It felt like the last week of school before summer vacation. Never before had I felt this much anticipation, nervousness, and excitement for a hunt. I had hunted sheep with my bow 16 years earlier, but this time, there was something different. Several months earlier, my friend, Kris, and I were traveling back from the opening weekend of shed antler hunting in Colorado when I received the unexpected email notifying me of my successful sheep draw. It was hard to believe and felt undeserved as it was my second sheep hunt, while sitting next to me was my 63-year-old hunting buddy who had yet to have an opportunity. Bittersweet was the term that came to mind.
One day in August, my scope scanned across a band of rams in the trees several mountains over. I couldn’t make out much more than the fact that they were rams, so the following weekend, I got closer and was able to relocate them further up the drainage. Six of the seven were mature rams, two of which would be in the 180” class with deep, heavy curls and good mass all the way around. One of them was a collared ram with an ear tag, and the other was a super dark-colored ram we later named “Chocolate.”
The week before the season, I started to hear rumors of a low-pressure system moving into the state. My heart sank as I knew my rams spent a lot of their time above 12,000 feet and would likely head for lower country. I made the decision to head for the first spot where I had found rams earlier in the summer to try and get a better look at them knowing they would be in a much safer place to hunt should the storm turn out to be as bad as they were predicting.
After a couple days of not finding any rams, we ran into an elk hunter who was happy to exchange info on some big bulls we had seen for the location of the missing rams. That night, we hustled over and were able to get glass on them. One of them was what I considered at the very bottom of what I would shoot – full curl, lamb tips, but young. The bonus was that they were in a very huntable spot. We decided to move camp and get set up to go in and kill this ram on opening day.
After dinner, I pulled out the Phone Skope images of the other rams and compared them to what we had just seen. Right away we knew I had made a poor decision. We needed to go back to the other rams. They were in a whole different class, with 4-5 more years in age and everything I had been hoping for in a once-in-a-lifetime tag.
The next day, we ate a hearty breakfast and then began undoing all the hard work from the previous day. It was the day before the season, and we had an hour and half drive to the other spot. By the time we made it there, we only had a couple hours to reset camp and race up the mountain to try and relocate the rams.
We split up, and Kris hiked up a drainage close to camp while I hiked up the next drainage opposite the mountain we had located the rams on previously. Just before I took off from the trailhead, I decided to glass up the mountain just in case something obvious was presenting itself. As my binos came up, I immediately caught a glimpse of white on a ledge between two cliffs. A ram! I dropped my pack and pulled out my scope. There were seven rams only 100 yards from where I had last seen them 10 days earlier. The collared ram and Chocolate were with them as well. It was game on for the next morning!
The 3:00 a.m. alarm clock sounded, and we were up and at it. As we came to the top of the ridge, we slowly scrolled over and glassed where the rams had been the night before. Nothing. After five minutes of glassing, I decided to circle back around and up higher on the ridge. As I did so, I caught a glimpse of a ram on the ridge above the cliffs. I quickly dropped into a shooting position and got my binos on the ram. He was at 250 yards but just a half curl. As I watched the ram, it became clear that he had winded us. Kris pushed me on as I hustled around the small basin as quickly as I could.
When I reached the other side and popped over, a nice ram bolted about 200 yards away straight up and over a rock spire. Both rams seemed to head right back down into the cliffs where they had been, so I spent the next couple of hours carefully creeping out on the ledges, trying to catch a glimpse of them with no luck. After meeting back up with Kris, we decided it was time to head down.
The next morning, Kris had to fix one of the ATVS, so I went back up to glass the valley and see if the rams stayed in the cliffs. Upon arrival, my fears were confirmed, the rams were gone. I decided to take a short hike up into the neighboring basin to try and see up above the cliffs.
After about a mile of bushwhacking, I came to the first opening where I could see up into the basin. I caught a glimpse of white that stood out from the snow. Ram! Up high above the cliffs on the edge of the basin, right where we had been sitting the previous day, there were two rams feeding their way along in the snow. I could tell they were good but didn’t take time to get out the scope. The wind was swirling, and I only saw one way to get into shooting range. It would be a 1,000-foot hustle up a steep draw with cliffs at the top.
Slipping and sliding the whole way up, I finally made it to the top of the draw. As I crested the top, it was a total whiteout with visibility out to about 40 yards. It was close to an hour before the first break came in the storm and I was able to see across to the side the rams had been on, but I couldn’t find them. When the next clearing finally came, I prepared to glass further up where I hadn’t been able to look previously, and there they were, feeding up through a chute where they were well concealed. This time, I was able to see them clearly and focused the scope in. One was a beautiful full curl ram with a lamb tip on one side. As I panned across, the second ram filled my scope. His body size dwarfed the first ram. He was broomed back heavily, but I could tell he was an old ram. They were bedded and only one side was visible. When the first ram turned, I could see he was broomed on his other side, but the bigger ram had settled in for a nap. It took over two hours before the big ram got up and turned. When his other side appeared, it was clear he was a shooter.
Realizing the evening was approaching and the rams were working their way out of sight, I knew I had to take a shot. I rested my gun on my scope, found the ram, and squeezed the trigger. The gun bucked, and I looked across to see the ram still standing. He was clearly hit, but not knowing if it was fatal, I loaded another round and punched the trigger again. The ram ran up onto a small bench and turned straight toward me. He was hit hard, but I assumed he must be gut shot. I focused, relaxed, and squeezed the trigger one last time. This time, the bullet in the chest put the ram down and I sat back with an empty gun, relieved, excited, and shaking.
It took about 45 minutes to hike around to the ram. The anticipation, stress, frustration, and all the other emotions and energy that had gone into this hunt were coming to an end. I couldn’t believe I was really standing there on that mountain finally up close with one of these incredible animals in such an unbelievably beautiful place. Sometimes I think God just has to show off a little so we remember where the blessings come from.
Having the opportunity to hunt such incredible animals is priceless, and I’m so thankful to everyone who had a part in it, especially my amazing wife, Tamara, for her support and understanding. Thanks to Kris for his support and accountability. Hopefully next year it will be Kris’s turn and we will get the chance to be with these amazing creatures in their mountains once again.