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This is What You Do

August 2020
Story by Devin LeRoy
State: Utah
Species: Sheep - Desert

I was ice fishing at Scofield Reservoir thinking about what a great hunting season I had guiding for Utah Big Game Outfitters when I received a call from the DWR. I was the alternate on the first ever archery Zion bighorn sheep hunt. I was overcome with excitement. The only problem was that I only had seven days before the hunt started. We immediately packed up our gear to go pick up my tag because fishing is what you do when you cannot hunt and the biggest hunt of my life was about to start.

With the tag in my hand, I started making phone calls to family and friends on making a game plan for the upcoming hunt. I was about to go on my once-in-a-lifetime Desert bighorn sheep hunt that started on December 28th with snow on the ground, freezing temperatures, no rut activity, and only a bow in my hand.

I left at 3:30 a.m. the next morning to scout the area. I had been on the unit with my cousin’s tag four years ago, so I felt like I had some good starting points. In four days, I covered hundreds of miles on my side-by-side and around 30 miles on my feet without seeing one sheep. Driving home on Christmas Eve to be with my family I was wondering if I should give the tag back. I felt like I was looking for a needle in a haystack. That night, my wonderful wife could feel my frustration. She told me, “There is no doubt you will make this happen. This is what you do.” I cannot thank her enough for how supportive she is. Between working construction and guiding in the fall, I am away from home more than I am home. With a new outlook on the hunt and much needed help on the way, I told myself failure was not an option.

On December 25th after my family was done with Christmas, I was on the road driving back down to scout out an area I had not been to before. I finally found fresh sheep tracks and immediately set up the tripod and put the Swarovskis to work. One hour later, I had eyes on the first sheep. It was a young ram, but it was big relief that I was just looking for sheep and not a unicorn. I spent the next couple days looking over as much country as I could.

With the hunt starting tomorrow, the temperatures rising, the snow starting to melt, and more than just my one pair of binoculars on the cliff faces, we started to find sheep. We had turned up a handful of small rams and two potential shooters. For the next three days, we spent most of our time glassing, looking for a bigger ram and keeping an eye on the two we had found already. I had some of the best help a person could ask for. We stuck to our plan. I had Hugh Airiotti (my father-in-law) and Trent LeRoy (my cousin) covering the north end of the unit, Ryan Mann and Cole Anderson (longtime friends) covering the middle, and Shawn LeRoy (my cousin who flew in from Montana), Nick Mills (my longtime friend who made the drive from Wyoming), Derek Martinez (my friend and guiding partner), and myself working the southern end where we had seen the most sheep. I also met Phil and Calvin Nyborg from Colorado City who played a big role in this hunt.

After two blown stalks that each took a full day, I was able to get within 150 yards of two great rams. My confidence was finally growing, but one of the biggest problems we were facing was everywhere we went we found lion tracks that put the sheep on high alert.

January 2, 2020 found me stalking four rams that were running together. One of the rams was a world-class sheep. As Shawn, Nick, and Calvin glassed from the south rim, Phil and I came in from the north trying to keep the wind in our faces. We got within 158 yards of the bedded rams. The plan was to wait them out and see if they would stand up and feed to us. The Zion is some of the most rugged country you will find in Utah. With straight up and down cliffs to the west, our options were limited. One hour later, the rams were on their feet and coming our way. Out of nowhere, the biggest ram started to get very nervous as I watched all four rams run half a mile out of the unit. My heart sank.

The night before, Phil and Calvin glassed up three sheep over three miles away and one looked to be a big ram. We still had three hours of light, so we made a mad dash to try to find them. Our first glassing point was unsuccessful. We had to move to a higher point. We got set up, and within 10 minutes, I found the three sheep feeding at the bottom of a cliff. It was go-time. Phil stayed back to keep an eye on them as I slipped in from a canyon bottom. As I approached the sheep, I came to a perfect natural blind. As I climbed in, I looked to my left and had the sheep feeding at 75 yards. I could not believe what I was seeing. Trying to calm down, I nocked an arrow and waited 25 minutes for the ram to present an opportunity. He finally jumped on the cliff 10 yards closer to me. As I pulled back my bow, a thousand things were running through my head. As the arrow left my bow, it felt like time stopped. The arrow hit its mark, but the ram, not knowing what had happened, ran within 42 yards of me. I let one more fly, hitting him right behind the shoulder again. The ram still did not know where I was as I nocked the third arrow. I looked up to see the ram running right at me with blood pumping. I had to jump out of the way as the ram nearly ran me over. Phil had eyes on him as he lay down 150 yards from me. It was over. Mission accomplished.

The official score is 151 3/8".