Brendan Burns and I  just returned from...

 

Brendan Burns and I  just returned from an amazing sheep hunt in the Northern Yukon Territory. There is something truly special about the rugged and untouched Dall sheep areas of the far north that draw me back every year. Nothing tests my resolve and the gear we build like a trip into sheep country.

Below is a photo essay of our hunt.  All photos were taken by the legendary Paul Bride.

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When Brendan and I were looking at where to do our annual northern sheep hunt, we reached out to Chris McKinnon at Bonnet Plume Outfitters to see if he had any areas they had not hunted in recent years. Chris smiled and told us he had exactly what we were looking for. He had a rugged valley with extremely tough access that they had not taken a ram out of in five years. After showing us a map of the country and explaining the route we would take to access it, we booked the hunt on the spot.

Chris gave us one guarantee: big adventure, tons of miles in rarely seen country, and the possibility of some old, never before hunted rams.  What more could we ask for?

 

There are a dozen Dall sheep areas you could argue as the best on the planet, with the Bonnet Plume area being one of them. A history rich hunting concession, Chris and Sharron McKinnon have owned and operated Bonnet Plume Outfitters since 2004. One of the most remote areas in all of the North, Bonnet Plume is known for their traditional Supercub and Jet boat backpack Dall sheep hunts, giant Alaska Yukon Moose, and big caribou. Chris is passionate about the management of the sheep in his area, taking only a small number of old rams each season. Four times in the last ten years they have had the oldest average age ram taken out of all Yukon outfitters.

 

Looking over the map on the flight in.

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We arrive in Whitehorse late in the evening, spending the night before boarding a caravan for the two- hour flight to Bonnet Plume’s main camp. Once in camp Chris shows us on a more detailed map where we are headed and introduces us to our guides, Brad and Brad. Brad Alexander is a BC native who has been guiding Stone and Dall sheep hunters for close to twenty years. Brad Caley is a Kiwi in his second season guiding at BPO.   Aside from being a bit camera shy, they are both as tough as they come.

The plan is for us to Jet Boat up a river and then bushwhack up a deep valley that will take us to the main drainage that splits the mountain range. Where we go from there will depend what we see, but we intend to end up at a known sheep lick by the end of the hunt. It’s a staggering amount of country on a map. Neither Brad A. nor Brad C. have ever been in this area, so this will be a new territory and a new experience for all of us.

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We grab lunch, double-check our gear, load our packs, and jump in a jet boat for a short ride to our drop-off point. As we gather up to hit the mountain, Chris tells us he had seen a big ram from the air a month earlier at the spot we are headed. He offers no description of the ram, no information on his whereabouts, and simply says, “You will know him when you seen him.  Good luck.”

 

 

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For the remaining 10 hours we climb deep into the valley, and are welcomed to this sheep country by intermittent pounding rain, thick brush, and more stream crossings than we can count. It’s easy to see why no one has been in this country in years.

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We throw up camp right at dark in a downpour, wake up in the rain, and continue our climb for 7 more hours before breaking out into the head of the valley. It has taken us twice as long to get here than anticipated, but we are finally in sheep country.

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We take a break at the top of the mountain to let the fog lift before descending into the valley we intend to hunt. Getting here has been a grind.

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Immediately upon dropping into the valley, Brad A. spots a band of rams near the valley floor.  One of them is a monster, and unlike any sheep I have ever seen before.

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We immediately drop our camp in a small cut and make a plan to close the distance.  This is not a sheep that needs judging: he is old and impossibly long. Every year on our sheep hunt, Brendan and I switch who gets to be the first shooter. We both joke how bad his timing is to be second in line this year.

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We work down the drainage to 700 yards and get pinned down for several hours by a smaller ram above us.  Late in the evening, the long ram and two others move across the drainage and up the other side into some nasty rocky cuts.  We watch him for a couple of hours until he beds. The spot is favorable for a stalk.

With only 2 hours of light remaining, we decide to go after him.  We climb straight up to the top of the mountain two cuts up the valley from the ram.  Slowly picking our way across the mountain face, we pop out two hundred yards away, level with the ram. It is a perfect setup. Brad A. throws his spotter on the ram to confirm what we already know:  he is old and big.

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One well-placed shot sends the ram tumbling down the mountain.  We scramble down a chute to put our hands on the sheep, hoping he did not get to busted up in the fall.

