It has been a couple weeks since we got back from this hunt and I am just getting around to doing a write up for the hunt. Most of the hunting was certainly not long range of any kind as it was in heavy timbered country. But it was a great hunt, we took five animals with all but one easily making the SCI record book.
We headed out from Great Falls, MT sunday morning around 7:00 and 10 hours later we found ourselves in northwest Nebraska just south of a town called Chadron. When we drove down the gravel road to the Rockin Heart ranch I was a bit worried as things were pretty darn flat and barren but then we dropped into this amazing little area that was covered with heavy timber.
We met Ron, the owner of the ranch and he got us set up in the bunk cabin which was rustic but very nice and comfortable. We were all pretty bushed from the drive so we got our gear unpacked and just set around and watched the young bull elk in the area next to the cabin. Ron also raises some VERY large bull elk that we will be going back this fall to hunt. Thats another story however.
We all got a good night sleep and got up at 6:00 the next morning and after a good country breakfast headed out on the first morning hunt.
We drove into the hunting are on the 4x4 mule for roughly 1/2 mile down into a very deep canyon and then parked and got out and walked from there. My Dad and brother both had their rifles, Dad had a 25-284 that I had built on a Rem 722 and a Boyds varminter thumbhole stock. He was shooting the 100 gr Bonded Core Wildcat Bullet at 3400 fps. My brother had his old springfield which I had worked over into a 280 AI. This rifle was my grandfathers so it has special interest to our family as well.
I was unarmed, I was camera man for the first day!!!
We walked down the deep canyon floor which got as narrow as 10 feet in some spots and opened up into large ponds in others. The wind up top at the cabin was pretty strong that morning but down in the canyon it was calm and the rising sun was warming things nicely even though it was only in the mid 40 degree range. It was obvious we were in the best place to find out game as it was just an amazingly calm place to be.
after walking several hundred yards, we spotted a herd of Rons trophy bulls up on the ridge through some timber. They quickly ran over the top of the ridge but we caught a good look at the starts of their horns and several looked to have bases large then my arm! Looked very promising for this fall!! We were hunting exotic sheep however so we moved on.
We then came around a tight corner and up the draw bedded down was a very large Red Sheep and also a very large Jacobs Four Horn. The Red Sheep ram got up and over the hill before I could get there to get any video. The four horn ran up on the side hill into the timber and stopped and looked back at us just like an old Mule deer buck. They are the strangest looking critters I have ever seen but interesting as well. We took some good video of him before he wondered off into the timber and I began to think maybe I would go after him the next day as I have not taken a four horn yet and this one would go WAY into the SCI record books. This was Dads morning however so we kept moving.
After walking for another 10 minutes or so, Ron quickly stopped our small train moving down the canyon floor. He motioned us to follow him up the hillside. We had no idea what he had seen but we knew things were going to get exciting.
We all huddled up behind a small raise on the countour of the breaking hillside and he told us he had spotted a herd of sheep down in the bottom of the draw drinking from one of the ponds. He said he could only see the legs but it looked like there were at least a dozen sheep and they were heading up in our direction.
This is pretty common as they go to water in the morning and then move up into the higher ground to bed in the daytime in the heavy timber where it is cooler.
We just happened to stumble onto them in the process and it looked like we were positioned good.
We waited for 10 minutes and nothing happened, maybe they dropped under us or went totally around out position. We decided to move up the hill a bit more so we had a better vantage point if they went wide around us. Just as we got to where we wanted to be a tan and brown shoulder popped up over the hill. We were stuck, so we dropped where we were and hoped they would continue on their present course.
Ron, Dad and my brother were all tucked behind three ponderaso pines, I was about 15 yards behind them flat out right in the open videoing. I was camoed up from head to toe however so I was not to concerned as the herd had no idea we were even in the area.
The herd started feeding up the draw, several backs were in few, then another and another and another and then many others!!! I counted to 25 before I stopped counting because I started looking at horn size. There were several good rams in the herd. One in particular we were after was a Texas Dahl ram Ron had told us about that would have pushed 30" in curl length. He was pretty easy to pick out from the herd as he was the only all white one!!!
He made his way over the hill and he looked very nice. His left curl layed out very wide after the full curl but then he turned his head and it was clear that he had broken off about 8" of the right curl!!! What a pitty.
I then watched a nice mouflon ram come up over the hill. He had very good markings with a good white patch on his belly and very dark main and back. His curls were not terribly long, I guessed them in the 24" range but he was VERY heavy, I guessed him at over 10" of base circumference.
I whispered to my brother to have Dad look at him with Ron. He did and then all settled down. The herd continued in our general direction and dad had his 25-284 lined up on the Mouflon. Only problem was that they smaller rams kept getting in the way!!
