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It's All About the Experience

February 2020
Story by Jim Knief
Hunters: Jim and Hailey Knief
State: Oregon
Species: Sheep - California

I have been applying and hunting all over the western U.S. for the past 20 years. During that time, I have drawn some amazing tags. My daughter, Hailey, turned 12 two years ago, so like any other Huntin’ Fool, I was determined to get Hailey her first out-of-state big game tag. I put her in for hunts in Arizona, Nevada, Wyoming, and New Mexico. In 2019, she drew a non-resident youth antelope tag in New Mexico. I was so excited as I woke her up before school. She gave me a big hug and went back to sleep.

Throughout the summer, Hailey practiced her shooting. I researched the unit as best I could and developed a game plan. August rolled around, and Hailey, her grandpa, Steve (aka Paps), and I flew out to New Mexico from California. Upon arrival, we scouted the areas I had marked on the map. We located several small herds of antelope throughout the unit. Opening morning found us stalking and chasing antelope all over the place. We stalked and chased one lone buck for about a mile. We had a blast! After the antelope wore us out in the morning, we decided to change locations.

The afternoon took us to the western side of the unit. As we were going into the area we wanted to hunt, Hailey exclaimed, “Dad, there’s one right there!” I told her to get her gun ready as I set up the tripod for the shot. Hailey placed her gun on the tripod, and shortly after, she made a perfect shot. The antelope ran approximately 40 yards and piled up. As we approached it, Hailey excitedly said, “Dad, I just shot my first big game animal!” To say I was excited and proud of her would be a gross understatement. As I write this several months after the hunt, I have to hold back tears just as I did the day Hailey got her first antelope.

I had been dreaming of this moment since Hailey was born. To top it off, Paps was able to watch the entire event unfold. Back at the hotel, the Cookin’ Fool, Paps, went to work. He had brought a frying pan and all the ingredients from home to cook the tenderloins once Hailey was successful. They were delicious!

In addition to Hailey’s antelope tag, after 17 years of applying, I hit the lottery and drew a California bighorn sheep tag in Oregon. This was my first sheep hunt, and it was right after we got home from Hailey’s hunt.

We flew home, and I dropped Hailey off at school and then went home to repack for the sheep hunt. My best friend and hunting partner, Tony Morales, was waiting for me at the house. We loaded up our gear, trailered the quads, and headed to Oregon in record time. While en route to Oregon, I learned that the other two tag holders had already filled their tags. This meant Tony and I would be the only ones hunting the rams for the rest of the season.

We stayed the night in Lakeview and were up early the next morning headed to the first mountain range we wanted to hunt. We glassed the eastern side of the mountain without locating any sheep, so we drove to the west side and began glassing. Almost immediately, Tony said, “I got rams.” He vectored me into the sheep. We gathered our gear and headed up the mountain to get a better look. This is where it got interesting. As we made our way up the mountain, the wind picked up, the skies became darker, and the temperature plummeted. By the time we were 200 yards from the rams, it was storming like you wouldn’t believe. It was raining and the wind was blowing so hard that I was barely able to stabilize my tripod-mounted binoculars to evaluate the rams. We decided to get off the mountain due to the weather and we didn’t want to shoot a small ram.

The next morning found us looking for the two rams from the night before. Tony quickly found the rams again, and the stalk was on. As I was sneaking into position, one of the rams saw me. They took off and were never seen again. We came down the mountain dejected but continued to search for more sheep.

The following day, we decided to check out another mountain range that we were told held sheep. At first light, we were glassing a beautiful mountain range. I was able to locate a band of seven rams on the face of the mountain. We watched the rams all morning until they bedded down on an open face. The closest we could get was approximately 500 yards. We decided to watch the rams to see what they were going to do. After a couple of hours, the rams got up and began to line out. We thought they may be headed to a water tank. Tony and I decided to try to get over to the water before the rams. We got to the water tank and stayed there for the rest of the day without seeing the sheep again.

At first light the next morning, we were in the area where we last saw the sheep. We glassed the entire mountain but couldn’t find them. We drove down the road and began glassing again. I told Tony, “I got the rams.” We watched them for a bit, and all of a sudden, they bunched up together. All seven rams were focused towards the north. Tony and I looked in the direction they were looking and saw two smaller rams heading in their direction. The band of seven rams took off running around the mountain and out of sight. We made our way around the mountain and relocated the rams. After a while, they relaxed and eventually bedded down.

Tony and I evaluated where they bedded down and decided they were in a stalkable position. After an hour hike, we were on the ridgeline across from where we last saw the rams. We eased over the crest of the ridge, searching for them. I spotted the rams towards the bottom of the draw, and I ranged the biggest ram at 200 yards. The sheep were up feeding by now and had no idea we were on the ridgetop. I got set up and took my shot. Thwack! After the shot, the rams scattered. Tony and I looked over the band and only counted six rams standing. We were frantically looking for a downed ram. All of a sudden, two of the rams jumped and we looked in their direction. There he was, my ram was on the ground. We watched him to make sure he had expired. The other rams just milled around like nothing had happened.

Tony and I were beside ourselves. We were in complete disbelief that we had just shot our ram. It was a feeling like I had never experienced before, very humbling. We backtracked to the truck and drove around the mountain. We hiked up the canyon to my ram. He was amazing! This ram had everything I wanted – heavy bases, chipped horns, broomed tips, and a Roman nose.

Tony and I have been lifelong friends. We began hunting together out of state in 1999, and we have been on at least one out-of-state hunt every year since then. We have been fortunate enough to hunt all over the West for a variety of animals.

This was a self-guided hunt based on 20 years of hard work, dedication, determination, trial and error, and successful and unsuccessful hunts. I cannot wait to see what the next 20 years bring us, my friend. Thank you for always being there, pushing me, and convincing me to see what’s on the other side of the mountain. Our success would not have been possible without the assistance of the Huntin’ Fool members I spoke with and the Oregon sheep biologists.

My wife, Erin, jokes with me every time I go on my hunting trips. She tells me to make sure I bring home some meat for the freezer. I say, “Babe, it’s all about the experience.” This year was the best hunting experience ever!

Hailey, thanks for being such a funny, kind, and independent young lady. You impress me every day, and I cannot wait to see where life takes you. Dad, thanks for joining me on all of my hunting adventures. Erin, thanks for always giving me the “green light” and taking care of everything at home while I’m on my next adventure.