Stitches for a Trophy

By Ernie Bunch
Arizona, 2011, Guided, Public Land

Ernie Bunch - Stitches for a TrophyOctober/November 2012 EHJ (Issue 133) - With my rifle resting on a small outcropping I settled the crosshairs on the shoulder of my once-in-a-lifetime Arizona desert bighorn ram. My last thought as I slowly squeezed the trigger was, "Man, this is gonna hurt.”

It all started July 19, 2011 when I checked the Arizona Game and Fish website and discovered that after 31 years I had finally drawn a desert sheep tag. Unfortunately for me I didn’t have a copy of the regulations handy so I didn’t know which unit hunt, 6016 was in. I phoned Geof Moss of Little Horn Outfitters and left a voice mail with my question. Very shortly my phone rang and Geof said, "Sounds like you drew my tag.” It was in Arizona’s Superstition Mountains, a premier big sheep unit that Geof had recommended I apply in for the past several years.

They say a good man knows his limitations and since I can’t judge horned animals for squat, I hired Geof right then. Geof has the sheep bug and has spent extensive amounts of time in units 22, 24B-north, and my unit 24B-south. Geof told me that the sheep rut was heating up and invited me to go along and get a feel for the unit and maybe see some sheep. Triple digit temperatures in the desert don’t really appeal to me so I declined. I started to receive emailed photos of rams from that most anyone would be happy to place their tag on.

Then on August 6 it happened… one of Geof ’s guys, Bighorn Bob, found him. He was affectionately named Rocky. Rocky was the perfect example of a mature Mexicana subclass desert sheep. He looked to have 37 to 38-inch horns with 16-inch bases and he wasn’t broken up like most big rams. Rocky was spotted on and off all summer, but would frequent one particular area right around the first of each month and new photos flooded my inbox.

In September I attended the Arizona Desert Bighorn Sheep Society’s Hunter’s clinic. Mounts from 2010 were displayed and I began to get a real feel for what Rocky really was. In preparation for my hunt I spent many hours at the range making sure that I was ready when the time came. Time flew and all of a sudden it was November and finally cool in the desert.

I went with Geof to have a look at my unit. We glassed 30 sheep that day with 10 being rams. One of them was exceptional, but he wasn’t Rocky. Opening day, December 1, 2011 was my 57th birthday and I was ready. Rocky had been MIA since November 2, but had shown up two days before the opener. So, that’s where we started. We worked our way up into a saddle and began to glass. There had been 19 sheep in the herd plus Rocky, now there were 16. He and two other rams had gone walkabout.

Day two found us in an area about five miles and two mountain ranges from the day before. It was overcast with occasional drizzle, breezy, and in the low 40s. We moved several times and just weren’t doing well finding sheep. That day we had Bob Kyhn, Josh Flowers, Tim Downs, Jim Hamberlin, and Geof and I all paired up looking at the mountains with big glass mounted on tripods.

Ernie Bunch - Stitches for a Trophy

For a full account of Ernie's adventure, go to page 18 in the October/November 2012 issue of Eastmans' Hunting Journal.