10 Year Old Ram On The 10th Day Of A 10 Day Hunt
By Bruce Marshall
Where to start? I guess the beginning is actually when I moved my family to Wyoming 25 years ago. As a hunter it is a great place to be. I started applying for a sheep within a couple of years of arriving. Not every year, but probably every other year. Then things changed in 1994 as Wyoming went to a preference point system for moose and sheep. Each year you apply you get a preference point. 75% of the licenses are allocated to those with the maximum number of preference points. Wyoming issues less than 250 sheep licenses each year, but eventually I knew I would draw a sheep license. I had applied for areas 2, 3 and 5, depending on the year. I missed a year when they moved the application date cutoff up a month a few years ago. In 2011 I had spoken to John Porter of Morning Creek outfitters and decided to try area 2.
Note the flare out in the horns.
No luck with the draw. I eventually called the Wyoming Game and Fish dept. They showed me with two short of maximum points. I apparently had missed another year. In looking at the numbers I was unlikely to draw area 5 for five more years. But area 2 was still a possibility depending on how many applied for that area. So in 2012 I applied for area 2. I was headed fishing when I got a call from a guide I had spoken to telling me that I had drawn an area 2 sheep license. I was thrilled and very excited.
Pack string leaving John's cabin.
Now I had a big decision to make: whether or not to hire a guide. One of my friends asked, when will you draw a sheep permit again? I said probably never. So time to get a guide.
Then the question was who. I had a recommendation from a friend who lives in Cody, and another recommendation from my gunsmith who used to guide there 30 years ago. I had seen John Porter on the Best of the West so I knew about him. So I asked the question to the Long Range Hunting sheep forum. They were about 80% for hiring John Porter. I called John and booked my hunt.
The scenery going in.
It was tentatively set for Sept 23 as a 10 day hunt. He had 2 hunters in area 5 to start the season and 2 ahead of me in area 2. He suggested that I come over to Cody and do some shooting with him before the hunt. I agreed it would be a good idea.
I knew I needed to get in condition to hunt the high country. So I changed my eating habits and started to exercise. By the time the hunt rolled around I had lost 17 lbs and had my legs in decent condition.
I also had to decide which rifle to take. I have a 25-06 Rem SS that in 2011 I had found a load w/ Accubonds that it just loved. One ragged hole at 100 yards. I also have a Tikka T-3 that I used on Ibex and in Africa, 300 WSM. With 150 Gr Barnes TTSX I can get a 1/2 inch groups. The BC sucks for long range shooting. My other choice was a new rifle being built for longer range shooting.
I'm a left handed shooter, but every rifle I've ever had was right handed. I had thought a few times that I'd like to try a thumbhole stock, but doubted that a left hand thumbhole was available for a right hand rifle. Then on the Long Range website that stock came up for sale along with a Savage action for $360. So I bought it and took it to Mac's Gunworks just south of Gillette. I told him my requirements: rifle no more than 8lbs and I wanted it in a 6.5. He suggested a 6.5-06. That sounded good to me. So he ordered in a barrel and had everything titanium nitrided. It was finished about mid-August so I started working up a load. Between Chuck and I we got a load with 140 gr Bergers with H4831SC that had a velocity of 3004 FPS. I got around to calling John to see If we could get together to shoot. I took the new 6.5 with me. I had pretty well decided that was the rifle I was taking sheep hunting.
I drove to Cody and met with John and one of his friends to do a little shooting. I got to shoot one of John's 7mm's and .223's. Talk about sweet. I loved the Huskemaw scopes they had and decided I needed one. My wife was kind enough to make that my birthday present for this year. So back to Cody I went to get the scope mounted and to shoot it for the data to make the turrets. It was interesting shooting the data. At 650 yards there was a hole in the rock I was shooting at, first shot. John said, “If that was a chipmunk it would have been dead. That rifle shoots good.” 2 days later I had 2 turrets for my scope and just had to wait my turn to hunt.
John had a pretty good streak going. In area 5 his first hunter killed a good ram opening day. His 2nd hunter took 3 days. Then in area 2 his first hunter got a great ram on the first day. His 2nd hunter was young lady who drew first time she applied. She killed her ram on the 3rd day and then it was my turn.
I met John at his home at noon on September 20th and we headed to town. There we met his cameraman for the hunt. His name was Terrance. We then drove to John's cabin to load the horses and make the 12 mile ride into camp. We loaded the horses and headed in. The Aspens had just turned color and it made the ride in beautiful. I got off to walk once for about a half mile. By doing that I could keep from getting saddle sore. One of the real treats coming in was seeing a bull elk in the creek. Just 20 minutes earlier John had told us it was about time to see one. John felt like it was a 365 class bull. We took pictures and moved on. It gave me a itchy trigger finger as I've never gotten an elk that large. At camp I met young lady named Chelsea that was the wrangler.
