The Chernobyl Ram

by Bob Robb

Even though I’d lived in Alaska for more than a decade and been involved as either a hunter or helper on more than two dozen Dall sheep hunts, in 2006 I booked a hunt in the Ruby Buttes region of the Yukon to expand my sheep hunting horizons. Yeah, addictions are like that; sometimes you just want to blister your feet on new ground. It would be my second Yukon sheep hunt, the first being a total disaster when I got f’d by another outfitter whose name you’d all know and think he was a great guy—which shows the power of marketing. That’s a story best told around the campfire with an ample supply of Kentucky’s finest.

This time, the trip was cool shit. Arrive at small town in Yukon, load gear into truck, drive a few hours to a big lake, hop into boat, cruise an hour across the water, meet guides and packers, load everything onto horses, and ride several more hours to base camp, which was comprised of comfortable cabins with wood stoves and even a shower—the antithesis of my usual Alaska one-man tent survival camps.

I was filming this hunt for a now defunct cable TV hunting show. For the next three days my cameraman and our guide, Andre, scoured the mountains where he’d seen some good rams just a week before. After turning up nothing but ewes and lambs, Andre mentioned that in an area a day’s ride from here, he’d had a client the previous hunt who, for reasons that remain baffling to me, turned down an opportunity at a non-typical Dall ram. Now, I’ve looked at a buttload of Dall sheep rams over the years, and at the time was pretty dialed into the community of biologists who studied them and outfitters that hunted them, and I had never heard the words “nontypical” and “Dall ram” mentioned in the same breath. I must have looked at Andre like he was from outer space, but when he swore on his mother’s grave he wasn’t shitting me, I was all in.

Two days later found us settled into the new camp cabin, hunting for the mysterious nontypical ram. The weather turned a bit sour, spitting a cold rain that shifted to sleet when we tethered the horses and hiked out around a big butte. It was typical sheep hunting: hike, sit and glass, repeat. Finally, we spotted a small band of sheep feeding along the gray rocky mountainside. After about an hour I found him.

“Andre,” I said, “I think I’ve found that goofy ram you were talking about.” 

“No shit, where?” 

“He’s bedded in those rocks up there, maybe a half-mile off.” 

And just like that there he was, the mystery ram. His right horn was short and broomed, but the left was heavy and long, curling inwards and rubbing against his nose before curving up and back out. He was big and fat and healthy, and I wanted him. Bad.

We patiently watched as he and his band moved along the mountain face before disappearing into a little bowl. After an hour they had not come out, so we assumed they’d bedded. Grabbing our gear, we made a dash for a slight rock outcropping exactly 300 yards from the edge of the bowl. From there the ground was wide open, so rather than risk crossing it and getting busted, we set up a make-shift sniper’s hide. I proned out and the cameraman set up behind me. The sun arose and the ground began to steam, and after a couple of hours it was hard to stay awake.

Then the shit hit the fan. “Hey, the sheep are moving out!,” I hissed, as the napping Andre and camera dude sprung to life. They were heading out the back of the bowl in a line, moving peacefully, not a care in the world. Range? 350 yards. I was packing my favorite rifle, a .300 Win Mag. I’d had built when I first moved to Alaska decades earlier. 

“You guys on him?!” I snapped. 

“Bang him!” Andre said. 

BOOM! Snow and dust flew up behind the ram. 

“You missed him, Bob, shoot again!”, my now panic-stricken guide said. 

And then the ram tumbled over, the 180-grain AccuBond having blown right through both lungs.

It was a surreal feeling when we walked up to him. He was indeed non-typical, and unbelievable. Later, I called all my sheep biologist contacts and asked about it, and none had ever seen, or even heard, of any other rams like it. No one knows how he came to be that way, the conjecture ranging from horn pedicle damage as a young ram, to a birth defect, to even a sinus infection at an early age. To this day I have not heard of another with similar characteristics. Because of the deformity I named him the Chernobyl Ram, after the 1986 Russian nuclear disaster.

Now, though, the weather was turning back to shit, the cloud cover dropping and snow starting to fall for real. By the time we got back to the cabin it was near dark, the end of a long 15-hour day, and though we were wet and cold, no one was tired. We took care of the horses, got a fire going and made some food. After the boys turned in, I was still so wired I took a seat on the front steps, broke out one of the two little single-serve Jack Daniels bottles I always carry when sheep hunting for just such an occasion, watched it snow, toasted the gods and gave thanks.

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