My quest for a mountain sheep started at a junior high track meet in late May. During the meet I was speaking to a neighbor of mine, and he asked me if I had checked online to see if I had drawn a sheep tag. I told him I hadn't, but I was sure I hadn't drawn because I only had six preference points for the unit and only one archery tag was available.
I forgot about it for a week or so, and then one evening I decided to check. I couldn't believe it -- I had drawn the one and only tag!
I was still skeptical. I kept thinking it was a mistake and I would get a call from the DOW saying, "We're sorry we made a mistake." A couple of weeks later my fears were laid to rest when the tag came in the mail.
Now I was officially excited! I began preparing for my upcoming hunt. I went up to Red Rock Archery in Grand Junction, and Gabe and Dick hooked me up with some great new gear. I figured that I might have to shoot longer ranges and every little bit of accuracy would help. I am normally against longer bow shots, but I put on a couple extra pins and began practicing.
I shot at least five days a week in June and July. I practiced shooting at steep angles so I would know where to hold in those situations. My confidence with my bow was at an all-time high; I couldn't wait for August 6th! Now all I had to do was find a sheep.
I began by talking with friends who had hunted deer and elk in the unit. I then called people who had drawn the tag in the past. Finally I went to the DOW and spoke with biologists Don Masden and Brandon Diamond. Everyone told me that the sheep would be easy to find, that they are always down near the highway or near a main road that goes through the unit - everyone that is, but Don and Brandon. They told me the rams like to hang out in the timber on the edges of this big steep drainage and that they would be real hard to find.
I made my first scouting trip July 10th with Joe Archuleta. We drove around and he helped me get familiar with the lay of the land. No rams were spotted that day, but we did find a couple of ram beds on a high rocky point and saw four sheep near the highway. While we watched, a yearling ram was almost hit by a car! We also spotted two ewes and a lamb from the main dirt road that bisects the unit.
The following Wednesday I went for my first official hike. I walked up a ridge for an hour, seeing only a few deer. As I neared the top of the basin I saw a group of good bucks. I sneaked down into some sagebrush, closing the distance to around 80 yards. From there I wanted to video the deer as they walked by. I heard a snort while videoing and I looked up from the viewfinder; there they were! Seven legal rams were lying on the hillside above the deer, 150 yards from me. All of the rams were 3/4 curl or better, and two of them were real big!
The rams had been in full view for 20 minutes, and I hadn't seen them! They just continued to lie there and watch me as I videoed them. One of the largest rams even relaxed and went to sleep. It seemed like what I had been told was correct. They were down low in the open country and they were easy to get close to. All I had to do was to wait until August 6th, hike up and shoot my ram. Wrong!
Due to work and a family vacation, I could not scout again until August 4th. No sheep that day! August 5th-NO sheep! Opening day-NO sheep!! Well almost, just at dark my brother-in-law, Greg Langer, found a group of ewes and lambs.
Day four, one ewe. Day five-NO sheep! We went home dejected.
Three days later I loaded my pack with gear and bow, then rode my mountain bike in the dark for 45 minutes down an old two track to get to a trailhead. I hiked up the drainage for three hours, and when I reached the top I began glassing. I finally found two rams!
Five hours later I was up on the ridge I had spotted them on at 10:00 that morning. Both rams were legal, so when they got up and started walking along the sidehill, I went after them. I looped around and above them, and got in front of the pair. About the time I was doing this the sky opened up and it poured rain. I sat in my ambush spot for over an hour until I began to shake. Afraid I was getting hypothermia, I decided to take action. I thought to myself, I don't want to stumble down the mountain in the dark, so I tried a sneak. I eased up to where the rams were and spotted the top of a set of horns. I ranged it at 38 yards, but just as I drew my bow, the ram hopped up and ran. The other ram had been standing 10 yards to the right and had been watching me. The motion of drawing my bow caused them to take off and not look back.
So much for the sheep being stupid! Strike one. But at least I'd found rams.
The next day the rams were nowhere to be found.
I had to work Friday and Saturday. On Sunday I went back up. That day I hunted all morning in the timber, seeing only old sign. After dinner I went up to the northern-most edge of my unit where I had found the ram beds earlier in the summer. As I worked along the edge of the canyon, I made a mental note for 7:20 to be my turnaround time to get back.
