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April 2024
Story by Terry Mason
State: Nevada
Species: Sheep - Desert

Lucky, that’s what I am. Every year, it’s kind of a fun game deciding where to apply for sheep tags in Nevada, trying to figure out where the best rams were taken from previous seasons and what units some big rams might be hanging out in. Lucky for me, my girlfriend’s father, Marc White, and my boss at work, Gary Hull, are sheep hunting fanatics and helped me with choosing areas for tag applications. Even luckier for me, I drew the only archery Desert bighorn tag in my hunt unit, so not only would I be hunting sheep this season, I wouldn’t have competition from other hunters and had the whole month of October to fill my tag. The 2022 mule deer season was the first time I had ever hunted with a bow, and I started to get pretty nervous that I bit off more than I could chew with my second ever archery hunt being a Desert bighorn tag. I wanted to give myself the best chance of success, so I went to buy a new bow from the Huntnhouse in Reno and started practicing daily. I was shooting a Prime Revex 4 with an Option Archery sight and was pretty comfortable taking practice shots out to 100 yards.

I began scouting in August and found out pretty quickly how challenging this hunt would be. The mountains were steep and loaded with cliffs. I was struggling to find any sheep, let alone a nice ram I would be proud to harvest. Everyone I spoke with about the hunt was adamant that I should get in touch with Victor Trujillo of Borrego Outfitters and ask for his help. I was a 27-year-old blue collar construction worker, so affording the world’s premier sheep outfit seemed impossible. However, as luck would have it, I ran into Victor and his girlfriend, Mikele, while out scouting and we hit it off. While I was in a canyon practicing tough angled shots with my bow, Victor and Mikele drove up and introduced themselves. They had me hop in the side-by-side with them and started showing me the area. They showed me waterholes that weren’t on the map, answered every question I had about sheep, and keyed me in on how the sheep in this particular unit like to behave. Things were starting to come together for me. Victor and Mikele took me under their wing, and I was starting to feel pretty confident I would get a nice ram.

Victor offered to take me out scouting the weekend before the opener and told me about a big ram they had named “Houdini” and had been keeping eyes on and filming him since 2018. We went out looking for Houdini the weekend before the opener, and he was right where Victor said he’d be. Seeing pictures of a big sheep is one thing, but standing 50 yards from a big sheep watching him lip curl and chase ewes is on a whole different level. After seeing Houdini in person, I made up my mind I wouldn’t consider any other rams. Houdini was in a league of his own. I didn’t want to let him out of my sight until I could put my tag on him, but I wasn’t prepared to spend the full week out there until the hunt, so I hauled back to Reno on Sunday to resupply and talk to work about getting some extra time off. With my boss being a sheep hunting fanatic, he was happy to give me all the time I needed to get Houdini down.

By Monday afternoon, I was back on the mountain looking for Houdini, but he was nowhere to be found. You don’t earn the nickname Houdini by accident, and he was making that clear to me. Victor assured me Houdini was in there, it was just going to come down to being patient and finding him. I started pounding the mountain on foot to see if I could find him tucked back in a draw out of sight. While I was out hiking, I could hear rocks tumbling down the canyon to the north of me and knew sheep were causing the rocks to fall. There was a smaller ram pushing some ewes around in that canyon the day before, so I assumed it was the same group of sheep. However, Victor suggested I go get a closer look to see if Houdini might be in the group. As I crested the ridge, there was Houdini standing 50 yards from me. Now it was time to keep my eyes on Houdini until the season opener in just two more days.

Opening day, I had a great crew with me, but the weather turned on us and we went from sunny 75-degree blue sky days to cold, foggy, and rainy. Before heading up the mountain, I decided to take a few practice shots just to make sure the bow was right. I kept catching my thumb release on my jacket, causing me to release an arrow midway through my draw cycle, so I knew when it came time to shoot for real, the jacket had to come off. Some of the guys hung low on the mountain to glass from the bottom while Victor, Mikele, and I went up to the top to where we put Houdini to bed the night before. Marc White phoned us from the bottom of the mountain and said he had eyes on Houdini and that he was down way low tucked into some cliffs, so we worked our way back down the mountain.

When we got to the bottom, it was go time. Houdini was working southwards away from the cliffs, and we knew we could cut him off and get into bow range. I hadn’t experienced buck fever since I was 12 years old on my first deer hunt, but today was different. My heart was pounding out of my chest, my palms were sweating, and my legs were shaking. We cut him off and got set up behind a large rock, knowing he’d work his way in front of us. The seconds started to feel like hours waiting for him to work in. Mikele whistled at us to let us know the sheep changed course and it was time to move. They were positioned 100 yards in front of her, and I felt like I could close the distance to get into bow range. As I worked in, the sheep scattered. The ewes headed for the cliffs, and the smaller rams took off heading south, but Houdini hung back to see what was going on. He was working right towards me and getting close fast. This was all going down so fast that I forgot to take off my jacket, which was causing me to mess up my draw cycle. Houdini stepped in front of me broadside at 5-8 yards. I had him dead to rights. As I drew back, my thumb release caught my jacket, sending an arrow flying midway through my draw cycle nowhere close to the direction of Houdini. It scared him up the hill above me. I nocked another arrow and waited for him to stop. He stopped at 45 yards straight uphill, which was a difficult shot. The line of sight read 91 yards on my rangefinder because he was up so steep. As I set the distance on my pin, he worked about five more yards uphill, stopped quartering away, and I let my arrow fly. It was a clean passthrough, but I was a little too far back. I quickly nocked another arrow and let it fly. The arrow buried into his shoulder, another imperfect shot. Nocking my third arrow, I took a second to breathe and let the arrow fly. It buried home into the perfect position. Houdini was down.

From the first shot at 5-8 yards to Houdini being down was about 90 seconds total. I pride myself on being an ethical hunter, and after months of practice, I still managed to execute an imperfect shot. Archery hunting is unforgiving, but today the odds were in my favor and I was lucky to have been able to have the opportunity for follow-up shots.

Houdini quickly expired, and my tag was filled. Victor, Mikele, and I hugged and shared congratulations. It was an emotional experience for me. I experienced the agony of defeat and the thrill of winning all in under two minutes, but I’ve got a great sheep to show for it and memories that will last a lifetime. At the end of the day, we all went back to Victor and Mikele’s house for dinner and to get a tape on Houdini. He measured 172 3/8" gross and 171 1/2" net.