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No Matter What It Takes

February 2020
Story by Chad Mendes
State: Utah
Species: Sheep - Desert

Jason Hairston and I met through a mutual friend six years ago. He quickly became a great mentor and even better friend. His determination and drive to be the best always inspired me, and it has kept me motivated throughout my career. His love for sheep hunting was contagious and I always looked forward to hearing about his hunting adventures when he got home. Losing Jason was extremely tough, and even though he’s not physically with us anymore, Jason continues to motivate me and so many others.

Last year, as I sat at the Western Hunting and Conservation dinner watching Jason’s tribute video, I looked at my wife with tears in my eyes and said, “I have to do a sheep hunt next year, no matter what it takes.” Little did I know, the wheels of fate were already in motion.

For seven years, I’d put in for draw tags at the show, and for seven years, it was unsuccessful. Not feeling very confident, I entered again and hoped for the best. The show came and went, and we returned home after a long week in the Finz and Featherz booth. With our first baby on the way, my wife and I were out front trying to figure out how to install a carseat in her car. As I sat there frustrated, trying to make sense of all the buckles, my phone started ringing nonstop. I needed to focus and couldn’t take any calls at that moment. After about five missed calls, I finally looked at my phone. It was my buddy, Nate. As I answered the phone, I could hear in his voice something was going on. “Dude!” he yelled, “You need to check the show results now!” I hung up and instantly pulled up the website. I yelled at the top of my lungs as I read my results. I had just won one of the best Desert sheep tags in the state of Utah. I immediately got on a group call to my closest friends and started yelling like I had just won the lottery, and in the hunting world, I had!

I had seven months to plan our trip and get in sheep shape. After talking with my good buddy, Doyle Moss, a few times, along with a few other friends who knew that area well, we had a plan. The months went by, and it was finally time to make the journey to Utah. We loaded up the KUIU Sprinter van with enough stuff to last us awhile. We had no idea how long it would take us to find a mature ram, but we were ready for as long as it would take. I kissed my wife and baby girl goodbye, and Nate, Paul, and I loaded up and off we went. We made a pit stop in Vegas to pick up my friend and business partner, Mike, from the airport along with our camera guy. The van was maxed out as we pushed forward to find camp. After a long day of driving, we finally arrived at our campsite at around 2 a.m. Our buddy, Brad,` was already there waiting. We unpacked and set up camp under one of the most beautiful desert skies I’ve ever seen. The feeling of hope and excitement made it hard to fall asleep that night.

The next morning, we woke up with the sun and set out to scout for a ram. We immediately found sheep, but after combing through multiple locations throughout the day, we still hadn’t found the mature ram we were after.

As the sun set, we all met back at camp. I fired up the Traeger for dinner, and we all reported what we had seen that day. The opener was in the morning, and I still couldn’t believe this was all happening. That night, I lay there in my tent thinking about Jason and how lucky I was to be out there with some of my closest friends hunting sheep. I knew this was something I may never get to do again, and I knew I had to soak it all in.

The next morning, without hitting snooze, I jumped up from my sleeping bag as soon as my alarm went off and immediately thought, Today is the day. I could feel it! We?all decided to split into groups of two or three and cover as many areas as we could.

I drove to a spot with my buddy, Goat, and we got to glassing. The overwhelmingly steep cliffs made it tough to see the sheep unless they were up and moving. We glassed that location for a few hours with no luck before deciding to head back to camp to grab lunch. As we got closer to camp, we got a call from my friend, Joe. He had turned up a couple groups of sheep and wanted us to come take a look. We headed that way and started glassing. With the temps in the high 90s and shade tough to come by, the sheep had laid down, making it hard to see them. I decided to start glassing deep into the canyon.

“There he is. Someone get another pair of eyes on him!” I said.

After about 20 minutes of trying to decide his age, we all agreed that we needed to get closer. Keeping a few guys back as locators, the rest of us started to sneak up. The terrain was extremely steep, mixed with sand and loose rocks. It was difficult, but we climbed up. We closed in to 700 yards as he bedded on a cliff ledge looking out into the valley below. As soon as we got the spotting scope on him, we knew he was the one. With no way to get any closer, we all set up for the shot. With the camera guy filming us, Phone Skope on a spotting scope, and one guy watching with binos, I set my pack down and lay prone in the sand. I took a couple deep breaths, steadied the crosshairs on his shoulder, and slowly squeezed. The Gunwerks went off, echoing throughout the had just missed. My?mind immediately?started to beat?itself up, but I quickly?went back to work.?There was no time for?that now. I chambered?another round and found?the sheep again in the?scope. I steadied and slowly?squeezed the trigger. “You?got him! Get another one in?him!” I chambered another?round and steadied the crosshairs?one last time and squeezed. “He’s?down!” Goat said. I had just harvested a mature Desert sheep with some of my closest friends by my side.

I can honestly say I was scared for my life on multiple occasions during the hike up to get him and back down. Without the help of Nate and our buddy, Paul, I wouldn’t have been about to do it. I’m so thankful for the opportunity I was given and for all the help along the way. I smile knowing Jason was up there looking down on all of us with a big ol’ grin.

Utah Bighorn Sheep