By Shane Gibson
NV, California Bighorn Sheep
For this story, we have to go back to February 2017. For about the last 10 years, I’d been applying in nearly every western state for the best units possible but was never fortunate enough to win a tag. After moving from Alaska back to Texas and having no tags for the upcoming year, I decided that I would make the trip to Vegas for the SCI convention in hopes of finding a great African hunt.
I booked a combination hunt in Namibia and South Africa for June of 2018. I saved and planned for a year in advance and set all other hunting opportunities aside to focus on this once-in-a-lifetime trip. However, I was still putting in for the best tag opportunities stateside.
I went to Africa with hopes of harvesting 10 animals, and after three weeks, I ended up taking 13 species with many being book-quality trophies. I was elated to have such great success and a memorable trip.
On the afternoon of Tuesday, July 3, 2018, just a week after returning to the reality of work, I received an email with the subject line “NV Dream Tags – California Bighorn Sheep.” As I opened the email, my eyes immediately went to “Congratulations! You pulled a California Bighorn Sheep Dream Tag.” Immediately, I thought there was no way this could be real. I quickly researched the sender’s name and confirmed that she really did work for the Community Foundation of Western Nevada and that this email may actually be real. At that time, I remembered purchasing a few entries for the Nevada Dream Tag raffle the week before heading to Africa. By the time I finished reading the email and calling everyone I knew to tell them the news, I realized that 5:00 had come and gone. I’d have to wait until Thursday to call for confirmation. As soon as the clock struck 8:00 a.m., I called to confirm the tag and then proceeded to call Huntin’ Fool for recommendations. Garth was quick to respond with contact information for the top sheep outfitters in Nevada.
After a series of phone calls, I decided to use Andy Bradley with Ground Zero Outfitters. I prefer to hunt self-guided, but with this once-in-a-lifetime tag, I wanted to have the best opportunity possible to capitalize on my success. We decided to forego opening week and opted for a later season rut hunt. Being a big guy, I’d focus the next three months on hitting the gym and getting the best conditioning possible before October rolled around. Talk about motivation. I lost over 40 pounds and probably tripled my vertical endurance during those three months.
As D-day grew closer, Andy would send me scouting photos of magnificent rams from various units. I would also hear of great rams being taken by other hunters, and my nerves grew. I started second guessing if waiting for the late season rut was the right call.
Finally, the day arrived. On the week of my 35th birthday, I packed my plane in Texas and headed to northern Nevada. Upon arriving at camp, I was welcomed by a great group of guys, all just as eager for the hunt as I was. I was immediately shown scouting photos of the best three rams found – “Radar,” “Creed,” and “Rocky.” Radar was a collared ram and a bit younger but with good mass and long horns. Creed and Rocky were the dominant rams in this mountain range, and both were excellent trophies. Rocky immediately stood out to me as being super heavy, carrying his mass really well, and heavily broomed. I knew that if the opportunity presented itself it would be between Creed and Rocky.
The next morning, after checking zero on my Christensen Arms .338 RUM, we started glassing the mountains. With six people and the best optics money could buy, it didn’t take long to spot groups of sheep. We glassed about 20 rams, including Radar, before eventually spotting Creed and Rocky. Both were noticeably shooter rams and what I’d focus on for as long as it took. With clouds intermittently blocking our view, we eventually lost sight of Creed and Rocky and decided to head to the top of the mountain for a different view.
We dropped over the ridgeline just north of the last known location of the group of rams. After some time, 13 rams along with ewes and lambs showed themselves from the south. The rams were working their way in our direction as we scrutinized each one, looking for Creed and Rocky. Radar appeared towards the back of the group and was noticeably the dominant ram as we watched him spar with others in the group. Creed and Rocky were nowhere to be found. We decided to let the group continue towards and below our position to see if our target rams were trailing towards the south. Just as the rams were directly below us, Teddy (aka Little Foot) turned toward Josh and me and said, “Guys, I found Creed and Rocky.” The two target rams were north of us, bedded on a grassy ledge below us.
We knew that Radar and his group of rams would get between us and our target rams. We had to move quickly, and the stalk was on. Teddy, Josh, and I quickly traversed the nearly vertical loose, rocky ledges and worked our way north to get ahead of the big group of rams. Just in the nick of time, we repositioned ourselves between the target rams and the group closing in on our position. The larger group busted us and turned back to the south without Creed or Rocky ever being the wiser. We tucked behind a large boulder on the cliff, and I got my first up close look at Creed and Rocky through the Swarovski optics. Wow! I instantly knew that Rocky was the ram I wanted. He carried his mass better than any ram I’d laid eyes on and was heavily broomed. This ram had character. The rangefinder indicated 290 yards at 45 degrees. I waited for Rocky to stand and present his shoulder to me, but Creed was directly behind Rocky. I anxiously waited for Rocky to take a few steps. I dialed the ballistic turret to 290 and squeezed. Click! It was the sound nobody wants to hear.
In the scurry across and down the cliffs, the rifle bolt had managed to come unseated. I quickly recycled the bolt and watched the crosshairs bounce around Rocky between heartbeats. Due to the extreme angle and position of the boulder, I had to shoot with the butt of the rifle on my bicep. I took a few breaths to slow my breathing, and as the crosshairs slid across the vitals, I squeezed the trigger. Rocky immediately dashed to the north just out of view. I was fairly certain it was a good hit, but Josh jumped up and yelled, “You missed!” Teddy immediately traversed the rock face in the direction that Rocky had darted off. Only seconds later, we heard Teddy say, “You nailed him.” The high fives, cheers, and excitement followed.
We made our way down the mountain to find Rocky only 35 yards from the shot. He was magnificent, even heavier than I had expected. After the congratulations and photos, I located the exact position where Rocky was standing when I took the shot. I looked down and found my bullet sitting in a small divot of bald grass. The bullet had passed clean through Rocky’s vitals and lay there perfectly as my souvenir.
Rocky had a freshly broken right horn and still measured out at 165 3/8". Without the broken horn, he would have gone 171". He had bases measuring 15 3/8" with first quarter at 14 6/8" and second quarter at 13 2/8". He was an old brute with only three teeth, a true king of the mountain and a true once-in-a-lifetime ram. We unofficially aged him at 11 1/2 or 12 1/2 years old. What an amazing 35th birthday!
I’m truly grateful to Huntin’ Fool for putting out this invaluable resource and knowledge needed to apply and draw one of these tags. Thanks to the guys at Ground Zero Outfitters (Andy, Josh, Teddy, Jessie, George, and Kyle) for the efforts they put in during and prior to the season to make my hunt as successful as it was.