Colorado 49'er

By Dennis Howell

Dennis HowellDennis Howell
Colorado 2006
Public Land DIY

I don't know what it is about sheep hunting. To me it is a love that you just can't explain, that is until you hold a set of sheep horns in your hands that you have sweated gallons for. A sheep horn is a big, heavy, warm, rough textured, massive, priceless piece of a well-earned trophy. I think a bighorn sheep in the Colorado wilds is one of the toughest animals to get with a bow. I last hunted sheep in 1993 in the Sando De Cristo Mountains of southern Colorado. I was 36 years old, tough and in shape for the task. I hunted hard for four days and harvested a great 3/4 curl ram that scored 141 2/8 Pope & Young. I have enjoyed looking at him on my wall for years. That being said, I always wanted a bigger one if I ever got to go again. Well, I fi nally drew another tag this year at the ripe old age of 49. The day the draw came out I got on and was looking at the posts of the lucky and the not so lucky. I saw a post from my good friend Todd Brickel. He said he had drawn a sheep tag for the same unit I had drawn. I called him up and asked if he needed some help sheep hunting. He of course said yes. I said, 'Todd I want to hunt with you!' He still was not getting my drift. I said, 'Todd, I drew the same tag as you.'

He went nuts on the phone and the plans were set in stone. It seemed we each had a hunting partner. Todd had waited 12 years to fi nally get to hunt sheep. The time passed fast and Todd had talked to a lot of people that had hunted the area before. I was surprised at some of the names that had been before us, M.R. James and Dwight Schuh had both hunted this area and took rams. I also had talked to a lot of people and the words were all pretty much the same. Todd went out and scouted a couple of times and the sheep were right in the areas people had told us about. Todd is only two hours from the unit and I am about six hours away. Todd said, 'Do not spend the gas money to come out to scout, just wait and come to hunt. These sheep are going no where.' I trusted my friend's advice. Our hunt started on August 5th and I was loaded and on my way the day before. I took my four-wheeler and my travel trailer loaded to the gills. Todd talked his dad in to coming out from Nebraska to help him glass for sheep. The unit we put in for had less than 10 tags for the archery only hunts. The area is like all of Colorado, beautiful and high. This unit is very accessible by roads to glass from.

Our plan was to glass from the roads where we could start the climb after the sheep had hard bedded. Sheep will feed early morning till about 9 a.m. then they will bed down and chew their cud for a few hours then get up and mill around, or just change positions. Then they bed down for the rest of the day until late afternoon. We call this, 'hard bedded.' Once you think they are hard bedded, the climb starts. Todd and I would switch turns on the stalks so our legs could rest and recover. Most of our climbs took over two hours of straight up climbing.

Todd had a fl agging routine that worked really well. He had a large green fl ag and a large orange fl ag on sticks that were about 16x24 inches. These could be seen by the hunter a long ways off. The orange fl ag is the hunter and the green is the animal. You could position the fl ags in correlation to the hunter and to the animal. The next signal was yards. This was to grab both fl ags and raise them above your head one time for each yard and each dip between your legs is a 100 yards. We also had a come down signal.

The best way to hunt sheep is to climb around the sheep out of sight and then come down on the bedded animals. Sheep have no predators from above and they do not expect to see a human from above. If the terrain is right it can make for a good stalk.

After a failed stalk on my fi rst attempt, it was Todd's turn to climb. We had watched four rams, including a couple of shooters, all morning while waiting for them to hard bed. Once they bedded Todd started his climb. The climb took about three hours. Once on top of the 13,555-foot peak, Todd sat down to rest and get his fl agging signals from us. After about an hour Todd was 35 yards from the sheep. Before the hunt had started Todd said he was not going to shoot anything less than a P&Y sheep. Todd could only see a small 135 P&Y type ram bedded below him.

Todd sat and waited a long time for something to change but it did not. He got up and made his move and as he descended one of the sheep saw him move and they all blew out of there. It is really neat to hear from the hunter how it all went down up there on the mountain, because it looks so different from down on ground level. Todd said he had the small sheep ranged at less than 30 yards. He could have taken him easily. I said, 'I hope you don't live to regret that.' Todd was happy with his stalk that day. It is real hard to get more than one stalk a day in.

A couple days passed and the hunt was still on. Finally during one morning's glassing session we found some sheep in a place with stalking potential and decided to hard bed them. As we were watching them another hunter came over the top and we got to see him spook the sheep to another county. We decided to move to some other, less crowded country. We had been glassing for a couple of hours when Todd said, 'Sheep.' We both got our glasses on the sheep. It was the bunch of big boys we had seen the first day. All the rams were P&Y, so we watched them bed and off we went together.

We got to the top of the mountain by the rocks we thought they were bedded by and I looked at Todd and said, 'You saw them fi rst so pick your poison, right or left.' He picked the right side of the peak. I started towards the left side of the peak. There was very little cover on top of the mountain. It was a rolling grassy hill. I worked toward the top and when I was getting close to the down side of the mountain I saw the back of a sheep. I stopped, took my boots off and dropped my pack on the soft wet grassy slope. I got down on my belly and started to crawl. I knew this was my chance and I knew these were all shooters.

I got to the point I thought was close enough and raised up to see the sheep were still there. Two were up feeding. I got my rangefi nder up and it read 47 yards. I raised my bow and set my 50-yard pin low and let it fly. Right when I touched off my release the sheep started to run and my arrow hit a little far back. I watch the rams run down the hill and knew the one I hit was going down. Todd had seen the whole episode from his vantage point and gave me the thumbs up. I just fell on the ground and started to shake. I had just taken the best sheep of my life and was with a great friend to share the experience. Todd came down and we watched the other three sheep exit the basin, but not my sheep so we figured he was done. After some story telling, high fi ves and a prayer to the good Lord we headed off after the sheep.

Walking up on my ram together, he grew. You gotta like it when they grow instead of shrink. He was bigger than what we had figured. We captured a few good photos and then we started the work of butchering and packing. We made the pack out in one load and needless to say, it was one steep climb. The next day I had to take the horns to the Division of Wildlife and have the sheep checked. They drill and install a plug that is numbered to make it always identifi ed as my sheep. My hunt was over so now my goal was to get Todd his sheep. I stayed for five more days and we had no luck. I went home and got back to work but my mind was always on Todd. I cannot tell you how many times I had wished Todd had taken my sheep. I have never hunted with a person that tried has hard as he did. He hunted for 25 days with no success. My hat is off to him.

Dennis' continued success I came home and hunted for mule deer the last week of August and ended up taking a great 28-inch deer that gross scores 184 P&Y points. I watched fi ve bucks bed down one morning and moved in to 35 yards. I waited in the brush for two hours before he finally stood up and I got him. He went about 25 yards and was done. At the age of 49 I guess you can say I am the luckiest COLORADO 49er this year. I don't care how old or young you are. Just get out and learn this great sport of bowhunting.