The herd was around 200 yards when we first saw them, now they were less then 100 away and to my horror, the mouflon Dad was aiming at came to full alert and stared right at me!!
He was quartering to us and I knew the herd was going to bolt if he got to jumpy. Its one of those times we have all had hunting with others. You just pray to hear the bang of the rifle before its to late!!!
As the herd passed the alert Mouflon, there were few chances for dad to take a shot. Finally, another decent size ram came up and put the curls to a couple of smaller rams and the herd seperated just enough and the 25 barked.
There was no doubt of the impact. The onside shoulder of the ram collapsed but he remained standing and the entire herd whirled back around like a flock of birds around the wounded ram. We could really not tell what was happening with Dads ram until the herd started to run back down the draw and there was dads ram as he fell just seconds after the herd moved off.
The shot was not long, a hair under 100 yards but the excitement of waiting for the perfect shot on a large herd of sheep was very exciting for all of us. Ron had put us in the perfect spot and the result was a fine ram to start off the hunt. Dads Mouflon scored 118" SCI which is well over the 105 minimum for the record books. He had 25 1/8" and 25 3/8" curls and more impressively, he had 10 7/8" circumference measurements on his bases. This is the heaviest exotic ram I have been around and I have many that make the record books, some go well up into the books.
We took a load of pics and then we started packing the ram up to the top of the ridge where Ron could get the 4x4 mule to it and pack it out. We took it back to the ranch, caped it out and took care of all the rest and then talked over what our next step would be on the hunt.
My brother was hunting the large Red Sheep on the ranch. When we were walking on the hunt for my dad we had found a large Red ram that had died over the winter. Ron said he thought this was his largest Red ram but that he wanted to get a better look at the one that we had jumped bedded with the four horn as he looked nice as well but he thought that one side had been broomed off of that ram.
We decided to pack up and go out and try to find that red with the four horn and see if we could get a good look at him. The problem would be the area he was in. Getting close without being spotted would be very hard so we would have to go slow and still hunt the pair to get a good look at him before taking a shot if that was decided.
We drove back out to the hunting area but this time we parked well away from the area we had seen the pair that morning and walked in. Again, I was on camera and my brother Korey was the only one with a rifle.
We slowly made our way over one finger of the canyon, and glassed the other side and up the draw, then worked over to the next finger and did the same. We did this for an hour and then finally we spotted some movement. These big rams tend to stay off in small groups Ron told us, that is why the 4 horn and red were together. Its easier to hide that way and get away unseen as well.
Only problem for this pair was that the 4 horn was black and white. Had he been brown we would have gotten busted before seeing them but as it worked out, a white patch of wool gave the pair away through the thick timber across the draw roughly 150 yards away. It was thick enough that we could not locate the Red sheep ram even though we knew he was there.
We slowly worked around, usually belly crawling to try to glass some unseen patch of ground for the Red and then after 20 minutes or so, there it was, a small red patch of hide in the sun!
We wiggled around some fallen trees to get a better look and by laying flat on your belly you could see under the lower branches of the pines to see the ram. He was laying pretty much broadside to us. We could see one curl very well, he was a BIG ram, biggest I had ever seen on a hunt. But was his other side broomed off or not, we could not tell and for the price of one of these rams, it is not worth shooting until you know what you have!!!
We layed there as the sun started its peak in the sky and was shining down on us making all of us feel pretty sleepy as we tried to wait out the big red. If we had to sit there all day we were willing to do that, what could be better then that, laying on a soft pin needle covered hill side with the sun warming you and a world class Red Sheep ram just 150 yards away doing the same!!!
I tried to keep the camera on the ram just in case he turned his head and we would get a shot of his other curl and then after about an hour he turned, not much, but just enough to see the tip of his curl, it looked to be longer then the right side we could see all along!!!
This was all my brother needed to hear to set up for the shot. He got set up but there was a problem, there was a small sapling tree coving perfectly the crook of the shoulder where my brother wanted to put his shot. With a big ram like this a front shoulder shot is not practical and a high shoulder shot is very risky so we did not know what to do. He could slip it behind the tree but then he would be intentionally making a liver shot at best.
We decided to just sit and wait for him to stand up.
To our suprise, just minutes after that, a young bull buffalo came over the hill that the two were bedded on and the Rams rear end lifted. I told my brother to get ready as he was going to stand. When he did, he was quartering away from us. This shooting angle was not much better then the laying down angle because there were two branches covering the top and bottom of the ram. You could only see a 5" sqaure opening but it was right where it needed to be. Koreys 280 AI barked and the 140 gr Accubond found its mark and the ram stumbled and ran over the back side of the knob he was standing on.
