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May 2024
Story by Joel Brown
State: California
Species: Sheep - Desert

On Father’s Day, June 18, 2023, I was looking over my emails when I noticed one from the California Department of Fish and Wildlife that said “Successful.” It turned out to be a successful draw for mule deer in zone X3A. I continued looking over my emails and came upon another one from CDFW that said “Successful” for Desert bighorn sheep in the Clark zone and Kingston Mountain ranges. I immediately logged on to the CDFW website, and sure enough, I had hit the California lottery for Desert bighorn sheep. I had been putting in for this tag for over 30 years. I knew this was a once-in-a-lifetime hunt.

My son would join me on this hunt. I was also hopeful my father and wife would join us. I immediately telephoned my father, who is an avid hunter and has harvested all four sheep to collect his North American Sheep Slam. My father and I spoke for a while, and he said he would make some phone calls and call me back later. I was so excited about my first sheep hunt, and I called all my friends and family. After a short time, my father phoned back and told me to call Stan at Huntin’ Fool.

He also mentioned that I should pay for the 10-day hunt, if possible, just in case of life mishaps and/or weather conditions during the hunt. I took my father’s advice seriously and immediately phoned Stan at Huntin’ Fool. We spoke for a time, and he told me to call Cliff St. Martin at Dry Creek Outfitters.

I looked up Dry Creek Outfitters on their website and noticed multiple articles and pictures of rams harvested by their clients. I knew these must be the right guys to get the job done. I also noticed they had 5, 7, and 10-day guided hunts. I called Cliff at Dry Creek Outfitters, and he seemed excited and knowledgeable of this zone and the possibility of harvesting a nice ram. We spoke about the details, and I booked a 10-day hunt with them.

On August 12, 2023, I met Cliff and his son Matt at the mandatory Fish and Wildlife sheep hunter orientation in Davis, California. We spoke in detail about the preparation for my hunt. After departing the orientation, I immediately went home and began the preparations for my hunt.

On Friday, January 5, 2024, my son, and I headed to the hunting grounds in the Clark/Kingston Mountain range to meet with the Dry Creek Outfitters crew. We arrived in the evening, and met with Cliff and Matt, and were shown a comfortable carpeted tent with cots, heater, and all the works. We settled in and had a steak dinner. We talked over the plan for the first day of the hunt. Cliff and Matt introduced the other members of the crew, Casey Nick, Johnston St. Martin, Jake Devalle, and Caden St. Martin. I did not sleep much that first night as I tossed and turned, dreaming about the hunt.

We were up at 0500 for breakfast. Cliff stated that Jake and Matt had located a good ram the day before that required a closer look. Cliff said, “We will head there first and locate the ram to see if he is a shooter.” Luke and I were thrilled. I explained to Cliff that I had never been on a guided hunt. Cliff smiled and assured me that everything would be managed perfectly on their end. “We have the best guides in the business, and they will work hard for you.”

After grabbing a sandwich and snacks, Luke and I piled into Cliff’s pickup truck and headed to where the ram was last seen. Matt, Jake, and Jonston would head out together while Caden and Casey went to a different location altogether. We stopped several times to glass the mountain before we finally located the ram. He was with four ewes and a small ram. They had moved several miles from where they were the night before. We watched them feed for about an hour, and suddenly, the big ram turned and looked back at the other sheep as if to say goodbye and then headed down the ridgeline. The ram walked swiftly about two miles down the mountain before he rolled out of sight. Matt and Jake had already repositioned and were on the traveling ram.

We connected with Jake and watched the ram for several more hours until he finally bedded. Cliff, Luke, and I immediately grabbed our packs and gun and headed up the mountain. We hooked up with Matt on the backside of the ridge. Matt said, “The ram is much better than we thought. He is a really good ram, and you need to kill him.” Cliff and I continued to head up the backside of the ridge for another 400 yards while Matt and Luke set up on a higher ridge above us in case the ram gave us the slip. Jake was still in his original position where we had left

him about one mile away watching everything unfold. Cliff and I covered some steep, rocky terrain and found a great saddle to creep over to locate the ram from above. I dropped my backpack, and Cliff set his walking stick down. The wind was perfect as I closely followed Cliff as we crept quietly and slowly over the saddle and began to peer down the steep side of the mountain. Cliff immediately located the ram and said, “Joel, he’s right there feeding.”

I located the ram. I could only see his white rump protruding from behind a rock outcropping and desert bushes. Cliff set his rectangle-shaped backpack onto some sharp rocks in front of us, and I lay in the prone position to prepare for the shot. I noticed my rifle barrel was not clear of a rock. Cliff helped adjust the backpack, and everything appeared to line up perfectly. Cliff said the ram was walking forward and was about to clear the rock outcropping and brush. As the ram walked forward, his head swayed from side to side due to carrying all that weight on his head. Cliff said, “He is 185 yards away.” I knew my rifle was zeroed at 200 yards and no adjustments were needed. The ram came into view. I could not believe the size of this ram’s horns. He looked massive. I placed the crosshairs on where I thought the vitals were located. My heart was pounding with excitement, and I let out a breath and slowly squeezed the trigger. Boom! The rifle went off.

Cliff said, “You hit him hard. Now chamber another round.”

The ram kicked with his hind legs and fell backwards onto his back. I carefully placed the spent cartridge into my pocket and loaded another round into the chamber. I stood up and kept an eye on the fallen ram. He did not move an inch. No second shot was needed.

Cliff made the comment, “He’s done.” I grabbed my backpack and raced to where the ram lay. I placed my hands on his massive horns. I turned him over and noticed some green lichen growing on his horns and his nose was badly scarred. He was a warrior for sure. Cliff, Matt, and Luke showed up shortly. I had watery eyes, and emotions flowed through me. My son, Luke, gave me a huge hug and congratulated me. There is nothing better than spending quality time with your son. That was the highlight of this hunt. It was unfortunate my father and wife could not attend this moment due to unforeseen circumstances. They were both in my heart and thoughts that day.

Cliff and Matt broke out the measuring tape and said this was a huge, heavy ram. They roughly measured his horns and said he was easily 180"+. We were all smiles. The other guides showed up shortly after, and we took numerous photographs.

Back at camp, we had a wonderful dinner. Cliff and Matt skillfully measured the ram’s horns, which green scored 182 5/8" and would end up being the largest ram taken in California for the 2023/2024 season and the largest ram ever taken in the Clark/ Kingston Mountains since the unit opened 35 years ago.

I would like to thank my family for the support and understanding of my passion for hunting. I would also like to thank Stan at Huntin’ Fool and the entire crew at Dry Creek Outfitters (Cliff, Matt, Jonston, Jake, Casey, and Caden) who clearly demonstrated their love and passion of the Desert bighorn sheep they pursue for their clients. My son, Luke, said multiple times, “Dad, we would have spent an eternity in the mountains and might never see a legal ram.” I completely agree with him. I am so thankful for the Dry Creek Outfitters crew. Between the equipment and time spent in the desert, this outfit is second to none. I was very blessed to harvest such a magnificent animal.