The next day set the pattern for how we sheep hunted. Up around 6:45. Breakfast and pack up the horses. Leave camp about 8AM. John likes sheep hunting because he can sleep in. With elk he's up at 4AM.
The first day we went up to what he calls the Horse Pasture. It’s just above camp, only 2 or so miles away. It was where hunter #1 had gotten his ram. As we left camp there were fresh grizzly tracks in the trail over the top of our horse tracks from the evening before. We arrived at a point on a ridge that overlooks the valley and got off the horses. We tied them and started to glass. Right away John spotted a ram in the timber just to the west of us. He said it was perhaps 5 years old. Too young for what we wanted.
John had told me we were looking for rams that are 8 years old or older and getting past their prime, with broomed off horn tips that would score on an average 160-168. By doing this we were assuring that we would never hurt the sheep population in that area.
We saw several other sheep, but nothing worth going after. One was on a ridge and covered perhaps 1/2 mile while we watched him. We stayed till it was almost dark and headed back to camp.
This fall had been a record breaking drought. Lots of fires going in the western US. That made the air smokey, which made it hard to see sheep when looking 2-3 miles away. That proved to be a problem throughout the trip. John tends to spot the sheep up to 3 plus miles away and then use the horses to get to them and make a stalk. Because of the drought the sheep were even harder to find. All of the green food is in the timber, so that's where they were staying. John calls them "timber rats” as the sheep in that area spend a lot of time in the timber even in a wet year.
View from Burnt Knob. Charlie's Hole is to the left of my head. Note smoke in air.
Our weather was warm and dry which didn't help any. The sheep are getting their winter coats and wanted to stay cool. So they were in the shade. There was also an infestation of biting flies that the horses and sheep didn't like either.
The second day we made a ride, a big loop up what he calls the Mineral Fork, 20 miles in one day. There were more fresh bear tracks on the trail. We walked perhaps 2 miles. We'd ride to where we had a view and then stop and glass and then move on. At the upper basin in the Mineral Fork we found 3 rams. The oldest was again perhaps 5-6 years old. We worked our way over the top and into another basin and started towards camp. We found 3 more rams. Again, nothing over 6 years old. Then we saw a 6 point bull elk coming out of a timber patch. A little later we jumped 3 raghorn bulls. Great elk country. We arrived back to camp just at dark. I was tired. I'm a jeweler. I have a desk job and this was a long day of riding and walking. It was exhilarating. We were seeing lots of game just not the right ram.
Rattlesnake with canyon below it.
On day 3 we went up to what they call the Burnt Knob. More fresh bear tracks on the trail. Its on the NW side of the valley. Perhaps a 4-5 mile ride from camp. Easier day after the long ride from the day before. We were just above where hunter #2 had gotten her ram. There had been 2 other shooters in that group of rams and he hoped that we might spot one of them. We saw several sheep, but only one of interest. It was back by the Horse Pasture. It was bedded in an opening in the timber 1/2 mile from where we had been the first day. We were perhaps 3 or more miles away and we weren't sure if this was a shooter. On the 4th day we went back to the Horse Pasture to see if we could find him. We started on the end of the ridge. After 2 hours of glassing John said lets move to the hill to the west of us. There was no trail so we made our own. We did a little doubling back, but eventually wound up on the mountain where we had seen the first ram on the first day. It allowed us to see the west side of the mountain above the Horse Pasture.
Mineral Fork upper basin. There were 3 rams above and to the left of my head.
We rode past a couple of possible glassing spots to one that was higher. It gave us a better look at the mountain that we were on. After 30 min or so I elected to go 75 yards downhill to get a different angle on the mountain above the Horse Pasture. I quickly spotted a ram bedded in the shade that looked like a good one across the valley. I ran up the hill and got John and Terrance. John set up the spotting scope. He took a good look and told me it was a mature ram that was at least 8 years old. He had me look and asked if I wanted to take him. After a short discussion I said sure. As we started to set up John warned us he might stand up and be gone at any time. John ranged him at 1030 yards, way further than I have ever killed an animal before. I elected to use John's 7mm. we set up a rest and I was trying to get comfortable. I was informed we had to wait for the ram to stand up because we were filming the hunt for The Best of The West. The outdoor channel won't air it if an animal is shot in its bed. It’s not sporting....
