There are no free sheep lunches in this world, for a variety of reasons they are a wildly popular game animal with hunters. Draw odds run from poor to hopeless, depending on how well known a unit becomes. They are also affected by how close to population centers they are and what weapon is permitted. A rifle tag just outside Denver will generally be a lot tougher draw than a rurally located archery tag. I followed trends in my home state of Co. and while building up to the practical minimum of 3 points and located an archery tag in the middle of nowhere that also ran later than most. I liked the idea that the later season would not interfere with work or other hunting seasons. I might add that this was when research involved a trip to the division of wildlife headquarters and poring over big books of raw information rather than clicking on a computer mouse. I’m pretty sure I remember it being uphill both ways also, with snow… Following the odds I found them to be both consistent and quite good, at 50-75% success with 3 points. When I was finally “in the game” at 3 points I was the 33% that did not draw that year. Though very disappointed all I could hope for was that other hunters wouldn’t jump in with maximum points and screw it up for me the following year. When the next year rolled around I was on the lucky side of the coin and was going sheep hunting with my bow.
As fall came on the contractor I worked for almost exclusively pended a bunch of sales and had this silly idea that I should stay on the job site instead of going after sheep and expressed this plan to my boss. The boss offered me more money if I would give up on this dumb notion of chasing sheep and keep on pouring foundations in the snow. I declined as best I could and he found a fellow to cover for me with some mutterings about finding a new foreman for the project if I stayed too long. These threats fell largely on deaf ears as I was excited to be going sheep hunting at long last. I piled in my old truck and drove several hours south to my chosen trailhead. My plan was to camp at my truck, parked at the trailhead, and walk several miles daily down a good trail to where I hoped to find sheep. If conditions warranted I would back pack into the unit depending on how far in I found sheep. This plan went awry from the beginning as the trailhead was posted as day use only for the winter with no camping allowed. I was quite certain that enforcement would be lax as it was in the middle of nowhere and getting down to around zero every night. I couldn’t imagine it being patrolled after dark to catch someone past sundown sleeping in the gravel lot, but I parked up the road a few yards hoping to skirt the inconvenient regulation.
On opening morning I went in several miles and diverted into a side draw which turned out to be wasted effort, taking me into some great deer and elk country but no sheep were seen. I cut cross country back towards the truck in the afternoon, and from way up on top, spotted some sheep down the main trail where I would have ended up if I hadn’t gotten side tracked . After a below zero night in the back of the truck I was up and walking an hour before dawn to get down to where I had seen the sheep the previous afternoon. At dawn I was close to where I needed to be, and picked out a good observation spot to wait for good light. I was busy scanning the cliffs, diligently looking in every sheepy crevice when I took the glasses down and there, right in front of me, in a hay field were about 35 sheep feeding like cows. Several legal rams were trying their best to control the herd. I had no chance to approach closer given the terrain but was thrilled to watch them for hours in the middle of the field just a couple hundred yards away. Rutting sheep are never still for long and eventually they crossed to the other side of the creek allowing me an approach route to get closer. I was about to get an education on what I had always read about, which was the acuity of sheep eyes! I made it into the cut of the creek bed just fine, but those girls were well aware of where danger was likely to come from in a dead flat field of 6 inch tall grass. There was always at least one girl staring at that edge of the creek cover to see what might pop out. Once the top of my head was noticed they would stare endlessly at it until I would give up, reposition and the game would start anew. They stayed well out of archery range of the creek for the rest of the day but I got to spend all day within a hundred yards of a bunch of rutting sheep, it just doesn’t get much better than that, or so I thought.
The next day it was easy to get out of the cold truck and head down to my hayfield herd, but as day dawned they weren’t there. I started glassing when it was light enough to do so and couldn’t find a sheep. As I was glassing I was startled by a sound like two baseball bats smashing together. Looking in that direction I saw a small cyclone of sheep activity going on around a near vertical rock face. It was apparent that a ewe was in heat and 6 rams were vying for her hand in sheepy matrimony. The rams were in single file chasing her through the rocks at breakneck speed, biggest to smallest, with every once in a while an amazing pirouette to smash heads with the next-in-line ram. Sometimes the head smashing allowed a smaller ram from farther back in line to leap-frog to a position closer to the girl. When this occurred it would trigger an extra mad rush to re-establish the “proper” pecking order.
