I had a great teacher in my high school geometry class. We all know that that the shortest distance between two points is a straight line. There are no straight lines in sheep hunting. None. All I knew for sure is that hunting sheep is hard. Come to think of it I have never noticed a fat sheep hunter in any magazine and sure hadn't done any sheep hunting to know enough to bring great hiking poles along on the hunt. My experience with sheep hunting was zilch. I have watched sheep in Colorado, Montana and Canada but never went on a sheep hunt. I have watched some great rams and had a friend kill a huge ram in Colorado some years ago after putting in for a tag for many years. He had scouted the ram for months on end and hiked up and killed the ram at daylight on Day 1. Sounded simple enough. The unit we were hunting in is the best sheep unit in Montana for good reason.
This year, the Montana bighorn sheep Governors tag was a winning bid by Con Wadsworth of Draper, Utah, for $480,000 which shattered the state’s record of $300,000 set in 2012. The “Governor’s tag” holder has an edge with special privileges to hunt prized trophy areas with more favorable seasons than roughly 160 hunters who will draw ram permits in the state lottery. That sheep was killed not far from where my pal was going to be hunting!
When my friend called some weeks ago and told me he had drawn a tag in one of the greatest sheep hunting units in America, (after applying for about a dozen years or so) Unit 680 in Montana I knew he was calling for a reason we both didn't realize at the time. I told him I would do two things for him; I'd work my butt off to help him get a ram and I would not whine. That's what friends do. I have good hunting eyes, am in fairly good shape for turning 60 in 60 days and am a good solo camper. I told him that's all I could do! Now, I am glad he called and I know he is elated I answered. Sheep hunting is a team sport. I told him I would work out my schedule and if he hadn't tagged out on a ram after a few weeks of the season being open I'd meet him in the rough stuff north of the Missouri River on a certain day and give him a hand in getting his once-in-a-lifetime tag put on a great ram. I had decided to drive to Montana with a 1997 Ford Expedition, 4x4, with 175,000 miles on it. It's always a good feeling to drive into Montana!
It took well over 2 days and when I arrived at camp I had logged 2,033 miles to get there. Those miles were a beautiful jaunt across America in the fall and I'm constantly impressed with America, truckers, our ability to feed the world and our infrastructure. I am not impressed with our narcissistic politicians and their incompetency. I stayed with a client in Pella, Iowa the first night out and enjoyed some wonderful hospitality in a great little town, home of Pella Windows. Going through South Dakota was amazing. Eastern and Central South Dakota were ablaze in fall color and when I got further west, the great snow-storm of 2013 was clearly visible. This is at a gas station in Rapid City. The number of dead livestock was simply staggering. Between 50,000 and 60,000 head of cattle died. It was sad to see so many dead animals in such good health simply die in the wet snow because of suffocation and not having their winter coats on yet.
This is how far it was from home as the crow flies. 1604 miles! Roads don't always run straight!
My pal wanted a great ram on the wall and we had to find one. There seemed to be plenty of sheep around. This is the first sheep we found, about a mile away.
Big rams leave big tracks. My boot is a size 12.
The nights were cool, actually freezing and had the coyotes on the move. We had a family pack swing by every night hunting rabbits in the high sage and they were loud. Sheep are probably in the best shape of the year in October and they looked ready for winter. I like having the range finder and Swaro's at the ready. I carried the big spotting scope and tripod in my big Eberlestock pack.
We saw plenty of ewes and rams and were working hard to find a good ram. Every sage flat or ridge seemed to have these guys buzzing and I will never be caught again without good snake gear. I had two pair of snake boots sitting at home and snake chaps in a hunting closet. My pal had snake gaiters and I followed him in the sage. The little ones sounded as nasty as the big ones.
We moved out quick up the ridge and headed north at a good clip to try and cut them off. We got up a few canyons to the north, came out on a bench and sat down, hoping we would see sheep on the move. Nothing moved. We had some water and a protein bar and made the decision to hunt out each little canyon as best we could back toward the south where they were laying. We didn't think they had gone far and that we would sooner or later bump them. We were going awful slow just picking along trying to peer into every nook and cranny and all of a sudden my buddy steps back and is quickly taking his pack off. I move up to range the ram. He is asleep on a near vertical ledge and we take our time to glass him. To me, he is a great ram. To somebody else maybe he is just a good ram. I told my pal that he was at 105 yards and he started to take a picture or two before he was going to start shooting. By now, I was running iPhone video camera to film the entire ordeal. This picture has the ram across the canyon under the black soil laying down.
It took us far longer than we thought to get down to the sheep. We had to find a way down without killing ourselves and it wasn't easy. Leather gloves are mandatory!
My pal guides fly fisherman all summer and he rows constantly every day he is fishing. In the fall he guides deer hunters across Montana for whitetails and muleys and is a great guide. I am proud to call him a friend. His name is Lindsey Channel and this is his company. http://www.channeloutfitters.com His upper body is extremely strong and thank the Lord for his strength! As we worked down closer to the sheep I let my friend go ahead to give him some time with the animal. It's the right thing to do.
To me, it’s hard work to have fun. The effort is as enjoyable as the results. It’s good to drink deeply of life. There will be no mention of any "score" of this ram's horns. To me, that is not what this animal represented. I take the same approach to deer. I like to hunt for big deer, not scores.
To live this long, to fend off winters, cats, coyotes, hunters, lions, eagles when young, this magnificent sheep deserved only tremendous respect. It will make a great trophy on the wall for my friend and his family for sure but the memories of that day and the work we put in to bring him out will last as long as well. Maybe someday I will have the opportunity to kill a sheep. I know I will be ready, God-willing. Maybe I will have to go to work and figure out how to get a sheep tag in my life because I have always believed that if you really want to do something you will find a way. If you don’t, you’ll find an excuse. Life isn't a straight line. I still think the best is yet to come. I hope you do too!