By Jack Ellis
NM, Desert Bighorn Sheep
Growing up, my dad worked hard in the oil and gas industry, and when time allowed, we would go deer hunting in the Guadalupes. We never harvested a deer on any of those hunts, but I reflect on those days of just being out in the woods and camping with my parents and brothers. As my kids were growing up, I wanted to instill those types of memories in them as long as they showed interest. We were fortunate enough to go on a few elk and deer hunts.
As the kids grew up and left the nest, I decided to start applying for some of the more difficult to draw hunts. In 2018, I first applied for bighorn sheep. I didn’t have any idea how difficult it was to draw a tag, so when the draw results came out, I just thought it was cool that I drew out for bighorn sheep. After talking to some of my friends and doing some homework, I found out rather quickly that I had actually won the lottery by drawing Desert bighorn sheep. When I relayed this knowledge to my sons, Josh (29) and Caleb (24), they were both willing and eager to join me on the hunt.
I then started diving into doing some homework. I learned of a guide by the name of Jesse Novak. I had no intention of paying for a guide because I did not see it as a wise monetary decision. However, I called Jesse and that was probably the smartest move I made. Jesse was very informative and was willing to talk sheep as long as I needed. He told me what he charged to guide and was never pushy about trying to get me to commit.
In May, I decided I needed to take a scouting trip down to the area. I found out that this mountain does not allow access very easily due to limited roads. Upon getting home from my scouting trip, I talked to Jesse several more times. After talking it over with my wife, I decided the best thing to do would be to hire Jesse as my guide since this was a once-in-a-lifetime hunt.
Jesse and I continued to stay in touch, and as I learned more about sheep, I knew what I wanted in my ram – a class 4 ram nine years or older with character in his horns and face. I was also hoping to do this with my bow.
October finally rolled around, and I had been expecting to deal with hot weather and snakes. However, a storm system came rolling in and brought with it 20-30 mph winds, cold, rain, low-lying clouds, and fog. Jesse decided that he would meet Josh, Caleb, and me down around T or C where we would hole up for the night. We would then meet up with Jesse’s friend, Doug, the next morning for breakfast and we would all drive to the Hatchets and set up camp.
We got to the Hatchets at around 11:00 that morning and found a spot to set up our campsite. After relaxing for a couple hours, we were preparing to go out and scout when another hunter and his party came into our camp. We all introduced ourselves and visited with one another for a while. We shared phone numbers in case one of us needed help.
We all loaded into Jesse’s truck and started out, and it wasn’t long until we had spotted a big group of sheep with a decent ram. He had a yellow tag in his ear, which would make him easy to identify. We stayed and glassed until dark and then made our way back to camp to get some sleep because the next day was going to be a long day of scouting.
We got up early the next morning, and the wind was relentless. We probably saw a total of eight sheep while scouting. The next morning, I had a friend commit to coming down and helping us for the day. Since there was no cell coverage, I could not call him to inform him that the weather had taken a change with wet, cold, and windy conditions. He showed up at 4 a.m. with his side-by-side in tow. My son jumped in with him, and we all took off for the cold, windy, rainy day. The clouds were set low on the mountain, and we did not see many sheep.
The next day held the same conditions. During the evening, we drove over to glass the northwest side and spotted a group of about 14 sheep two and a half miles away with what appeared to be a decent ram. We glassed them going up to the top of the mountain until dark and made a game plan to come back into the area in the morning and try to locate them to move in for a closer look at the ram.
When morning came, it was raining again. We drove to the northwest side but could not see the mountain at all due to the rain and fog. We waited around for about three hours and decided the conditions would not work for us this day. I turned to Jesse and said, “Let’s run over to the Little Hatchets and locate the yellow tag ram and put a bow stalk on him.”
We arrived at the Little Hatchets, and within no time we had located the yellow tag ram. We studied him for a while and felt he may be worth going after. We glassed another spot on the mountain and located another ram that had a red tag in his ear. Jesse felt that this ram was carrying his mass better than the yellow tag. Upon closer examination, I noticed the red tag had some damage to the back side of his right horn. Jesse felt that was the character I was probably after. We studied him a bit longer, and Jesse felt that this ram was not in good shape because of the color of his coat and some other physical traits. He said, “Jack, I think we need to take this ram out because he probably will not make it through the winter, but it’s your hunt and the decision will be solely yours.” I told Jesse that if he felt it was the right thing to do to help the herd then we would do it.
We started our approach and left Josh to film and help direct us in. When we got up to the point where we were a couple hundred yards away, we dropped our packs. I got my bow ready and handed my rifle to Caleb to carry for me. We started making our approach and got within about 50 yards before we jumped the sheep. They ran straight up into a draw and out of sight. I dropped my bow and grabbed my rifle. We inched our way into the draw and put eyes on them again. This time, they were moving fast up above us. Josh had lost sight with his spotting scope and had to run to a different area to gain sight again. The sheep had stopped in their tracks and started watching Josh who was over 1,000 yards away moving to a different spot.
As Josh was getting set up, Jesse, Caleb, and I laid low. I had one of the ewes in my scope at 125 yards and all I could see of the ram was his horns. After what seemed like an eternity, the ewe moved down the mountain about 30 yards and stopped. The ram finally took three or four steps forward right into my crosshairs and stopped. I waited a brief couple of seconds and sent the 180 grain Hornady SST in flight. The bullet struck him in the upper front shoulder, and he immediately fell forward and didn’t move again. Jesse and I high fived each other. Jesse wanted to double check that the ram had actually expired, but I knew he was down and told Jesse that I wanted to wait on Josh to get up to us so we could all make the trip up. Caleb came over and gave his old man a high five and hug and then went back down to retrieve my bow and our packs. When Josh made it up, we all started up towards the ram. Upon reaching this magnificent warrior, we stood there and high fived and hugged each other. When I knelt down to the ram, I noticed his tag had the number 314 on it, so from that point we called him “Ol’ 314.”
I have been truly blessed with this magnificent hunt, being able to do this with both my boys, and with the experience we had and the people we met along this journey.