Desert Oasis

By Gary Mendenhall

Desert OasisGary Mendenhall
Arizona, DIY, Public Land

Peeking over a steep ridge, silently avoiding cactus and cat claw while searching for a great ram within bow range - that was my dream 45 years ago when I first applied for sheep. I was twenty and hoped to be the first in Arizona to take a ram with a bow.

I’ve spent years with my hunting partner Joe and Sundowner Guide Service helping friends take beautiful rams, always imagining what it would be like to have the privilege myself. Finally, at age 65, and recovering from a knee replacement, I got the news. I had drawn a coveted sheep tag. I was stunned, and couldn’t wait to begin the search.

My brother, Richard, and I began scouting. The first weekend we watched two very large rams, including one pushing 180. Later scouting trips were not as successful, but we did continue to see enough sheep to keep me excited.

We set up camp a week early. The summer monsoons were over and the desert was dry. Convinced we had seen the last of the rainy season, we were surprised when we were hit with two severe rainstorms on the first week of the hunt. The wind howled and the rain flooded the desert washes. Although it wasn’t great hunting weather, the storms were a blessing for the desert cactus, palo verde, ironwood, mesquite, and brittlebush. For the rest of the hunt we watched as the desert came to life.

My hunt area was mostly a wilderness area accessible only by foot. Many friends joined me in camp during the hunt, but no one saw either of the two big rams we had seen while scouting.

On the 15th day, we had good news. Friends of mine, Joe Rosania, Pete Mowry, and his son, Devin, had located a group of five rams, one of which they thought I might be interested in.

The next morning we hiked two miles and found the herd. We spent the next four hours trying to evaluate each of the rams. My friends had differing opinions about the length, circumference, width, and score of each ram. Richard and I decided to go in for a closer look. We saw one with a heavy, tighter curl and decided he was probably the best of the herd, but I still had that 180 ram on my mind so I decided to pass.

We spent the next day looking for “Mr. Big”, but had no luck. I began to wonder if I should have tagged out the day before. The ram with the tight curl was beautiful. I decided I would return and hunt for him the next day.

Desert Oasis

For a full account of Gary's adventure, go to page 42 in the April/May 2010 issue of Eastmans' Hunting Journal.