Timber Rams & Wildfires

By Russell DeFusco
Colorado, DIY, Public Land

Russell DeFusco - Timber Rams & WildfiresOctober/November 2013 EHJ (Issue 139) - Each summer I try to step up my fitness routine in anticipation of upcoming fall hunts. One of my favorite ways to do this is to run a sevenmile trail loop about fifteen minutes from my home in Colorado Springs. It traverses several canyons and ridges with alternating steep elevation gains and drops and is known as the Waldo Canyon Trail.

My training became more important as I discovered on the Colorado Parks and Wildlife web page that I had drawn a bighorn sheep tag for 2012. These magnificent animals are the very essence of the Colorado backcountry. The unit I drew is only a couple hours from home, so I planned to spend as much time as I could to find some rams. I opened up my calendar and began planning for conditioning, scouting trips and range time.

This particular area is well known for the sheep occupying lower elevations. Most of that lies on private property with no possibility for access. When the sheep do leave these private parcels they tend to remain in very dense timber and are therefore extremely difficult to locate and hunt. The biologists, guides and locals in the area call these "timber rams.”

From previous experience I knew of a few isolated high points where sheep might be in more open terrain and possibly above treeline. Late in May, I headed to the highest point in the unit to get an overview of the area and determine some terrain upon which to focus my attention. It was an exceptionally cold and windy day for that time of year, and despite seeing very little sign and no sheep I was not discouraged and planned for more exploration.

I managed another day in the unit in early June with my wife Donna. We climbed a peak that required scrambling through thick, timber-covered slopes with a tremendous amount of frustrating deadfall obstacles. Again, we turned up no sheep, but I did find some encouraging sign at the summit near 12,000 feet.

In late June, disaster struck. Our home and neighborhood were caught in the middle of the wildfires that swept through Colorado. Of par t icular significance to us was the now infamous Waldo Canyon Fire that started in the very canyon where I often do my training runs. It was human-caused, though no one knows whether it was arson. We were immediately evacuated along with thousands of others and could only watch helplessly via the news and internet as the fires descended on our city over the next several days.

The fires turned on our immediate neighborhood on the fourth day and we were told that our home was destroyed. Hundreds of homes were lost, including those of many of our surrounding neighbors and friends. Two days after the fires had passed we discovered a news photograph showing our home still standing amidst the wreckage around it. After waiting several days, we were allowed back to inspect the damages.

Due to the extraordinary efforts of the firefighters our house had been spared. Flames had reached literally within inches of our decks and exterior walls. There were melted firef ighter boot prints surrounding our house where they had conducted hand-to-hand combat with the fire. Our entire yard was scorched and we sustained significant damages to the structure, inside and out, but it was still standing. These events change your priorities!

I told my wife that I would turn in my long-awaited tag and hope to draw again one day. Donna is an amazing and incredibly understanding wife and said I should go ahead and keep the tag. Unfortunately, time for conditioning, scouting and behind the rifle would have to be traded for clearing our yard and dealing with the other consequences of the fire. I contacted a friend from our time together in the military who had hunted the area just a few years earlier. Dave Eyre knew the unit extremely well and literally saved any hope for a successful hunt for me. I managed to free up a day in late July to have him show me an area where he had seen several rams in past years.

Russell DeFusco - Timber Rams & Wildfires

For a full account of Russell's adventure, go to page 46 in the October/November 2013 issue of Eastmans' Hunting Journal.