My summer plans changed on the morning of May 7, 2008. That’s when I checked the Colorado Division of Wildlife website to find that I had drawn a first season archery bighorn ram tag for unit S32. I had to call a friend and have him check the site as well because I thought my computer might be on the fritz. He concurred and I immediately began to craft a plan. After eight years of trying to draw this coveted tag, it was finally my turn to hunt these wily critters. I started to put the word out that I had drawn and people who had hunted the unit started to surface. Each one telling their story and giving me useful tips and places to look. Throughout the summer I was heading up the mountain to scout and to just try to get familiar with the area and how to get around in it. I was also hitting the treadmill with a weighted pack and spending a lot of time at the local high school track and stadium stairs.
Opening day August 1, 2008 found me camped at 11,000 feet as I planned to hunt some of the popular mountaintops and gulches not far from camp. I intended on staying the whole sixteen-day season if needed and if I wasn’t seeing rams nearby, I would move to other parts of the unit.
A friend came up the second day of the season to help with the glassing and signaling for stalking. He battled a bad case of altitude sickness the whole morning but I had to hand it to him because he kept up with me even with a pounding headache and a queasy stomach. Later that morning we spotted a nice group of rams in the timber and the stalk was on. I snuck to within 39 yards of a big ram that was up feeding with his head and the front of his vitals behind a tree. I had a small opening to shoot through and would have had to hug some tree limbs to get the arrow into the vitals. This is a shot my buddies and I practice all summer, but at 12,000 feet with my adrenaline pumping and a howling wind, I knew I had to wait for a better angle. The ram moved behind a rock ledge and I started to close the distance. When I saw him again he was 32 yards away and as I started to draw, rams to the right caught my movement and they bolted. This was the first close opportunity, but I had no regrets about passing on a questionable shot as I was still having the time of my life.
The following day found us in a deep draw with four rams spotted and unapproachable. As we climbed to the top, I bellied out onto some rocks for another look. That’s when I spotted three rams off to my left in a stalk-able position. We quickly agreed on hand signals and I was off. Forty-five minutes later, I was closing the last 150 yards to the rams when I heard a noise and looked up to see the target rams walking towards me on a trail 12 yards below. I froze as what was happening sunk in and then tried to knock an arrow. The rams kept their course and walked a little faster into the timber and out of my life. When I got to the top, I asked my friend what got them spooked. He said another hunter, who apparently had someone spotting from the highway down below, had walked to the top of the drainage talking on his cell phone saying “Can you see me now? I am above the snow patch.” Well, at least I was sheep hunting! That afternoon we were caught in a hail and lighting storm out on the tundra. My buddy had enough of the altitude and decided to head home. The next morning found me up on the mountain at first light, where I spotted four rams feeding in the tundra and heading to bed in the timber. The stalk was on and I closed to within 100 yards before I ran out of cover. Fifteen minutes later the wind changed and they were gone. That night I headed down to town for a shower and a real bed.
Day five of my hunt arrived and I was again into sheep on a different mountain. I spotted sixteen rams at 11:00 am and the stalk was a long and slow one. I closed to within 50 yards of the bedded rams and when the one I liked best stood to stretch and looked away, I drew. He saw me and they bolted to 75 yards away and stared me down for an hour. Then a group of seven young rams came off the top and joined up with the big boys. I sat and watched them interact for at least another 45 minutes. It was amazing to be that close and watch the big rams posture as the younger ones acted like teenagers trying to pick a fight. At 4:00 pm I blew them out and headed back down the mountain. A five hour stalk that left me with only a hole in my rain pants and sore muscles, but I was still positive that I would taste success.
At dawn the next day, I hiked a near vertical death march up a drainage 2,000 feet and got into several rams as I was sneaking around a rock pinnacle. They had me pegged and off they went. I glassed into another drainage and found two rams butting heads. I circled the peak as they occasionally butted heads and closed the distance. At 70 yards the exhaustion set in and a careless move cost me as they saw me and spooked. It felt like getting kicked in the stomach, but at least I was sheep hunting. That evening we spotted a lone ram on another mountain and the plan was to come back in the morning and see if he was still there. At first light, I found him in the same place and I gathered my gear and headed up the hill to wrap my tag around him. It had rained hard the night before and lying in the wet tundra above him at 78 yards with a heavy wind and no sun, I began to wonder if hypothermia was setting in. He finally got up and moved into some rocks where I closed the distance to 22 yards. I drew the bow and stood up slowly. Just as my sight pins were finding his flank he went from quartering away feeding to full out run in an instant and he was gone. Gotta love sheep hunting.
Day 9 another friend came up to help out and we climbed another peak to a rocky bowl were we found three ewes and a whopper of a ram bedded by himself about 150 yards down from timberline. I circled the top and started in on him, hoping I wouldn’t bust the ewes. It worked and I was now 45 yards above him waiting for his next move. He got up and started to feed into an opening 50 yards below me. It was a steep angle but I was sure of the shot. His head went behind a tree and I came to full draw. I settled the 40-yard pin behind the shoulder and let the arrow go. It stuck into a tree half way to the ram and he wasted no time getting out of there. Faced with climbing back up the mountain to get out of there, I felt like the pressure was off and the next one would turn out different.
The next morning I slept in and was preparing to go back up onto the tops to camp and give the first area another try. As I started up the road, I thought I would check out some of the lower elevations and glass for some rams. Soon I found two rams in the timber feeding. I put a knife in one pocket and my rangefinder in another. Forty-five minutes later I was within 35 yards of the rams as they fed above me. I ranged the nearest opening and prepped for the shot. The bigger of the two stepped into the opening when I came to full draw but the angle was bad as he was slightly quartering to me. I held the bow for what felt like eternity and finally let down. Somehow they didn’t spook and the big ram moved over and started to paw a bed a mere 35 yards away! I knew if they bedded, I was done. Just then the second ram moved into the shooting lane and both of them looked up hill. I anchored and when I did they had me, but it was too late. The arrow was on the way and hit the crease behind his right shoulder. I knew my tag was filled. As they ran off I could see the red spot behind his shoulder and I rolled over onto my back and let the emotions flow over me. It had been ten hard days of hunting and I was now tagged out. I followed a short blood trial to where my ram had slid down the hill. I went back to get my arrow, and found it stuck in a tree. Ironic isn’t it? The Colorado Division of Wildlife aged him at 8 and half years old and the taxidermist judged him to be about 150-155 P+Y. I was happy to be done climbing the mountains, but I wasn’t ready to go home. I was on a poor man’s sheep hunt in my own backyard and I got to see a lot of sheep and take a handsome ram, but the trophy was in the experience.