Terrance was heading up the hill to get something and John suddenly said he's up. I had time to look in the scope and try one dry fire. Then he stretched and turned and walked into the timber. In my mind I said there goes my ram!!! I was crestfallen. We stayed until almost dark to see if he would come back out. No luck.
Looking at sheep from Charlie's Hole.
On day 5 John wanted to hunt the Horse Pasture because both potential shooters we had seen were there and a basin he calls Rattlesnake. About 3 miles out of camp we stopped to glass and I spotted a grizzly bear 800-900 yards away. He had no idea we were anywhere around. We got to see a bit of new country and basins. We bumped a group of 3 high country mule deer bucks. Nothing huge but a lot of fun to see. When we got to the south side of the horse pasture we found no sheep. We went in the afternoon and sat for a while glassing. John decided to make a 1 person drive through the bedding area to see if he could push him out to me. No luck with that either. We saw several sheep across the valley, but not a shooter. Back to camp at dark again. About a 18 mile ride and walk that day.
Upper basin of Dead Indian Creek.
On day 6 we went back up the Mineral Fork, but went up the west side to John's favorite camping spot. Beautiful high country meadow with lots of elk sign. We found 2 rams in the back of the basin under some permanent snow fields. One may have been 6 years old . We also saw the 3 rams on the other side of the basin, probably the same ones from day 2. On the way out we stopped for an hour up Dead Indian Creek where the canyon is narrow and has water. This was some of the most beautiful country you will ever see, just not a shooter ram to be found.
On day 7 we went to Charlie’s Hole. We had to lead horses up the hill part of the way as it was too steep to ride them up. Hunter #2 had missed a ram in there and John hoped that there would be a good ram in there. We saw sheep just like every other day, just not a shooter. This was an easy day, only about 10 miles round trip...
On day 8 John was ready to pull out all of the stops. We headed for Upper Dead Indian. Along the way John spotted a beautiful ram, 6 years old. It was basically full curl, but he still has his "lamb tips" on his horns. John really didn’t want to shoot him, but felt obligated to allow me to choose. It was day 8 and I was sorely tempted. It was only 400 or so yards. I decided to pass. John quickly packed us up and moved on before I could change my mind. An hour and a half later John spotted a herd of about a dozen sheep. “I think they are rams,” he said. As he got out the spotting scope I found the sheep just as the last of them were running out of view. They were close to a mile away. I asked John if we could have spooked them. He told me no, that it likely was a bear. So then we needed to see if we could find this herd of sheep to get a better look. As we headed for a saddle we jumped 3 elk. We climbed to a bench and worked along it. As we hit a small patch of scrub spruce we jumped a spike bull elk. As he jumped up John drew his pistol at the noise in case it was a bear. John has killed 11 bears with his pistol.
View from ridge above Gravel Bar.
So up the basin we went to a saddle that we climbed to drop into the neighboring basin where we had seen the sheep. On camera I commented that probably less than 20 people per year got to see this basin. John gently corrected me and suggested it was more like 3 per year. When we came over the top no sheep were in sight. When we reached the bottom of the basin John spotted 3 rams at the far west end. He didn't think any were shooters so we went to the east end to see if we could find the herd of a dozen. At the east end there were no sheep. So we climbed to the north side and looked into the Gravel Bar drainage. We then headed west towards the rams to take a better look at them. We periodically stopped to look into Gravel Bar. We found where the herd of a dozen went into Gravel Bar. After looking at the tracks John told us they were ewes and lambs. We saw another small group of ewes near the rams. Once we got close enough we determined that none of the rams was over 6 years old. So back we headed towards camp. That was a long day. Close to 24 miles. That night I start to second guess passing on the 6 year old ram. I was down to 2 more days. My dreams have been haunted by visions of the big ram from day 4. His thick horns carried their weight well down until they curled forward…
Two ewes on last day, perhaps 3/4 mile from my ram.
On day 9 John sent Terrance and Chelsea out with all of the spare horses. We have been alternating horses to keep from wearing them out. We had 10 horses in camp at that time. They were picking up the first of the elk hunters, the next sheep hunter, another wrangler and a camp cook. Camp was going to be busy soon. We go up to what John calls the Red Shale Hill. It is on the west side like the Burnt Knob, just not as far north. It gives a good view of the east side of the valley including a good part of the Horse Pasture. It’s where we have seen our only shooter rams so we wanted to be able to see it. We arrived there prepared to spend the day. Early in the afternoon, John found a herd of 7 rams. They are close to 3 miles away, but one or two looked like shooters. Because of where they were, John determined we couldn’t go after them. I was sick at heart. It was the 9th day with rams in sight and we couldn’t get to them. It was just too far around to get to them. That night I was a little downcast. John said to me, “Bruce, you seem like a nice guy. It’s about time for the sheep gods to throw you a bone.”
