33rd Times the Charm

By Jim Tuell
Montana, DIY, Public Land

Jim Tuell - 33rd Times the CharmApril/May 2013 EHJ (Issue 136) - Believe it or not, I knew I was going to be hunting sheep this year. In April, I bet everyone $100 that I would be holding a 200-inch ram by fall. I got the expected "Yeah, right,” and "Uh huh,” but this summer when I hit the online draw results button for the 33rd year and it said, "Successful,” my bags were already packed.

Every weekend would find me lost somewhere in the Breaks with my spotting scope, probing out the rocky cliffs and benches, trying to locate the bachelors, and pattern them. I took several hundred pictures and several hours of video nicknaming the rams as I went. A lot of scouting is crucial.

I’ve been a trophy hunter since the time I could walk. Monster mule deer are my true passion. I’ve hunted several different states for the giant mulies and pride myself in having the ability to "hold out.” I had the most coveted sheep tag in the lower 48 in my pocket and knew I wanted to hold out for a 200” ram, if possible.

My drive was also intensified by the recent death of my 97-year-old father Varble Tuell, a lifetime Bighorn sheep nut. Dad became almost obsessed with Desert Bighorns while living his younger years in southern California. The interest followed him to Bridger, Montana where he would monitor the Rocky Mountain Bighorn sheep near Cody, WY throughout the season and film them extensively during the rut. His love for the animals was passed on to me.

On October 13th, my two brothers Jack and Buzz, and I loaded the enclosed trailer with enough food and water for ten days, kissed the wives goodbye, and headed north. There are a lot of privately owned ranches surrounding the edges of the huge blocks of BLM. Some landowners will let you through, some require a trespass fee, others use outfitters. I wasn’t going to pay an outfitter, I wanted this all DIY. The first morning was perfect – cool and calm. After a pot of coffee and a quick bite of bacon and eggs we were off exploring the unit. There is only one road in and out of this area, a trail really, and you have to cross a fairly large creek several times.

The countless hours on the elliptical machine definitely paid off as the Breaks are double rough, and even the most experienced outdoorsman can get ground down by the vertical clay cliffs. It’s a sheep’s paradise.

By 10 a.m. we were knee-deep in sheep and had spotted more than forty rams, fifteen of which had horns that would make the 180 minimum score for Boone & Crockett. We saw four that would go 190+. Two of those had over 17-inch bases, but lacked length because they were heavily broomed.

One of them I had named "Old Timer” because he was 12 years old and a true warrior. All those years of banging heads had his body and horns pretty beat up.

The other was named "30-incher” because of his unusual width. We had him field judged at 195 if the tape fell between the busted out chunks of horns missing near the first and second measurement. This ram was on my hit list if a better ram didn’t present itself during the season.

The second day found us in another part of the unit looking for the perfect ram. My feet were blistered from the first day, but knowing that Mr. 200 was in there somewhere kept me scaling the barren cliffs and looking into the next drainage.

I had my Swarovski’s fine-tuned to picking apart the shaded areas and the cooler north slopes. If you think about it, hunting is made up of 99% glassing and only 1% shooting. There is no substitute for great optics.

On one sweep across a bench halfway up, I picked out a ram facing away from me. His left side was huge. It looked like it was at least 44” long, but I couldn’t pick out his right side. His bases looked to be about average for the unit, pushing 15”, maybe a little better. He was bedded on a narrow timbered bench and thought he was hidden; in fact he was, except for the small opening that I found.

Jim Tuell - 33rd Times the Charm

For a full account of Jim's adventure, go to page 20 in the April/May 2013 issue of Eastmans' Hunting Journal.