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Wednesday, July 30, 2014

OOPS



 

OOPS

 

   I got invited to go hunting for Bighorn sheep in Wyoming one time. That was something both Stanley and I had talked and dreamed about when we were kids and even though Stanley wasn't going to get to go with me it was just to good an opportunity to pass up.

   We were going to be hunting in the mountains above Jacksons Hole and all I had to do was get my license and get to Jacksons Hole. The guy I was going with was a guide and he was going to stick me in with a party he had all ready booked. I had to promise not to tell anyone else that I was going along for free because the rest of the guys had spent big bucks for the trip.  We were going to ride back in the mountains (he supplied the horses) and set up camp for the week long hunt (he supplied the tents and all the food, I had to help cook and clean). I didn't even have to bring a rifle if I didn't want to as he said he had a 30-06 that I could borrow. That was extra nice of him but I already had a 308 that I had zeroed in and was comfortable with.

  He told me to come on down anytime I wanted so I got to his house a couple of days before we were supposed to leave. I figured that since this was going to be a free trip the least I could do was get there in time to try and help him get ready.

   We looked like a bunch of pioneers when we set out that first morning.  Six hunters, including me, one guide, two helpers and six pack horses. His helpers were along to set up the tents, take care of the horses and do most of the cooking. I kept trying to help but them boys had such a good system going that I mostly just got in the way. We spent most of the first day getting up to the camping area and believe me, after six hours in the saddle there was lots of groaning and moaning by the time we finally got there. It surprised me when we got to the site to see two big tents already set up along with a couple of tables and a nice fire pit. It seems that our guide and his helpers had already been up there the week before and set up most of the camp site. Talking to him that night I found out that being a guide for big game was a lot more than just taking a few guys hunting! No wonder he had to charge as much as he did!

   The next morning I found out that my hunting experience was going to be a little different than the other guys. The guide and me were up before the rest of the hunters and as we were having our morning coffee he explained that he was going to have to spend most of his time with the paying guests. His plan was to take each of them to a pre selected spot where they would each be able to watch part of a well used trail. The spots were close enough together that he would be able watch all five of them from one spot and move to help which ever one might need it. As for me, he spread a topo map on the table and started pointing out the best places for me to check out. In other words I was going to be pretty well on my own. Part of me was proud that he trusted me enough to send me out on my own and the other part was a little worried just because this was my first hunt for Bighorns. Really I didn't figure I was going to have any problems. After all even though it was my first bighorn hunt at that time I'd already hunted deer, bear, hogs and mountain lions, all of them by myself. It might be different game but it was still hunting.

   We all saw bighorns on our first day all though the ones I saw were just white rumps disappearing over a mountain top but it wasn't until the third day that some one actually got one and it wasn't me. The guy got a really nice three quarter curl. Our guide was working with him that morning and was able to get the hunter within two hundred yards of it. The guide field dressed it and came back to camp to get one of the pack horses to haul it back to camp. My question was how are they going to take care of the meat for the next three days. It was pretty cool at night where we were but it still got to hot during the day to hang meat that long. My question was answered when they got back to camp. The hunter and one of the helpers would take it back to the guides ranch. The hunter had the choice of coming back to camp or staying at the ranch. All he had was a permit for one so the only thing he would be able to do in camp was hang out with the other guys in the evening. I did feel sorry for the helper, he didn't have a choice, he'd have to come back which meant 12 hours in the saddle.

   Day four another of the hunters got one. it was only a half curl but still legal and I think the reason he settled for one that small was because we were getting desperate. We only had one more day to tag out. The first hunter had decided to stay at the ranch and it was sounding like this one was going to do the same. That left three paid hunters and me to try and get one the next day. I wasn't sure I was going to even get a shot at one. I had seen quite a few including one really massive full curl but hadn't been able to get within range of any.

   Last day. I was planning on being out and watching before daylight but it seemed like every time I got ready to leave camp something came up to keep me from going. I finally got out of camp around seven and it was at least an hours hike to the place I wanted to hunt. I had found a spot at the edge of a steep gorge where I had seen the big one the day before. The opposite side of the gorge was a cliff with grassy slopes on each side and less than four hundred yards away. I had seen a herd of 15 sheep the day before and figured they were getting water from the creek at the bottom of the gorge then coming back up to feed. I hadn't hunting in that area before and didn't know the gorge was there until I walked out of the trees. I saw the sheep as soon as I stepped out of the tress, unfortunately they saw me at the same time and before I could bring my gun up or even think about taking a shot they took off at a dead run up the side of the cliff and over the top. I was determined to was their trail all day if I had too, just in case they came back. I knew that this would be my last chance of getting one for this trip and I doubted that I'd ever get the chance to make another one.

   I found a downed tree right at the edge of the timber line where I had a good view of the cliff face on the other side of the gorge and settled in as best I could. The tree not only gave me some concealment but mad a great rest for my rifle. I had a cheap range finder back then and checking the cliff face I found the longest distance was where the trail got right to the top which was a little over four hundred seventy five yards and the closest was right at four hundred. Now I just needed the sheep to show up!

   It was a little past noon when I saw the first sheep on top of the gorge. I had thought maybe I would see them coming up from the creek so I had been concentrating on that area and only happened to glance up and see her. I don't even know how long she had been there but she was definitely moving down the cliff and as I watched another came over the top and followed her, now I just need the ram to show up. I tried not to move an inch as I watched a stream of sheep come over the top of the gorge. I didn't want to do anything that might scare them.  

