My personal journey for wild sheep began in 2017 when I was fortunate enough to draw a Desert sheep tag in my home state of Nevada. I harvested a great ram, and my entire focus on hunting big game changed significantly. The sheep addiction was in full force. With a mere quarter of the North American Wild Sheep Slam, all I could think about was when my next sheep hunt adventure was going to come along. Fortunately I didn’t have to wait long. At the Full Curl Society in Salt Lake City, I won a Dall sheep hunt with Arctic Red River Outfitters in the NWT for 2019.
As the last six-month stretch leading up to my Dall sheep hunt was getting near, the hunting application season was upon us and I looked to Huntin’ Fool to find what other opportunities were out there to hunt sheep. As I searched the Huntin’ Fool magazine for Idaho, I decided the only logical choice was to put in for unit 11, which is on the northwestern side of the state bordering Washington and Oregon, only separated by the steep canyons of Hells Canyon.
On May 17th, some friends and I were heading down to Las Vegas for the Fraternity of the Desert Bighorn banquet dinner, and before leaving town, I checked my email to find I’d received something from Idaho Fish and Game. I opened the email, and after reading it several times, I couldn’t believe what I saw. I was successful in drawing a once-in-a- lifetime tag for one of the most coveted places in the United States for hunting Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep. With tears running down my face and the excitement of what was to come, I couldn’t believe my luck had struck again. I gathered myself and called my brother, Steve, followed by Dad and friends to share in the excitement.
Dan Blankenship of Sheep Meadow Outfitters and I spoke the following week, and he explained that they had booked Doug Sayer, the Governor’s tag holder. They had been watching a ram for several months for him, but there was another great old ram they had their eyes on as well. With my time being very limited leading up to this hunt and knowing the reputation of SMO, I knew to book with them only made sense. Doug and I talked leading up to the hunt, and he asked if I wanted to hunt with him on his Governor’s tag. Anytime you’re able to go on another sheep hunt, you take it, especially a hunt like this!
Opening day came with Robert, Seth, and Cal watching the rams from the north and Steve, Kevin, Trevor, Scott, Brent, and Jim waiting for them to circle around to the west. Doug, Shelley, Dan, Todd, Tommy, Butch, and I waited to the south in the blistering heat in a wheat field filled with goat heads for the next two days until the rams decided to finally move. As they started coming to water, we moved into position to a lone tree on the top of the ridge and waited as the rams crossed the upper bluffs of Hells Canyon. They came directly at us, and we quickly devised a plan where we’d attempt to take both rams in what would be a very short window of opportunity. With the rams coming fast and getting within shooting range, our nerves grew considerably greater.
The rams poked over the small ridge in front of us, and we knew it was go-time. Doug asked if I was ready, and I said yes. Doug shot, only to miss behind his ram. The rams bolted, and within a couple of steps, they ran below us, out of sight, and stopped. After several minutes of waiting for them to come out and with shooting light slipping fast, we knew we had to make a move on them. We made our way down to the next bluff, and there they were. They saw us and ran out a short distance before stopping again. With the stress and adrenaline of the situation, Doug made two more shots, only to barely miss again. The larger ram turned back towards us, running by at about 65 yards and making his way out to about 180 and then stopping. I handed my rifle to Doug, and he made an incredible offhand shot to put this giant down.
With no time to celebrate, my buddy, Tommy Caviglia, grabbed me and said we were going to find the other rams before they got far. Tommy, Dan, and I ran across the face of the mountain where we caught up to the three remaining rams a couple draws over. The two smaller rams were headed over the ridge to the next draw when we found the much older, slower ram coming out of the bottom. I set up in a small, rigid bush and got on the ram as he stopped. I slowly squeezed the trigger and heard it click. In all the commotion, I didn’t pull the bolt back far enough to jack in a bullet. As the ram began moving again and was almost over the hill, I let one fly hastily and missed way high. He spun back towards us, and before going out of sight below, he turned again to go back the other direction away from us.
This allowed me time to reset and make another shot. While it was not a great shot, I made it count and he took off down the mountain towards the river. We caught up with him a few minutes later where I was able to put him down. The ram tipped backwards, rolled down the mountain, and fell off a small cliff before he came to rest.
We celebrated briefly before Tommy and I made our way down the steep face. As we walked up to my ram, the emotions of the last couple hours all came to a head. Doug and I had just accomplished something most can only dream of. I had taken a great 11 1/2-year-old ram that was at the end of his lifespan, and Doug had shot what would become the new Idaho state record Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep now known as “The Duke.”
As Tommy and I sat and waited, we heard a noise from the river below. After several minutes of talking amongst ourselves, we saw the anti-collision lights from a helicopter pick up over the small ridge below us. Seconds after seeing them, the helicopter fell out of the air and back out of sight.
We could hear the rotors thrashing around below us, and it wasn’t long before we heard screams and yelling, not knowing what the outcome was. At about that time, the headlamps of our guys emerged over the ridgeline above. We yelled back and forth in disbelief as to what we had all just witnessed. Later, we found out the helicopter had landed in the river and the two guys made it out safely.
However, after swimming to shore, they got in their car and sped off.
When our crew made it down, we took our time enjoying the hunt and reliving all that had transpired several hours earlier. After the long, steep hike out, we made it back to the trucks and eventually into camp at 5:00 the next morning.
It was such an honor to share this experience with my brother, Steve, and all of the others who were part of this incredible experience. The memories will never be forgotten. I can’t thank the entire group of incredible people enough who helped make such a dream come true. I’m forever grateful!
Nevada Rocky Mountain Bighorn Sheep, Idaho Rocky Mountian Bighorn