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July 2020
Story by Scott Mackintosh
Hunters: Scott and Tosh Mackintosh
State: Utah
Species: Sheep - California, Sheep - Desert

As all great stories begin, “There I was,” sitting on the bed at spring bear camp when my son, Tosh, exclaimed, “Oh my gosh! I just drew a sheep tag!”

“What makes you say that?” I questioned. You see, I knew that the emails from the Utah Game and Fish Department to inform applicants of the draw results were still weeks away.

He said, “I just looked at my bank statement and it’s been hit by the Utah Department of Wildlife.”
I decided to look up my bank account and bam! There in front of me was an equal hit to my card for the same price. I said, “I drew sheep too!”

Tosh had applied with 21 points for a coveted Desert bighorn sheep license. That was several points under what it normally took to draw the tag, but this year could be different. Utah had opened up two brand new resident-only hunts for sheep in two different areas that were archery only. I feared that he might draw and give up many points that took so much effort to obtain to be used on a lower percentage chance of filling the tag. I was pretty sure that I wouldn’t draw since I only had 7 points for Rocky Mountain bighorn. I went with the odds and applied for the best chance of drawing, not necessarily the best sheep unit. I had applied for this unit several years in a row, but this year was the brand-new archery-only hunt in this unit as well. I increased my chances of drawing and applied for the more difficult archery hunt.

I couldn’t believe it. We had both drawn tags for two of Utah’s once-in-a-lifetime hunts. I had California bighorn in northern Utah and Tosh had Desert bighorn in southern Utah in the same year. The saving factor was that my hunt was November 23-December 15 and his was December 28-January 19. Although they wouldn’t conflict with each other’s dates, how was I going to spend that much time away from work?

The big day came, and only a few days before Thanksgiving, I was hunting sheep with a bow in hand. The weather had turned unseasonably cold. Scanning the 15-day weather forecast, I didn’t see a single day above freezing temps with lows in the single digits. Snow fell, and spotting sheep among the dark rocks and white snow became difficult.

I found out quickly that the sheep were very skittish with having two rifle hunts back to back and ending only the day before my opening day. Stopping a truck along the road at half a mile from sheep could often cause them to disappear over the mountaintops in a running frenzy.

I had many friends and family helping on the opening day, and by days two through six, it was pretty much one person at a time or hunting on my own. Tosh spent a few days with me in anticipation of the sheep experience. My brother and my nephews came when they could. My son, Xian, came for a day and was by my side when a band of sheep nearly ran over us, but my friend, Russ, was the trooper and spent the most time with me. I would be on the mountain moving in on the sheep while he was spotting from below and that proved to be a huge amount of help.

On the fourth day, I was able to sneak up over a rock and range two rams at 42 yards. I hunkered down to nock an arrow, and when I came back up for the shot, they were gone. I frantically followed their tracks in the snow, all the while slipping and falling with the slick conditions. I managed to make them think that I was leaving as I walked several hundred yards out of the way and then tucked under a hillside and hurried back to them below their vision. My legs were rubber and lungs a blazin’ when I peeked over a rock right before dark with a ram’s big white butt glaring at me from 23 yards. He had no idea that I was there as I nocked the arrow and stood to draw. A ewe then stepped forward right next to him and blocked my shot. A minute later, he stepped away and darkness set in. He had no idea of the arrow that he dodged on that evening.

Several times during my hunt, I was busted by their amazing eyes, but with great persistence and burning lungs, on day six I was able to get into range and get an arrow into one of my greatest opponents. It was just before dark, and Russ and I watched my lighted nock dancing in the darkness as it crested the hill into the next canyon. I left him alone until daylight.

Russ went home for work that night, and my brother, Judd, was returning to help me track a ram in the morning. Two tire sidewall blowouts later, Judd called and I had to drive 45 minutes each way in Tosh’s side-by-side to pick him up. We put the spare on one and plugged the other with seven plugs. It held air! I couldn’t take my truck to save him because the starter motor had seized. We were in a bad way with vehicles, but that wasn’t as heavy on my mind as retrieving an arrowed sheep. It was nearly midday when we finally got on the blood trail. It was well marked with red in the white snow and soon led us to a downed ram and a big celebration.

The pressure leaving my body seemed to have me walking on air as I notched the coveted tag. I had difficulty seeing the joy in the journey until the pressure of a once-in-a-lifetime hunt was in the books as a success.
I knew that Tosh’s hunt was going to be difficult. He had killed a few animals with a bow, including a couple nice mule deer bucks, but I was worried about his lack of experience and going up against a huge goliath of an opponent. He was a state champion wrestler and had been in many high-pressure situations and always seemed to get through them better than me, so I felt a bit unjustified in my fears.

We all know how fast Christmas seems to come and go, and there we were with his opening day just three days after the holiday. He hired a guide through Escalante Safaris for his hunt to better increase his opportunities. I was fine with that as it took pressure off of me with my time commitments to his hunt along with my work as a salesman. We were three days into his hunt before even seeing a sheep. We learned really quick that when sheep are out of the rut it adds to the fact that finding them becomes much more like finding a needle in a haystack.

The guides knew where to look, and after a few blown stalks, day four ended as a fun and eventful day but came out empty. Day five was a no ram day, although six ewes kept us entertained a bit. I needed to get back to work, so I left for home after dark. I was going to miss day six and be back for days seven and eight.

I don’t know why I came home because my mind was going berserk and was focused on sheep hunting much more than work. It didn’t help that Tosh was calling me to let me know that they had found a ram but were trying to figure out the best way of attack. I was on pins and needles anticipating his call. It was getting dark, and just as I was wondering how Tosh had done that night, bam, there it was! A text came in with a picture of his downed sheep. He and his guides, Jimmy and Keele, had put together a plan that worked perfectly. With a 62-yard shot, Tosh was able to fill the air with screams of excitement as the ram tipped over after running only 30 yards.
As much as I wanted to be there with him to share in the joy, I was elated that he had done such a great feat. Seven archery-only sheep tags went out to all of the many people in the state of Utah. Somehow, two of those seven tags ended up in my family. Somehow, both of us were able to harvest bighorn sheep in the same year and with archery tackle. Now that is what dreams are made of.

Utah Bighorn Sheep Hunting