Author Topic: 2019 California Bighorn Sheep Hunt - Tag Filled  (Read 4379 times)

Offline Bushcraft

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2019 California Bighorn Sheep Hunt - Tag Filled
« on: October 18, 2019, 11:36:00 AM »
When you are standing in the “Batter’s Box” of this one life that you’ve been granted by the Almighty, you’ve got to swing.

Sometimes you’ll whiff. Sometimes you’ll get a single, double or triple. And occasionally, sometimes you’ll knock it out of the park.

Months ago I scanned through my online WDFW Special Permit Application results and saw “Selected” for a California Bighorn Ewe tag. While incredulous, knowing first-hand how hard some of our wild sheep herds in Washington are faring due to MOVI pneumonia outbreak issues, I had a less than exuberant reaction to drawing the ewe tag. Like a lot of people I just automatically put in for everything, but there was no way I was going to shoot a ewe. Part of me thought, “Well, that’s one more ewe that gets to stay on the mountain.”

It was only when I reviewed the game regs again for the specific dates did I realize I could take a juvenile ram instead of a ewe. Alrighty then…game on…more meat in the freezer, baby!
Unfortunately, by the time WDFW had finally came out with their draw results, I had already committed to a mule deer hunt with dates that significantly overlapped my sheep tag’s limited window of opportunity.

The area where I prefer to hunt the High Buck season is a special place for me. It’s a sacred place whose raw and wild beauty - at least to my eye, is beyond compare and where some of my ashes will someday be spread. And, I was going back in there with one of my best friends who hadn’t been able to make it back in there with me for a couple years.

Some sheep hunting friends that were knowledgeable about the area thought I was crazy for not changing my plans. There were rumors of some really nice juvenile rams in the area and I was risking losing an opportunity at a good one to some other hunter. But, I had made a commitment and I determined that I’d rather go after big mule deer deep in the wilderness than play cat and mouse with small immature juvenile rams in a patchwork of public and private lands any day of the week.

So, @Colville and I spent an EPIC nine days hunting the high-country and I logged 40+ miles and 29,288 vertical feet over the course of the trip with a ugly 14+ mile haul-out while carrying a 100+ lb. pack. The rain and exposure was Old Testament biblical at times. My body needed some time to recuperate after our successful hunt, especially my feet.
I used the post-hunt downtime to catch up on some work and BOD committee business, feed my body copious amounts of red meat and veggies, attend a Ducks Unlimited fundraiser in Seattle with friends, make a run over to the canyon to try and help a kiddo and her father fill her sheep tag, and somehow catch a head cold that kept pushing out the date for me to leave and start my sheep hunt.

Finally, with the shot clock ticking down on my season, I just said, “Screw it!” and packed the truck and headed for the Yakima Canyon, head cold be-damned.

The wild sheep in this particular area had been hit hard by the Mycoplasma ovipneumoniae (M. ovi) outbreak. Movi is a bacterium that often leads to deadly respiratory disease such as pneumonia in wild sheep and goats. It is initially contracted from domestic sheep and goats and can spread like wildfire through a band of wild sheep. It’s a serious pathogen that can wipe out bands, especially the young.  And, frustratingly, the survivors can harbor the disease as "super carriers", thereby making it nearly impossible to regain a population. The tag I drew was one of a few that were set aside as part of a “management test cull” to see how many ewes and juvenile rams were affected. If it’s determined that a large enough percentage is infected, then a larger effort will be made to capture and selectively euthanize the carriers rather than kill off the entire herd and start over. It's my understanding that the approach has had some success in different parts of the state and is far less expensive than a wholesale removal and restocking effort.  (A big thanks to SCI and WSF volunteers for working hand in hand with WDFW bios on this important issue!)

Anyway, I was warned that the longer I put it off into the pre-rut, the more difficult it would be for me to be successful in harvesting a particular juvenile ram. As the pre-rut escalates there is no rhyme or reason to when and where the rams decide to go. They could hang out in a relatively small area for days on end. Or, if they catch a whiff of some pheromones, they could be miles away in a totally different drainage system in a handful of hours trying to mix it up with the neighboring ladies. It’s amazing how much hardscrabble country they can cover in seemingly no time at all when they put their mind to it. Add to that patterning problem a patchwork of public and private landholdings.  And yes, I could have forked over the trespass fee to Red's, but I wanted to try and get it done on public land.