At 7:18 I was out on a little rocky outcropping looking around, and I spotted a sheep's butt on the next set of rocks only 100 yards away. The stalk was on. The wind was still coming up, but I knew that it was going to change soon, so I had to make it quick. I eased back through the timber and crawled under a small piece of brush, heading for the sheep. When I stood up and looked, there was a nice 3/4-curl ram standing there on the point broadside. I ranged him at 28 yards and drew my bow.
He was looking at me, so I felt like I didn't have much time. Just about the moment I was settling my pins, a huge ram stood up from behind a small scrub pine, 16 yards away, right in front of me. I moved my bow a few inches to the left to shoot, and BANG, he was gone before I could release an arrow.
Strike two! I was so bummed I felt like I was jinxed. I went home that night with a frown on my face. The next evening my brother-in-law and his hunting buddy Mark called me. They pumped me up, telling me to keep after it, hunt hard, and I'd get another chance.
On Wednesday, August 17, it began to rain just as I started up the trail. I spotted five rams across the canyon from me in a little sagebrush opening. Fog moved up into the pocket, so I didn't get a great look at them. But I did see one of them was a collared ram and really heavy-horned. I marked a rock spire and a dead tree above the rams, then made my way around to the other side and waited until 8:00 a.m. for the wind to change.
I carefully started down the steep hill toward where I had last seen the sheep and found them lying on an open sage hillside. I snuck to within 82 yards of them at which point I ran out of cover. I checked my watch and it was 8:31. I ranged targets to my left and to my right.
If the sheep moved uphill, I would be ready. I glassed the rams; four of the five rams were 3/4-curl or better. The collared one was Boone & Crockett caliber, so began the waiting game. The sheep just laid there and laid there.
I couldn't move, as it seemed that at least one set of eyes were always focused in my direction. Finally after about an hour and a half the big guy stood up and began easing uphill. I slowly got to my knees with bow ready. He walked to within a car length of being in a shooting lane and laid down again. Fifty-one yards away, ugh.
All the others followed suit, and one other ram came real close to my opening, but turned around and bedded with the others. Tick, tick, tick, time goes slowly when one is 50+ yards from a ram of his dreams and can't doing anything to change the situation.
Periodically the rams would stand and mill around. Finally, one of the smaller rams toyed with his life by getting up and walking dangerously close to one of my shooting lanes, only to turn around in the nick of time. At about 1 p.m. - yes, 1 p.m., a hailstorm hit. The thunder clapped really close and all the rams jumped up and moved quickly out of my view down the hill. Thinking that they had moved into a nearby patch of timber, I rolled over and slid down the hill about six feet. When I looked up, there were 10 eyeballs glued to me. Those darn sheep had only moved down about 30 yards! I picked out a nice one that was quartering away, and looked down to take two steps for a clear shot. When I looked up again there were only tracks and sagebrush in front of me. Five hours and nothing. My heart was somewhere down at the bottom of the canyon. Strike three.
What a long walk back to the truck. Dejectedly I drove down to my camper to eat some dinner. As I was eating, I thought, "You can't give up now, you may only get to do this once in your life." So I formulated a plan for an evening hunt.
I decided to go back to where I had seen the huge ram three days ago, and planned on getting to the same point of rocks a few minutes sooner that my previous time.
When I arrived at the outcrop, there weren't any sheep on it. I did find very fresh signs, so I knew the sheep had been back in their home. I eased out on the edge and was looking at some beds when I heard some rocks sliding. I looked down, and my two rams were easing along under the cliff. I nocked an arrow and slipped up to a little bush and knelt down. The sheep went out to a little finger of trees and stopped. I ranged an opening above the trees - 50 yards. I hoped the rams were coming back to their evening home.
Sure enough, the big ram headed up the chute and turned toward me when he exited the trees. Following the edge of the cliff, he made his way right towards me. I thought, "50, 40, 30," as he came closer.
At last he hopped up on a small rock outcrop 25 yards away and stopped. He then turned and looked off the edge. As he did this, my 20-yard pin settled a little high, and the arrow was in flight. The ram whirled and I saw blood pouring from both sides. He went about 20 yards and collapsed, wedged in some rocks. Just that quick I went from rags to riches. Wow, I couldn't believe it. After all the miscues, a plan finally worked perfectly, and the ram was way beyond my dreams or expectations with an official net score of 182 6/8. Home Run!