Success in the Sheepholes!!!!!!!!
I recently drew a California Desert Bighorn Sheep Tag in the desert, east of Twentynine Palms, and north of Joshua State Park, in the Meth capital of California!!!!
The hunting was TOUGH!!!!! Mostly mentally challenging to me!!!!
I went with Terry Anderson and he had not seen any sheep in 6 days of scouting and glassing prior to the opener.
The other hunter and I arrived two days before the hunt to help glass and by the start of the season we had not spotted ANY sheep!!!!!!
It was discouraging for me as well as everyone else at the lack of sightings, even Ewes!
It seems that this year’s survey of sheep only counted about 30 sheep, however about 13 were legal rams, in roughly 200 plus square miles of rough country!!! And generally some of the rams will leave after the survey, which was during the rut.
Oh and the whole area is wilderness, basically from the paved highways bordering the unit.
Then we ventured into the interior and one of the guides spotted a nice ram about 3 miles away from us. He took the other hunter for a stalk and I stayed with the other guide and glassed the ram for a while, then we would move closer. Then we lost sight of the ram. It had gotten up and moved off the little peak it was on. We all moved closer to glass and never saw it again.
The next day we went to a totally different area that Terry thought would be good. It was a place with less moisture, and less vegetation, however surveys had shown that rams will wander to this place. We split up and my group saw nothing but wasteland, we did see a dead tarantula and some neat looking butterflys, a bunch of them. The other group saw some decent sign.
Terry was stressed and thought about coming back in, in another way for a morning hunt, but the guides reminded him it would be about a 7 mile hike across the desert floor just to get to where we could hunt… Thank you Diane Feinstein!!!!!!!!
We went back to where we had seen a borderline legal or not ram at long range, but were not able to get close enough to make sure.
Wow, it had gotten down to this on the 9th day of our 10 day hunt!!!
The other hunter went in with a couple guides and I glassed with Terry. The group heard some horns butting when they were starting up the mountain after crossing 4 miles of open desert in the dark. The one guide looked around at the noise with his binos and saw a group of 7 nice rams. Where in the heck had they been!!! Who cares!!!
The group was not in a good location and the group of rams smelled them at about a half mile away and we watched in the spotting scopes as they ran like hell, and they ran, and they ran, and then they ran up the mountain face, further and further away as my expectations of taking a ram where dashed.
The other group walked back to us across the desert floor and we decided that the other hunter and I would hike across that bloody desert floor again and then angle up towards the bowl the sheep were laying in.
We dropped all the weight in our packs and only carried the bare essentials and then hustled across the desert floor while the rams were bedded down. The rams could see us, but they were miles away, up, up high and safe. We continued until they could not see us, then came back around and up towards them.
We got to the base of the mountains and hiked and climbed up a steep rocky canyon with lots of loose rocks trying our best not to make any noise or roll any rocks. I was pretty stressed as the wind seemed to be swirling in all different directions, especially up the canyon!!!
We reached up near the top of the canyon and dropped our packs and the other hunter and I got our rifles ready and we all climbed up another hundred yards.
Right below the top of the bowl we discussed our strategy and our positions. The other hunter would slide up prone for the first shot. The knob we were on was open and there was not room for me to position myself without a chance of blowing the other hunter’s first shot. So, I laid down out of sight, and I could not see any of the action.
The guides ranged the one ram at 385 yards. The other hunter got ready. He was stressed, tired, had blistered feet, and was pretty sore from the whole hunt, but was persevering very well!!! I could see all the emotion in his face, anxiety, exhaustion all rolled up together. I think being really tired helped take the edge off being so nervous at least for me.
I chambered a round, put on the safety, and then pushed my clip into the receiver, lowered the scope magnification down to the lowest setting of 4.5 power, turned my Kenton Industries, bullet compensating turret to 400 yards, then clicked it back to 375 yards and pulled out the legs of my rifle bipod and laid down and waited with the guides. The wind had died down and was calm, so I did not adjust the scope for wind drift.
One of the three guides was watching with 15 power binos and Terrry was watching with another guide back at the dirt road 5 miles away through their spotting scopes.
It seemed like forever and while the hunter got into position and ready to shoot. Then bang, he fired and the ram rolled after being hit, got back up, then fell back down. Now it was my turn.
The other guide told me to come forward and find a ram and take a shot.
The guide said they are down by the giant, big rock. I immediately found the rock and then found the rams.
To my shock they looked really far away, imagine looking at a ram with your bare eyes 400 yards away.
I dropped down on the flat ground with my rifle on the bipod and found a ram in the scope. Then I realized the magnification was almost too low (I had purposely put it on the lowest setting), I really wanted to crank it up to maybe 8 or 9 power or more. At the same time the rams were running around and I knew in my gut I had to steady myself and take a shot or loose my only opportunity of the hunt. They were starting to file out of the bowl through a saddle. And the other hunter was yelling at me to shoot.
I picked a spot on the biggest of two rams that stopped, standing broadside, quartering towards me a bit and pulled the trigger and the ram and other 3 that were with him ran off the saddle they were standing on.
