re doing step-ups. If you have an excuse for not doing these, tag me as well. I’ll give you some advice!
For many people, getting out on a single mountain hunt could be the highlight of the year. For others, getting the shot at a Dall’s Sheep or Mountain Goat could be the hunt of a lifetime. If you have any chance of chasing sheep, you won’t regret having the right gear—and experience using it—before you start hiking on the first day.
If you’ve never hunted a northern mountain species, I am going to identify the most critical aspects of optics selection.
To understand how I choose my optics, you need to have a picture of my hunt style. Physical endurance is a crucial aspect of my hunting, and my life in general. I train 12-months per year and head into our mountain hunting season in the best shape I can. What this means is I’m not afraid of a bit of extra weight in pieces of kit that make me a more effective hunter. I don’t carry any excess weight in the “nice-to-have” category, such as camp pillows, chairs, Bluetooth speakers, or spare socks. My endurance allows me to cover a lot of ground, but stay in one place and glass hard when the situation calls for it (which is quite often).
Yukon sheep mountains are not overly steep, so it’s possible to find a high vantage point and see a lot of country that is quite far away. These mountains and valleys require powerful optics to pick out the horns of a ram behind rocks, or a bedded moose in the thick timber.
Let’s get to it:
Binoculars. We have a few choices here: 8x, 10x, 12x, and even 15x. I’ve tried all of these, and the 10x are the hands-down winners for me. 10x is the maximum I feel comfortable and practical hand-holding with a pack on my back. When moving from one sit-down glassing location to another, the binos earn their keep by staying productive at all times. I can stop hiking, pull out the binos, and have a quick look at a suspicious object, or look over a slope. I don’t need to sit down or remove my pack to hold them steady. Because our mountains are not overly steep, I am not left looking at very close terrain. If that were the case, the 8x might be more appropriate. I am using the Vortex Optics Razor® UHD 10×42 bino. They provide incredible clarity and have the durability I require for hard mountain hunts.
Spotting scope. A category where guys will often go under-powered to save money and weight, cutting corners on your spotting scope is a big mistake. The spotting scope is what brings you to the next level when it comes to finding low-density game, and when you’re looking for a great animal instead of just a legal harvest. What you gain in a slightly lighter scope, perhaps with a smaller objective lens, you will lose by having to move one mountain range closer to judge the animal accurately. Judging sheep, goat, and even moose requires a detailed look at horn weight, length, and points, and is difficult at the best of times. Looking through an under-powered scope is a terrible feeling. I much prefer seeing an animal clearly from a distance and knowing it’s worth going after. My go-to spotting scope is the Razor® HD 27–60×85. I use the 85 mm objective for a clearer view and better light gathering capabilities. The angled scope is much more comfortable to use in our terrain than the straight scope, allowing for more comfortable and ergonomic glassing, as well as a lower tripod setup.
Riflescope. In the Yukon, we often have opportunities to shoot out past 700 yards. I prefer to get much closer, with 300–500 yards being an excellent range where the risks of being spotted or winded are vastly reduced, and where wind and Lady Luck are not huge factors. Thus, my choice is to run the Razor® HD AMG™ 6-24×50 FFP, or something similar, like the Razor® HD 5-20×50. These scopes offer quick and reliable target acquisition, bomber build quality, and fantastic clarity and light transmission. The adjustable turrets take the guesswork out of dynamic-ranging situations. Running a lighter scope, such as a 3–10x, will leave you out to dry for those longer shots unless you’re a much better shot than me. If you do go with a more straightforward riflescope, ensure you have the reticle needed to shoot reliably at a variety of distances. Again, this is not a piece of gear where you should consider cutting corners.
Rangefinder. My rangefinder goes everywhere my rifle goes, which is everywhere I go. Judging distance is a skill that takes a lot of work. If you’re hunting new game, you will have difficulty ranging until you get a sense of their body size. From both practical and ethical standpoints, a rangefinder like the Razor® HD 4000 should be in your pack. Certainly, you need a rangefinder that can range way out past your shooting distance to accommodate challenging ranging conditions.
Every experienced mountain hunter knows that carrying the right optics is a key variable in hunting success. If you’re a new hunter, I hope this article has helped you avoid purchasing the wrong setup. If you’re an experienced hunter, these guidelines will help you dominate the mountains.
From a satisfying breakfast to an afternoon pick-me-up, or even a dessert, this versatile chia seed pudding will make its way into your nutrition repertoire in no time.
Total fat: 7 g
Saturated fat: o g
Total carbohydrate: 11 g
Dietary fiber: 3 g
Sugars: 9 g
Protein: 4 g
Yield: 1 cup (250 g) Serving size: 1/2 cup (125 g)
Pour all the ingredients into a bowl and stir until well combined. Allow the chia seeds to settle for 20 minutes, whisking every 5 minutes, until the mixture thickens. Place in the refrigerator and store for at least 2 hours or overnight.
Check for the desired thickness and flavour, adjusting if necessary. When ready to serve, spoon into bowls and top with fresh fruit. Enjoy!