I am back and the sheep hunting is over until luck turns my way for a Desert Bighorn.
The hunt opened on Nov. 1st and I was there at first light. I had a good friend with me to help with the spotting, packing, and generally just figuring out what to do. On the first day, we spotted 2 rams and 6 ewes at about 8am. The funny thing was, we spotted them in an area that gave me the feeling to just come back and check often. About five hundred yards to the north of this group we spotted two more young rams and three ewes. This was very encouraging to me to be seeing animals right away. I learned a few things about sheep this day. First, they are lazy! No need to be up at the crack of dawn as they don't start moving until a couple hours after day light. And second, in this unit, they have no fear of humans.
About the middle of the day, we ran into a hunter that was hunting the Rattlesnake unit that borders mine. Super nice guy from Toole Utah that had taken a Stone Sheep earlier in the fall. He said that he had seen a medium sized ram the night before. After we left him, we were driving down the road and looked out the left window to see a full curl ram 50 yards from the road. I just said RAM and slammed on the brakes. We stopped, and from the description from the other hunter, we knew it was the ram from the night before. I quickly guessed his score at 165 and drove back to where the other hunter was to let him know, as the ram was in his unit. We all followed the ram around for about a half hour as he checked out a few ewes. He was beautiful, but not a first day shooter. This is one of the two rams in the photo's posted by Sendero-man. We moved on and decided to set up camp and take a nap. At our camp site, we could see the two small rams, and 3 ewes from earlier in the morning, I took some pictures through the spotting scope to pass the time. We didnt see any big shooter rams the rest of the day. But, right at dusk, about 500 yards from camp, we heard rocks rolling down the cliffs. I spotted a dark colored ram on the cliffs heading to the south. I could tell he was better than anything had seen to that point, but it was too dark to get details on horn size. We thought for sure we would see him in the morning. Lesson number three, sheep move during the night, along way. We woke up to overcast skies and few sheep. It started raining so we called it a day. We saw sixteen rams, and twenty four ewes and lambs the first day. A very promising start!
I had to get back home for the week, and couldn’t go hunting until Friday morning. My son Tyler, my cousin Jay and I left for the unit Friday morning at four am. We arrived a little after dawn and immediately saw a ewe and a lamb crossing the road. We traveled deeper into Desolation canyon and stopped every half mile or so to glass for sheep. We started seeing small groups of ewes, lambs and young rams, but nothing to get excited about.
The access road to the Range Creek unit is across the green river from where I could hunt, so figuring out a way to cross the river had been on my mind for months. We decided that we would each use a float tube, and have one extra for gear. There are enough calm parts on the river to make a crossing in this manner, so we decided to go for it. I'll admit that I was a bit anxious about getting caught in swift water, but everything worked according to plan. There is a canyon called Sand Knolls canyon that we spotted two small rams in earlier in the day. There are many hidden spots that you cannot see from the mouth, so we decided to cross the river and spend the rest of the day up the canyon. It had sheep country written all over it. Boy were we wrong! (Refer back to observation number one)! We made the crossing and hiked and glassed up the canyon. There was not a single sheep in there. About an hour before dusk, my son said: "We need to get out of this canyon and find the sheep"! So we hiked out. Tyler turned out to be the voice of reason for the remainder of the hunt.
As soon as we got back to the river, Jay looked to the north and said, "There's a ram, and I he is big!" We got the spotter set up, and I took one look and decided that I wanted to shoot that ram. We took off to get closer as daylight was fading fast. We got to 900 yards and took a better look. He was heavy, broomed and almost full curl. I definatly wanted to shoot this ram! We took off on a dead run to cut the distance as much as possible. We finally got to a knoll that was as close as possible. 673 yards! I set up the rifle started inputting all of the conditions into ATRAG MP and dialed the scope. The problem was that he was about 3/4 up the face of the mountain, and for the life of me, I could not see a way to get to him if I did shoot him in a spot that he wouldn’t take a 500 foot leap of death. We discussed our options, and decided to put him to bed for the night. We drove to Green River, Utah and checked into a motel so we would be ready for the next day.
Saturday November 8th.
We woke having high hopes of killing the big ram that we had seen the night before. We drove to a spot where we could look over the cliffs that they had been on the night before. Nothing! We couldn’t see a sheep anywhere. We had spotted about sixty sheep the day before, and now we couldn’t find one anywhere. I was starting to get discouraged, and then we started to see a few ewes and lambs. We hunted and glassed hard until about two o'clock when we about decided to cross the river and go up Sand Knolls canyon again. Suddenly Jay say's "There's a big ram" Mind you, the ram is all of about two miles away and he had spotted it with his 10 power Swarovski binos. We set up the scope and sure enough, it was a great ram.
He was at the top of a large bowl at the head of Sand Knolls canyon. He was with three ewes, and then he was on the move. We drove down the road to the south and caught up to him, but he was still three levels of cliff up, and a half-mile away. I got the feeling that I knew where he was headed. We had seen two small rams and three or four ewes a couple of hours before, and he was heading in their general direction. He rounded a cliff face, and looked down towards us for about twenty minutes. He was 850 yards and cliffed in. I was tempted to try a shot, but Tyler told me to wait him out. We tried to plot a course down the cliffs that would take him to the ewes, and sure enough, he took the exact course that we thought he would. (It was the only way down, were not brilliant)! On the way down he ran into another smaller ram that distracted him for a few minutes, then he proceeded down to the ewes. We set up directly across from the ewe's location and ranged them at 313 yards. He came down through the boulders and rousted a young ram from his bed and started kicking him. The young ram didn’t want any of it and started to head out. I was having a hard time keeping up with him as he was running from ewe to ewe.
Finally he stopped. I took a breath, settled into the gun, and squeezed the trigger. A big puff of dirt erupted just over his back. I turned to Tyler and asked in disbelief, “Did I just miss him?” Yes was the answer. I got him back into the scope and aimed lower in his chest, found him in the scope. After the shot there was no reaction. I asked if I hit him that time and Tyler said he could see a hole in the lower rib cage a little far back. I thought “enough of this” and put it forward on his shoulder, as I wanted him down now. Boom, then he reacted! His right shoulder was clearly broken. He stood for about five seconds and tipped forward into a pile of rocks. I watched through the scope, but he was clearly dead.
The next order of business was to get across the river, take lots of pictures, and get the ram ready to move. Even though the ram was only 300 yards from the road, it took five and half hours to get the ram back to the truck. Granted, we were taking our time skinning and taking pictures.
This hunt was one of my life long dreams. I was reading Jack O’Connor stories when I was six or seven years old. I have been asked if there was any let down at fulfilling this dream? Just the opposite, it was better than I could ever imagine. I was talking to a good friend of mine about missing the first shot on the ram. I told him that I never have issues with buck fever with deer and elk. Are sheep different? He laughed for about ten minutes. He has three of the four sheep for a grand slam, and he said it doesn’t get any easier. They are just special!