My ram had run away, however no one saw it run as it disappeared out of sight right when I shot at it.
One guide said he saw the ram shudder when I shot and thought I gut shot it, the other said he heard the bullet ricochet off of a rock. Neither was what I wanted to hear. And the other hunter said I hit him, that he saw the ram shudder its feet.
I was confident of my shot. It felt good, however, I was rushed and I had not steadied the butt of the stock like I would have like to have on a rock or my fist, there was not time.
I knew my rifle well and had shot hundreds of rounds out on BLM land in San Diego at ranges out to 650 yards. I was comfortable with my Leupold 4.5-14 power scope and the “high tech” target turrets that were custom laser engraved with the ballistics of my ammo and the “average” elevation and temperature I estimated I would encounter on my hunt. I was very confident with my shooting ability!!!!
I did not have time for the level bubble I had on my scope, nor the “Badger” Angle Cosine level I had on the scope to help calculate the true horizontal distance. I did what engineers often do and that is making a rough calculation with a big safety factor!!!!!
Since I had clicked the crosshairs on the scope for a 375 yard shot, it was not perfect for a 420 yard shot or so that I had to make. Again I did not have time to fiddle. However, understanding ballistics pretty well, I figured it would be close enough. And also that 420 plus yard shot was really the hypotenuse angle and not the true horizontal angle. The true horizontal distance would be very close to what I had my scoped dialed to.
I figured I would be off maybe 30 yards horizontally or so, and knew the bullet was pretty flat shooting.
You are all probably wondering, 7 rams, 4 rams, 3 rams?? HUGH??? Originally there were 7 rams in the bowl. After the first shot 2, yes the biggest 2 separated from the other 4 and went out another route never to be seen again. Probably why they were the biggest rams!!!!
Then something happened that blew my mind. The three remaining rams came back up through the saddle and towards us. They walked to within 40 yards of us. We were cammoed out, but did not have face masks or face paint, and they stopped to try and figure us out. Of course they did not smell us. I was ANXIOUS as hell!!!!! I saw that one of the remaining 4 sheep was gone, but had I killed it, had I even hit it??? And there were 3 rams right in my face!!! One was nice that I could have hit with a rock!!!! The guides told us not to shoot anymore rams. We could not afford to shoot more than two rams between the two of us.
Then we continued down and easily found the other hunter’s ram in the bowl. It was like walking down a black diamond ski run. Not as bad as a double black diamond, though.
Where we found the ram it could have easily rolled hundreds of yards down a cliff face. We where very, very careful, we were all pretty stressed and emotional.
So, with one ram down and dead I went with two of the guides to find my ram. We walked over to the saddle where I had shot at him and last seen him on. To say I was extremely nervous and ANXIOUS, would be an understatement.
To my delight there was blood where the ram had stood when I shot. And then a BIG blood trail!!!! At that point I was confident my ram was dead and we would easily find it!!!!
We slowly crawled down about 30 yards and found my ram piled up dead. He was dead on his feet when I had shot him. An almost perfect shot, except I joked it was about an inch or so into his shoulder. However, the bullet had passed right through the ram.
Two perfect long range, one shot kills!!!!!! And our rams, although they were smaller than the two that got away, they were bigger than the 3 that walked by us.
I think I was so stressed after hearing all the horror stories of how terrible shots some guys had been. I knew in my heart I would probably get one chance and I had to capitalize on it!!!!
The hunt was over!!!!
No, it was far from over. We were high up on the mountain with two dead rams and the sun was starting to go down. We were all worried about getting stuck on the mountain in the dark and getting hurt trying to walk out in the dark. Terry had watched the whole thing and came across the desert floor with another guide to help us.
By the time we were almost done he arrived and helped us finish and pack everything out. We carefully hiked down the steep slope and got to the desert floor as it got dark and easily walked the 5 miles to the trucks.
We made it to the trucks and then to camp and neither me nor the other hunter slept at all that night. I was tired, dirty, stinky, sweaty, and was so excited that I did not sleep at all.
Monday we got up and took some more photos, then drove all the way past Barstow to meet the biologist and get our rams checked in and take some more photos.
There were lots of things that could have gone wrong on that stalk and Terry told the other guide he gave us about 20% odds.
Terry is quite the sheep hunting guide. His results speak for themselves. And his guides are terrific and never give up!!!!
However, I don’t think he will guide the Sheepholes again.
PLEASE do not put in for this hunt!!!!!!!! unless you like RUGGED mountains, extremely difficult access, and EXTREMELY LOW numbers of rams. And now the odds are not really better than other units.
Another thing, the $hitholes have the smallest rams also!!!!
The low ram densities and small horn size is what I kept kicking myself in the butt about during my hunt. To be honest I really screwed up applying for this unit. This unit is the toughest to hunt, toughest terrain and lowest density or rams. The Whites are really, really hard as well, the remoteness and MOSTLY the altitude at 14,000 feet, but the Whites have a decent number of rams.
I learned the hard way, I should have put in for the OLD DADS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! !!!!!!!!! Most numbers of sheep, biggest rams, and easiest access and terrain.