Hitting the Hunting Version of "Mega Millions"

By John McGannon
California, 2011, Guided, Public Land
Hitting the Hunting Version of «Mega Millions»Apr/May 2011 EHJ (Issue 124) - June of 2010 will go down as one of the most exhilarating times for me as a hunter. The ritual of applying for tags in western states ends about that time, and for those of us who take this all too seriously, it’s right around then that we start hoping that the draw gods will shine upon us. Well, those gods blessed me this year with a coveted California desert bighorn sheep tag - one of only 16 tags available for the entire state.

Having been in the hunting/wildlife conservation industry conducting wild-game cooking seminars, raising millions of dollars for wildlife habitat and feeding most of the industry’s insiders for the past 20 years would prove to be fruitful. Useful information and contacts came from all angles and I soon realized that this once-in-a-lifetime event was going to be very different than any of my previous hunts. I’m a detail freak and this hunt was all about the details - outfitter vs. DIY, am I really in sheep shape, shooting proficiency, trophy judging knowledge, sheep country gear… WOW, how exciting!

As I researched, the name Terry Anderson from San Gorgonio Outfitters came up fairly often. Terry works with all the sheep organizations and has his hands on habitat projects year-round. I was able to meet with him in July for a brief tour of the area. When evaluating all my options, I could plainly see that teaming up with Terry and his crew was the only tangible choice.

I had six months to get ready for climbing up and down the terrain that desert bighorns call home, and that would prove to be a good thing. Luckily for me, conditioning is a lifestyle, but I knew this would be an extreme situation that required an extreme approach. One of my sons plays for a tournament soccer club and practices at the local high school that has a good-sized stadium. Twice a week, I would do long sets of sprints up and down the stadium bleachers. I’m also lucky to have a large area of open space in my backyard that goes from sea level to 1,000 feet at a pretty good angle, which became my daily hiking routine, in addition to my normal exercise program.

I basically walked on air for the next six months, knowing what a privilege I had coming. As the year whittled down, I checked off the months and the obligations I had before late January/early February. As the earlier sheep seasons opened, I felt connected to this very unique and rare brotherhood. In today’s technologically advanced society, I was in constant contact with Terry and his ventures in the other units. I was able to see photos of successful hunters literally minutes after the smoke had cleared - talk about keeping your blood flowing!

I was tied up with events in December and at the Sacramento ISE show until late January. It’s a very small world when you have one of only 16 anything, no less this coveted sheep tag. This could not have been anymore evident than at the Sacramento ISE show. I couldn’t believe how many people knew I had this opportunity and came by my booth with pictures, well-wishes and stories of what I was about to experience. Sleep was becoming more and more difficult, as visions of desert bighorns constantly filled my thoughts!

The show was finally over and I was heading down to the southern California high desert. My friends, Tony Naples and Christian Bourlette, joined me for the hunt.

Mark Arana

For a full account of John's adventure, go to page 28 in the April/May 2011 issue of Eastmans' Hunting Journal.