Forty Year Quest

Into the vast Rocky Mountains of Idaho in search of the gorgeous bighorn sheep. James Reed, director of BookYourHunt – North America, shares his fascinating story.

I have been fascinated and I guess you could say obsessed with bighorn sheep since I was a young boy. From my first sighting in Yellowstone Park in the 70s my father and I often talked and dreamed of someday having an opportunity to hunt these majestic monarchs of the mountains. After moving from my home in the Midwest of the US to the Rocky Mountain state of Idaho I began religiously putting in the draws for a tag to hunt bighorn sheep in Idaho and several different states. After 19 years of receiving “Sorry” responses from the different state Fish and Game departments I prepared to put in for the 2016 lottery.

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The Rocky Mountains of Idaho

I received a notice on social media that one of my friends had drawn a goat tag here in Idaho. After congratulating him it struck me that I had put in for sheep again as well. I quickly got on the Idaho Fish and Game website and punched in my number. I seriously closed my eyes and whispered a “please” and clicked the button. When I opened my eyes I couldn’t believe what I saw, “Successful, bighorn sheep”! I’d be a liar if I didn’t admit a tear or two were shed.

The unit I drew is right outside our doorsteps so we began scouting with the whole family in early July. When you draw a coveted sheep tag, which is a once in a lifetime tag here in Idaho if you kill a ram, you quickly find many people are excited to give you advice and a helping hand. I put out the word with all my rancher neighbors who ride these mountains all summer tending their herds of cattle. I gathered information from the Fish and Game biologists and other locals who share my fascination for sheep.

In mid-July I received a tip from my neighbor and good friend. My kids and I went up a drainage on the far side of the mountain across from our house and quickly spotted a band of rams. It didn’t take but one look through the spotting scope to determine there were several good mature rams and one very above average ram for the unit. He was magnificent and dwarfed the other rams both in horn and body size.

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Rams through the spotting scope about a mile away

We kept scouting all summer but this first band of rams was the only one that held much potential from what we had found so far. The biggest problem was I could only find them about once every week to two weeks and always on opposite sides of the mountain.

The season open was approaching so we went in a few days early to set up a camp in a location where we could hopefully find and keep track of the rams until the much anticipated opening day. We fortunately found the rams and spent hours on end keeping an eye on them for the three dramatic and grueling days leading up to the opener.

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Looking for the dream ram

Up before daylight on opening day my son Logan and I used the darkness to get into a position to glass the steep mountain face where we had last seen the rams. As the first rays of light hit the mountain we found the rams up high in a shale slide and right in position where we hoped for a stalk. As we watched them feeding in the slide they unfortunately worked their way across and over the top into the next drainage. From our scouting forays into this area we knew it would take us two hours to reach the summit where they crossed over. We packed up and headed out.

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Camp

Upon reaching where the rams had gone over the top and where we had some slight cover we crept over the rim. Only to see no sheep anywhere. After a while of confusion and frustration I thought I heard something. We held silently still and definitely heard shale sliding off to our left. Slowly creeping along the mountain spine I soon saw the rams about 250 yards off feeding in a slide. I got into position but just couldn’t get the shot. The rams moved down the slide and out of sight. Sick that I had blown a chance at this beautiful ram of my dreams I was hoping it wasn’t going to be my only chance.

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Walking through the mountain spine

We sat in the same spot for 10 hours before the rams finally reappeared from the cover of the timber where they had lazed away their day while killing me with anticipation and doubt. The rams all fed up and were offering a shot except of course the ram I wanted. Instead of feeding up he began feeding directly towards me offering no shot. The other rams were all feeding in the open and offering ample shot opportunities but my chosen ram kept on his trajectory straight at me through the trees offering no shot. Finally, he worked into a position where I had to take a shot steep downhill between his shoulder blades or he was going to go into some trees and I’d either lose sight of him and not have an opportunity or he’d smell me in the fickle mountain winds and blow out of the drainage. I took the shot at a now very close 30 yards or less. At the shot the mountain exploded with rams scattering everywhere and one beautiful ram rolling down the steep shale slide coming to rest against a large rock.

After approaching the downed ram I quickly realized I had misjudged him, he was even larger than I had anticipated. What a magnificent warrior. He was 9 years old with a roman nose from fighting, 15.5 inch bases and lengths of 38 & 38.5 inches. A fantastic trophy and a fitting hunt for a once in a lifetime tag and worth the 20-year wait. Making it even more special I got to involve my family and have my son by my side to share the experience.

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9 year old ram – a magnificent warrior

If you are interested in hunting bighorn sheep – you don’t have to wait twenty years to fulfill your dream. BookYourHunt has several bighorn and other sheep hunts available right now. Check them out at BookYourHunt.

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