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Thankfully, the ram rolls only a short distance before hanging up. Ten more feet and he would have ended up at the bottom.

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Words cannot describe the feeling of taking a ram of this caliber, and in this setting.  It is the type of ram you hunt your whole life to see.  While every ram and ever hunt is special, this ram is the sheep I have been hoping to cross paths with since my first sheep hunt.

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At 10 years old and forty-two inches on both sides, this ram is spectacular in every way.

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With light fading fast we photograph the ram, prep him for pack out and dive off a vertical chute in the dark.  It is a two-hour, pitch-black scramble back to where we dropped camp, and the perfect end to two long days.

 

Bonnet Plume

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The next morning we all enjoy a little extra rest, take care of the ram, and prepare for another grind with more weight on our backs.  With a ram down so early in the hunt, we are going to have to get the meat and cape taken care of before looking for a ram for Brendan.

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The nearest cub strip is a small X on the map and is at least two days away on foot.   The route is through some good country and roughly in the direction we are headed. Going back the way we came is not an option, so we prepare for another grind.

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Late in the day we make camp on a gravel bar where the drainage to the strip dumps in.  Fresh meat and plenty of wood calls for a feast on fire roasted sheep back straps. We refuel and prepare for yet another long day of hiking.

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By late afternoon of day 4 we are in striking distance of the strip.  Chris arrives shortly after we do in his cub.

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Chris congratulates me on my ram after confirming the age rings.  Like most outfitters, “old” is his favorite size ram.  The long beautiful horns are just a bonus.

After looking over the ram, he informs us he has never seen this ram, and it is definitely not the sheep he saw a month earlier.  This is an amazing testament to the area for a big ram like this to have slipped through unseen.   It also means we walked past a different big ram in the last two days.

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We continue on with the original plan on towards the lick.  Chris takes the ram with him, lightening our packs temporarily.

There is a pass we need to be able to get through a days walk away.  The distance we need to cover is going to leave us tight on time.

We hike late into the evening and camp in a spectacular basin within a few hours of a make-or-break pass.

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We rise early and head for the pass.

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We arrive at the pass midday.

 

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It looks worse than on the map, potentially impassable.  We enlist Paul to take a look at a route down. Paul is not only an amazing photographer, he is a seasoned climber with more experience than all of us combined. Paul takes off his gear and scrambles down to see if there is a route.  He returns shortly with bad news: there is no safe way down in any direction. We take a breather and assess the situation.

 

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We are halfway through the hunt and halfway to where we need to be.  The next place we can pass through is a full day hike away, putting us two days from the lick. We have three days left to hunt, accounting for the hike out.

After consulting the Brads on all our options, we call an audible and change plans. We decide to turn around and head back where we came from. The big ram we did not see in the drainage where I killed mine has been on Brendan’s mind.  He makes the final call to go all the way back.  It is a bold move with the time we have left and the amount of ground to retrace.

Brad sets a route that will get us in glassing position within a day.  From there we will need to decide which areas to check in our last few days.   We head down the valley we just came up with no time to waste.

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We head back, camp late where we run out of light, and hike all the next day, arriving in the afternoon at a pass that looks into where I killed my ram. We camp high in the pass and are glassing at light.

 

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With two days to hunt we scour the valley identifying several sheep we need to get a closer look at.  We can see more sheep than we have time to hunt.  Hopefully luck is on our side and one is a big ram. We game plan in motion and drop back into the valley.

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We hit the bottom of the valley late in the day, drop our camp on a gravel bar and head upstream.  Over the next few hours we find and eliminate 3 separate bands of rams that are either not old or big enough.

Late in the day Brad C. spots a ram high in a basin as we are walking back to camp.  The ram is a long way off, too far to go after with the light we have left.  We just get set up in the scope and get one glimpse that it may be a good ram before rain rolls in an shuts out visibility.  Brad A. has a good feeling it may be our ram.  On the hike back to camp we lay out the last day’s hunt.  We will make a blind run early and assume it is a shooter ram.

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Up early, we climb high into the next drainage over from where we left the ram.  By noon we get to a vantage point where we can see the him.

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Bingo.  He is a big ram, heavy and old.   We don’t need to look long at this sheep: he is what we came for.

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Brad plans a stalk that will put us above the ram.  We close the gap to five hundred yards.  Brendan and Brad sneak closer using a knife ridge above the bedded ram and get as close as possible.

