by Eric Wooding
|I picked my sheep area in Idaho in 1999 based solely on the drawing odds over the last few years. I realized why the odds were so good most years, no sheep are harvested in the unit. After drawing the tag, I talked to a game biologist who had hunted the area for three weeks, two years ago he had not taken a ram. He told me the general area the sheep were in, but did not think I had much chance of getting one. There were not supposed to be many rams, and the few there were 10+ miles from the nearest road.
I had enough leave time from work to hunt the whole season if necessary. In addition, I had drawn a Ruby Mountains Nevada deer tag, which made my investment in the two tags close to $1300. This stretched my budget to the point where I had to backpack hunt on my own.
I packed in on opening day, August 30, and planned to stay until I ran out of food, which made it possible to hunt about one week at a time, depending on how many grouse I could get. I figured to hunt deer in Nevada on my way home.
The second morning I spotted a group of three rams. I snuck up to within 50 yards. One was a legal 3/4 curl, but it seemed way too early in the hunt to take him. That would be the last legal ram I would see for over a month.
As if the ram hunting was not tough enough anyway, nearby forest fires made long distance glassing nearly impossible. Several groups of ewes were easy to find, but I got frustrated with the area and switched to other parts of the zone.
I made several weeklong hunts into those areas but with no luck. After a month or so, I figured my only hope to find rams was to return to the area I had first hunted at least I had seen sheep there.
I was awfully tempted just to give up at that point and head to Nevada to deer hunt, as I had hunted there enough to know my chances of getting an outstanding buck were pretty good. In the end, I decided to go for broke and use all my leave on the ram, even though I was not likely to get one.
I ran into the outfitter for the area, who was guiding elk hunters. He and his guides said I was hunting the right area. He even was hospitable enough to feed me several meals, which seemed like fine gourmet food after freeze- dried food for a month. I wish I could have afforded his services, which I thought were reasonably priced. With only ten days to go in the sheep season, he and his guide let me know about where their guided sheep hunter killed a nice ram two years previously. It was not far from where I had hunted, but was in steep, miserable, timbered country. The first evening I went over there I jumped a group of three rams, two of which were nice mature ones. Just as I was about to squeeze off a 50-yard running shot, I lost my footing and the shot went high. I only had enough food for two more hungry days, and went back to town.
The coil in my truck went out, so by the time I got back, there were only five days left in the season. I went across the canyon from where I last saw the rams, and found them the first day I was back. The canyon took the better part of a day to cross the distance is not far, but it is very rugged. I guessed a bit wrong about the lay of the land and got confused, so I had to go back across and find them again. About dark with only two more full days to go, I found them again. The next morning, I confirmed their location and went back across. They had moved some before I could get to where I thought I might get a shot that evening. From the way they were drifting over the last several days, I just took a guess as to where they would be, and went with it on the last day. That afternoon, the three rams stepped out of a little patch of timber I was watching. I guessed it to be on the order of 350 yards. I got into a nice prone position. My 30-06 would be about 8 inches low if my range guess was right, so I held slightly above the back of the ram I liked best. He was broomed back far enough that I was not sure if he was 3/4 curl, but with his mass he was well past the four-year minimum age. It was a perfect lung shot.
I boned and caped out the ram, and started the 15-mile walk back to the truck early the next morning. I filled my backpack with all the meat and tied on the cape, horns, my rifle, and my spotting scope. The pack had to weigh over 160 pounds. I had to lie beside it to put it on, roll to my front, and slowly work to my feet. I just left the rest of my gear, including my tent and sleeping bag, with the hope to get it later. I did not make the trail by dark. I built a big fire to keep warm. The next day I made the trail by 10 a.m. and was able to keep going after dark that evening with a flashlight. I made the truck by 2 a.m. the third morning. I could hardly walk by then. There was no way I could have gone back for the rest of my gear maybe I'll try for a fishing trip there next year. Even If I had the time, I was too physically beat to hunt deer on the way home.
I don't care what my ram scores, it is the most special trophy I have. It took me over six weeks of tough hunting. I lost 35 pounds. In the end, luck played more of a part than anything. I would have had quite an adventure without getting one, but getting a nice mature ram after all that will be hard to top.
Copyright © 2000 J & D Outdoor Communications. All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part in any form or medium without express written permission is prohibited.