While it’s not particularly hard to find a ewe or juvenile ram (or a mature ram for that matter) in this unit, it proved to be damned difficult to find and keep track of a single particular sheep. Within the first day or so while out with a friend that wanted to help glass, we ended up coming within yards of group of rams that held a juvenile ram who was just on the verge of not being legal. I really didn’t want to tempt that sort of fate with WDFW enforcement. Plus, it’s cape was really scuffed up from its lamb tips and general rough-housing with the other rams and it was mor or less the first day of my hunt. It was shortly after deciding to not pull the trigger on that one that we glassed up a stunner juvenile a long way off through the all-seeing eye of the big Swarovski spotter that was making a bee-line for some private lands. Not only did it appear to just barely be legal, but it also had an absolutely gorgeous cape, which was my primary goal. I decided then and there that it was "The One" I wanted to go after. The hunt was on!

I’d found and lost this particular ram several times over the course of the next six or seven days. Sometimes I couldn’t find him at all for days on end. More often than I’d like to count, I’d find him only to have him vanish in the many twisting rocky basalt fissures of the Yakima Canyon. Other times, I’d glass him up with the frustrating realization that he was safely on private ground.
The cat and mouse game went on like that all week with many miles and a few thousand vertical feet put on my already tired legs every day. Fortunately, my head cold was going away and I had a comfortable camp at Umtanum with a warm Kifaru tipi, a comfortable bed and real food I could come back to every night to refuel my body and mind.

On the morning of the second to last possible day everything fell into place. "The One" had been hanging out with four mature rams the evening before at last light, but he was nowhere to be found with them or in any of the neighboring canyon drainages that I desperately searched in the early morning light. Amazingly, nearly seven miles away (walking distance when skirting the ridgelines as the sheep tend to do), I located a ram that I thought was him skylined on a ridge hanging out with a one-horned unicorn ewe…and he was on public land not particularly far from the road. Unsure if it was the scruffy ram or "The One", I impatiently watched him through the Swaro for what seemed like an eternity, waiting for it to stand up and move around.  When it stood up I immediately realized I'd found him and NOW was the time to act. I fought to regain my composure and quickly put a plan together. A good friend of mine was coming over to hang out for the day and help glass, but I couldn’t afford to wait the couple hours for him to get there and film the stalk and shot. It was “now or never” as they say.

My time this year shooting precision rifles competitively in PRS and NRL matches in wonky field positions paid off as I was able to efficiently build a solid rest and quickly settle the custom 300 WSM's Nightforce reticle on his heart. A moment later a 168 gr. Barnes TTSX cleanly and humanely put him down.

It’s been a long time since I’ve shook that hard and been overcome with such a flood of emotional reactions after the culmination of a successful hunt. The massive adrenaline dump had me shaking like a leaf for a good twenty-five to thirty minutes after the shot.  I couldn't believe the long odds of me, or anyone else for that matter, being able to harvest this particular animal.

Even though it wasn’t an Any Ram tag, I had lucked out and drawn a sheep tag. I had done so in my home state with nearly impossible odds. With some luck and sweat equity I was able to find the nicest possible legal ram in the entire area for the tag I had drawn, and perhaps the entire state. Furthermore, it had a stunningly beautiful, un-marred dark chocolate cape, which is uncommon for juvenile rams. I’d found the proverbial needle in the haystack several times in the patchwork of public lands only to lose him to the safety of private lands. Even though I had been using the best optics on the planet, my eyes were getting tired (and bored!) of the constant glassing for hours and hours on end all day, every day of the same public areas. My legs were getting smoked after climbing up and down steep basalt canyon walls day after day. The odds of taking a sheep like this were long indeed but my dream had come true.  I'll chalk it up to karma for volunteering so much of my time and energy to hunting advocacy and wildlife conservation in this state and beyond.
I’d finally tagged out on "The One"…and was very severely bitten again by the sheep hunting bug in the process.

