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Finishing the Saga

April 2022
Story by Terrell McCombs
State: Nevada
Species: Sheep - Desert

This hunt began more than 22 years ago when I first applied for a Desert sheep tag in Nevada through Huntin’ Fool. I grew up in Texas, which had a very limited draw system at the time. I figured if I was going to begin the process of trying to draw non-resident tags in western states, I’d need some expert advice. The Huntin’ Fool team furnished it. Now, here I was at 4:30 a.m. in Nevada traveling over one of the roughest "roads" I’d been on in years, clutching my coffee in a four-wheel drive Toyota driven by my guide, Baelin Borg. My wife, Cindy, was sitting in the backseat and was as excited as I was about this hunt. You see, this wasn’t just my first Desert ram we were after. This would complete my Grand Slam of North American sheep, a journey I had started 18 years earlier at the age of 48. Now, at 66, I was finally attempting to finish this long saga begun so many years ago. Except for my Stone ram, the other three sheep species had come through the draw systems of various western states, including Alaska. I’ve been very fortunate and have harvested some truly great rams along the way. However, I’ve learned that I’d always rather be lucky than good, and I’ve been very lucky.

The heavy Toyota creaked to a stop. It was pitch black. I pulled on my down jacket as we discussed strategy by the truck. It was November 20th, the sheep opener in my unit located about an hour east of Las Vegas. It was cold in the desert at night! I pulled my old bones deeper into my down jacket.

My headlamp was on as we slowly began our trek up the mountain. We’d spotted the ram we were after two days earlier, and Baelin had stayed with him up until the evening preceding the opener. We’d observed him through spotting scopes and even taken a few photos.

He was gorgeous! He was old, too, another of my prerequisites. Two other rams had been viewed while scouting, but there was no doubt that this guy was "our ram." He was heavy and long, holding his mass the entire length of the horn, which dropped below his jawline. He was a shooter, that was for sure. With eight other resident hunters joining me in the unit this morning, I knew one of them would find him if we didn’t harvest him, so we continued our laborious climb in the dark.

We reached the crest and began glassing for the old ram. Erle, Baelin’s dad, who was accompanying us on the hunt, found him first. He was about a half mile or more up the canyon sound asleep with two younger buddies as dawn approached. Even asleep, he looked big.

Baelin and I began what would become a stalk stretching out an hour and a half. Most of the time we were crawling through side canyon slots or coulees, occasionally peeking over a ridge to ensure we were still headed toward the ram. After an hour or so of constant climbing and trekking, my legs were heavy. I continually asked myself why I’d insisted on cramming so much "junk" into my pack. I’d done this many times before, so why had I decided to load it down on this scramble? I couldn’t answer that question, but I sure as heck wasn’t going to make that mistake again. I felt like I was carrying a tank on my back. Like many of you, I’d waited to start sheep hunting until I was well through my 40s for the simple reason that I couldn’t afford it earlier in my life. The irony truly hit me as I could easily afford it now, but at the same time, my old body was beginning to give out. Such is life. We continued our scramble toward the ram. I was dying for a little break, but Baelin advised me that the rams were up and feeding away now. There would be no breaks as we were determined to take that ram today.

The last portion of the stalk, we belly crawled up to the edge of a ridge overlooking a steep canyon. The ram was across the canyon on an upper slope, slowly feeding away. However, as I lay prone and opened the bipod on my re-barreled Kimber 7mm WSM, the ram was staring a hole in our direction and his body stiffened. The jig was up! I asked Baelin for the range. He calmly whispered that it was 310 yards. I settled into the comb of the Kimber’s stock as I turned the target turret and increased the magnification on the Swarovski scope. My breathing was heavy now, both from the climb and the excitement. I knew I had to slow it down. I took several deep breaths, trying to calm myself. Twenty-two years of applying for a once-in-a-lifetime tag and it had come down to this exact moment.

The rear of the rifle rested over Baelin’s pack as I pulled the Kimber tight into my shoulder and ensured the parallax adjustment was correct. The focus was sharp and clear. I took another deep breath, letting half of it out as I slowly began my trigger squeeze. The sight picture was solid. Boom! The Kimber

roared off the canyon walls as a handloaded 140 grain Nosler Accubond exited the barrel, screaming supersonically toward its mark. A bright tuft of hair blew out of the upper torso of the ram and lazily drifted to earth in the morning sunlight. The ram instantly collapsed and lay still. I peered up from the scope at Baelin as he let out a loud, "Whoop!" which probably echoed for miles. We hugged and congratulated each other on a fine stalk. The ram was ours!

We waited for Erle and Cindy to catch up with us before scrambling over to the ram. They’d been observing from a distant promontory as we’d made the stalk. As we approached the very pinnacle of my hunting career, I was filled with emotion and gratitude. I’d done it! This old battle-scarred warrior was mine. After all those years of rejection in the draws, to finally stand here over this magnificent ram surrounded by these new dear friends and my sweet wife made it all so worthwhile.

The ram was 14x36, and a prouder hunter would be hard to find. Cindy and I relived the hunt many times during our drive back to Texas. She asked me if I’d ever hunt sheep again. I thought about my accrued points in other states. "Maybe," I said with a wry smile. "Just maybe."