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March 2020
Story by Casey Fairchild
Hunters: Wade Fairchild
State: Idaho
Species: Sheep - Rocky Mtn

I nearly fell out of my chair when I saw the green letters on my screen – successful. I’d never seen such a thing. I took a screenshot for proof and refreshed it to make sure. In my dad’s 60th year, he had drawn a sheep tag. Immediately, I began planning and fantasizing about scouting trips and curling horns. It had been almost 15 years since we’d last been in that area. I remember picturing sheep and mountain dwellers on the rugged peaks, but I was never lucky enough to see any. By the time my dad was blessed with this tag years later, I had yet to see a Rocky Mountain bighorn for myself live and in person. Back then, we barely had a pair of binos between the two of us, and we had been hunting areas void of sheep since then. Now, we’d be returning equipped with gear and experience.

I knew already from the research I’d done that the sheep weren’t back from their winter range yet, but I went up anyways to look around and get reacquainted with the area. Mainly blocked trails were all I found, but I did manage to find a band of ewes and young rams near their winter range. Seeing how sheep looked in my own glass made that trip a success. The following trip, weeks later in July, I was finally able to get in near where I wanted to. A quick glassing session before setting up camp didn’t yield much by the time dusk caught up with me, but on my way down the scree slide, I stopped one last time to scan the point above where I was sitting. Unbelievably, hair and horns filled my field of view once I raised my glasses. It was such an incredible sight. They were not ewes or juveniles but actual shooter rams! They were right there above me, not 400 yards up, as I was obliviously glassing miles away. They were tucked in the timber over the skyline, which is how I missed them, but they were feeding out now. I slipped back in the timberline to camp and returned early enough the next morning in time catch the last one disappearing back into the trees. I paralleled them up the opposite side, staying in cover and observing them all day. I was fortunate enough to see another band of five rams spill over the top and down through the trees to meet these. I watched as they butted heads and chased each other around all day, establishing dominance. It was a most memorable scouting trip.

While my dad practiced his shooting and exercise regimen throughout the summer, I kept tabs on the sheep and continued looking into new areas. Finally, it was mid- August and time for me to head to Utah for an early archery elk hunt. I would be leaving the sheep for a couple weeks until Dad and I went back for opening day. I felt uneasy about it because during the summer they had already disappeared on me for a short time and I was nervous it would happen again while I was off hunting. I ended up coming home early and successful with enough time for one more scouting trip to put my mind at ease. Not all of them were still there, but the important ram was right where I left him.

Dad and I headed back up for the hunt two days early with our good friend, Matt, who wanted to share the experience with us. We set up camp near the area and babysat the sheep, checking them from afar at dawn and dusk. The day before the opener, the three of us spiked out on a high knob about one mile away to continue watching them and have the advantage when it came time to approach, no matter their direction of travel. I can’t describe the excitement I was feeling, nor can I imagine how Dad was feeling. Eyes glued to our optics, we watched them until it was too dim to discern sheep from stone. They had fed out of the cover across an open face to a spring below some cliffs. After a drink, they milled in an avalanche chute and bedded down as the lights went out.

Come morning, we were staring at that same slide, and soon enough, some of the rocks began to move and transform into tan bodies. I would have placed my bet on them retreating back to the tree line they seemed so enthralled with once the sun began to wheel forth over the peaks. Instead, after they stretched their legs, they slowly began to work their way further from the timber and our predetermined kill site. I know there’s no rhyme or reason to what sheep do at times, so I wasn’t surprised. Due to my scouting, I knew where we could catch up to them if they continued on. I figured it would be later in the day if they made it over the backside.

After watching them for about 15 minutes, I came to the realization that we should just cut straight down across the valley towards them and approach from the bottom until we ran out of stalkable cover. It would be a poke shooting from the bottom of the slide, but that’s why Dad had been practicing out to 500 yards all summer. We decided to go for it and see how close we ended up. After a quick hustle, the last tree put us 430 yards from our target. The ram was proudly standing atop a cliff, staring down our way, almost waiting for us. I was setting up the scope and camera to look him over while Dad got prone behind the rifle. For the severe uphill angle, he had to pile stones under the bipod. I knew he was nervous, but as he craned his neck behind the scope, he informed me that he felt really good and stable. I told him to go ahead when he was ready. He really must have been because before I could finish saying it the gun went off and the ram dropped. As I watched in disbelief through the scope, processing what had just happened, the ram kicked a couple times and sent itself tumbling over the cliffs and down the slide another 150 yards. It was already over by 8:00 a.m. on opening day, and it had played out so well. All that remained was one last push up the scree to behold Dad’s once-in-a-lifetime sheep.

In his fall, the ram seemed to have chipped the bottom tip of his horn off, so to further relish in the adventure, we all climbed up to where the ram last stood. Amazingly, we found the broken piece. It was bittersweet that it was over. Although I had watched these rams all summer, I would have liked it to be a little longer.

In our busy lives, it’s easy to forget the small details. In retelling the story of Dad’s hunt, I find the best part about writing it is reliving it. Sharing the adventure with Dad and Matt was an incredible experience, and I can’t wait for the next one, preferably in sheep country with a tag of my own.