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March 2022
Story by Tony Kafouros
State: Idaho
Species: Sheep - Rocky Mtn

When I was a little guy, my Uncle Phil guided Dall sheep in Alaska, and for as long as I can remember, I wanted to be a sheep hunter. “To the ram!” he and his buddies would say when referring to the majestic animals. He would show me pictures of the hunts he’d guided and read me stories of the alpine adventures of O’Conner, Whalen, and Roosevelt. I watched him carry on lifelong friendships with clients he took on the mountain, and I knew there was something very special about the collective experience of chasing sheep. My uncle passed away in 2011, and that year, I promised myself I’d find a way to go sheep hunting. I had put in for sheep in every western state for most of my adult life, but I finally decided to bite the bullet and book a Dall sheep hunt in Alaska. I saved and planned, and just a few months after my wife gave birth to our first son in 2018, I left for the Wrangells to fulfill a lifelong dream. I was hooked! The passion for hunting these animals only grew stronger.

After years of managing the application process on my own, I joined Huntin’ Fool and had them take over. In my first year as a License Application client, I drew a bighorn tag. I got the call the morning of May 13, 2021. “Welcome to Huntin Fool! Are you ready to go sheep hunting in August?” I couldn’t believe it. Just three years after a lifelong dream came true in Alaska, I was going to be sheep hunting in the lower 48.

The following three and a half months seemed to drag on, but before I knew it, I had kissed my wife and two sons goodbye and was in the truck on my way to Salmon, Idaho to meet up with Luke Cranney from Rawhide Outfitters. I arrived in Salmon early in the afternoon on August 28th and was greeted by one of the kindest, most hospitable families I have ever met. Luke and his son, Jarrod, had spent a lot of time on the mountain scouting prior to my arrival, and we looked at some pictures of rams they’d spotted. “Heavy, old, and broomed,” is what I told Luke I had pictured when dreaming about this hunt. They had spotted just that a few days earlier, and we discussed a plan for going after him.

Luke, Jarrod, and our spotter/packer, Nick, headed up the trailhead in the dark early the next morning to start looking for rams. Johnny Cranney escorted me up to meet them early that afternoon. They had chosen a spot for spike camp close to a bowl where we could glass sheep that evening. I set up my tent, fired up the Jetboil for some dinner, and settled in before our evening glassing session. At around 6 p.m., we walked just a few hundred yards from our tents to glass. The first thing I spotted was a snow- white mountain goat cresting the ridge atop the bowl we were looking at. We spotted a nice 6-point bull with his harem, a few deer, and finally a small ram a few miles away to the north. It was good to get eyes on a ram, and I was excited for the hunt to start the next day.

At 5 a.m. the next morning, we were out of our tents and sipping coffee and discussing the morning’s plan. Luke, Jarrod, and I would take a hogback saddle up about 1,000 feet to the ridge we were glassing the night before and stop halfway to glass a bowl to the north. Nick would hang back and glass to the south to make sure we weren’t missing any rams in that bowl. Just before sunup, we stopped to glass and spotted four rams total – two small rams, including the one we had seen the night before, a young 3/4 curl ram, and an older heavy ram broomed below his jaw. We watched them for a bit and then continued our way up to the ridge to glass into the next bowl.
From our new vantage point, we were somewhere between 10,000 and 11,000 feet and had a lot of country to look over. We were in for a long day behind the optics. Spotting bighorns was difficult enough, but smoke from local and distant fires coupled with the lack of activity from the rams due to high temperatures made it even that much more trying. We spent most of the morning dividing and conquering that ridgeline, looking into every draw and timber patch we could.

Most of the day passed without any more ram sightings. We reconvened on the ridgetop to have some lunch and lay in the sun to rest our eyes for a bit. At around 2 or 3 p.m., the wind picked up quite a bit. Luke spotted another ram in the huge bowl to our east. He was slowly feeding in the warm sun and soon bedded down in the open. He camouflaged into the surrounding shale, and had we not caught him feeding, we may have never spotted him. He was a younger ram, maybe 6 or 7, with a 3/4 curl and thin tips. I kept that ram in my scope for hours in the hopes that he would reveal a larger companion somewhere on the rocky slope. After a few hours, I noticed his attention was focused on something above him. I shared this with Luke, and after just a few minutes of him focusing back on the ram, I heard him say, “Big broomer!” We scrambled to find the mature ram in our scopes, and in a mixture of frustration and excitement, we crowded around Luke’s spotter to get a peek. “I don’t know if he’s the one we saw a few days ago, but this ram is old, heavy, and broomed!” Just what I wanted to hear.

After a few minutes of debate and strategy, we had a plan in place for Luke and me to put a stalk on this ram while Jarrod and Nick tried to keep tabs on him from above. The sun would be down in just a few hours, and the rams were miles away and across the huge bowl. Luke and I scrambled off the face of the mountain, descending about a thousand feet or so. It looked like the two rams were feeding down to a spring, and our plan was to get across the tree-covered valley below to put ourselves in position to intercept the sheep. It took us a few hours to slowly work our way over and stay undetected.

Before I knew it, we were within 200 yards of the rams. Their silhouettes flashed as they made their way through the timber above us, working downhill and right to left. Just then, we felt the wind shift and our scent was now blowing up directly at the rams. They turned on a dime and started ascending again. Luke and I dropped to our bellies. I chambered a round and heard, “The big ram is in front at 300 yards.” The rams had cleared a tree line and stood broadside as I dialed the scope and attempted to focus the reticle on his shoulder. I couldn’t get a clear shot. A small six-foot pine was about 10 yards in front of my muzzle, impeding a clear shot.

“I have to move!” I whispered to Luke. As we scurried 15 yards to our left, the rams started climbing again. I repositioned as quickly as I could and heard, “335 now!” Just as Luke called the yardage, the big broomer slowed down just enough for me to squeeze off a shot. I lost him in the recoil. He ran about 30 yards into some trees above him. We heard shale sliding, saw a cloud of dust, and watched the smaller of the two rams squirt out the top of the trees. Luke and I gathered our composure and slowly picked our way up the shale to the tree patch where we last saw the ram. We found our big broomer hung up on a small bush in the middle of a shale slide. High fives and hugs ensued as I put my hands around those heavy horns and we dragged the old ram to a flat spot. Jarrod and Nick caught up to us about an hour or so later. They had watched all the action from the ridgeline above, never taking their scopes off the rams as Luke and I pursued.

We got the ram we were after in a total team effort. I can’t thank those three guys enough for making it happen. My ram scored 169" and was 9.5 years old. He’ll feed my family for the next year, his horns will grace my home for my lifetime, and I hope his story will be told for generations.