By Gordon Lyons
ID, Rocky Mtn Bighorn Sheep
The first four days were a bust with only one busted-horn ram sighted, so we called off the hunt the first week of the season. I flew back home to Mississippi, worked and continued to workout for three weeks, and then flew back out to Lewiston on September 26th. Thus began “Phase Two” of the hunt.
I was the lucky recipient of the only draw tag in the unit, which I drew with the help of Huntin’ Fool’s License Application Service. Jon Barker and Mike Beamish had scouted hard in my absence and had found a group of rams in a different area. Instead of repeating the glassing in the first area, we opted to go into a new area that required being dropped off and the first day’s hike would be about nine miles to get to the general area where Jon wanted to hunt. Jon felt that we could find the rams in three days, and if not, we could be resupplied by one of his jet boat buddies.
We started our trek at 3:34 a.m. under a full moon and a sky full of stars. We stopped at around 8 a.m. and then 10 a.m. to glass and then turned off the main trail, picking our way and glassing from there. Nothing yet.
Daylight came early on day two. Jon and I were basically staying up top, glassing down into side canyons that emptied into the Snake, and Ted Day (who had replaced Mike who had caught the flu) went south, moving away and up canyon from the Snake. Jon and I found several groups of bighorns. Some were a mix of ewes, lambs, and younger rams, and some were small groups of rams. At least three of the rams were high 160s to mid 170s, some were over 700-800 yards away through the spotter, and others we found right under us at the bases of bluffs overlooking the Snake. Jon knew there were better rams in the area, so we kept hiking and glassing.
We regrouped late, and Ted was about to blow up with great news. He had found at least seven mature rams about two and a half miles from camp. We knew daylight was fading, but we figured we had enough time to grab our sleeping bags, load up, and hike over to where Ted had found the rams.
With renewed vigor, we double-timed it and made it just after sunset. Jon and I followed Ted as quietly as possible to a vantage point. As we climbed up a hill on the back end of the canyon, the rumps of the rams came into view. The rams were about two-thirds of the way up the north side of the canyon, feeding, and occasionally one of the older rams would rear up and “whack” a subordinate ram. They were a good 400+ yards away, and we couldn’t make out which ram was the best. It appeared the largest had a collar and a yellow tag in its right ear. Knowing where the rams would be settling in, we backed out of the canyon and decided to spread out our sleeping bags about 400 yards over the crest of the ridge at the back of the canyon.
The next morning, the plan was made. Ted would stay high with my video camera while Jon and I dropped down behind some large boulders. As daylight came, we were able to count seven rams, five to our left and two to our right. After 30 minutes of glassing, Jon said none of them were “the one.” After another hour of glassing, we decided to stay low and move about 300 yards further left to another glassing point. We found three rams, with Ted helping point them out to us as my eyes seemed to have trouble finding them.
Jon said “Mr. Big” was one of three rams bedded directly cross-canyon and below us, bedded quartering towards us. I had a good rest for my rifle and bipod and a lot of practice from prone out to 450 yards with the Gunwerks 7mm LRM, but the steep sides of the canyon didn’t give my left foot much of a base to anchor on. Jon quickly got below me and had me plant my left foot on his right shoulder. After a good minute of slowing my breathing down and confirming my three-point rest was secure, I squeezed off with the crosshairs at the base of the ram’s chest. The shot was high over his shoulder. Mr. Big bolted and ran down the canyon.
I grabbed my backpack, Jon grabbed his binos, and we ran about 30 yards to another flat-topped boulder that gave a clear view of the target ram. Quickly, I set up and Jon was right with me. The ram was about 250 yards across and lower. Jon told me to slow my breathing and focus. As the ram turned to walk up canyon along the sheep trail he was on, I squeezed and remembered seeing through the scope a brief shudder as the ram flinched and then started running up the trail. I followed with my riflescope, and the last image was the ram’s legs collapsing and then free-falling to the bottom of the canyon. The next thing I knew, Jon was hugging me and saying, “We did it! Gordon, I know I pushed you hard, but we did it and even for us this has been extreme!”
When we located the ram, there were no broken tips or chunks missing. We counted 11 annular rings without lamb tips. After pulling him off the briars, setting up on a scree field for photos, caping, and quartering, we divided up the cape, head, horns, and meat and headed west towards the Snake.
The first week of December, the ram was officially scored at 185 5/8" net B&C. It’s just a number, but it adds icing to the cake. What a great experience! I am lucky to have met so many people that lift me to new and higher levels of appreciation of being alive and teach me a continually deeper appreciation and respect for North American Ecology and Wildlife.