All I Wanted And More!
By Brian Ham
WY, Rocky Mtn Bighorn Sheep
After 20 years of following Huntin’ Fool’s advice to apply for a Wyoming sheep tag, I was finally successful and drew a unit 4 tag. My outfitter research had led me to book my hunt with Cody Brown of Wind River Backcountry Adventures.
Our Wyoming adventure began when Cody, Spencer (our wrangler), and I loaded the string of eight horses and mules in the truck and trailer and started the one-hour drive north to the trailhead. On the ride north to the trailhead, Cody asked me what my expectations were for a ram. I told him I wanted to hunt the first five days of bow season and then switch to rifle for the last five days if we hadn’t connected with the bow. I was looking for at least an 8-year-old broomed ram that would score in the mid 160s.
Upon arriving at the trailhead on Sunday, August 26th, we were faced with a winter storm warning. Cody had planned on about a three and a half to four-hour ride to our camp spot, but about three hours in, we could see a wall of rain or snow coming. We stopped short of our destination and quickly set up camp, but not before the rain and hail had soaked us. This meant we would have a longer ride in the morning to get to our first glassing spot.
We awoke to snowcapped mountains as we packed up and rode for about two hours, going upward from about 8,300 feet to 11,000 feet in elevation. When we settled at our first location, within 10 minutes, I had glassed a ram that we all agreed was a definite shooter and might be the biggest ram we would see on this hunt. Seeing this one large ram so early in the hunt turned out to be really lucky; however, it would be the only luck we experienced during this hunt. Everything from here on out would have to be earned the hard way.
Cody and I made a two and a half-mile move to get on the same ridge as the ram. We spent most of the rest of the day trying to get a bow shot at the big ram. At one point late in the morning, two of his buddies came by me at 25 yards, but the big ram did not follow. Unfortunately, after being only 80 yards away from the big ram and spending two hours without a decent shot in the thick timber, we decided to sneak out and come back tomorrow.
The next three days came and went, and every time we zigged, the ram zagged. We never got close for a bow shot. Still, we were learning more and more about this ram’s habits. Just a note, in Wyoming, you can bowhunt 15 days prior to the gun opener with the simple purchase of an archery license.
Having taken two Rockies with my bow, one in Colorado and one in New Mexico and both having been drawn with the advice of Huntin’ Fool, I was more concerned about having a fun adventure and shooting an older class ram than archery hunting, so I was ready to switch to a gun on opening morning. We now had at least three other hunters who had moved into the area, so we figured we needed to shoot this ram on opening morning, September 1st.
The night before the gun opener, we had left the rams bedded at the head of a basin where there was not a possibility of an archery stalk and had a plan to locate them and get a shot first thing in the morning. We arrived only to see the rams moving out as a group of hunters had already spooked them. Frustrated, we watched as the rams ran over the ridge and disappeared with the other hunters in pursuit. At that point, I asked Cody if he thought we should stay on this big ram or bail out and move on to one of his other less hunted spots. As hard as it was to walk away from a big ram, we all agreed we would have more fun and a better chance somewhere else with less hunting pressure. We gave up the rest of opening morning, went back, packed up, and moved camp. The relocated camp was in a beautiful meadow at about 10,000 feet. We managed to get in a short, hard hunt, but no big rams were turned up the afternoon of opening day.
The next morning, the weather was beautiful as we had about a 45-minute ride out of camp up to a mesa at 12,000 feet elevation with three big canyons to glass. We glassed for about two hours, turning up nothing but ewes, grizzly bears, and a wolf just out of range, but there were no other hunters around. It felt great, and I knew we had made the right decision.
At about 8:30 a.m., Cody glassed up a lone ram about 1,500 yards away. Looking back into the sun with heat waves and the glare, Cody was not sure, but he thought the ram might have potential. We decided to try to get closer and take a better look. For the next eight hours, we tried everything we could, including circling 180 degrees around the ram, but to no avail. He was simply bedded in a very good spot.
We worked our way back to the spot we had originally seen him from, and I was able to relocate him as he fed out from the cliff he had bedded under. I called Cody over and asked him to take a look with his spotting scope. With better light now, Cody looked up from the scope and said, “You need to shoot this ram.” One and a half hours later, after walking back one and a half miles across the mesa and dropping off some really steep footing, losing about 500 feet in elevation, we were now positioned on top of the cliff 300 yards above where we had last seen the ram. As we peeked over, the ram was nowhere to be seen. We had a good angle, and it was like the ram had just vanished. After a nervous 15 minutes, I was finally able to locate the ram in the creek bottom a steep 350 yards below us. As I turned the scope up, it did not take me long to know Cody was right and I needed to shoot this ram. The first shot took out his heart, and the second shot anchored him in the creek bottom. We celebrated the hard-won ram for a few minutes and then started our descent down to him. There was no disappointment as we approached the ram. He was everything I had asked for and more.
By the time we got back to camp with the ram, Cody’s phone tracker said we had gone 17 miles that day, and we figured about half of that trek was on the horses and mules with the other half on foot. We managed to stay up for a few celebratory cocktails, but then we were soon off to bed. Cody told me that night that my ram was number 109 for him.
I can’t say enough good things about Cody, Spencer, and Cody’s stock. Having been on several horse and mule-back hunts, I can easily say that Cody’s stock is the best I had seen. Cody’s stock gets used on backcountry pack trips all summer, so they are in really good shape and easily able to navigate the rough country. I would highly recommend Cody and Wind River Backcountry Adventures if you get lucky enough to draw a Wyoming sheep tag in area 4, 5, or 10 or unit 22.