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February 2020
Story by Shane Lanning
State: New Mexico
Species: Sheep - Rocky Mtn

I love hunting and everything about it – the history, the camaraderie, the suffering, the effort, the process, and the reward. Mine or yours, I want to hear the stories. Tell me about faraway places or mountains that few will ever climb. I will keep dreaming until it is my turn.

I met Kenetrek’s Jim Winjum at Dallas Safari Club. He shared some of his personal sheep stories and recounted his tremendous luck at drawing tags and winning raffles. I don’t mean to offend Jim because he is a great guy and I love his boots, but how much luck can one guy have? Sometimes it seems hunters have an economy all our own where we spend and accrue value in the forms of experience. You can’t convince me that some of Jim’s luck didn’t rub off on me that day.

I came home from the show and began the research for application season. I’m an engineer by profession, so I deal with numbers every day. I love math, but I hate drawing odds! Come on, how many “less than 1%” draws will I apply for in my life? It seems like every one when you’re a non-resident.

Trying not to think of the odds, I began the familiar ritual of sending in my applications for as many tags as my credit card balance allowed. I assume the long shots are Game and Fish donations and console myself in the hope that my fees are being put to good use. I crossed my fingers and waited patiently for the rejections to post. Imagine my surprise when New Mexico pulled my name out of the proverbial hat for bighorn sheep in Pecos unit 45! This was the veritable jackpot of hunting lottery draws. Whatever discouragement I had on the front side of the process was completely removed by the word “successful” in the email from New Mexico. A good friend summed it up in the first text back with, “Congrats! I am over the moon for you.”

After the shock and celebration wore off, I settled back to the question anyone newly ordained to an anticipated adventure might ask, “Now what?” I had to get back to real life, but I also thought I better start working out. I threw 75 pounds of lead shot into my backpack and started mowing the lawn. I better get started on “sheep shape” now before it was too late. I hiked consistently with my pack for the rest of the summer. My final pack load of 130 pounds would be left strategically around the house for my wife to find. She didn’t laugh as much as me when she tried to move it out of the way.

Lifting, hiking, shooting, shopping, packing, repacking, reading, and much daydreaming filled my summer evenings preparing for the hunt. Telephone calls to biologists and past hunters filled my head with visions of heavy, old rams. The historical data the Game and Fish Department has for their sheep herds is impressive, and they were eager to share it. One detail I needed to address was self-guided or guided. After considering self- guided possibilities and the unit itself, I decided I needed horses and hired Bill Lewellen with One on One Adventures. It turned out to be a wise choice.

On July 25th, I embarked on a scouting trip into the unit with my cousin, Rod, and his son, Shawn. We met in Las Vegas, New Mexico and continued to the trailhead. Five miles and 3,000 feet later, we had a camp set up, had found a good water source, and were ready to get the spotting scopes out. We found several lambs and ewes immediately, and we ultimately found eight rams at the head of the drainage about three and a half miles away. We would try to get closer to them the next day.

We packed up and crossed the mountain to the north where we would find one massive old ram and his very long lamb- tipped companion in a large bowl by themselves. We took many photos and had a long conversation about how to find him again in two weeks. Another day of scouting and I had three full curl rams identified and two weeks of dreaming before I would return.

My 11-year-old son and I loaded the truck and made the return trip on August 7th. We stopped at the Whittington Center near Raton, New Mexico. We arrived early afternoon and spent most of the afternoon on the 1,000-yard range. We confirmed zero on the 200-yard range and then shot groups at 300, 500, and 600 yards. If you haven’t visited the Center, it is well worth the stop for both the number of ranges as well as the firearm museum inside the visitor center.

We proceeded to Taos for the evening and one final shower before the hunt. My son got a much better night’s sleep than I did. We left the hotel at 6:00 and met Bill at the trailhead at 7:00. We met our horses and mules and packed the gear for the ride to camp. Four hours and 14 miles later, we reached camp. Unless you’re a horseman, you can’t prepare for that much time in a saddle climbing almost 4,000 feet. We were sore!

After a quick snack, the three of us set out on foot for some final scouting. We found many sheep that evening but no mature rams. Fortunately, Bill had two other guides in camp who were scouting as well. They returned to camp with photos of two old, heavily broomed rams and one 7 to 8-year-old that still had his lamb tips and a big flare to his horns.

Opening morning found us up at 4:30 for breakfast. Rain had set in, so we all had our rain gear on preparing the horses for the day’s hunt. Saddled up, we rode to our first glassing spot in the dark. There hadn’t been another hunter in the unit in this location in the previous week. How disappointing it was to ride through another camp with horses that had not been there the previous day. They appeared to be sleeping in this morning.

At our first glassing spot, we found one of the heavy rams lying exposed on top of the mountain with a young companion. We rode the horses around the backside of the mountain and were preparing to hike up when we spotted the heavy ram and his young companion crossing over to our side of the mountain. We had spotting scopes set up quickly and confirmed he was one of our target rams.

I had ranged a large grass opening on the mountain at just under 400 yards with a horizontal distance of 264 yards. Everyone waited behind spotting scopes and cameras rolled. One shot from the Kimber and the ram was down. With blood rolling down my face from being scoped, I celebrated with everyone. I am so happy that my son was able to be at my side when I took the shot.

We had a long photo session that day, attempting to capture all of the elements of this once-in-a-lifetime event. Afterwards, while quartering the ram, we met the group from the camp we had ridden through that morning. They were actually two game wardens who would be in the unit throughout the hunting season. After reviewing my tag and license, they shared many stories of past seasons in the unit.

We packed the ram and headed back to camp, arriving a little after 1:00, hungry and still on cloud nine. Grilled tenderloins over an open fire served as an appetizer while we tended to the horses. Everyone was still hungry, so we cut steaks from a backstrap and grilled them as well.

We would later saddle up and return the 14 miles back to the trailhead. I hated to say goodbye to Bill, Jesse, and Isaac. They were great people with decades of hunting stories whom I hope to meet on the mountain again in the future.

We met a game biologist in Santa Fe two days later to seal the ram and make it official. Six months of anticipation was over in six days.

Come on odds, let’s see what you will give next.

New Mexico Bighorn Sheep