This could get expensive.  :chuckle:

#DIY #fieldtofeast #hunting #meateater #clean #redmeat #organic #flavor #sheephunting #wildsheep #californiabighorn #wildsheepfoundation #wsf #safariclub #sci #firstforhunters #kifaru #kifarulife #mountainhunting #solo #usethequadsgodgaveyou #knowwhereyourfoodcomesfrom #swarovski #nightforce #zeiss #reallyrightstuff #barnesbullets #kuiu #scarpa #wildernessathlete #publicland
« Last Edit: October 18, 2019, 11:47:09 AM by Bushcraft »
Liberalism is the philosophy of Western suicide. 

Work hard. Hunt hard. Lift other hunters up.


Offline Ridgerunner

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Re: 2019 California Bighorn Sheep Hunt - Tag Filled
« Reply #1 on: October 18, 2019, 03:08:19 PM »
Beautiful ram, what a great end to your fall.

Offline full choke

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Re: 2019 California Bighorn Sheep Hunt - Tag Filled
« Reply #2 on: October 18, 2019, 03:15:17 PM »
Nice ram!  :tup:

Cool story, thanks for sharing!

Offline hunterednate

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Re: 2019 California Bighorn Sheep Hunt - Tag Filled
« Reply #3 on: October 18, 2019, 03:24:42 PM »
So cool! Way to keep after it. You've inspired me to go duck hunting tomorrow in spite of my head cold.

Offline Rainier10

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Re: 2019 California Bighorn Sheep Hunt - Tag Filled
« Reply #4 on: October 18, 2019, 03:52:14 PM »
beautiful ram, you did very well.
Pain is temporary, achieving the goal is worth it.

I didn't say it would be easy, I said it would be worth it.

Every father should remember that one day his children will follow his example instead of his advice.

The views and opinions expressed in this post are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of HuntWa or the site owner.

Offline Machias

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Re: 2019 California Bighorn Sheep Hunt - Tag Filled
« Reply #5 on: October 18, 2019, 04:52:12 PM »
VERY nice, congrats!!
Fred Moyer

History does not long entrust the care of freedom to the weak or the timid.

Offline SuperDave

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Re: 2019 California Bighorn Sheep Hunt - Tag Filled
« Reply #6 on: October 18, 2019, 06:55:18 PM »
Great ram and story, congratulations!

Offline idaho guy

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Re: 2019 California Bighorn Sheep Hunt - Tag Filled
« Reply #7 on: October 18, 2019, 07:50:32 PM »
 :tup: great story and ram.

Offline Widgeondeke

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Re: 2019 California Bighorn Sheep Hunt - Tag Filled
« Reply #8 on: October 18, 2019, 08:15:56 PM »
That was a phenomenal read.  Thank you for sharing and CONGRATS!

Offline CaNINE

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Re: 2019 California Bighorn Sheep Hunt - Tag Filled
« Reply #9 on: October 18, 2019, 09:10:10 PM »
 :tup: :tup:
The lazy do not roast any game, but the diligent feed on the riches of the hunt.

Proverbs 12:27


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Re: 2019 California Bighorn Sheep Hunt - Tag Filled
« Reply #10 on: October 18, 2019, 09:29:24 PM »
Great job! Congrats. :IBCOOL:

Offline X-Force

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Re: 2019 California Bighorn Sheep Hunt - Tag Filled
« Reply #11 on: October 18, 2019, 11:24:50 PM »
Pretty ram
People get offended at nothing at all. So, speak your mind and be unapologetic.

Offline Tree Killer

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Re: 2019 California Bighorn Sheep Hunt - Tag Filled
« Reply #12 on: October 19, 2019, 04:41:18 AM »
Congratulations on your bighorn!
"if you rattle, they will come"
"Stickbows, putting the arch back in archery"

Offline bowhunterforever

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Re: 2019 California Bighorn Sheep Hunt - Tag Filled
« Reply #13 on: October 19, 2019, 01:03:44 PM »
Nice ram :tup: Congrats
You sure you know how to skin griz pilgram

Offline hunting4sanity

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Re: 2019 California Bighorn Sheep Hunt - Tag Filled
« Reply #14 on: October 19, 2019, 01:32:43 PM »
Beautiful ram, congratulations!
Disappointments are inevitable, misery is optional.


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