Black Hills Magic

By Randy Schaefer
South Dakota, DIY, Public Land

Randy Schaefer - Black Hills MagicApril/May 2014 EHJ (Issue 142) - What event could threaten an overload to the cell service and email grid in South Dakota? How about calls and messages to friends and family from nearly 2,000 bighorn sheep tag applicants who all couldn’t believe their luck, as each of us received an email from the South Dakota Game Fish & Parks Licensing Department that we had drawn one of the two available most coveted South Dakota big game tags? Yes, we were all notified that we were successful in the drawing.

Our excitement was short-lived however, when we heard the news that we all got the same erroneous email message. So you can imagine my surprise when I got the call the next morning confirming that I was the lucky one to have drawn the only Custer County bighorn sheep tag!

Fast-forward to the first week of August when I was hiking trails and getting familiar with the rough countryside in the Black Hills National Forest. I traveled the entire length of the range that borders neighboring Wyoming. I saw my first ram early one morning as I crested a hill and stopped to glass the face of the mountain ahead of me. Soon after I saw more movement so I set up my Nikon spotting scope.

Not 300 yards away were 23 rams in two separate groups, each led by that group’s biggest ram. One was a dark chocolate ram, a real trophy with blonde cheeks and heavy horns I called "the King.” The second boss-ram led his herd of 15 rams, five of which were big and mature. This ram too was a heavy-horned chocolate, with both horns broomed off and the widest curl of them all. He had a dark notch on the back of his left horn, so I dubbed him, "Notchy.” Nine hours later as darkness descended upon me, I left the herd with some valuable insight.

As the season approached, my son Rob and cousin Mike were able to join me for the final days of scouting. We found the same herd, this time with 17 rams. Every day for the next five days, they moved two miles to a deep canyon with several small, steep finger canyons at the upper end. The afternoon before opening day, Rob and I packed in by foot to the top of the mountain and pitched a tent about a mile from the rams.

Sheep country in South Dakota is something I’d never experienced before, with huge expanses of open, rugged terrain full of car and sometimes housesized boulders. It was warm, with highs in the upper 80s and lows in the 60s. The two of us lay there under the stars and planned our first-ever sheep hunt together. Months of planning, training, scout ing, anticipation, anxiety, expectations, discovery and hope all melted in that moment with my son. My hunt of a lifetime had already been just that – with or without a ram. I thought of my dad, who at age 77 was a month away from his first-ever elk hunt, one that Rob and I would be guiding him on.

Randy Schaefer - Black Hills Magic

For a full account of Randy's adventure, go to page 38 in the April/May 2014 issue of Eastmans' Hunting Journal.