The shot is exactly three hundred yards and the ram never knows what hits him. We make our way to the ram and for the first time in 8 days we are no longer on the move.

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The sheep is an ancient 13 year old hammer of a ram,  broomed on both sides and over full curl.  No one appreciates an old ram more than Brendan. What a spectacular finish to an amazing hunt.

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With both tags punched on big rams, we take our time photographing and processing the ram.  It is crazy how this hunt worked out.  We kill both our rams within two miles of each other after hiking for a week.

Camp is a welcome site with plenty of wood to enjoy some more sheep backs traps and tenderloins. Nothing tastes better than fresh sheep in camp.

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With the weather on our side, the last day breaks clear.  We linger a little longer in camp and enjoy another meal of sheep before packing up for he long grind out.  We decide to go back the way we came in, which promises to be unpleasant but it is the closest route.

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SONY DSC By noon, we make it to the valley we came in on the first day.  It seems brushier, longer than it did on the way in. By late afternoon we give up side hilling and busting brush and follow the creek out.

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The river is a welcome site, and a boat ride to basecamp brings us back to where we started.

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We want to thank Chris and Sharron McKinnon for providing us with first class hospitality and absolute professionalism in how they operate their business. Chris is a very passionate Outfitter and works incredibly hard to insure his clients have success. He diligently manages his area to maximize his trophy and age class of the animals harvested. I cannot thank him and Sharron enough to provide us access to this amazing area and the opportunity to harvest two incredible rams in eight days.

I want to thank Brad and Brad for all of their hard work and professionalism during our very tough hunt. We walked for eight straight days in the steepest and most technically challenging conditions I have ever experienced on a Dall Sheep hunt. They both pushed hard  for us to get it done.

Guides are never recognized enough for what they do. It is because of them we get to accomplish our dreams of hunting sheep in remote areas of the north and shoot giant rams like we did on this hunt. I look forward to the next time I get to hunt with Brad and Brad.

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This article has 70 comment(s)

  1. Dave McNeill

    Wow what a great hunt:
    Congrats to all !!

  2. RodBillett

    great hunt and story! Photos are awesome as well.

    • Jason Hairston

      Thank you Rod!

  3. Robert

    Totally awesome.
    Congratulation on two great Rams.

    • KUIU Ultralight Hunting

      It was awesome. Thank you, Robert!
      Jason

  4. Jerry Gowins

    Excellent! Congratulations on two fine rams!

    • KUIU Ultralight Hunting

      Thank you, Jerry!

  5. Rob

    Awesome trip! Great effort rewarded with great rams. Would love a gear list after you have time to settle in! Verde 2.0 looks sharp!

    • KUIU Ultralight Hunting

      Thank you, Rob!
      Jason

  6. Armosino

    Guys, great story, awesome country and amazing rams!
    Look forward to seeing them up close at the sheep show.
    Tom

    • KUIU Ultralight Hunting

      Thank you, Tom!
      Jason

  7. Eric Johnson

    Great hunt Jason and Brendan! I am sure your feet feel the way they look! Congrats!

    • KUIU Ultralight Hunting

      Our feet took a beating but it was worth it–thank you, Eric!
      Jason

  8. Ben Newbill

    Truly awesome!!! No better way to test gear, from the worlds best office. Keep it up, you guys and KUIU are the best. Congrats to you both and your guides.

    • KUIU Ultralight Hunting

      Thanks, Ben. I appreciate your support for KUIU!
      Jason

  9. Scott D

    What a ram! Would you mind posting your gear list from the hunt? Have a sheep hunt planned for 2017 and starting to work through my options on clothing. Thanks!

    • KUIU Ultralight Hunting

      Thank you, Scott! Brendan and I are working on a gear list and will have it posted soon.
      Jason

      • Scott D

        Hi Jason – Just checking to see if you had an opportunity to put together the gear list for this trip (or have already posted it somewhere and I missed it). Thanks!

        • KUIU Ultralight Hunting

          Hi Scott,

          Brendan is working on our gear lists for the Bonnet Plume hunt, and will put up a blog post on it next week.