Day 10 of a 10 day hunt. We got up earlier. There was wrangler to get the horses for us. We left camp at about 8 AM. We were headed to the basin where we saw the 7 rams the night before and we were hoping that they were still there. It was close to 7 miles to get to the proper basin. At about 10:45 we dismounted and crested the saddle to look in the basin. I immediately spotted a ram straight across from us. John grabbed the spotting scope to have a look. The sheep was gone in less than 4 minutes and I never got to look at him with the spotting scope. John said he looked good. My assumption was that he was the last of the 7 from day 9. He went into the top of Charlie's Hole. John had a good idea of where he might be. I knew he was probably in the timber bedded down.
We had to go to the top of the basin to get out of it and then down the ridge to the saddle that the ram used, about 2 1/2 miles. The ridge was at perhaps 10,000 feet. We were above the timber line at that point. To get to timber, we were going to get way closer to the ram with horses than what I wanted. We needed a good place to tie them up. We got within 75 yards of the saddle where the ram had been and tied the horses. I grabbed my rifle and backpack and followed John. He got his video camera out so he could use it when needed. We worked around the top of the saddle and then pushed through the trees to get to a rocky point that John wanted to get on to survey the area. As we moved through the trees I suddenly heard John say, “Sh@*!” We had just jumped the ram.
We immediately ran to the end of the rock point to see if he would come into view. John looked over the end of the point and immediately jerked back. He told me to hurry over and kill the ram as he was right below us. He filmed as I quickly stepped to the end of the rocky point and knelt down to shoot. There was the ram less than 100 yards away. As I pressed the trigger I wobbled back. When the rifle fired I knew I had hit him. I quickly chambered a 2nd round and took a shot at the ram as he ran into the timber. I told John that I had hit the ram too far back. He said, “You’re using Bergers, right?”. I said yes. He said that they would tear him up and that we would be fine. We heard a crash in the timber. John said, I think that is your ram tipping over. We then reviewed the footage on the camera. Just as I called it, he was hit too far back, just in front of the hind quarter. The cool thing is you can see my bullet in flight. Not the vapor trail, The bullet. John was very excited with the footage.
The draw where he died.
We waited 20 minutes before John headed down the hill. He left me where I could see in case the ram came out into the open. With a war whoop John let me know he was dead. It took 15 minutes to get down to him.
What an old sheep he was. 10 1/2 years old. Heavy broomed horns. Only about 32 inches long, but he still scores in the 163-164 range due to his mass. As we looked at him I said he looked like the ram from day 4 that we had seen at 1030 yards. We are about 95% sure it is the same ram. The horns turn out, which is not exceptionally common. Most telling is his color. Most sheep up there are a chocolate color. Mine is more gray on the head and neck. Not unheard of, but not common either. The bullet tore up the liver and he went less than 70 yards. A quick end to an old warrior.
John told me that last year he went through the last 20 years of records for area 2. There had only been 4 rams killed that were 11 yrs old or older. Their teeth just wear out and they starve to death at 9 to 10 years old.
Scenery on the way out.
I had come out on Oct 1. The next sheep hunter killed his ram in 2 days. I was just lucky I guess. I got to spend extra time with John in the wilderness that he loves. It sounds like my hunt will be shown next year on the Best of The West. They had over 4 hours of video. I told them it was enough for a mini-series, just not enough kills.
As a note, if you ever draw a sheep permit in Wyoming it would be a good idea to hire a guide, unless you know someone with horses that has hunted the area you are in. Kill rates in area 2 usually run about 65%. This year with the drought it may be a bit lower.
By the way, John had generously offered to either keep me in camp or bring me back in later at a low daily rate if I hadn't gotten my ram in the 10 days that the hunt was scheduled. Never give up hope. As John says, timing is everything. 5 minutes later and we never would have seen that ram. Good luck on all of your hunts.
Bruce Marshall was born and raised in southeast Idaho. He has graduated from Ririe High School, Ricks college with an Associates degree in Arts and Science, University of Idaho with a Bachelors in Geology, Gemological Institute of America as a Graduate Gemologist and Paris Junior college with a degree in goldsmithing. He and his wife MaryAnn have been married for 33 years and have 3 children and 7 grandchildren. They own Marshall Jewelry in Gillette Wy. Bruce has hunted and fished since he was 3 years old. He has been blessed to hunt Africa 2 times and once in Kyrgyzstan.