Perils of a Sheep Hunter By Victor Plotnikow

When my feet slipped out from under me and I fell that day, I thought it would be just another minor mishap, one of many that I have had during my career as a sheep hunter. It turned out to be, however, a terrifying experience that came very close to ending my life.  I have had a lifelong obsession with hunting alone in some of the wildest places left in North America. However, I no longer hunt solo. One of the reasons just might lie in the story I am about to tell…

I was hunting California bighorn sheep in the southcentral part of British Columbia, along the mighty Fraser River. This is very rugged, desert – like country very different from the Peace River country where I live in the northeastern part of the province. My wife and I had driven down from Fort St. John to Clinton and then made our way down some unbelievably steep backroads to the Fraser River valley where we set up our camp and prepared for the upcoming hunt – our second one in that area. British Columbia has four varieties of mountain sheep; Stone’s sheep, Dall’s sheep, Rocky Mountain bighorns, and California bighorns. I had previously harvested the first three, but the California bighorns had always eluded me so here I was, pushing sixty, still trying to get one to complete my collection. This was not a truly “solo” hunt as my wife was going to be relatively close at hand, enjoying the comforts of staying in our camper and venturing out once in a while for some chukar shooting. As is common in sheep hunting, I spent the first few days doing a lot of glassing, but eventually concluded that it was time to put on my Meindl hunting boots and venture down into the steep and rocky hillsides, ravines, and cliffs where I hoped the sheep might be hiding out.

The day started off pleasantly enough. My wife dropped me off and I made my way down some pretty green hillsides until I hit the rim of the canyon. The idea was to slowly make my way along the tops of the river breaks with their near vertical cliffs, glassing into the ravines and between the rock formations called “hoodoos” that lined the bottom of the Fraser River canyon. Because of the rocky, uneven terrain I often couldn’t see all the way down to the river, so decided I needed to go down a ways to get a better look. That was my first mistake! What had looked like pretty easy going soon turned out to be much more rugged than I had thought, and soon I began to regret coming down lower. The steep hillsides here were covered with loose rocks, stones, and pebbles. A fall could easily result in a long slide followed by a vertical drop of fifty or more feet onto the jagged, spear-like boulders and hoodoos at the bottom, and almost certain death.

I got to a point on the hillside where I could not go any further unless I made a jump. It wasn’t much of a jump, nothing that I hadn’t ever done before, and I decided to go for it. Mistake number two! As I landed, my boots hit an area of small stones that acted as ball bearings. My feet immediately slipped out from under me and I fell, twisting so that I was face down. As soon as I hit the ground I started to slide but dug the toes of my boots into the surface, confident that I would stop my descent. It was not to be… I began accelerating at a great rate of speed, frantically trying to stop. The binoculars that were around my neck were painfully digging into my t-shirt covered chest, and I clung to my rifle with my left hand. The fingers of my right hand, meanwhile, were trying to dig into the rock as I continued to slide, and then to slide even faster. And then all of a sudden, I slowed down and came to a stop. I was going to make it, I thought. At that very instant I began to slide again! Desperation began to set in. I tried to slow my descent by digging my riflescope into the ground. Looking back over my shoulder, I saw that I was only thirty or so feet away from the dropoff  that I knew would kill me. At the same time, I noticed a somewhat bigger rock sticking out of the ground and coming up fast on my left. I still don’t know how I accomplished this, but as I came by that rock I tossed my rifle up and caught it with my right hand, simultaneously grabbing at the imbedded rock with my left. The rock held! My arm had almost been pulled out of its shoulder socket, but I had miraculously stopped. Carefully, ever so carefully, I started pulling myself sideways over the rock that had saved my life and to safer, more stable ground.  Eventually I managed to get to my feet, and still shaking, evaluated my injuries. I was scratched up, bloodied, and covered in dust, but I was going to live… As I stood there I looked over the edge of the cliff and saw that there was no way I could have survived the fall.

I eventually made it back up the steep slopes by following a narrow ridge that led to those grassy hillsides above. Once there, I managed to reach my wife by two way radio and she picked me up on the road and drove me to camp. I sat down on a lawn chair and almost immediately fell into a deep sleep for two hours. The next morning, we headed for home. I have not been on a sheep hunt since…

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