May 3, 2007. Just another day in the life of a sheep hunter? No, not really! Today a 29 year old dream would become a reality.
All sheep hunter's know there are only two types of days in the life of a sheep hunter; those days spent in the mountains actually hunting, or these days dreaming of being in the mountains looking for that full-curl ram that makes your heart pound to a rock-band drummer's beat. Counting today I'd spend 34 days since 1978 in those first type of days.
I took my first sheep, a Dall, in September, 1978. The next one, a stone, didn't happen until 1999, after a failed attempt in the Cassiars, BC in 1992. Then in 2001, 11 days after 9/11, I took my bighorn. At that point, I thought the desert sheep was a far-off fantasy and even after priming myself with years of Jack O'Connor stories (I think I have read them all, several times) it was still just an impossible dream.
But as events come together sometimes, a Dallas Safari Club Show, a few conversations with members of the Texas Bighorn Society and a call to Larry Altimus, with Altimus Adventures and I was set with a ten-day hunt starting May 1st out of Van Horn, Texas. I really wanted to complete my Grand Slam in my home state of Texas.
So, 5:30 am, May 3, 2007, the alarm screams at me. Time to get up and see if we can relocate the huge ram we had seen late in the afternoon the day before. A quick bite to eat and a bottle of orange juice later, Larry Altimus, Bo Morgan, guide for Larry, and I are glassing the ridge line close to where the three rams including mine went over the mountain's saddle less than 15 hours earlier.
"There he is!" Bo said. "I'm not sure but he's with two other smaller rams like yesterday and he looks really big." A quick look in the spotting scope confirmed "that's him", Larry said. "Don't you think so Jerry?" "I can't tell for sure through these 10 power binoculars, but if it's not, he still looks great", I replied.
He was on the very top of a long craggy ridge line. "I think we should go after him, Jerry", Larry said. My initial silence probably wasn't Larry's first inclination about whether or not, I thought I could do that climb, but I'm sure it confirmed to him what I was thinking. "I'm game if you guys are", I finally said. "Let's go, this could be an all-dayer, "Larry said.
We drove the jeep back to where we had spotted him and his two buddies the day before and started our climb at 8:30. Two hours later, with my 61 year old legs yelling at me and my lungs sending up notes asking for an oxygen tank, we reached the top.
"We should be getting close, if they have laid down like I think they will," Larry said. Larry's a tremendous guide, but he missed this one.
Two more hours of climbing, scaling, walking and peering over cliffs produced no sign of the Amigos. But, the views were awesome.
We broke for a short lunch and then continued the pursuit. The wind had picked up and was not blowing in excess of 40 mph. "Do you think they have somehow slipped by us and are now behind us?" I asked Larry. "No, this ridge is almost solid bluffs and as we approach the end of this mountain ridge the far end is a solid bluff. Nope, I believe they're still ahead of us," Larry said, confidently.
We had walked up and down a hill, through a small saddle and got slightly separated as we rounded the west side of the next hill, each of us looking in our own direction for the Three Desert Amigos. Then it happened, I looked up the next hill in front of us and there he stood; just like a Buckingham Palace Guard. A sentinel, who had spotted approaching danger. I immediately fell to my side and looked around to find that Larry and Bo had hit the ground also; the three sheep were about 220 yards away. They kept us pinned down for about ten minutes, before they grazed back over the hill and gave us time to re-group under a scruffy wind-blown pine tree. "I think we should stay here. I believe they will graze back over. They're trying to get out of this wind just like we are," Larry said.
Amazingly, in about 5 minutes they re-appeared coming right at us, but even though the shot would only have been about 180 yards. I simply, could not hold my rifle steady in the now gusting 50 mph winds. All three sheep slowly grazed around the hill to the west and once again disappeared. Thank goodness this time Larry was in no mood to wait them out again. "Let's go git' em," Larry said. We crossed the next saddle, walked up and around the hill to the East slowly glancing over as we walked around. We got close to the north ridge and turned west, "There he is," Bo said.
Bo's incredible sheep hunter eyes had spotted him laying down at about 150 yards with only the top part of his curl protruding out above the low-lying shrubs. He was looking away from us and we had the howling wind right to left on him. Perfect!
We, crouching walked toward him to within 119 yards and sat down and took a great rest behind a huge century plant. "When he stands up, don't shoot until I can tell if he's the big one", Larry said. "I won't, but don't take too long, I have a hair trigger on this .270", I said, trying to be funny enough to calm my shaking nerves. It didn't work.
"It's him", Larry said in about 20 minutes after he stood up to change bedding positions. I squeezed and down he went, disappearing off his resting ledge. "Oh no, I hope he didn't jump off the bluff", Larry said. He didn't! As we approached, we could tell he was more than we had thought. After the famous hugs and hand shakes, a quick taping showed him to be around 175 B&C.
A long steep walk, four hours later got us to Larry's pick up at 9:20 pm. Almost 13 hours on the mountain had taken it's toll on me, but I was about as happy as I could be, knowing that the three amigos had chased the three amigos all day long and we had won.
An official measurement the next morning showed a green B&C score of 175 5/8 net.
This was my Grand Slam Ram!