          Jason

  10. Wade Warner

    Awesome documentary!! Thanks for sharing. Congratulations on 2 successful hunts. I love my Kuiu clothes and equipment I purchased over the off season. Leaving tomorrow for my 3rd backpack hunt this season. Gear is holding up well. More testing to come! Wade

    • KUIU Ultralight Hunting

      Thank you, Wade. Good luck on your hunt!
      Jason

  11. Brian Fantuz

    Fantastic hunt!! Finish it off with a beer and some tall tales from Logan… Ha!!

    • KUIU Ultralight Hunting

      Thank you, Brian!
      Jason

  12. Jeff Cumberworth

    Awesome story thanks for taking us along. This is an adventure I will never get to experience but feel like I was there with this great documentary. Keep up the great hunts and stories. P.S. I love my KUIU

    • KUIU Ultralight Hunting

      Glad you enjoyed the story, Jeff. Thank you for supporting KUIU!
      Jason

  13. cody stemler

    Fantastic narrative,phenomenal pictures,and epic Rams Please tell Brendan Cody Stemler says “Hello”

    • KUIU Ultralight Hunting

      Thank you, Cody! Brendan says ‘hello’ and to look him up if you ever get up back Montana.
      Jason

  14. Pa 5-0

    Incredible hunt and photo essay Boys!!!! Insane Rams. Both hammers but Brendan’s is just off the chart heavy. Both are Rams that dreams are made of. Anyone wondering what it takes to hunt sheep, take a look at that feet photo. Be prepared to suffer and have the best time of your life. Thx for sharing, Dan

    • KUIU Ultralight Hunting

      Thank you, Dan. Glad you enjoyed the post–good luck this fall!
      Jason

  15. Seth Downer

    wow amazing guys

    • KUIU Ultralight Hunting

      Thank you, Seth!
      Jason

  16. Jeff

    You guys are hardcore hunters! Every year I look forward to reading your sheep story. Congratulations on the giant rams!

    • KUIU Ultralight Hunting

      Thank you, Jeff!
      Jason

  17. Joey P

    Read it three times – just al lot to absorb at once. The photos are great but until you are there, you never will know how tough it can be.
    Sheep hunting is by far the best motivation to keep up the off season workouts.
    Great job guys! You have two monsters that were hard earned.

    • KUIU Ultralight Hunting

      Thank you, Joey. It was an incredible experience.
      Jason

  18. Chris Cashen

    Jason, what a great hunt from start to finish! The pictures are really a testament to how tough the terrain and environment is up North. Did the changes you made to your physical training this year make a difference in how you felt during the hunt? KUIU gear is truly the best there is and I look forward to trying out future products to come!

    • KUIU Ultralight Hunting

      Thank you for supporting KUIU, Chris!
      Jason

  19. Michael Padiong

    Another epic adventure for you both! Congratulations on two insane monster rams. I love reading and watching your journey to keep pushing the limits. It motivates me to plan and prepare better for my future sheep hunts. Thank you for sharing and can’t wait for your gear list.

    • KUIU Ultralight Hunting

      Thank you, Michael! Good luck on your future sheep hunts.
      Jason

  20. Jeff Valunas

    Well Done, KUIU “Commanders”-

    PHOTO ESSAY, on your Sheep Hunts, are something I look forward to!!!
    Perhaps I will be lucky enough to draw a tag in Arizona, (in the next 30+ years).
    For SHEEP.
    If so, GREAT!!!
    If not…
    I have had the privilege of; Vicariously living through all of your SHEEP Hunts!
    Not a bad second place!

    It INSPIRES me, to push further and deeper!
    On those, “Coues Deer” hunts…

    AND that ALONE is worth every penny spent on KUIU Gear!
    The fact that the product/people are Amazing…
    Well, that pushes it to a more enjoyable experience as a consumer!
    Thanks Jason, and ALL who made/make/and continue innovating!
    You’re ALL, Well Wished-

    JMV
    Tucson, AZ

    • KUIU Ultralight Hunting

      Thank you, Jeff!
      Jason

  21. Andy

    What a great pair of Rams!! Congratulations to the both of you. I am 5 days away from leaving on my first DIY archery elk hunt in Colorado. Head to toe Kuiu. Can’t wait to test the gear in the mountains. Keep up the good work and keep telling your hunt stories. I really enjoy seeing and hearing about all your adventures.

    • KUIU Ultralight Hunting

      Thank you, Andy! Good luck on your elk hunt!
      Jason

  22. Walt Miller

    You guys worked for it.

