April/May 2013 EHJ (Issue 136) - Four thousand vertical feet and there he was, bedded across the canyon, facing us directly. Time was not on our side, and at nearly a half-mile away, we had our work cut out for us. With fading light and much ground to cover it was decision time - leave the old ram and come back in the morning to trudge up through the cactus and sharp rocks, or climb toward the rocky peak in hopes of sneaking down on top of the old boy in his bed. I’ve been accused of many things in my life, but being a passive hunter has never been one of them. It was go time, baby!
As we hiked up the ridge the wind began to howl. By the time we finally crested the peak, the wind gusts were in excess of 50 mph! I’ve hunted in windy conditions before, but nothing quite like this! The blustery conditions wreaked havoc on our eyesight. Words could not describe how dry and irritated my eyes were. I could hardly focus past 100 yards without seeing white dots floating everywhere. As darkness closed in we became increasingly impatient, maybe even slightly desperate you could say. In our haste we mistakenly silhouetted ourselves while searching for the old ram. Not long afterwards I caught a flash of white and knew we had blown our chance at a true world-class ram. With his white rump running down the mountainside it was game over. We watched helplessly as the 180-inch monster ran out of our lives, never to be seen again during our time on the White Sands Missile Range. If that wasn’t bad enough we now had to navigate down this treacherous mountainside in the dark. Needless to say, this was not a pleasurable evening!
Sheep hunting is always a special event and this particular hunt was no different. Being one of two hunters having the privilege of hunting the White Sand Missile Range in southern New Mexico for the first time in over 35 years was beyond special, it was a dream come true. The big question confronting me last spring after the draw results were posted was do I go guided or unguided? With the help of Gilbert Villegas, the WSMR wildlife biologist/hunt administrator, and the overwhelming support of three of my closest hardcore hunting buddies I opted for a DIY hunt. Scott McRae, owner of Alaska Summit Guide Service, flew down from Anchorage. Kent Boyington, who is the best hunter I know behind the optics drove down from Utah, and Scott Hargrove, my mule deer hunting mentor of over a decade came down from Colorado. The dream team was assembled and ready to hunt!
Over the next several days we experienced more trials and tribulations than I care to remember. I ruined my bow by accidently dry-firing it while at full draw on a beautiful 160-class ram. I received a federal speeding ticket which I didn’t know even existed. I fell on a cactus and pulled quills out of my inner thigh for several days. My transmission started going out in my brand new truck and the part we needed was on backorder, with the bigger issue being Christmas was the following week and the dealership wouldn’t be able to get the part until after the holidays!
The weather was horrible. It snowed, rained and blew like a hurricane most of the hunt. The day I actually shot my ram there was a severe weather advisory warning in effect for sustained winds of 35 to 45 mph with gusts in excess of 70 mph! Feeling the pressure like never before, my dream hunt was quickly becoming the trip from hell.
The morning I killed my ram we contemplated whether it was even worth going hunting. The visibility was poor due to all the sand and debris blowing in the air, Scott Hargrove had to leave and go back to work so we were down a pair of eyes and we were just plain getting worn out and needed some down time. But, with Christmas less than a week away we really couldn’t afford not to hunt, so we pushed ourselves. That morning we tried our best to set up out of the wind to glass an east-facing slope. Unfortunately for us, there was no escaping the strong winds on the barren valley floor. However, within thirty minutes of glassing my man Kent located our ram! Now faced with the same decision we had earlier in the hunt - leave the ram until tomorrow or go for it, we opted to go for it. Kent and Gilbert stayed behind to keep eyes on the sheep while McRae and I began our ascent.
Constantly second-guessing our decision, we pushed forward, hoping Old Yellow Horns wouldn’t catch our scent in the swirling winds. Gaining elevation and tucking closer into the mountainside, we slowly became sheltered from the wind. About two hours into the hike we were finally in position. With absolutely no way of getting any closer than 300 yards, I prepared for the shot. Laying on the rocks with my rifle resting on my pack, I tried to steady my crosshairs. I laid there for several minutes trying to time my shot with the heavy cross wind. With my finger on the trigger, I gently squeezed off a round and missed! Quickly chambering another round in my rifle, I fired again and made the shot count. Old Yellow Horns lay dead in his tracks.
Walking over to the ram, I couldn’t help but feel a huge weight lifted off my chest. Everyone honestly worked their tails off to make this a successful hunt. This was "our ram!” It would have been easy to write a check and hire an outfitter, but it wouldn’t have been as special. Having three close friends I could count on come all the way down to New Mexico to share in this adventure meant more to me than the horns lying in the dirt; this truly was a hunt of a lifetime.