April/May 2014 EHJ (Issue 142) - The three-hour stalk on a full curl ram was ending as I watched from a mile away. Adam, his uncle Bart and his cousin Blaine were picking their way along the steep mountain slope as the ram, still out-of-sight to their eyes, slowly grazed away from them.
This drama began months before as my son Brett, who is Adam’s father, checked the WG&FD’s big game lottery results. After 18 years of applying and buying points, Brett knew drawing a sheep permit in 2013 was almost certain and in fact, he was successful.
The real shocker was when he saw Adam’s name. Adam had beaten great odds by drawing a permit on his first try! Brett submitted Adam’s application at the minimum age of 12 mainly as a process to accumulate points so he would be guaranteed a sheep permit in the future. His joy about Adam’s success soon waned as the reality of having to explain to wife Jackie that he would be taking their 12-year-old son on a bighorn sheep hunt.
Only one month earlier, Adam was diagnosed with slipped capital femoral epiphyses and had to have emergency surgery to insert a long screw through the end of each femur into the ball of his hip joints to stop any further slippage in the growth plates. He was required to use crutches and a wheelchair for five weeks to keep weight off of his legs. During that time, his leg muscles dwindled and became weak.
As Brett said, "Before the surgery, Adam was strong from a season of playing ice hockey, but now his spindly legs don’t look as if they could carry him up a flight of stairs, let alone a mountain.”
After just getting off the crutches during a Memorial Day wildlife observation weekend in Yellowstone, I seriously doubted my gimpy grandson would be up to making the sheep hunt on September 1.
In June, Brett considered applying for a medical deferment on Adam’s permit, but decided the decision should be made by him. He explained to Adam how hard it had been for him to physically make his sheep hunt in 1982 when he was 16 years old and that it was going to be even harder for a 12-year-old, especially given his current weakened physical condition. Brett added, however, that this would probably be the only chance in their lifetime to both hunt sheep together. Adam gave the medical deferment opt ion some consideration, but then committed himself to the arduous conditioning task laid out by his Dad.
The two of them were now on a challenging and familiar road faced by Brett, his brother Bart and me over 30 years ago. In 1981, I submitted a then 15-year-old Bart’s application for the first time along with mine. He drew and I did not. The next year, 15-year-old Brett also drew a permit on his first try and I again failed.
Bart and I, flatlanders then, and a more experienced mountain hunter friend blazingly bushwhacked our way up the rugged and treacherous Jaggar Creek Canyon in Sunlight Basin northwest of Cody, Wyoming. Bart got a ram the first day, but the steep climb from 7,000 to 11,400 feet with 45-pound packs and the descent with 70-pound ones was physically devastating. The next year, Brett and I increased the exercise pack to 70 pounds as we went up and down Worland’s football bleachers. Brett also took a ram the first day and our rigorous exercise regime made the Jaggar Basin hunt more enjoyable.
A few years ago, while talking to a rancher in Sunlight Basin, I mentioned going up Jaggar Creek Canyon to hunt sheep. He looked at me in disbelief and said he knew of only one person who had ever made it up Jaggar Canyon to the upper basin. I said my two sons, friends and I had done it five times but never dared to go back down that route.
For a full account of Brett and Adam's adventure, go to page 30 in the April/May 2014 issue of Eastmans' Hunting Journal.