We set there and waited for several minutes and could not hear or see anything move out of that draw so we slowly made our way over to where the ram should have been.
As we slowly rounded the crest of the finger, the 4 horn busted out of the draw and over the next ridge, there in the bottom of the draw was the big Red Ram.
These rams are larger in body size then most exotic sheep and are noticably blockier in the shoulders. Much more like a big horn but only scaled down in size. This was a very large Red. He had just over 30" curls on both sides and ranked as the current 41st in the SCI record books. A very impressive ram that was a real challange to get identified and then get a shot off at.
We got all the pics taken and then packed him out as well and sent to the ranch for a late lunch which was very tasty!!!
We talked things over and I decided that being a handgun nut, I thought I wanted to try to take that big 4 horn with my 400 corbon handgun I had brought along with me. If the 4 horn was still alone, it would be a challange but I thought doable as I had snuck up on some pretty cagy critters before and slipped a handgun bullet through the ribs. If he had found another sheep herd, we would really be wasting out time.
We finished up lunch and headed back out to the hunting area. We drove the far side of the property, opposite of where we had hunted that morning figuring the rams would have moved off in this direction. We turned up nothing at all except catching a glimpse of a herd of fallow deer that had one good buck with his antlers still. He was big buck but we got only a quick look at him as they hit the timber and out of sight.
We then drove down to the end of a large meadow and parked the mule and got out and walked. We had walked only a short way when we spotted some sheep down in a deep timbered bowl that was protected from the wind.
We got into position to glass them and sure enough, there was the big 4 horn!!! This was not going to be easy, there were over 20 sheep in the herd.
I got camoed from hear to toe raked a round in the 400 CB and slowly started my sneak down the canyon wall to the sheep. I was comfortable out to 50-60 yards with the 400 with a steady rest but needed to get inside that range.
It was slow moving but I managed to get pretty close. I felt I was within range so I took a quick range measurement, 128 yards still!!! Its amazing how close that looks when the tension is high.
I slowly cut another 20 yards off that range when suddenly the entire herd came to full alert. None had seen me, none were even looking in my direction but the wind on the back of my neck gave me away and the herd boiled out of the protective bowl and out of sight.
Ron said if you give the sheep 20 minutes they will often relax and they generally do not go far so we took a break, chewed the fat about some of the experiences he had had with clients which were very entertaining to say the least.
Took a quick nap and then headed down for another stalk. It would not happen however. We walked for nearly a half mile and never saw another sheep until we walked up to the edge of the big meadow clearing. This plateau was roughly a mile long and 1/2 mile across and sure enough, right in the middle of it was a herd of grazing sheep in the late afternoon sun.
I felt pretty silly standing there with a semi auto handgun when I had two rifles sitting back in the cabin!!!
We decided to drive out the back side of the property so we would not disturb the sheep, grab my rifle and come back in the same way hoping they would still be there. I had decided I would take the 4 horn and another of the rams on this hunt.
We got back to the cabin and I grabbed my Ruger M77 MkII that I had rebarreled with a 1-7 Lilja 3 groove and chambered in 22-250 AI. I was using Richards new 100 gr ULD RBBT loaded to 3050 fps. Just before the hunt, I had proven the rifle capable of well under 1/2 moa accuracy out to 600 yards and at a bit over 400 yards it had put the last two test shots within 1/2"!!!
We got back to the meadow as the sun was starting to get low on the horizon and I crawled out to set up on the herd of sheep that had moved but were still in the area.
I found the big 4 horn and took a range measurement, 281 yards. Looked up the hold and settled into the rifle. There was a red sheep that was dangerously close to the 4 horn which I really did not want to mess up and pay for on accident!!!
The small red slowly moved in front of the 4 horn and the herd fed away. It seemed like forever before he cleared enough for me to be comfortable to take the shot. The 4 horn was looking nearly directly to me now. I took another range, 294 yards. I found the correct hold and started to apply pressure to the 1.5 lb trigger.
Just before the trigger broke, the herd again alerted and ran off over the hill side. I was beginning to think this 4 horn was charmed!!!
As I set there in discust thinking if that trigger had broken he would have either been dead or wounded, I realized it did not turn out so bad.
I went back to the rifle scope to see if any other sheep were still out in the opening and to my surpise, what I was were two Fallow deer and as fate would have it, there was the big buck we had seen eariler with the big herd of does.
I cranked the weaver tactical up to 14x to get a good look at him and he looked very impressive to me, very good palms, not an unusual amount of points but some very good ones and good mass and main beam length.
I crawled back to Ron and my dad who were about 30 yards behind my position. My brother was to my right about 30 yards on the treeline with the video.
