Collegiate Peaks Gold
By Bryan Skaar
CO, Rocky Mtn Bighorn Sheep
On May 4, 2018, I received an email from the Colorado Division of Wildlife. Sheep results were out, but I wasn’t overly excited because the odds of drawing a sheep tag are horrible, especially when you only have 3+2 points and you are from Wisconsin. In 2018, it only cost $3 to apply, which is why I had thrown my name in the hat, plus I had finally figured out how truly random the sheep draw in Colorado is. With Huntin’ Fool’s help, I applied for a unit with better draw odds (1.1%) and average-size sheep as I did not care in the least about size because I had never harvested a bighorn sheep. Any ram would be a trophy. I got a little dizzy and had to sit myself down when I opened the email and it read, “Awarded – Successful NR Rocky Mountain Bighorn Sheep.” I gathered my thoughts, logged onto the DOW’s website, and determined that I had drawn the only non-resident Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep tag for unit S17.
Next was locating a qualified outfitter, but I needed to tackle something much bigger than that first. I needed to notify my wife, Amy, about the tag. Amy is free-spirited, loves adventures, loves the outdoors, and is used to this sort of thing, so when I told her, she just smiled, gave me a free pass, and told me the mountains of Colorado would do just fine even though we were planning a trip to the Swiss Alps to celebrate our 30-year anniversary. Amy and I met in college at UW-Stevens Point in the ‘80s, fell in love, got married, and started a family. We have two beautiful twin daughters, Megan and Bridget, whom we love more than life itself. The girls were preemies at birth. By the grace of God, they survived, but not without complication. Doctors notified us that Megan had periventricular leukomalacia, which is a long medical term for plaque buildup in the brain caused by lack of oxygen due to her prematurity. Twenty-six years later, our little family knows a lot about cerebral palsy, epilepsy, and heartache, but mostly we know the joy that comes with raising a child with a physical disability.
After an extensive search and talking with Huntin’ Fool, the same name kept popping up for an outfitter, Joe Boucher at Horn Fork Guides in Buena Vista. I called Joe, introduced myself, informed him of my good fortune, and asked him if he could help. He said yes and that he knew the unit very well. It didn’t hold a lot of sheep and the quality of rams wasn’t great, but if we were lucky, we could harvest a nice representative ram, which was absolutely fine with me. I booked for the second week of the season as the Collegiate Peaks area is a popular hiking/biking destination for campers and would be crawling with people the first week in September.
We made our way to Buena Vista where we stayed at a local B&B for a few days before the hunt started so we could acclimate to the altitude. We met Joe at his beautiful home outside Buena Vista on September 11th. When we first spoke, Joe did not know if we would be staying in a wall tent or at his home. It would all depend on where the sheep were located as they tended to move around a lot in the unit. Pre-season scouting was difficult due to low visibility caused by all of the wildfires in 2018, but when we arrived, Joe informed us we would be staying at his house and doing day trips from there. We met Joe’s lovely wife, Rhoda, and unloaded our gear.
The next morning, we got up early, had breakfast, and made our way to where we would unload our four-wheelers for our journey up the mountain. I asked Joe if he had ever harvested a ram on day one and he said no. We reached our destination on the top of the world and began glassing the drainages below us. As the sun came up, Amy and I both marveled at the beauty that surrounded us.
We glassed for about an hour with no sheep spotted, so Joe suggested that we drop down a few hundred feet so that we could peek into the portion of the drainage below us that we could not currently see. Amy stayed back, and minutes later, we were into seven rams, including two shooters. They had been below us the entire time. We maneuvered the best we could as they were really close, less than 75 yards, trying to keep large rocks between us, but just as quickly as we saw them, they saw us. Off they went without a shot being fired. Joe and I just stood there in disbelief at our bad luck.
That afternoon, we decided to glass from the bottom of the mountain into the drainage where the rams had disappeared and there they were again, feeding and drinking out of a small, secluded seep. We planned a stalk but had to back out because of swirling winds. The last thing we wanted to do was blow the band out of the drainage. It was a great first day, and Joe’s record of no rams on day one was intact.
The only thing we saw the following morning was a mountain goat at close range, which was cool, but we were there for sheep. We headed back to the house for lunch and decided to leave Amy at the bottom of the mountain for the afternoon hunt as we made our way to the top so we could cover as much ground as possible. Our plan worked perfectly, and Amy spotted the rams at around 3 p.m. She notified us by hand signals through our spotting scopes and the stalk was on. After a noisy, steep descent through more downed timber than I care to remember, we popped out less than 125 yards from the entire band. After a single shot, the biggest ram was mine. As we made our way up to the fallen monarch, I got a little emotional thinking about what had just transpired. Never in a million years did I think I would ever harvest a Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep to go along with the Dall sheep I had harvested in the Alaska Range three years prior, the day after I turned 50 years old. I was now a happy member of the more than one but less than three club.
We took a lot of pictures, Joe caped the ram for a full body mount, and we made it off the mountain just before midnight. I remember thinking my knees had never hurt so much. Steep, downhill jaunts are always hard on the knees. Amy was there waiting for us. I gave her a big hug, and she congratulated each of us on an amazing accomplishment. She is such a wonderful wife.
The next morning, I traveled to the DOW office in Salida to have the ram aged, measured, and plugged. He was 7.5 years old and 32 5/8" x 32 4/8" with just under 15" bases. We later scored him at 166" and change. He is one beautiful ram and about as big as you can hope for in S17.
I cannot thank Joe Boucher enough for everything he did for me. Without him, I had zero chance of harvesting this ram. He is a tremendous guide, and his wife, Rhoda, is a wonderful host. I would also like to thank the Colorado DOW for the wonderful job they do managing their wildlife resources and Huntin’ Fool for helping me draw some pretty amazing tags over the past 17 years. Most of all, I want to thank my wife and girls for putting up with my nutty obsession with the outdoors for so long. I can honestly tell you that I’m not sure where I would be without their support and the comforting peace and solace the outdoors provides me. My wife is one in a million and the love of my life. Bridget is the best daughter and the best sister Megan could hope for. This article is dedicated to Megan. Wherever I go, Megan, you are with me. As much as I love the outdoors and hunting, I would never step foot in the woods again if it meant you could walk for even a single day for my love for you is greater than anything in this world.