Arizona Strip Desert Sheep Hunt
Arizona Strip Desert Sheep HuntBy Kati McDonald and Mike McDonald
©Copyright Western Hunter Magazine
Kati and her father Mike both have a great tale to tell. They each wrote a separate story, but we at Western Hunter thought their stories should be combined so you could hear about the hunt together,just as they experienced it.
I really didn’t expect to ever get a desert bighorn sheep tag. My dad went to the Arizona Game and Fish Department to turn in our hunting applications and on a whim he decided to put me in for a desert bighorn sheep.
In 2007, my 21 year old daughter, Kati, became the first member of our family to draw an Arizona desert bighorn sheep permit. Between the four of us, we had applied more than sixty times for a sheep tag. I had been applying for over 30 years and knew the chances of getting drawn were slim.
I wasn’t going to put Kati in for 2007 since she was in her senior year of college and I didn’t think she would have the time to devote to a sheep hunt. As I was turning in the applications, on the last day of course, I filled out an application for her figuring she would get another bonus point.
I was eating lunch with my mom when my dad called to tell me he had bad news, “You didn’t get drawn for a deer tag, Kati, but you did get drawn for a sheep tag!” I think at this point he was more excited than I was. As we started planning our hunt, my dad warned me that this was going to be the hardest hunt of my life. I knew that the area we were hunting, Unit 13A, was going to be physically challenging, (which I thought I could handle), but I had no idea that it was going to be one of the most emotionally challenging things I have ever done in my life.
Kati started hunting with me as a little girl and killed her first deer at age 10. She had killed 15 big game animals, about half of them elk. All but one of her kills was with the same gun: a 1984 vintage push feed Winchester Featherweight in .280 Remington. For most of her hunting she has shot an all copper Barnes 120gr X-bullet which complies with the condor “no lead” request.
This article originally appeared in Western Hunter Magazine and appears courtesy of Western Hunter Magazine. Western Hunter Magazine is your best resource for hunting information for all western species. Whether you are interested in elk, deer, antelope, bighorn sheep or moose we will bring the adventure to your mailbox! Our subtitle is Gear - Tactics - Information - Adventure and we take each of these seriously. We only feature the finest hunting gear available from the finest makers in the world. If you are looking for information or looking to buy, we will steer you in the right direction. In each issue you will learn tips and tactics from the most experienced hunters in the west. With articles on field judging trophies, glassing techniques and calling strategies, we guarantee you will learn something new in every issue, and will continue to become more knowledgable and skilled Western Hunter.
I wasn’t worried about Kati’s physical abilities. She has been athletic all of her life and had made numerous backpacking trips into the Grand Canyon within the twelve months prior to her hunt. One of my concerns was that she seldom hunted more than a day at a time so I didn’t know if she would have the mental fortitude for a long sheep hunt. This would certainly be tested over the course of the hunt.
We only had the chance to take a couple of scouting trips before the hunt started since it was a six hour drive from Flagstaff. We only saw one sheep: not very big, and very inaccessible. It wasn’t very promising, but we didn’t let it get us down.
Scouting the unit proved to be a little bit problematic. The first glassing spots are over 250 miles from my house in Flagstaff and there were complications with other hunts: both of my sons and I had archery elk tags, and my youngest son also had an antelope tag and a youth buck mule deer tag - not that I was complaining.
My hunt was scheduled for the whole month of December, and unfortunately for me, I had finals in the 2nd week..We left late on Thursday night. Opening day was on Saturday, so we could scout all day Friday. In addition to my dad, Dean Dunaway, and my boyfriend Ian McLeod went with us. A friend of Dean’s, Pete Winn, was already up there. I had never met Pete before but he loves sheep hunting and wanted to help with my hunt. I had met Dean only briefly before, but he loves to hunt and was able to devote a lot of time to my hunt.
We woke up early on Friday, but didn’t have much luck spotting anything. By the afternoon the weather had taken a turn for the worst and we had to call it an early day because of what my dad called “sideways snow.”
We woke up in the morning to wind, rain and fog; not ideal glassing conditions. We quit scouting just before dark due to a horizontal snow storm, and went back to a wall tent that had blown over.
Fortunately, it cleared up by opening morning, and by mid-morning we had finally spotted our first sheep! We saw only a few that day, but nothing accessible. 13A is a very big area; there are deep, steep canyons and the sheep like to hang out in an area between cliffs that are very steep and hard to get to.
The Grand Canyon and Kanab Creek are what makes this hunt particularly interesting. The Grand Canyon speaks for itself, steep and deep. In some places within the unit, Kanab Creek can be several miles wide and a couple of thousand feet deep. The topography starts off at an elevation of nearly 6000 feet in the Kaibab Limestone formation. There are piñon/juniper draws that quickly become big canyons dropping 3000 feet as they approach Kanab Creek.
The limestone rolls over a ways into the canyons then soon become shear cliffs up to 400 feet in height or more, with a steep talus slope below. There is another zone of cliffs of equal size in the Coconino Sandstone layer and another talus slope below. The limestone has a unique feature where it forms hoodoos, or giant columns of rock, in its upper layers. As we would learn later, the hoodoos form cracks and crevices where sheep love to hide.
We had to go back to Flagstaff Monday afternoon and we knew our time was limited. On Monday morning, Dean spotted a nice looking ram we nicknamed “Mr. Choco.” He was a beautiful chocolate ram with long horns. We thought he’d score about a 145”, so we decided to wait on him and use him as a backup in case time was running short and we didn’t find anything bigger.
We never did find a ram large enough to stalk that first weekend, but we did find the “Choco Backup” in Water Canyon.
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