November 16, 2021 began much like any other day – wake up and get ready for work. Little did I know that this day was special as my phone vibrated. I was alerted of a charge on my debit card from Sportsman’s Web App. I didn’t buy anything for $513, so was this a fraudulent charge? Suddenly, it hit me. I had drawn one of the most coveted of tags, the Utah Sportsman Tag. I scrambled to research which tag cost $513 as I had put in for multiple species. In absolute shock, I realized I had drawn a sheep tag, but which one? Desert or Rocky? Hours later, I received my “Successful” email notification. I would be searching the vast, rugged, remote southern landscape of Utah for a Desert bighorn sheep.
As the excitement began to build, my thoughts soon turned to how I would make the most of this truly once-in-a-thousand lifetimes tag. I decided to hire a guide who had the knowledge, passion, and expertise to assist me in maximizing this opportunity to find the ram of my dreams. As I had never hunted sheep before, I knew this important decision would increase my odds of achieving success and magnify this unique opportunity. After reaching out to several respected, reputable guides and doing extensive research, my choice was made. I would be hunting with High Desert Wild Sheep Guides. After talking with Randy Johnson and Jesse Shipp, I had no doubt that I’d made the right choice. They are true professionals, are not afraid to work hard, and sheep are their passion. They immediately made me feel like family. Randy and Jesse told me they had a couple rams in mind in some units they definitely wanted to concentrate on because of an infusion of genetics needed to produce a giant hammer ram. My long wait began.
As my personal packing and preparation shifted into high gear, we decided to meet two days prior to the September 1st opening date when I could legally hunt with this tag. As departure day approached, the unthinkable happened. A massive, record- breaking heat dome had settled over the West, pushing daytime temperatures into the high 112 to 115-degree range in the area we would be hunting. The tough, seasoned guides I hired said, “We are going in!”
We spotted sheep in the days prior to the opener and two big rams that Randy and I never had a real opportunity to study as we bumped them while hiking into a glassing point, but they looked like potential shooters. As the last hint of daylight began fading to dusk before opening day, we watched a small ram crest a hill and the anxiety of the next morning really began to set in.
Opening morning was upon us, and we decided to split up to cover more country with Jesse heading north and Randy and me heading west into the inferno called the desert. As the morning pressed on, Randy and I were not having much luck, only seeing ewes and a small ram, not the shooter we were looking for. We could only hope Jesse was having better luck north.
After arriving back at camp to meet Jesse for lunch, he said he had seen more sheep than us with a couple of decent head bangers but not “the ram.” Randy and I decided to head north with Jesse into a quadrant that seemed to be holding the majority of the sheep. As we glassed that evening, we saw a lot of sheep but no rams worth going after. I decided to look at the jagged backbone of a volcanic, razor ridgeline miles away that we had not glassed yet. As I scanned the hill, I caught a little white spot move and found three sheep. Randy immediately glassed the notch that the sheep were feeding in and said, “There is a ewe, a lamb, and a really good ram.” As the light faded, we watched the ram dogging the ewe. After looking at some poor light video that Jesse was able to capture, we determined this was a special ram that he, Randy, and their buddy, Ryan Andrews, had first seen three years ago. They were very familiar with this “tractor tire ram” but had not seen him for several months. Game on! We put together a plan to find this massive ram the next morning and take a closer look.
After a sleepless night with the words that Randy had expressed previously to me echoing through my head, “When it happens, it will happen fast, so be prepared mentally,” it was time to go. As we scrambled up the cactus-covered volcanic mountain in the dim light of dawn, we found a good glassing spot and began to pick apart the mountainside. Moments later, Jesse found the ram. As luck would have it, the hammer ram immediately left the ewe and started cruising off to points unknown. Jesse said, “Let’s move. I know where he’s heading. We can cut him off!”
As I raced with Randy and Jesse to the far end of the long, broken mesa, I knew this ram was something worth chasing. As we arrived at where the mesa sloughed off to a series of talus slopes, the ram crested a small butte and moved in our direction. I knew Jesse and Randy were excited about this particular ram, but they didn’t want to make any quick decisions until they could really study him. As he worked his way down the hill, the ram moved out of sight and vanished. We ran over the hill that he had disappeared behind, but he was gone. There was no vegetation and nothing to hide him. He had just disappeared into thin air. After some serious deliberation, we figured he had decided to move across the valley to another mountain range, searching for hot ewes.
We scrambled across the valley to where we figured he had taken off to and immediately started glassing but found nothing. The daytime temp had reached 115, and it was just 11:30. We continued glassing for a few more minutes, hiding in the shade of Jesse’s truck.
I felt that something was bothering Jesse as he seemed anxious, so I asked him, “What’s up?”
He replied, “We have to hike up there in this heat,” and pointed at a peak towering above us.
As the old adage goes, “Trust your guides,” so up the hill Randy, Jesse, and I went. There was a hidden pocket Jesse knew about that sometimes held sheep in the day, and he wanted to see if this was where our ram had disappeared to. As we crested the peak, we took a quick rest and drank a little water. Jesse eased over the ridge just in front of us and immediately stopped. His spotting scope went up, and he called Randy over as I watched him glass below them. After some brief whispering, Randy inched his way carefully back to me and said, “Shoot that ram.” It was indeed the same brute from earlier in the morning, and we had caught up with him seven miles later.
After a quick game plan and following Jesse, I crawled over the apex of the ridge and there below me were 13 sheep, with the big boy right in the middle of them. Jesse whispered that the range was 250 yards. I adjusted the turret, and the wait began as I didn’t have a clean shot. All the emotions and months of waiting suddenly came into focus. This was a dream I never thought I would realize, and it was lying 250 yards below me.
After 45 agonizing minutes, a few of the sheep began to move around, but the “wall hanger” ram didn’t want to budge. Suddenly, another ram head bumped him, and at that moment, the magnificent gladiator stood facing away from m. He finally turned right, perfectly broadside, presenting the opportunity I needed. One shot from the 6.5 Creedmoor and my ram was down. Jesse and Randy whooped and hollered as we all hugged and screamed.
As we carefully worked our way down the rugged slope and approached my ram, it became apparent how special this incredible gladiator really was. Emotions flooded over everyone, especially Randy and Jesse as they realized what we had accomplished. As I reverently picked my ram’s massive head up, Jesse smiled and commented, “That is one Chunky Monkey,” and that he was! After countless pictures and caping my trophy out, we packed down off the mountain. Although we may have been suffering from sun stroke, it didn’t matter, we were all smiles.
Back at camp, we had Randy’s traditional, sacred “Yellow Horn Toast” that he brought back from sheep hunting in Arizona where he pays reverent respect to the animal, the people, and the land we spent our time in. This opportunity changed our lives forever, leaving enduring memories that will never be forgotten. Records in life are mere numbers and will always be meant to be broken. However, what never breaks in this cycle are the incredible memories you make on the paths you choose to travel in life or on a hunt such as this. I cannot thank Randy and Jesse at High Desert Sheep Guides enough for their expertise, ethics, guidance, and hard work that made this happen. This is a dream fulfilled that I will never forget.