Ed Johnson, 41, is a retired Marine major and an avid hunter who lives in Bozeman. Recently, I helped him clean his sheep rifle, and a few days ago he returned from the Brooks Range of Alaska with a magnificent Dall ram that measured a quarter inch under 40 inches and was 10 1/2-years-old.

Ed's rifle is a Model 700 Mountain Rifle in .270 Win. Some years ago I put together some .270 ammo for Ed, loading the 130-grain Hornady Spire-Point ahead IMR-4831 powder. Ed used those rounds to take a very decent Rocky Mountain bighorn ram in Colorado, three tremendous Alaska Dall rams, and a fine Stone ram from northern British Columbia. On his .270 he has mounted a Leupold Vari-X-II scope. The rifle's stock is laminated wood, and I suspect the entire rifle weighs about eight pounds - just about perfect for a mountain sheep rifle.

WDAY logo
listen live
watch live
Newsletter signup for email alerts

I should point out that Ed also owns some fire-breathing cartridges like the 7mm RUM, the .300 Weatherby, the .375 RUM and one or two that I have forgotten. Yet he has the good sense to choose a reasonable rifle and cartridge for his sheep hunting. In spite of the trend in using outrageously powerful cartridges chambered for rifles equipped with muzzle brakes, 26-inch and 28-inch barrels, and scopes the size of chimney pipes, you really don't need such things in a sheep rifle.

My own mountain sheep rifle is a custom-stocked .270 built on a Sako L-61 action and 22-inch Douglas barrel installed by Flaig's of Pennsylvania. I bought it from a big store in Fargo in 1973 just after one young guy took it to Sonora on a desert sheep hunt. The rifle looked like it had been dragged for a mile on a county road. Even the Leupold scope tube had a dent in it. I offered him $200 for the rifle, thanks, you can keep the scope, and he took it. (Years later I learned that Leupold would have replaced the scope for free.)

I mailed the rifle to Reinhart-Fajen in Warsaw, Mo., had the barreled action glass-bedded, and had the entire stock of high-grade Claro walnut refinished and checkered in a 24-lpi fleur-de-lis pattern. That .270 served me well over the decades.

I mounted a simple 4X Redfield scope on it with three-minute dot reticle, worked up a load with IMR-4831 powder and the 130-grain Nosler Partition bullet. (There are many other fine sheep cartridges - .25/06, 280 Rem., 7mm/08, 7 X 57, .308 and .30/06 to name a few. I just happened to choose the .270 for my sheep hunts.

I shot my first ram - a Rocky Mountain bighorn in 1976 in northwestern Wyoming at 25 yards. My father used the same rifle to take his own bighorn on the same trip. Six weeks later I shot a big desert ram in Arizona at 75 yards.

In 1979 I collected a Dall ram from Ogilvie Mountains of the upper Yukon at something over 200 yards. In 1980 I used the .270 to take an old 11 1/2-year-old Stone ram from the upper forks of the Gataga River in northern B.C. to complete my first Grand Slam. The range was between 250 and 300 yards. I carried the .270 on two Alaska Dall sheep hunts where I didn't fire a shot.

There was nothing wrong with the old Redfield scope, but sometime in the early '90s I replaced it with a 4X Burris Signature with Duplex reticle. In 1996 I drew another bighorn permit in Wyoming, and managed to shoot a fair ram at about 140 yards. Two years later I flew to the MacKenzie Range in Northwest Territories and shot a 10 1/2-year-old ram. I had to fire across a sloping canyon with the wind blowing sideways. Range was probably 200 yards. I fired three shots and hit the ram three times. It went nowhere.

In 2002 I shot my second Stone ram in the Pelly Mountains of the southwest Yukon. Range must have been about 150 yards. A decade later, and at a time when I could be labeled a "has-been sheep hunter," I managed to kill an old 10 1/2-year-old desert bighorn ram in Nevada's Monte Cristo Mountains to complete my second Grand Slam. The shot was about 125 yards. Same rifle, same load only I had the checkering redone on the stock by Rob Brooks of Helena. He also trimmed down the fore-end and grip - something I should have had done when I mailed it to Reinhart-Fajen in 1973.

Note that not a single ram of these eight rams was taken at a range of more than 300 yards. That's why it's called "hunting" and not "shooting," stalking to within reasonable range of the ram - not blasting away from 600 or 800 yards!