The ledge stomped in the gravel on the backside of the ridge looked like a tiny landing strip. I was mostly responsible because I couldn’t stop pacing. A magnificent Dall’s Sheep ram, the object of my dreams, was bedded with a small band of rams on the next ridge though they were across a deep cut that led into a broad valley below us. Through the spotting scope the sheep looked like they were right there, but when my guide or I would crawl up to peek over the top of the ridge to check on the sheep, the range finder said they were 860 yards away—much too far for a reasonable shot.
We were well past the halfway point of a hunt during which we’d fought weather nearly every day. At one point we’d been tent-bound in spike camp for more than 24-hours straight with fog, ice and heavy snow. It wasn’t safe to venture out of sight of the tents, and we wouldn’t have been able to spot sheep even if we had.
When the visibility finally improved, it took barely an hour of glassing to relocate the band of sheep we’d glimpsed on and off during the past week. And through the viewfinder it only took a second to determine the old ram leading the band was the one I wanted—even though he was miles away. A hike of about three miles, as fast as conditions would permit, put us less than half a mile from the sheep, but with no more navigable terrain or cover between us. So the guide and I set up on the backside of that gravel ridge, out of sight of the sheep, to come up with a plan.
To hunt sheep in Alaska, a non-resident is required to employ the services of a registered, licensed guide. I had selected mine carefully after a great deal of research and reference checking. Though he was much younger than me, he had decades of experience in these mountains hunting all types of big game. He’d learned from his father who was also a lifelong guide and famous throughout Alaska for his skills.
Every call my guide made on this hunt had been right so far—where to camp, where to look for sheep, where there was safe water to drink, where they’d cached additional supplies to hole up during the worst of the weather, what to do when we’d encountered up-close grizzlies and moose. So I was all ears when we sat down on the gravel to consider our options. I had confidence he would make the right call.
We talked over a variety of options for stalking closer, for repositioning, for letting the sheep see us so they’d move over the next ridge so we could stalk them there. One by one we ruled out every plan because each was fraught with too many variables we couldn’t control.
It became clear my guide believed the sheep would all get up later in the day and amble to the bottom of the canyon to graze on grass along the snowmelt creek that flowed there. His plan was for us to stay put, check on the sheep every 15 minutes by crawling to the top of the ridge to peer over the crest. When they dropped down below the line of sight, we’d be able to move to the next bench to put us within easy range for a good shot. I knew what he said made sense, so the wait began. Hunting in Alaska in late August, the days are long. It doesn’t get dark-dark until around 11 p.m. The time dragged on. The sheep didn’t move.
The longer we waited, the more impatient I became. I peppered the guide with ideas of modifications to all the possible plans we had already discussed and ruled out. Even though I’d bring up the same plans over and over again, he remained patient. He’d say, “Well, we could do that, but I think those sheep will see us, bust out of there, and then there’s no telling where they’ll go or when they’ll stop. The worst thing we can do is spook them out of this drainage. They could go anywhere and it may take us longer to find them than you have left to hunt.” Then I’d go back to pacing on the gravel until it was time to make another ridgeline check.
This went on for six hours while we waited for those sheep to move. Then finally, on our 7:45 p.m. check, the sheep were gone!
We scooted on our bellies a little farther over the ridge and caught sight of the last ram dropping over a bench headed for the grass. We crouch-ran to a position where we could see the creek side. I didn’t dare look down at some of the ground we ran across as the mountain was steep, the ledges narrow, and the shale very loose.
Just as the guide had planned, we were where we needed to be when the rams showed up. The shot was almost anticlimactic. I had the mountain sheep that had been a major hunting dream since I was old enough to read about these adventures in my dad’s outdoor magazines!
Years have passed since that hunt. I can look over my shoulder here at my desk and see the taxidermy mount of that old ram. I can relive every moment of that hunt. More often these days, reflecting on that day on the mountain with my guide, I think about how similar that encounter is to my on-going, daily relationship with God.
Every call the guide made up on the mountain was the right call. Every call God has made in my life has been the right call. The guide was patient in listening to my pleading to “do something,” but stood firm in his decision. God is infinitely patient in listening to my pleading and questioning of his plan, but stands firm in his will for my life. In the end, listening to the guide accomplished one of my life’s dreams. In the end, listening to God will accomplish the ultimate reward of eternal life.
So why? Why did I question my hunting guide? The answer to that question is easy—because he’s a man just like me and just as potentially fallible as I am.
But why? Why do I question the will of God, and why do I get so impatient for his infallible plan to unfold? I guess, the answer to that question is nearly the same—because I am a fallible man.
If the Bible has one main message for us, it is to submit to God’s will. Yet it remains one of the hardest things of all for me to do. So, logically, it should be a main focus of my prayer and reflection.
And you know what? It is! It’s right there in the prayer I pray the most often: “… Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”
Jesus was very specific in telling us how to pray in Mathew 6:9-13: “This, then, is how you should pray: ‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us today our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.’”
Translated for this simple outdoorsman that means, “Listen to your Guide!”
Huh? Advice straight from the Bible that will make be a better hunter … and a better man. Sure gives me something to reflect on under the big pine!