column By: Lee J. Hoots | May, 19
Readers will enjoy an unusual Dall’s sheep feature by antique firearms restoration expert Doug Turnbull. “Unusual” is used because, unlike many such stories I have perused over my career, if you “read between the lines,” it’s more about the journey than the end goal, as all sheep hunting should be.
There is no way of truly defining the reason, or reasons spurring a hunter’s quest for a white Dall’s sheep, a Stone’s sheep, either of the bighorns, or any wild ram. An itch to pursue sheep began in my 20s, as did a close and long friendship with Craig Boddington, the only fellow I personally knew at the time who had made several sheep hunts in North America and other parts of the world. But even Craig, at least back then, struggled with a finite answer as to why hunters get the sheep bug, and never lose it, but a close connection to Jack O’Connor may have had something to do with it.
Craig’s uncle, Arthur C. Popham, Jr., hunted with his English teacher, O’Connor, in Sonora in 1935. “Neither had the ‘bug.’ The opportunity was close and available,” Craig told me. “Art was successful; O’Connor was not. O’Connor went back in November and took his first ram.”
Born in Nogales, Arizona, O’Connor (1902-1978) is often credited for spreading the sheep-hunting bug by way of uncountable magazine articles and 16 books. According to the Jack O’Connor Hunting Heritage and Education Center in Lewiston, Idaho, situated on the bank of the Snake River (jack-oconnor.org), O’Connor, after shooting his first ram in Mexico, became a prolific sheep hunter and, within a few years, had several grand slams to his credit.
His matter-of-fact and influential reporting on sheep and sheep hunting reached many thousands of would-be ram hunters. That’s a fact. But my fascination with sheep hunting stems from earlier writing. In truth, I read Charles Alexander Sheldon’s The Wilderness of Denali, first published in 1930, before collecting O’Connor’s books and finding my way to the top of precipices in the Alaska Range. In 1904, Sheldon (1867-1928) headed off to Canada to pursue Stone’s sheep and chronicled the hunting in his book, The Wilderness of the Upper Yukon, published in 1911. A year later, The Wilderness of the North Pacific Coast Islands was released. In 1921, Sheldon hunted desert rams on Tiburon Island with the native Seri.
Sheldon’s writing inspired my sheep hunting interest more than O’Connor.