We as hunters know that every sheep hunt we get the opportunity to be a part of is special in every way, shape, and form. Little did I know when I found out I had drawn this once-in-a-lifetime tag how incredibly special and emotional this hunt would end up being.
It all started within five minutes of the Nevada draw results being posted and seeing my name as “Successful” for a Nelson bighorn sheep tag in unit 263, the highly sought-after McCullough Mountains. As the owner of Pine Peak Outfitters, I don’t really ever get to hunt for myself because I’m always worried about putting my clients first, but this time, I had a true dream tag in my pocket. It was my turn!
I knew a little bit about the unit but didn’t know it inside and out like I wanted to, so that night, the scouting started. I took out maps and spent countless hours on Google Earth, but my most important scouting element ended up being one of my good friends, Rob Honea. He had drawn the same tag a few years prior and knew a lot about where I needed to get started. Rob and I got on the phone with each other right away and started developing a game plan to start scouting.
While I was so excited to have drawn this tag and got everything ready for the up and coming hunting season, I also had something weighing me down. My mom had been battling cancer for over a year, and at each doctor appointment I went with her to, the prognosis was getting worse and worse. After she saw how excited I was about this sheep tag, she was so happy for me and we often talked about it, but being with my mom and seeing her struggles really made this sheep tag not seem that important. As the weeks went on and the hunt was coming closer, my mom’s cancer worsened each day, so I really lost interest in the hunt itself. In fact, I put the scouting trips on the back burner because I also had to scout for the incoming clients.
In the middle of July, I finally found an opportunity to break loose and made a trip down to my sheep unit, meeting up with Rob and one of my good friends, Pat. We looked at a ton of sheep and set a few trail cameras for the first couple days of the trip. After a few days of becoming familiar with the lay of the land, we decided to walk into this particular basin that we had been putting off going into, and that’s when the journey of the ram we called “Archie” started. I was posted up on a cliffy knob, glassing and picking apart each square foot of the desert, and I was seeing a ton of great rams. All of a sudden, out of a deep sandy wash came the most beautiful ram I had ever laid eyes on. This ram was as perfect looking as they can get. As I ventured back into the reality of life and my career of being an outfitter, Archie was always on my mind. Throughout the hunting season, I made time to get back into that area and check up on him. Although he liked to move a lot, we were somehow always able to find him, almost like it was meant to be.
I was nearing the end of guiding my last elk hunter before I headed down to start my sheep hunt when we got the news that my mom only had a matter of days. That night, I went and told my mom how much I loved her and she slipped into a coma shortly after. As I arrived to the bright lights of Vegas, my mind was all over the place with the excitement of the hunt and the sadness of knowing I had just said goodbye to my mom for the last time. My buddies and I looked for two days with no sign of Archie. While at dinner with friends the second evening, I got the call I was expecting but dreading. It was my sister, Jenna, calling to let me know our mom had passed away.
The next morning, I figured the only thing I could do to ease my mind was go for a long hike back into the basin where Archie lived and see if I could get lucky enough to find him. As I walked up a sandy wash, I was recalling all the great memories of my mom, leaving a trail of tears and barely finding the strength to stop and glass every so often. Not seeing many sheep, I walked back and met up with Rob. He suddenly said, “Jake, you need to see this.” As I swung my spotting scope onto the slope, there he was laying in the direct sunlight, staring at us like he wanted me to see him.
After all the months in anticipation of getting to pursue my dream hunt, opening day had finally arrived. As my buddies and I convoyed across the dark desert to Archie’s favorite canyon, excitement filled the air. However, that enthusiasm quickly went out the window when we saw taillights ahead of us. Someone had beaten us to the trailhead. Instantly, our well-planned pursuit of this once-in-a-lifetime ram changed. As the sun started to come up, we ferociously glassed everywhere around that canyon, trying to find him, just knowing a gunshot was going to ring off at any minute from the other group of hunters.
As we were glassing, my buddy, Kevin, declared that he had found him, but he was trailing right toward the other group of hunters. I quickly came up with a game plan, which consisted of me having to run for two and a half miles on Archie’s back trail to get within shooting distance before he crested the next saddle where the other hunters were. I can’t even explain the emotions running through my mind and the physical exertion on my body throughout the stalk on this ram. The whole time, all I could think about was my mom and to just keep putting one foot in front of the other. I knew if I slowed down at all I was going to lose my window on getting a shot off before he crested that saddle.
As I rounded a corner of a wash, I got a quick glimpse of one of the other rams that was with Archie and knew I was getting close. I started sprinting up the ridge, and once I topped out, I immediately starting glassing. After about 30 seconds, I found him still on the move and grouped up with other sheep. I ranged him at 405 yards, took my pack off, and lay down prone. As I went to get him in the scope, I felt like I had everything going against me. My gun was canted, I couldn’t get the eye relief adjusted right, I couldn’t catch my breath from running up the ridge, I had cactus poking me from all angles, and I was about to squeeze the trigger on a 180" ram. I forced myself to take a second and gain my composure. Suddenly, everything came together. I got my scope leveled out, the eye relief became clear, I caught my breath, and I was just dealing with the cactus. My ram cleared all the other sheep and turned perfectly broadside. I settled the crosshairs on him, took a deep breath, and let it fly.
When I look back at my hunt, I can’t help but wonder why the turn of events happened the way they did. How did the other hunters not see him? How did I have enough strength to keep up with sheep in the most treacherous landscape in Nevada? Why did my ram hold up before going over that ridge? Why did he show himself to us again just 24 hours prior to opening morning? How was I able to get that shot off? Some may think there’s skill involved in accomplishing a feat of this proportion, others may think it’s luck. I think having a little bit of both goes a long way, but on this special day, I had my mom giving me a helping hand.
I can’t say thank you enough to everyone who helped me accomplish this. Thanks to my wife, Addie, for flying down to be my crutch and person to lean on while dealing with the loss of my mom and to my friends, Rob, Pat, Kevin, Phil, Seth, Baelin, and Julie, for being shoulders to cry on and my extra sets of eyes on the mountain. Being able to harvest a monarch of this caliber is the highlight of my hunting career and a special day that I will never forget. This one is for you, Mom. Thank you.