April/May 2012 EHJ (Issue 130) - "Which one is my ram? Bill!!!” Those were my frantic words as the dream of shooting a bighorn sheep came down to a three-second decision.
I was bitten by the "sheep bug” a few years ago when I hunted the Brooks Range in Alaska for Dall’s sheep. Just a short time later, I was able to take a Stone’s sheep in the Yukon. It was about that time when I decided to pursue a Grand Slam. So next on my list was my favorite, the Rocky Mountain bighorn. This was when I was introduced to the relentless perplexity of the draw system.
Each year, I have opened the unsuccessful notifications, restored my grievous spirit, and looked forward to next year’s chance. That brings me to June 7, 2011, the day I received notification from the New Mexico Game and Fish Department that I had drawn a sheep tag in Unit 53. This is literally a oncein- a-lifetime tag, as I expressed to my bewildered family while running around the room like a kid on a playground.
Next, I needed to choose an outfitter. With more than 250 active outfitters in New Mexico, I knew I was going to need some help. So I called my good friend, John Andre, with Shoshone Wilderness Adventures. He has given me good advice in the past and he suggested Bill Lewellen with One On One Adventures. After several more phone calls and consensual opinions, I made up my mind. A great deal of credit is owed to Bill and his crew for the success of my hunt.
During my initial phone call to Bill, I told him I would really like to get this hunt on video. I have handed the camera to my guides on previous hunts before and learned this was a "no-no.” Bill said I was welcome to bring along a nonhunter to film, as long as he was in good shape and willing to lend a helping hand. I hung up and called Tim McGinty, a lifelong hunting buddy of mine and he gladly agreed to go.
The hunt began with us meeting Bill and his father, Otis, at Taos Ski Valley. They brought a pack of horses and we loaded up all of our gear and were off. The plan was to ride as far as the horses could go, then on foot to spike camp. Otis would take the horses back and return upon notification from Bill’s satellite phone. After a scenic three-hour ride, we unloaded the necessities, put them on our backs, and were off on a three and a half hour hike.
We arrived to camp about 4:30 p.m. and had time to glass some really nice sheep before dark. We put them to bed and made a plan for the next morning.
After a restless night of sleep, Bill informed me that another guy in camp had developed altitude sickness and asked me if I minded if another hunter came along with us. This was another one of those "no-no’s” I had experienced on previous hunts and it took me a minute to think about it. I said it was okay, as long as I got the first shot. The other hunter agreed and we were on our way.
At about 10:00 a.m., we spotted a group of seven rams located near the top of a huge basin. We then worked our way up to the edge of the timberline below them for a closer look. Upon further examination through the spotting scope, Bill informed us that two of the rams were shooters and asked us which one we wanted. The other hunter and I each took a look and decided on which ram we liked; luckily it wasn’t the same one. The hard part was going to be getting within shooting distance and the weather wasn’t cooperating. It was cold, the wind was gusting and it was snowing horizontally.
For a full account of Kirby's adventure, go to page 38 in the April/May 2012 issue of Eastmans' Hunting Journal.