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What are the Odds?

April 2022
Story by David McKay
State: Montana
Species: Sheep - Rocky Mtn

In a normal year, I look up the Montana sheep hunts in Huntin’ Fool and pick out units that are available to non-residents, I try to pick ones that have better odds of drawing than the hard to draw units. This year, I was moving and didn’t have time to look them up, so I chose 680-20 of the famous Missouri River Breaks because I knew it was open to non-residents every year. To my surprise, I drew the tag even though the odds were 1 in 1,000. As a truck driver from Oregon, I didn’t have time to scout the unit or the money to hire a guide. None of my hunter friends could take that much time off, so I was all alone on this hunt-of-a- lifetime. Turning 70 this year probably didn’t help my odds, at least on paper. As a longtime pastor, I knew that God could even out long odds if I trusted him as my guide, so I prayed, “OK, Lord, you need to take the wheel on this one.”

With a September 15th opener, I decided to get there a week early to scout. It took two days to drive to Big Sandy, Montana, and I found a nice place to camp at Judith Crossing on the Missouri River. The B.L.M. campsite was green with grass and shaded by large cottonwood trees. Every morning, I was greeted by bugling bull elk and the crowing of ring-neck roosters. I even saw a guy arrow a nice 6-point elk on the banks of the Judith River. Many years ago, I read the book Yellowstone Kelly and His Memoirs. His stories of the area created a longing in me to see this country for myself. I was not disappointed. The people I met at the campground were very friendly and helpful in giving me information about the area. I met two young men, Ty and Andy, who camped next to me and also had a sheep tag. Ty got up early one morning and arrowed a nice mule deer buck in the head at 35 yards. Andy had a sheep tag, and they took their jet boat up the river, hiked several miles up a steep canyon, and shot a nice ram. It was one of those death march adventures, and they earned all 170"+ of that ram. These guys worked and hunted hard, and I enjoyed their company.

In the meantime, I got sick and thought I had Covid. When I traveled to Havre for supplies, I drove in the wrong direction for 80 miles before I noticed I was not on Highway 87 to Big Sandy. We have all heard about brain fog being one of the symptoms of Covid, so I drove back to Havre and got a Covid test. The nurse saw my throat was red, so she also gave me a strep throat test. I drew a sigh of relief when the test revealed the lesser sickness, but I still missed opening week and was laid up in camp.

My camping spot was a long drive from where I was hunting, so I slept in the back of my pickup for several nights to stay close to the public land. I talked to several other hunters who had scoured the public land in the northern part of the unit and only saw a few ewes and a young ram. Things were looking rather bleak for me, but I tried to keep a positive attitude. The breaks were steep, rugged, and tough to hunt as you often get cliffed out when trying to climb up or down. I finally located some B.L.M. land and walked two miles out on a ridge. The further out on the ridge I walked, the narrower and steeper it became. It overlooked a big canyon coming up from the Missouri River. I didn’t see any sheep and was thinking of turning back, but I decided to push on and look over the edge. As I was glassing across the big canyon, I saw some movement in the brush about 100 yards up from the bottom of the canyon. Then I spotted three rams feeding together on the steep sidehill. Two were immature rams, and one was a full curl ram. I estimated him to be over 180" with heavy bases and broomed horns. I decided to take him but then decided to self- talk in order to slow myself down. I have a tendency to get excited and rush my shots, so I decided to slow down as they were unaware of any danger. I’m glad for that decision because out of the brush walked a chocolate ram with longer horns and big bases. Instantly, I knew this was the ram I wanted to take. Unbeknownst to me, my wife was praying that a ram would come out of a thicket just as one did in biblical times in response to Isaac’s question, “Where is the lamb for the offering?” Abraham replied, “My Son, God will provide for himself a lamb for the offering.” What are the odds that the ram I really wanted walked out of the brush at just the right time?

I ranged the chocolate-colored ram at a little over 300 yards, and as it was a steep downhill shot, I was glad to have my Leupold rangefinder with TBR to give me the correct hold on the ram’s shoulder. Scrambling for a prone position, I talked to myself again, “Pick out a spot on his shoulder, take a deep breath, and slowly squeeze the trigger.” As the Kimber .300 Short Mag rocked my world and moved my scope, I was unable to see a clear hit. The two smaller rams ran up the steep slope, and the chocolate ram ran downhill with the other big ram following. He didn’t show any signs of being hit, but I suspected he was as wounded animals generally run downhill. I decided to make sure with a second shot that slowed his progress. He continued to run to the bottom of the canyon and came to rest at the dry creek bottom. He could not be reached from the steep cliff I was on, so I had to find another way to reach him. As you can imagine, I was very excited and decided to do what experienced hunters do because they have learned from their past mistakes. I did some more self-talking and said, “David, you had better slow down here and pick out some landmarks because as hunters all know the landscape looks very different when you get closer to it.” I picked out a red mountaintop that was east of me toward the Missouri River to guide me to his final resting place. At this point, it was noon and I knew I had to get moving. I hiked the two miles up the ridge to my truck and drove down to the Missouri River. When I reached the river, there were several canyons heading in his direction and I wasn’t sure which one to take. Then I looked up higher and there was my red mountain marker which directed me up the right canyon.

Parking my pickup at the base of the canyon, I started the hike, which ended up being just over two miles. As I walked up the creek bottom, there were several times I had to scramble around cliffs and dry waterfalls. When I finally arrived at the big bush that I had also marked from above, there was my ram lying with his head on the bank of the dry creek bed, and boy was he a beauty. He was definitely a book ram, but more importantly, he was a beautiful chocolate-colored chosen ram. I took some pictures and field dressed him as quickly as an elderly gentleman can. I decided to take a hind quarter with me, and I was glad I did. I retreated to the river and slept in my truck at the Ferry Crossing Campground. Arising early, I hiked up the canyon and packed out the head and cape. When I reached the campground, I took a two-hour rest. Then I made the third trip up the canyon to retrieve the rest of the meat. The ram ended up scoring 182".

In 2009, I drew a Desert sheep tag in Nevada. Now I am halfway to my dream of a Grand Slam, but due to time and money and my wife’s laughter as she types this, I will consider myself blessed with these two great hunts.
I can’t say enough about the resources Robert Hanneman at Huntin’ Fool provided me to navigate the drawing process and for help anytime I called them. We all thank our wives for supporting us. Then there is our Creator who makes chosen chocolate-colored rams possible with all the great mountains, rivers, canyons, and woodlands we love to explore!