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Adventures from the Archives - Jack O’Connor’s Dall’s Sheep

Yukon Territory 1950

Outdoor writer and legend Jack O’Connor loved the .270 and hunting North American game. His books and magazine articles singlehandedly launched a thousand hunting trips. This is the tale of his quest for a giant Dall’s ram, which doesn’t go as planned.


For those of a certain age, Jack O’Connor is synonymous with hunting, adventure, ballistics, and the .270. And for good reason. He was the shooting editor for Outdoor Life for more than three decades, from 1941-1972. He also penned plenty of hunting stories for them and wrote for outlets like Reader's Digest, Field & Stream, and Cosmopolitan. His stories introduced hunting (or at least the dream of it) to thousands of young readers.

O’Connor wrote for the everyday hunter in a lighthearted, straightforward way. He advocated not for trophy heads but for trophy-sized memories. As you will see in his Yukon Dall’s sheep hunt, he valued a hard hunt that produced a good story over all else. He hunted the world with a custom Model 70 in .270 Winchester—but not exclusively. His articles encouraged solid marksmanship and embodied the principles of fair chase.

O’Connor was born in 1902, a decade before Arizona became a state. He grew up near Phoenix, and at 15, during World War I, he lied about his age to join the Army. He was diagnosed with chronic tuberculosis, released, and returned to school, graduating in 1919. He then joined the Navy to serve on the USS Arkansas as a hospital corpsman. After sailing the world, he was discharged in 1921.

He went to college, eventually earning a master's in journalism from the University of Missouri. He went to Texas, taught college English, and eventually became the first journalism professor at the University of Arizona. To help feed his growing family, O’Connor supplemented his meager teaching income by freelancing for outdoor magazines. He sold his first magazine article in 1934 to Sports Afield for $12.50. Later the same year, he sold his first article to Outdoor Life.

That article, “Arizona ’s Antelope Problem,” revealed O’Connor’s passion for conservation. He noted that pronghorn on Arizona’s Anderson Mesa were eating themselves out of a home, and he proposed a pronghorn hunt to help the landscape recover, avoid a population crash, and generate interest in hunting.

The following year, O’Connor discovered sheep hunting on Mexico’s Sonoran coast. Even though he came home empty-handed, he was hooked on sheep. While his articles always entertained, they also advocated for conservation. His articles on desert sheep urged increased studies and protection, neither of which existed at the time.

Attached to his home in Lewiston, Idaho, the trophy room in the O'Connor home was a place of cherished memories. Most of the trophies now are on public display at the Jack O'Connor Center in Lewiston.

The O’Connor family moved to Lewiston, Idaho, in 1948, where he continued to hunt, write, and inspire. He traveled the world to hunt, but hunting North American sheep was his passion. When he died in 1978 of heart failure, he was cremated, and his ashes were scattered over a mountain range in sheep country.

The Hunt

When O’Connor headed into the “dinky little range” he could see from the Alaska Highway, he wasn’t thrilled. He had survived tougher hunts in more remote sheep country and returned from those empty-handed. And yet, in early August 1950, he and Red Earley of Texas packed up the horses just off the highway.

“The little range into which we were packing hardly seemed rough enough or extensive enough to hold many sheep, and it seemed too accessible,” wrote O’Connor in a 1951 article for Outdoor Life. “To top it off, the rain caught us a few miles from where we had left the road, and when I say rain I mean rain.”

His guide, Moose Johnson, was undeterred. O’Connor later discovered that he and Moose were twins in a previous life. They were born on the same exact day back in 1902, except Moose was born 3,000 miles away in the Yukon. O’Connor lamented that while he “was wasting time behind a desk, Moose had spent most of the years of his allotted span hunting.” Regardless, he and Moose were hunting sheep together in August 1950.

O'Connor stands over his best record-book ram that scores as big as it looks. ​​​​​​​

On the third day, the weather finally broke, and Moose spotted three sheep. After some time behind the glass, the men all agreed they were not the sheep they were after. But then Moose spotted just the nose of yet another ram. As O’Connor watched the ram, a great set of horns materialized.

They made a stalk to try to get closer. At the same time, the sheep made a move, too. Once they were in position, “Moose borrowed my binoculars and walked a few feet to where he could peek over the ridge,” wrote O’Connor. “Then he almost fell ever backward. From his frantic signals we could tell that the rams had moved and were right beneath us.”

Red and O’Connor debated who would take the first shot, graciously insisting the other hunter should go first. And even though O’Connor made the .270 a household name, he pulled a .30-06 from his scabbard and took the shot. After another shot, the ram was down. Red got a ram, too, with his .300.

“With the shooting over, I went over to look at my ram—and almost fainted,” O’Connor wrote. “It was the most beautiful ram head I had ever laid my eyes on, long, massive, symmetrical, the sort of trophy the sheep hunter dreams about but seldom sees. I had known it was good, but not that good. Here was the ram I’d dreamed about all those years!” A little later, after measuring the ram, O’Connor reflected, “The only thing I regretted was that he came so easy….”

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About Adventures from the Archives

The Boone and Crockett Club’s records contain more than 70,000 big game entries, from musk ox to mule deer. Among those entries are more than a few stories of adventures afield. To celebrate those trophies, their habitat, and the hunter, we’re bringing those stories back to life with each installment of Boone and Crockett’s Adventures from the Archives.



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-Theodore Roosevelt