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March 2022
Story by Sarai Rizzi
State: Colorado
Species: Sheep - Rocky Mtn

Special gifts take your breath away and sometimes bring tears. The Bible tells us that our Father in Heaven gives us those kinds of gifts. He gives us the desires of our hearts, sometimes even more than we ask.

Earning my hunter’s safety card at age 17 was the golden ticket to hunting adventures. To hunt Colorado’s monarch of the mountain, Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep, was my dream, although I knew it would take many years to draw that privilege. Applications were submitted year after year, and notices of “unsuccessful,” while disappointing, built my anticipation of eventually drawing the sought-after license. I was asking the Lord for this, and He was teaching me to wait.

In May 2021, I got the news I’d waited for. My reaction caused our boys, Shooter and Kix, to nearly jump out of their skins. They shared the adrenaline rush, as did my husband, Eldon, when I shared the news with him.
Our plans for scouting the mountains through the summer were hampered by health issues, including COVID, which hit our whole family hard in July. On days when we couldn’t get out, we looked across the floor of the alpine desert where we live to the mountain peak in the east where I would hunt. My husband encouraged me with this thought, “The ram you’ll kill is up there right now eating grass.” This strengthened me while I conditioned by running and lifting weights, and especially on those COVID days when making it from the bed to the couch was a victory, the thought of “the gift” living on the mountain drove me to work harder to train both mind and body and claim victory over the tiny virus that had sapped my strength. The challenges given to us by God teach us the lessons that He is faithful and uses them for our good. Those down days taught me that God was using them for my good, making me anxious and grateful when we could resume scouting in earnest.

Hiking and scouting with our boys in areas unlike they’d ever before seen added to our family’s book of memories. Breathtaking views and steep and treacherous trails were fulfilling my dreams. Scouting trips turned into late nights, crossing boulder fields by moonlight and setting camp in the light of a headlamp. This mom is so proud of the way our boys rose to the challenges with me, keeping our spirits high. God was doing a work in each of us – building character, grit, determination, and camaraderie. A couple of longtime friends joined in and scouted with us.

Trusting God to continue to guide us, we decided that on opening morning we would go to the area of a well-known lake where a friend told us the sheep were. Our good friend, Aaron, pitched in to help as we set out with horses to carry our camp in advance of opening day. While waiting for him to meet us, we glassed the mountainside. Eldon spotted a group of rams two miles away, barely visible through the blinding sunrise. They were too far from the lake to be the group we had heard was near there. That meant we had two different groups to choose from. I knew this was likely a once-in-a-lifetime hunt and wanted the opportunity for a respectable ram, but not at the cost of cheapening the life of the animal God would give me by idolizing his horns for a score.
Hours and miles later up the mountain, we set up camp. Glassing the area again, we found the group Eldon had spotted that morning. One ram stood out above the others, so we planned to return opening day if nothing better turned up.

Leaving camp early the next morning on the trail to the lake, all three of us couldn’t wait to see if these rumored rams would be the ones we’d pursue. However, stories from hikers we met the day before caused us to wonder if human pressure had bothered the sheep. The beautiful hike didn’t disappoint, but it revealed only two average rams. We decided to go after the bigger ram in the other group.

I’ve learned that disappointment often leads to success. God has hidden treasures to give us, and though the search is sometimes difficult, through it all, we learn to know Him. On opening morning, when the group of rams was nowhere to be found, I found myself holding onto that promise. All day baking in the sun at 13,000 feet, we did not see them anywhere. There were some ewes and lambs, and the treat for the day was hearing the “baaa” as the lambs scurried after their mommas. Our camp was a welcome sight that night. Our tent was on the only flat spot in the gulch, along with the remains of an old miner’s cabin. Surrounded by fresh flowing water and bountiful, delicious gooseberries, this campsite was my dream vacation, tempering the disappointment of the first day’s hunt. Being under the starry sky reaffirmed my faith in God’s plan and in His timing.

The next morning, we checked over the ridge again and then skirted the top of the basin to look into the next canyon. We saw a ram who tempted me to shoot, but something told me he wasn’t the one. We saluted him and moved on.

Once in position in the next canyon, we settled down, getting comfortable in the grass. Looking at the back end of this canyon, I thought, “Now this is an epic place to hunt bighorn sheep!” My daydreaming was interrupted by Eldon, “I’ve got sheep!” Almost one mile away, he saw a band of nine rams. All rams! We took turns on the spotting scope, sizing them up. It was unanimous, there was one worth pursuing!

We quickly refueled with water and a granola bar and made a plan. They were below a saddle that appeared to be within shooting range. Finding railroad tracks at 13,000 feet reminded us of the untold stories and secrets of this mountain. I gained a deeper respect for the people who worked here long ago, seeking their claims. That, along with my reverence for the mountain itself, settled my spirit. The Maker of it all, the Author of stories told and untold, had the rest of my story waiting for me. I just had to get there.

“In his heart a man plans his course, but the LORD determines his steps,” (Proverbs 16:9). The steep descent into the bottom of the canyon was sketchy. Small rocks slid like marbles, and big rocks moved like a landslide. I was loving every minute, even the uneasy, nervous moments. Once in the bottom, calmed by a relaxing hike, we stopped occasionally to make sure the rams were in the same place. As we snuck into position, our voices quieted and adrenaline kicked in. We found the perfect grassy patch that gave me a clear 420-yard prone position. The steep angle required me to dial my 6.5x284 Norma down to 350 yards. God knew what I needed, putting each detail together before my eyes.

As I lay down and put my face to the gun, looking at my ram through crosshairs for the very first time, my eyes filled with tears. I looked back at Eldon and with a shaky voice said, “This is the one.” The salty tears burned my face, knowing this was my gift from God. When this bighorn sheep was born some 8-10 years ago, God knew then that He would give him to me today. I was overwhelmed, humbled, and grateful for this gift. Laying on the gun for two hours, waiting for my ram to stand and present a shot, I gained a great deal of respect for this monarch of the mountain. He napped, stretched, chewed his cud, and watched. Sitting like a king at the top of this mountain, looking out over the vastness was his place in this world, his domain. I pondered what winters he’d weathered, storms he’d endured, lambs he’d fathered, and lion attacks he’d narrowly escaped. My heart was humbled, appreciating the gift of the moment. Suddenly, a gust of wind broke the silence and caused the rams to stir. He stood right in my crosshairs. Done.

Standing over his body, I told the Lord I’d honor my ram’s life by giving Him the glory. I pray I’ve done an honest job of that and that He is pleased. In the end, I truly came to know that every good and perfect gift is from above, and in every single way, my bighorn sheep, the scout, the hunt, the kill was all more than I could have ever asked or imagined. So, to God be all the glory. Amen.

I’d like to give a special thanks to my husband, Eldon, our boys, Shooter and Kix, and our good friends, Aaron Laske, Verlyn Boese, Ron Rivale, and Kevin Hanson.

Colorado Bighorn