I asked ron if my deposit for the sheep hunt would work for that fallow buck and he said if you want him shoot him! I just wanted to make sure I was not obligated to shoot a sheep after this as well as that would have gotten a bit spendier then I wanted!!!
I asked if the antlers were going to fall off if I hit him and he said, its definately possible as this was the latest he had seen a buck of that size keep his antlers on his ranch. That made me pause for a bit but then he said they are easy for your texidermist to put back on with a big smile!!! I asked him if he would go over 200" SCI and Ron said no but he would be close.
I crawled back out to the rifle and set up. Took a range, 305 yards. The buck was standing straight way from us and his large palms were hanging easily past both sides of his hams. I was suprised at the body size of this Fallow deer. I had taken an all white Fallow in Colorado several years ago and this buck was easily twice the body size of that buck.
I figured he was easily over 250 lbs live weight and I was beginning to wish I had grabbed my lightweight 7mm AM which I also had back at the cabin.
Still, I knew a well placed shot would easily and cleanly harvest this buck at this range so I forgot about worring about what rifle I had and started my mental check list for the shot.
After 3-4 minutes the buck turned and started walking quartering away from me heading to my right. He stopped and lifted his head and I will admit I was watching the big palms on his rack more then anything. I ranged him again, 311, 311, 312.
Settled in for the shot and held about 1/4 mil into the wind which was coming from my right side and the little 22-250 AI barked. The shot landed solidly but I could not tell where. He ran up on a higher portion of the plateau as I raked in another round of ammo. Then he stopped and whirled around. I could see a big blood spot just ahead of his offside shoulder. Perfect shot placement!!! The 100 gr ULD RBBT had impacted just behind the shoulder on the onside and exited just ahead of the shoulder on the offside about 1/3 the way up the body. Could not ask for better.
The buck stood for a couple seconds and then started to wobble and finally fell over. He kicked a few times and then it was over.
He was by far my biggest fallow. We went back and got the mule and drove out to the buck and I was very happy with what we found. He had exactly what I thought but there as a very long kicker off the left antler just under the palm. He was a very old buck, he had been on the ranch for 7 years and came there as a yearling buck so he was 8 years of age and his antlers showed it.
He scored 196 5/8" SCI which was right on where Ron said he would be and well over the min 170" to make the SCI record book. We carefully packed him up on the mule and headed back to the ranch to cape him and get him quartered and cooled as they are fine eating deer.
We then had a good dinnner and headed to the cabin where we stoked up a fire and relaxed for the evening.
The next morning we would be hunting a very large Mouflon ram that was on the property. My brother would be the one hunting this ram.
When we met Ron for breakfast he asked if we would be interested in a cull hunt for an Ibex? We asked for more information and he said he had a young Ibex billy that was fighting with all the others and he had broken up his own horns and he was afraid he would break the other Ibex horns up as well. At $1800 a pop, one does not want alot of broken horns!!! He said if you want him he is yours for $100.
My brother and I looked at each other and then looked at dad, told him he better grab his rifle as he was not done hunting yet!!
The Ibex was in another area with this very large mouflon along with around 8 other sheep and goats as well as all the younger 2-5 year old bull elk.
These elk proved to be a real problem on this hunt. There were about 30 of them in the area and from the minute we stepped in the hunting area, they were running all over hell. They got the sheep so spooked that they were running from anything that made a noise including the wind.
We would just get set up close to the sheep herd and the elk would come ripping through and push the rams out of the area.
It took a couple hours to finally get a line on the sheep and my brother lined up on the big ram which was drastically larger then any mouflon I have taken and I have two that score well up into the top 20% of the record books.
At just shy of 200 yards, my brothers 280 AI barked and the big ram fell to the shot. The shot was a very lucky one. At the shot, the big ram turned away from my brother and the bullet impacted just ahead of the onside shoulder, took out the neck and exited just under the chin of the ram. Missing the rams curl tips but mear inches on each side!!!
We we got to him we were all amazed at his size. He was just under 34" in curl length and scored 136" SCI which ranked him around 46th in the current copy of the Record book.
This was the largest ram Ron had ever had taken off his ranch!! A beautiful animal.
Next up was the problem ibex for dad. It took us 45 minutes to find the herd again in a patch of thick timber. We were able to get set up for a shot and with the young Ibex facing directly toward us, Dad made a fine shot at around 175 yards and dropped him in his tracks.
Just a young billy but who could pass up the opportunity at the price!!!
That ended our spring 2007 exotic hunt. Everyone took at least one record book animal, two of which ranked 41st and 46th. We packed up and made the 10 hour drive home and then it was back to work after getting all the heads to the taxidermist!!
We will be heading back this fall for the elk hunt and I am very excited to chase those big bulls through the timber and hopefully catch them out on that big open plateau for some long range hunting!!!