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The Painted Cave Ram

June 2023
Story by Bruce Noble
State: Arizona
Species: Sheep - Desert

“Shooter ram!” Jake whisper-shouted to me. My heart rate doubled because Jake had told me that we would know a shooter when we saw one. We had been scouting our butts off for several months since I drew the coveted Arizona unit 31/32 Desert bighorn sheep tag and had yet to set eyes on “the one.” There had been several big ups (as in climbing up into sheep country) and downs (as in broken downs) along the way, but finding this ram made up for all of it.

The day I drew the tag, I contacted my friend/coworker, Jake Lindsey, who is a guide, and asked if he was interested in helping me out. He said he would love to help but didn’t want to do it halfway. If he was going to help, he was going to be all in. We decided to make it official, and I hired him through Shadow Valley Outfitters. Another coworker, Ben Brochu, is part owner and would turn out to give us a wealth of knowledge of the area as well as help contact the landowners he had already established relationships with.

I told Ben and Jake that I wanted to savor the whole experience and would be doing a lot of the scouting myself or with them. Jake and I went out a handful of times together as well as another handful plus on our own. We weren’t finding the numbers of sheep we wanted to, so we decided to change direction and focus on the famed Aravaipa Canyon.

The first evening in the Aravaipa area was magical, and I knew that no matter what we found, that was the area I wanted to hunt in. We turned up several rams and ewes on the way in to where we were going to spend the night. Upon arriving at our camping spot, we glassed up even more rams and ewes. I knew it was going to be epic.
The next morning is when we found him. Jake had told me that we would know it when we found a shooter ram, so when he said he found a shooter, I knew it had to be good. I was speechless. He literally took my breath away. We were able to get some amazing photos and videos. I couldn’t believe it when Jake said we should press on him, but he assured me we would be able to keep tabs on him.

A week later, we were back out scouting. Jake went to another part of the unit to look for a “Plan B” or a new number one. I went back to relocate what we had named “The Painted Cave Ram,” based on where we found him. Jake found some other nice sheep but nothing that beat our “number one.” While looking for the PC Ram, I ran into another outfitter. He was very friendly and told me about sheep behavior and where they might be in the windy conditions we had that day. Ultimately, we saw my ram while glassing together. After some tense moments, I was able to show him pictures and video proving that I had seen that ram before and that was the reason I was out there. He did the honorable thing and let me go after him as long as I was fully committed to getting it done with that ram.

I arrived back at the Aravaipa Canyon area four days before the start of the hunt. Starting where we had first spotted the PC Ram, I found some decent rams and a bunch of ewes but not him. Around midday, I moved to an area I thought would overlook where I had last seen him. He was standing in the literal first place I looked with my binoculars. I couldn’t believe it! I knew it had to be fate. He was standing at the edge of Aravaipa Canyon and began moving with a purpose in the direction of the Painted Cave Canyon.

I lost him after watching him for over an hour. It worked out because my dad, Bruce Noble, Sr., and my friend, David Bennett, were supposed to be meeting me at the ranch house. David flew all the way out from Michigan to be a part of the hunt. We all arrived at the ranch house within minutes of each other, which was amazing considering they were coming from the Tucson airport and I was headed back from the field.

I dropped my dad off at camp, and David and I took off to relocate the ram. Within minutes of getting set up at the glassing point, David picked him up. He had moved quite a bit from where I last saw him. He was traveling by himself, so I suspected he was cruising for some hot ewes. We were able to put him to bed that night and made a game plan to come back before sunup to be in position to watch him.

We were able to follow him for the entire four days before the hunt started. Jake got out the morning before opening morning, which was not a minute too soon. David and I had lost him the afternoon before. We had made a tactical decision not to pressure him, but we had an idea of where he was. We were able to turn him up in almost the exact spot where Jake and I had first found him. It was a total team effort to watch him that day as he traveled several miles to another group of ewes. We were able to get some video of him and two other rams duking it out as the sun began to set. They were far out on the edge of Aravaipa Canyon.

Jake had called in the cavalry, and when we arrived back at camp, Mark Hardy and Andrew Nelson were waiting for us. On opening morning, we surrounded as best we could the area where we had last seen them. It was at the edge of a 400-foot cliff with side canyons, turning it into a peninsula. Mark was the only one who could see them, so Jake and I put together a plan for a stalk to get close. We had a tough time locating them because of the terrain, but eventually, we could hear them fighting. Mark witnessed them fighting at the edge of the 400-foot cliff and couldn’t believe no sheep went over the edge.

Jake and I had to creep up and over some rocks to be able to see them. They were a mere 40 yards away. We were in the middle of getting set up for a shot when Jake said, “You gotta shoot now!” I got behind the gun and do not remember aiming. He was right in my sights, and I pulled the trigger. I racked another round and fired again. I knew it wasn’t a good hit because I had squeezed before I was ready. Sheep began to appear from every nook and cranny of the small shelf they were on. Jake and I were both scared that he was going to jump or roll off of the 400-foot cliff we were on. We moved out into the open, on the literal edge of the cliff, and I calmly put one in the center of the ram’s chest. He dropped instantly and rolled into the one tree on the shelf. Another big ram jumped out, and for a millisecond, we each wondered if I had shot the right ram. Jake said he was certain he saw a specific chip in the horn of the one I shot and knew it was him.

I had never felt so emotional after filling a tag. With all of the work and events leading up to that moment, it was meant to be. This was a general draw tag and the largest Mexicana shot in the state in 2022! OnX was a huge help in plotting this ram’s locations with each sighting as well as plotting each group of ewes we had found.

Arizona Bighron Sheep