All this frantic activity was a perfect distraction for a bow stalk, which I started immediately. The rock face was like a figure 8 with a grassy ledge cutting through the middle. The chase was a totally random pattern around this figure 8; wherever she led they were sure to follow. I got to the upper edge, about the 11 o’clock position, of the rock face, and waited as they were currently down around the 5 o’clock position. The biggest ram was in the midst of scoring with the girl and the smaller rams were all beating themselves up in frustration, and all this was at 40 -50 yards away from one very excited bow hunter! Finally one of the smaller rams ran full bore into the mounted ram, knocking him off the ewe and a terrible fight ensued and the ewe bailed out as fast as she could go and came right around the outside of the figure 8 and past me at 4-5 yards, where her eyes locked with mine. I know her eyes got big, and I would assume mine did also! All 6 rams ran by me at under 5 yards focused only on her butt but she knew I was there and led the chase down the mountain and out of sight/sound. All that remained was a trembling guy holding a recurve bow with a knocked arrow… So this is sheep hunting- wow- I already wanted another tag and I hadn’t finished with this one yet! That was about it for that day but it was good enough for me, as I practically floated up the trail that night to the truck.
The next morning they were back in the hay field at dawn with some still up in the rocks. There was a ewe that had a couple rams prodding her but she wasn’t interested quite yet and bedded down with the biggest ram bedding a few yards away in the snow, staring at her like a love sick school boy. I made a move to avoid the hay field girls and got up in the rocks to approach the ewe with her suitor. I got within about 40 yards and ran completely out of cover so I settled in to wait them out and see what would happen. I was on the shady side of the valley and it was bitter cold, within an hour I was about to freeze to death. Just as I was about to sneak out and do some walking to restore warmth, a ram came up from the valley to challenge the bedded ram, who stood up. As they were totally focused on each other I drew on the challenger, the closer of the two, and released my arrow. I watched in complete disbelief as it fishtailed wildly and stuck him right beside his tiny little tail. The lower limb of my bow had struck a log as it recoiled forward, completely ruining my shot, well, not completely enough, as it turned out, a clean miss would have been infinitely preferable. About 100 yards away my ram stopped and I could see the arrow had barely penetrated at all, with all but several inches of arrow plainly sticking out of his butt, I was disgusted with myself to say the least. The unwounded ram and ewe pushed up over the hill and my wounded ram bailed off and headed down towards the hay field herd out of my sight. I watched to see if he rejoined the herd and was never able to see him cross the valley, though I watched for half an hour. I wasn’t sure if this was good or not, if he got in with all those girls I could easily find him, but might not be able to fool all the eyes and get close for a finisher.
With a very heavy heart and guilty conscience I took up the blood trail in the 4 inches of sugary snow. I got to where I had last seen him before I found any blood at all and then just a few tiny drops. I took the trail straight towards the hayfield herd and was constantly scanning them for any signs of alarm or a ram in amongst them with an arrow sticking out of his butt. I was concentrating so much on them that I was within 5 yards of him when I looked down and saw him, deader than a hammer, snoot down in the snow, what a sense of relief! I collapsed in the snow beside him so happy as to defy words, what a roller coaster ride of emotion in just a few minutes of time. When I field dressed him I found a severed artery at his pelvis and his entire body cavity was filled with blood, explaining why there had been no blood trail in the snow.
The walk up the trail was an easy one that evening, for sure! The next morning I slept in and headed down to butcher and pack my ram out and there were some new boys there… much bigger boys than before. They were fighting for control of the hayfield herd, smashing heads so hard and so frequently, that I was able to walk up to within 25 yards of them and get lots of photos of their ritual. These were 7-8 year old rams after I had just shot a 3 year old, so there was a bit of second guessing of my choice to shoot the day before, to say the least. There I was, with my little ram next to me standing in the wide open 25 yards away from very nice rams who were oblivious to my presence.
It was a very memorable way to end my first sheep hunt though, walking up the frozen trail laden down with cape, horns, and meat, listening to the echoes of their smashing horns bounce from the rock walls of the canyon. It was truly music to this new sheep hunter’s ears! In fact it got me to thinking about where and when I might want to hunt them next time I could draw a tag…
Ya done good for sure
Good luck, Robb
Thanks for posting!