I'm a sheep hunter because of Huntin’ Fool’s Membership Drive. It’s as simple as that. Like so many others, I’ve dreamed of sheep hunting since I was a kid, and I wasn’t sure that it would ever become a reality. I decided in my early 20s to play the raffle game rather than try to catch up with points, and a call from the HF team let me know that decision paid off. I’ll never forget where I was or what I was doing when I received the call, and I’ll never forget that initial feeling of knowing I’d have my chance at a Desert bighorn. In some ways, I feel like I got to skip to the top, in both quality of the hunt and species of pursuit.
The guys told me on the phone that I’d be heading south to Sonora, Mexico to chase Desert bighorn sheep with Wade Lemon Hunting in the same mountains that Jack O’Connor roamed in the first half of the 20th century. Of course, I was incredibly excited, but I’d also have to be patient. My hunt was still two years out, but that left plenty of time to get gear in order, get a lot of range practice, and physically and mentally prepare. My best friend since childhood, Jonas Holderman, immediately signed up to tag along, so I knew this hunt was shaping up to be an extra-memorable adventure.
It had been raining for two days when we arrived in Hermosillo, the state capital of Sonora. Precipitation was the last thing on my mind while travelling to the desert, but sure enough, we deboarded the plane in a light rain. We were met by Martin Flores, owner of Rancho El Volteadero where we’d be doing our hunting.
It didn’t take long to get outside of city limits before the clouds broke and the bright desert sun welcomed us. We had about a two- hour drive to reach the ranch, and Jonas and I eagerly took in the desert landscape. It’s amazing how quickly the flat desert floor is interrupted by steep, jagged mountains, some forming chains, while others stand alone in a sea of flat desert scrub. The sun was setting behind the distant peaks, which hid the Sea of Cortez, as we exited the pavement (that’s being generous) and made the final push to the ranch. The recent rains had made the desert really come to life as grasses and blossoms had emerged in full force. I’ll never forget the fresh, sweet smell of that recently-watered landscape.
The accommodations at Rancho El Volteadero are incredible, with the authentic Mexican food being the highlight. We ate our first of many meals shortly after arriving, received our game plan for the morning, and went to bed in our private, comfortable bedrooms. I slept well, but I didn’t waste anytime getting out of bed when my alarm rang. I was going sheep hunting! After making sure my bow was still dialed and quickly swallowing hearty breakfast, we were in the truck and headed to the mountain range where our guide, Lance Scoggins, had pre-scouted some sheep. The weather was fantastic and would be all week. Highs were in the mid 60s, and lows dipped into the high 30s. We spent the morning glassing from a distance, turning up just two ewes.
We hopped in the truck to drive to another glassing spot, and as we were driving along the base of the mountain, Lance spotted a nice ram staring down at us. We quickly determined he was a shooter, and we made a plan to get after him. The ram wasn’t too concerned about the truck, and he leisurely sidehilled the mountain as we watched. Lance thought our best bet was to get ahead of the ram and attempt to ambush him with the bow. We were making our first play on a Desert bighorn within three hours of beginning our hunt! Jonas and I got ahead of the ram, but he ended up taking a higher path on the mountain and crossed in front of us at 87 yards uphill. He was moving with purpose, and we quickly lost sight of him. We tried to turn him up again that morning, but with the midday sun heating up, we headed back to the ranch house for lunch and a nap.
We returned to the mountains late that afternoon to resume our glassing. We had a good idea of where the ram was headed when we saw him in the morning, so we focused our efforts there. Still, we weren’t finding him. We turned up additional ewes but no rams. Finally, Martin, who stuck around to help out glassing for the first few days of our hunt, spotted the ram. He was high up on the mountain and tucked away in some brush. Only part of his left horn was visible – an excellent spot, no doubt!
The ram was bedded in a location that wasn’t ideal for a direct stalk. Rather, we thought the best move would be to stalk into about 100 yards from the ram and hope the spotters below would make him nervous enough to move in our direction. The plan worked to perfection, almost. The ram did sidehill right to us, but as he appeared at 30 yards behind some brush, he caught our wind. He spooked uphill and quartered away from us, stopping very briefly in a narrow opening. I was able to draw and settle my pin, but without an opportunity to get an exact range, I proceeded to shoot right under him. He slowly but agilely made his way over the top of the mountain and dropped into the next canyon. With light quickly fading, we were unable to turn him up again that first day.
I was certainly down on myself, but we had made two plays on a fantastic Desert bighorn ram on the first day of our hunt. Just making a good stalk and being that close to a mature ram felt like a win. Based on our great encounters on the first day and the fact that the ram didn’t seem too spooked after my botched shot, I was confident we would turn him up the next day. However, as these things often go, the next two days passed without turning up another mature ram. We enjoyed watching groups of ewes and lambs, glassing bands of young rams, and the wonderful Sonoran weather in February. By the end of day three, though, I was getting a little nervous that I may have missed my one and only opportunity at a Desert bighorn sheep.
Day four began how the previous three had, but now there was definitely a sense of urgency in the air. It was a five-day hunt, and we were quickly coming down to the wire. Our first light glassing spot didn’t turn up much, and I was mentally preparing for another day of sifting through ewes and young rams. We repositioned on the backside of the main mountain we were hunting for a fresh look. We could feel the tension lift immediately when Lance said, “There he is!” We finally turned up the ram from the first day. In fact, he was pretty much in the same location that we first spotted him that first morning. Just his head was sticking out from behind some brush, cacti, and rocks.
We were able to get set up on the ram at about 150 yards, but we still had to wait for him to clear the brush. He began to work up the mountain and slightly quartered away. As he stopped to glance down at us, I settled the crosshairs on his shoulder and squeezed. The 6.5 PRC hit him hard, and he struggled uphill. He again stopped, this time broadside, andt another round to the shoulder anchored him on the volcanic rock. My Desert bighorn sheep was down!
After many congratulatory high fives and hugs, we regained our composure enough to head up the mountain to put hands on our ram. When we got up to him, it was obviously that he had been spending a lot of time in that particular fold of the mountainside. He had beds pawed out everywhere, and sheep scat littered the rocks. He likely felt safe and retreated there after my arrow snuck under his belly on day one. We undoubtedly overlooked him there on days two and three, but that didn’t matter now.
As I said above, I’ve achieved a lifelong goal of hunting wild sheep all because of Huntin’ Fool. I can’t thank HF, Wade Lemon Hunting, Martin Flores, and Lance Scoggins enough for turning this dream into reality. People keep referring to this experience as “once-in-a-lifetime,” but I’m too young and I had too much fun to accept that as being true. I’m not sure when or how, but I’m going to do everything I can to hunt wild sheep again!