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After two hours on Coulter, my sure-footed mountain horse, we finally made base camp and this is where my hunt for Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep deep in New Mexico's wilderness begins. Actually this hunt began four years earlier when I enrolled with Cabela's T.A.G.S. to be applied for all the greatest, most sought after, western big-game tags in the country. That's right - in just four years I drew one of the best sheep tags in the country. When the draw results were posted and I received the call, I almost fainted.
I'm a firm believer in hiring an outfitter when I draw a tag. I believe in this for three reasons. No. 1 hunting trips take time. Time is precious and time is money. Do it once - do it right. No. 2 I know how hard these tags are to draw. No. 3 I know the tag is only as good as the outfitter you hire. That being said I usually leave the outfitter selection process to the pros. The people who are immersed in it every day - the people of Cabela's T.A.G.S. So, on that faithful day when Cabela's T.A.G.S. manager Eric Pawlak called to tell me of my incredible luck I think he was just as excited as I was. I knew he had me covered and he asked if he could come along to film the hunt for Cabela's Outfitter Journal on the Outdoor Channel.
Jump ahead three months - Eric, Wade, Butch and I met up in New Mexico for the hunt. Wade and Butch were my guides and had just spent the last month and a half in the unit living among the sheep. All summer they had been sending me pictures of sheep from their scouting missions. It was completely obvious I had hired the right guys for this incredible tag. They were all over it. During the summer it had been decided after several conversations that I should bring my bow. According to Wade and Butch, this unit, while extremely rugged, had great potential to get close. So, the day before the sheep opener we packed the hoses, bow in tow, and headed for base camp.
When we got to base camp I could immediately tell these guys were ready. They had these sheep dialed and were just as pumped as I was for opening morning. They were confident that they had seen every shooter in the unit and had an ingenious plan of how to get close with a bow. At dinner that night Wade kept repeating the line, "Hey pilgrim, a sheep doesn't know how many legs a horse has." After the 20th time of Wade saying this line I finally placed it. It was from the classic movie Jeremiah Johnson. Wade later explained that the sheep in my unit where tough to approach however, one day he and Butch tried getting close using the horses and it worked like a charm. Our plan would be to get on top and at first light, find the sheep with the glasses then approach hiding behind the horses as we led them toward the rams.
At fist light we glassed lots of sheep; but we couldn't find any of the shooters. We glassed and climbed, glassed and climbed, glassed and climbed. They were nowhere to be found. I could tell Wade and Butch were at a loss for words. They had seen these rams every day in the pre-season and now they had vanished. As the day was coming to an end Wade and Butch went back for the horses and Eric and I stayed on top and kept glassing. Just as I was about to call it a day Wade came running back and said they had found two shooters hanging together not far down the ridge. It was on.
First we went and retrieved the horses. Using the plan Wade and Butch had devised during their scouting we each grabbed a set of reins and began our approach. When these two magnificent rams first spotted the horses I thought it was over. However, much to my surprise, instead of running off they just bedded. Once I realized this was going to happen my heart started pumping and the shakes started to set in. We were now within 60 yards and they stayed bedded. We slowly moved closer and closer. I couldn't believe my eyes. At around 40 yards Wade asked, "Close enough?" I didn't reply. I just handed Butch my reins and knocked an arrow. I looked over my shoulder and could see that Eric was rolling with the camera. I drew my bow and then stepped around the horses. The bigger of the two rams stood up and was about to blow out when he saw me appear. Too late! Wade called him out at 37 yards and I released. Eric then shouted, "You drilled him - perfect shot," while taking it all in through the viewfinder on the camera. Both rams ran off in the same direction however, my ram fell inside 80 yards. It was over. I'll never forget it.
This beautiful Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep has an unofficial green gross score of 171" and will easily make the 140" Pope and Young minimum. He should place in the top 70 among all Rocky Mountain bighorns listed in the Pope and Young Record Book. The hunt should appear during the 2008 season of Cabela's Outfitter Journal TV show aired on the Outdoor Channel.
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