The Second Time Around
By Bruce Price
NV, Desert Bighorn Sheep
When the tag draw results came out for the Nevada big game draw, I was elated to see my name on the successful list for the coveted Desert bighorn sheep. My first call with the news was to my youngest son, Taylor.
“What unit?” he asked.
“243,” I answered.
His response was, “What did you put in there for? You know there’s no access and you’re not 25 anymore!”
The response brought back memories from 31 years earlier when I drew my first ram tag for the same unit. With a borrowed pair of 10x42 binos and an old beat-up spotting scope, my dad and I set out for our first sheep hunting adventure. Six days into the hunt, we found ourselves in a high saddle watching a group of ewes and small rams. We were about to leave when Dad said, “Here comes another ram. You better take a look. He looks like a good one.” It didn’t take long to decide that this was the one, and after a short stalk, we harvested the ram. It scored 176 6/8" gross and 174 6/8" net Boone and Crockett, setting the bar pretty high for this second time around.
Now here I was 31 years older and 100 lbs. heavier thinking about conquering the Meadow Valley Mountains a second time. A lot had changed since 1987. The railroad had gated and locked their road on the east border of the unit, and Coyote Springs Development had gated and locked the old Highway 93 on the west border. Harry Reid’s wilderness closing act closed the only other roads into the middle, leaving 25 miles of mountain range only accessible by foot.
The unit has produced some big rams. The number two ram in the state was harvested here five years ago, and in my mind, poor access and good genetics are a recipe for giant rams.
In mid-June, my two boys, Tyson and Taylor, and I made our first scouting trip. We counted 42 sheep, 8 of which were rams, changing Taylor’s attitude toward the unit. The next few trips always produced a few sheep, but the big rams seemed to elude us. At the end of July, Tyson, who works for the Nevada Division of Forestry, was called to fight the forest fires, and Taylor was busy with his guide business. This left my longtime friend, Orrin Dotson, and me to do the scouting.
In the morning, Orrin and I headed up the mountain. About halfway up was a lookout where we could see a lot of country, so Orrin stayed there to glass and I headed up to the top to see some canyons off on the other side. The temperature was well above 100 degrees, and by the time I reached the top, I could feel myself getting dizzy and weak, so I headed back down off the mountain. Orrin was watching me and saw I was stopping often to rest and that I fell a couple of times, so he knew I was in trouble. He met me halfway down and took my pack and helped me off the mountain. I knew the scouting was over for the summer, but the trip wasn’t all bad as we had found a giant ram.
By late October, the weather had cooled down enough that it was time to start scouting again. With Tyson still on fires and Taylor still hunting with clients, I was able to persuade Orrin to come with me again. Despite some brutal hikes and a lot of hours of glassing, we were unable to turn up the big ram again.
With only a few days before the hunt and Taylor with some time between hunters, we decided to look in some new country. We found quite a few sheep and one nice ram, but we still had the big one on our minds.
The day before the hunt, we decided to go back and try to find the big ram again. I told Taylor that it looked like the sheep had moved out of that country. Orrin and I had been in there a week earlier and found a lot of old sign but not much fresh sign. Taylor replied, “Oh, he’s still there somewhere. You two old farts are just too blind to see him!”
Orrin, Taylor, and I headed back into that country again. It was a pretty good hike to the south to look into the canyons where the ram was, so before we started walking, Taylor said we should look the country to the north of us over a bit. We hadn’t been there 10 minutes when Taylor said, “There are three good rams. Wow! That third one’s a giant!” Orrin and I were still trying to spot them when Taylor said, “That’s him! That’s the one you got pictures of in July!”
Knowing there was no need to look anywhere else, we spent the next six hours watching the ram. We were able to get a text to Tyson, who was in California on a fire, that we had found the big ram. He replied, “Great! They just released me from the fire; I’ll be in camp late tonight!”
A couple hours before dark, the ram stepped out of sight in a big basin. We figured he would be right there in the morning, so we headed back to camp. We arrived at camp to find my friend, Cody Hunter, there, so we would have five sets of eyes for morning.
Opening morning found us on our glassing perch before daylight. Two hours in and even Taylor, who is by far the best I have ever seen behind the glass, had yet to see a sheep. Three hours in, Taylor said, “There they are!”
I asked, “Where?”
He said, “Do you see that farthest peak? They are about a third of the way down to the left and 20 yards from the skyline.”
When I found them, all I could see through my Swarovski 15s was a white spot. I couldn’t even tell that they were sheep until they moved. Taylor looked at me and asked if I could make it up there. I told him that’s what I was here for.
Two and a half hours later, Taylor and I were just reaching the top of the ridge across the canyon the rams were in. The other three stayed behind to watch in case the rams moved over the top. Taylor popped his head up long enough to range across the canyon – 440 yards. When we found the rams, they were 500 yards up the canyon and 900 yards from us. We dropped down below the ridgeline and started sidehilling towards the rams. The ridge was steep and hard to maneuver, but we managed to close the gap by about 400 yards. Taylor popped his head up again, located the rams, and ranged them at 550 yards. We couldn’t get any closer. The .300 Win Mag and Nightforce 5-20 NXS scope were capable of this shot, so we adjusted the scope 6 3/4 MOA high. We were ready to go. I was lying prone with the bipod on the rocks in front of my left hand in a fist under the butt of the rifle, waiting for the perfect shot.
“I’ve got him broadside. I’m going to try him,” I said.
Taylor said, “No, he’s too close to the other ram. Wait until he’s by himself.”
When the ram was by himself and broadside again, I thought I could take him. I squeezed the trigger, and the recoil moved the rifle to where I couldn’t see the ram anymore. I heard the bullet whistle across the canyon and then Taylor’s three words, “Big ram down!” The celebration began.
Tyson was so excited that he sprinted all the way up the hill. What took Taylor and me two and a half hours took Tyson 45 minutes. Cody and Orrin were an hour and a half behind him. The biologist checked the ram in at 177 6/8" gross and 177" net, so I believe we got over the bar!