By David Stoick
MT, Rocky Mtn Bighorn Sheep
Since I was old enough to hold a rifle or a shotgun, my dad, Jerry, and older brothers, Gary and Greg, taught me how to handle firearms, sneak through the woods, play the wind, and give myself a chance to harvest game. We targeted anything that we liked to eat. Since I was 12 years old, I’ve been lucky enough to harvest my share of game and enjoy the success of everyone in my family.
My dad made sure that we all applied for moose, sheep, and goat tags every year, going back to the late 60s, primarily because we relied on the meat to feed our family of seven. Fortunately, I drew moose and goat tags in 2003 and 2004, and finally in 2018, after 40+ years of applying, I got lucky once again and drew a coveted bighorn sheep tag in Montana 100 miles from my home. I didn’t know if I would ever draw that tag and had trouble believing it until I received notification in the mail.
I researched potential options to maximize this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. If I had enough time to scout and familiarize myself with the area, I could no doubt fill my tag. However, after calling Cody Carr, a local guide and outfitter in the area, I realized that being guided was the right call. Cody set me up with his primo “sheep man,” Richard McDonald. Between Cody and Richard, I had two local men who knew the area and knew how to access the sheep country and judge rams. My 15-year-old son, Nicholas, was able to join in the hunt and was welcomed by Cody and Richard.
In October, my wife, son, and I made the 100-mile drive to the sheep district a couple times to familiarize ourselves with the area and scout for sheep. We saw what appeared to be family units with lambs, ewes, and young rams. The big boys were off on their own, out of our sight. At Cody’s recommendation, we planned our hunt for November, leaving the exact dates open, hoping for good visibility and favorable conditions.
Having plenty of time to prepare for the upcoming hunt, I decided to use my dad’s Weatherby chambered in 7mm Rem. Mag, the same caliber as my own rifle. After his passing a year earlier, I wanted to honor my mentor and use his rifle on a hunt that he surely would have been part of. Nick and I carried backpacks that belonged to my older brothers, Gary and Greg, who had both died years earlier from unfortunate accidents. We all had spent our lives hunting and fishing together, and I wanted to bring us all together in some way on this special hunt.
Early November weather started out overcast with rain and snow mixed. My sheep district was fogged in entirely. Cody and Richard kept an eye on the situation, and after a couple days of anxious anticipation, Nick and I loaded our gear and headed out to our sheep area. We quickly settled in at Cody’s hunting lodge, loaded our gear into Richard’s truck, and then made the short drive to glass the rock-faced mountain range. Initially, visibility was poor. We could only see about the bottom third of the mountains holding the sheep. We tried spotting from numerous vantage points, but the fog persisted the rest of the day. That night, the front pushed through the area, dumping six inches of snow on the surrounding cliffs. Early the next morning, Richard, Nick, and I decided to drive to the top of the mountain range on a slippery back road.
The sun burned off the remaining low clouds, and we found ourselves with bright blue sky and a pure white background. Cody stayed low and glassed the mountains from the valley upward. Richard, having hunted these mountains for decades, knew where the sheep lived. We spotted small bands of ewes with rams but nothing we wanted to pursue. Occasionally, we could hear what sounded like the echoes of horns clashing, but the more mature rams were being elusive. We hiked and glassed most of the day from high vantage points, but the sheep stayed out of sight for the most part.
We wound our way back down the road from the high country later in the afternoon and rendezvoused with Cody, who had been watching a number of rams and ewes from the bottom of the drainage. One particular pair of rams was seen kicking and butting, with one tumbling down the rocky face, recovering before it fell off of a cliff.
We watched that ram run at full speed out of the drainage, not interested in engaging further with the ram that had sent him down the hill. Cody, Richard, Nick, and I got a good look at the winner of the brief scuffle between the rams and decided that it was worth attempting to get a better look.
With about two hours until the end of legal hours, we had to guess which drainage the ram would appear in next. He was on the move and about two miles away. After a rigorous cardio workout straight uphill, we reached a spot where we thought the ram may show up. With less than an hour of legal light remaining, we moved downhill to give us a different look at the mountain.
Finally, a big ram showed himself on a ridge silhouetted against the sunset. It looked like the nice ram we had seen earlier, and the decision was made to take him. In the shadow of the mountain, the snow was about six inches deep. My only option was to lay prone with a backpack as my rest while the sheep was out there at a near 45-degree uphill angle. The first shot rocked him, but he didn’t go down. Two shots later, he was out of sight. We were now down to the last 30 minutes of legal light and did not know how hard he was hit. I maneuvered around the side of the mountain, hoping to finish the job, if need be, before darkness fell. With help from my guides, we saw the ram moving slowly, sidehilling. A killing shot did not present itself in time, and a decision was made to mark the spot the best we could and return in the morning.
Needless to say, sleep was hard to come by that night. Richard assured me that the ram was going to be right near where he was last seen. My mind didn’t allow me to feel that same confidence. My dad used to always refer to Murphy’s Law, “If something can go wrong, it will go wrong.” I used this knowledge to prepare myself and expect the unexpected.
Cody, Richard, Nick, and I left in the truck at daylight. I carried my father’s Weatherby and Greg’s backpack, while Nick carried Gary’s backpack. It felt like I was stacking my odds for a successful finish to my sheep hunt. The boys were all together again, and with Cody and Richard there to help track and pack, my confidence was increasing.
After about a 45-minute climb to the top of the ridge where the ram stood the night before, Nick and I stood on a snow patch where the ram had bedded and left a large blood spot. Cody was circling, looking for more blood, and Richard glassed into the nearby timbered basin. Ironically, a nice ram and his girlfriend were bedded across the drainage, watching our movements with little care. These two sheep walked within 15 yards of us the night before, right after I had shot. I slowly glassed into the basin behind every tree and boulder. After looking behind the same nearby tamarack tree several times, a massive sheep lifted his head, looking in the opposite direction of me. He had been laying there for several minutes while we stood on his blood trail. With a glance, Richard confirmed that it was the ram I had wounded. I finished him from close range.
Two emotions hit me at that moment – one of relief and the feeling that my hunting family was there with me. We all hooted and hollered for a few minutes, took photos, caped, skinned, quartered, and then packed the ram off of the mountain.
The ram green scored in the low 180s. Incidentally, one of my initial shots clipped him high on the shoulder and hit the horn on the opposite side, leaving a square, splintered patch. I like it. It’s part of the story, and I praise the Lord that my son, Dad, and two brothers were such a big part of it. The meat is delicious, and we are blessed to have had such an opportunity. I could not have done it without Richard McDonald and Cody Carr.