It all started about two years ago when a couple of buddies of mine and fellow former Rocky Mountain Bighorn Society Board of Director members at different times told me, “If you want to hunt sheep before you’re too old to hunt them, then find the best units in all of the Rocky Mountain states and apply for all of them. Eventually, you will draw a tag.”
I heeded their advice and applied in Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada, Utah, Montana, and Idaho. The first week of June, I was packing for a business trip on a Monday night and got to checking my mail. I had a letter from Idaho Fish and Game. I opened it, expecting to see my $2,200 license refund, but out fell a license. The Idaho Hell’s Canyon area has one sheep tag per year, so what an unbelievable stroke of luck on my first try!
Over the next few days, I started calling fellow sheep enthusiasts and was happily surprised with the warm greeting I got from every one of them. After speaking at length with a few of them, I decided to go up to Lewiston for five days around the 4th of July to start my scouting. I flew to Boise, rented a car, and drove up to Lewiston.
Over the five days I was in Idaho, the low temp was one day that it was only 99. The other days, it ranged from 102 to 104 degrees. While hiking and scouting with my new best friend and sheep enthusiast, Jason, I asked what kind of temps I could expect around hunting season. His reply was that it would be about the same. We found a few rams in a couple days of scouting, and one was clearly a shooter in the 185" range.
Over the weeks after July 4th and before the hunting season, I spoke with Jason and/or at least one of my new sheep family friends every week and was getting updates on where big sheep had been seen. Sadly, part of the units I could hunt with this tag burnt prior to my getting there and a lot of the Bitterroot Mountains between Idaho and Montana were burning while I was there.
Opening day was getting close. I drove up to Boise on Friday, August 25th, spent the night, and got to Lewiston around noon on the 26th. We hiked and scouted both Saturday night and Sunday morning and found a couple rams in the 180-185" B&C range. We then ran the river Sunday evening with some other friends and found seven additional rams. One was right about 175-180", three were over 180", and one may have gone about 190". After watching them for a couple hours, we decided to head home and made the plan to come back in the morning with our gear to camp on the rams until opening day.
We set up camp on the Oregon side of the river across and south of the rams. We then watched them through spotting scopes and binoculars for the next two days at ranges as close as 75 yards.
Opening morning, Jason woke us up at 2:30 a.m. We moved via Jason’s dad’s jet boat down the river to the Idaho side where we planned to set up for daybreak. After a little difficulty getting the boat properly tied up, we moved up into the rocks and sat and waited. Light finally came, and one of the young rams was positioned on the top of a cliff just slightly in front of and way above us. I crawled around a five-foot high, 10 to 12-foot long boulder. When the young ram was surveying the opposite direction, I climbed up on it and got set up with shooting sticks. Jason and Shane then crawled out next to the rock, and we all started scanning for the others. Between me and the auction hunter, it was simply a matter of who saw them first. About 15 minutes after shooting light, we heard a shot from the riverbank and heard rocks tumbling. I looked out in front of me about 200 yards just in time to see the largest ram come off an 80-foot cliff and tumble down the mountain to within 25 yards of the river. It was time to hunker down and focus on the #2 and #3 rams.
It was about half an hour before we saw the #3 ram come out on the rocks near where the one went off, and he was intently looking down at the river and the other ram. Ten long minutes passed, and the #2 ram came out. Jason told me to shoot when I was ready. The problem was the difference in angle. I was several feet to Jason’s left and about five or six feet higher, so all I could see was a little of the ram’s neck and his whole head. I conveyed this to my friends, and they said to just stay ready and he would eventually come out. After about another 5 to 10 minutes, he turned around and headed back into the rocks, out of our sight. We then noticed that two of the young rams were on the cliff above us. Everyone stayed still until my ram walked out on the cliff to look down to the river.
Jason said, “There he is. Shoot when you are ready.”
At this point, I could see all of the ram in the scope at just about 200 yards away. I took a deep breath and pulled the trigger. He turned and ran back into the rocks, and #3 went with him. My heart sunk. Jason and Shane said that I missed him and was low and a foot or more in front of him. Jason told me not to worry and that the ram couldn’t get out of there without us seeing him. He directed me to watch the eight foot or so wide grassy ledge above the rams and to their right. Shane was to watch where they just were, and Jason would watch the cliffs and the top one above us.
A very long 30 minutes passed and then Jason said, “There he is right above us on the first cliff. Take your time, but hurry.”
I moved the scope to the ram, placed the crosshairs on the shoulder and neck as he was quartered toward us, and remembered the Marine accuracy mantra BRASS – Breath, Relax, Aim, Slow, Squeeze. At the shot, he turned away from us, took two steps, and collapsed out of sight. We then saw some softball and basketball-sized rocks go tumbling off the hill. I had my ram, but now we had to get to him.
The close, quick approach was to go up the side of the rocks just below the ram and the two cliff tops. We made our way around the side and climbed up a 70 to 75 degree “V.” About 30 to 35 feet nearly straight up, Jason got to a tiny plateau and saw that we could not continue this way. With the aid of my hiking stick and using my rifle butt as one as well, I was able to get down in one piece.
We made our way around the front of the cliffs approximately 400 yards to the south and to the staggered ascending ledges we had seen the day before. After making our way up those ledges, there lay my ram in a small, very loose boulder/rock field. We carefully moved over to him, and after getting him moved behind a stable boulder to take pictures and do the field dressing, I finally got to look at him closely. I said a silent prayer of thanks for the ram, and then we got the cleaning done and got him down to the river and on the boat to head home.
My ram was the huge bodied, majestic, beautiful chocolate coated Old Man/King of Hell’s Canyon with immeasurable character. He was the oldest and dominant ram of the group, and he was recorded as 9 1/2 years old.
I can’t begin to thank all the people enough who helped me, gave solid advice, and supported me in this truly phenomenal once-in-a-lifetime experience. Some of the names I wish to give thanks to are Jason, Shane, Paul, John, Terry, Zac, Tom, Brian(s), Jim(s), Brad, Bruce, George, Misty, Melanie, Elise, Dan, and Angela. This was my first year as a Huntin’ Fool member, and between the advice from their Professional Hunt Advisors and the details of the various state application processes they provide, I was able to apply for and draw this awesome hunt with minimal effort. Also, I served on the RMBS Board for a couple years, and after this truly breathtaking once-in-a-lifetime experience, I will run to be on the Board again and do all I can to protect and keep sheep on the mountains.