    • KUIU Ultralight Hunting

      Yes, we did! Thanks, Walt.
      Jason

  23. Mitchell Kamps

    Wow! Inspirational comes to mind after reading and enjoying incredible pics! Two Legendary Rams down to boot! Congratulations Jason and Brendan! Happy for you and thank-you for your clothes and gear.

    • KUIU Ultralight Hunting

      Thank you for supporting KUIU, Mitchell!
      Jason

  24. Keith

    Jason, congrats to you and to and to Brendan. Would love to hear more about how you feel your physical training paid off, and perhaps some thoughts on what you would do/would have done differently with respect to physical preparation (both exercise (cardio vs. strength) as well as diet). Thanks.

    • KUIU Ultralight Hunting

      Thank you, Keith!
      Jason

  25. Nigel

    Thanks for sharing! Congrats on your Rams fellas.

    • KUIU Ultralight Hunting

      Thank you, Nigel!
      Jason

  26. Bill g

    Congrats on your gorgeous sheep. How did you keep yourr feet dry with all those stream crossings and wading? In AK this fall we were in and out of glacier socks constantly, a real hassle.Kuiu gear worked well, loved the merino!

    • KUIU Ultralight Hunting

      Glad to hear that your KUIU worked well for you, Bill. Thank you for the support!
      Jason

  27. Jeremy Williams

    Congratulations guys on a great hunt. I love your videos and Instagram post. Keep up the good work. I’m heading to Spain next month for a Chamois hunt and back again last of November for a couple Ibexs. I look forward to using my backpack and gear. I’ll send you some pictures.

    Oh ya check out my website Ohwae.com tell me what you think.

    • KUIU Ultralight Hunting

      Thank you for your support, Jeremy–good luck on your hunt!
      Jason

  28. Nick Hunt

    Awesome work! How many miles did you guys put in over the 8 days… i’m sure some of the miles were slowing going with that type of terrain!

    • KUIU Ultralight Hunting

      Nick,
      We put in 100+ miles in 8 days. It was a grind but worth it!
      Jason

  29. John

    It was second to none experience 🙂

    • KUIU Ultralight Hunting

      John,
      The crew at Bonnet Plume provided an incredible experience and an amazing hunt.
      Jason

  30. Fredrik K

    Hi,

    That looks like a really challenging hunt. Definetely on the the bucket list. May I ask what rifle scope are you using? Looks like a Zeiss 1,5-6×42 or 2,5-10×50. Why are you not using adjustable turrets? Are you going to develope some products aimed at the scandinavian market? We have moose and red deer hunting in some pretty bad conditions that require “silent” hunting clothing. Looking forward to a europe based online presence for kuiu. Cant wait. Best regards from Norway Fredrik

    • KUIU Ultralight Hunting

      Fredrik,
      It was a challenging hunt for sure. I believe the scope was a Zeiss 2.5-10. KUIU will work great in Scandanavia–give it a try and you won’t be disappointed.
      Jason

  31. Joe

    Spectacular!! Thanks for sharing and congratulations on a great hunt fellas!

    • KUIU Ultralight Hunting

      Thank you, Joe!
      Jason

  32. Brucester

    It’s all been said above better than I can reiterate. An awe-inspiring hunt with photos and a dialog that consciously walk us through your journey. The photo of your feet allows us rationalize some of the effort and discomfort required to accomplish a feat of this magnitude in an uninhabited, glorious, and inspiring land… Congratulations and Thanks to all of you for sharing…

    • KUIU Ultralight Hunting

      Thank you, Bruce!
      Jason

  33. Justin

    Great article! As a sheep hunter, do you prefer the Attack or Chinook pant and why? Particularly hunting in Alaska in early-mid August. Your answer is my decision maker. Thank you very much!

  34. Harlan D. Dunn

    Brothers,

    My utmost respect and appreciation for all of your mental and physical preparation, persistence, patience and temperance. The tremendous rams, photography, narrative and teamwork are inspiring. Thank you for sharing. As you all know, nothing worthwhile comes easy! God Bless.

    Harlan

    • KUIU Ultralight Hunting

      Thank you, Harlan. It was an incredible hunt–I am glad you enjoyed reading about it.
      Jason

  35. Mac Cooke

    Wow. These kind of hunts are what dreams are made of. Congrats to everyone involved. Loved the read and awesome pictures.

    • KUIU Ultralight Hunting

      Thank you, Mac–it was an incredible experience.