   It didn't take long for all the ewes to be down feeding on the slops next to the cliff but no ram! Another hour of just watching the ewes eat grass when I looked back at the top of the bluff and noticed a coupe of rocks that looked different than the rest of the slope. They were rounded and it took a second for me to realize that they were moving! It was the ram! I was seeing the top of his horns as he came over the top. I pretty well held my breath as I watched his horns then head then body come over the to and head toward the slope. I knew I should wait until he was on the slope and feeding before I attempted a shot but time was running out and I was getting desperate. On top of that this was the biggest ram we had seen on the entire trip! i already had my rifle laying on the tree trunk and very carefully I eased it up where I could see through the scope. I took a minute to find him and by then he was half way across the cliff. I got a good bead on him, no wind to worry about and I knew how much I needed to hold over him at that distance. To tell you the truth I was thinking of only one thing at that minute, getting that bighorn. I didn't even take into consideration anything else as I squeezed that trigger. Perfect shot! I saw the dust jump from his hide right at the spot behind the shoulder that I had been aiming at! He fell right where he was standing. I jumped up and hollered loud enough to scare the ewes half to death. I saw them all take off running up the gorge but my main focus was on the ram! I was busy patting myself on the back and thinking of the bragging rights I would have back at camp when I thought I saw him move. My heart leaped into my throat as I yanked my rifle back up. I was sure I had hit him dead center and could not believe that he could still be alive. By the time I got the scope to my eye and looked through it I couldn't find him. What the hell! I looked over the scope to see where he was and my heart sank that time. The movement I had seen wasn't him getting up, it was because he had started to slide down the cliff. He stopped at the bottom and ended up laying on a pile of rocks that had fallen from  the cliff.

   I was thankful that he hadn't slid all the way to the bottom, for about a minute, then my brain kicked in. Even though he was less that four hundred yards away he was still on the other side of the gorge, how the hell was I going to be able to get him back to camp? I've done lots of things in my life without really thinking them through and as I stood there looking across that gorge I realized that I had done it again, big time! Something I should have seen right off was the gorge was at least four hundred feet deep with a small creek running along the bottom and yes I did see that but I didn't SEE it. I was so homed in on the sheep I just didn't pay attention. The gorge continued at about that depth for as far up the mountain as I could see. On the down stream side it widened out and got deeper. Another thing I hadn't paid attention to was the side of the gorge I was on, for a few hundred feet on either side of me it was pretty close to a straight down cliff all the way to the creek and I could see no way to climb down it.

   I was still standing there staring at my ram when the guide showed up. The first thing he said was that he had heard me shoot and he wanted to know if I had got one. I just pointed across the gorge. It took him a minute to spot the ram. He walked up to the edge and looked at the ram then he looked down at the bottom of the gorge then at me, back at the ram, down the gorge and back at me, he just shook his head that time. I tried to explain why I had to shoot the ram where he was asked him to use his binoculars to check out the horns. He agreed that it was a really nice ram and ask me how we were going to get him back to our side. I had lots of things to say about the ram and not one thing on how we could do that.

   We ended up with him going back to camp and getting his helpers (of course the other hunters came along and immediately started telling me how i had screwed up) The guide wouldn't let his helpers try and cross the gorge with him because he thought it was to dangerous but he did need some help, guess who he picked. We had to hike down stream for about a half mile before we found a spot we thought we could climb down. He did pretty good on the way down I think I slid more than I climbed but we finally made it to the creek at the bottom, him standing on the rocky bank and me sitting in the middle from missing the last rock. I case none of you have ever had the pleasure of sitting in one let me tell you, Wyoming creeks are COLD! I bout killed myself stumbling over the rocks on our way back upstream but at least I only fell in the creek twice (the guide only slipped once and stuck his leg in it).

   It was getting late in the afternoon by the time we made it to a spot under the ram. Now all we had to do was climb up to him. It wasn't quite as bad as climbing down but it sure wasn't easy either. By the time we got up to him I was all for just shoving him off the rocks and let him slide to the bottom. The guide pointed out that there was too much chance of damaging his horns or the meat if we did that and with the work we were having to do to retrieve him he wasn't about to lose any part of him. We had to hold and guide him all the way to the bottom. I got the distinct idea the guide wasn't real happy with me when he made me take the bottom while he held the horns. That meant I had to go down the slope backwards while pulling on the ram. Other than slipping, falling and ending up with most of the ram in my lap half a dozen times, it wasn't too bad.

   Once we got him to the bottom he used his radio to tell his helper to drop us a rope. he had told them before we left to tie all the rope they had together and see if it would reach the bottom. his plan was for us to tie it to the ram and have the guys up top tie it to a horse and pull the ram to the top. Neither of us was sure his plan was going to work but we sure hoped it would because the idea of trying to drag a two hundred pound ram up the slope we had climbed down wasn't something we wanted to think about. Luckily the rope made it to the bottom and we tied it around the horns and he gave them the OK to pull it up. It went up about twenty feet then came right back down. Same result the next two times they tried it and I was trying to think if it would be better to try and drag him up the slope in one piece or if we should clean him and have to make more than one trip. I missed what he was saying on the radio from worrying about the climb but all of a sudden the ram started up the side again. That time it went all the way to the top. We could hear all the guys at the top yelling they had it and sounding happy, trust me, they were no where near as happy as I was! I found out later that they had use two horses to get him to the top. Now we just had to get ourselves back to the top.

   By the time we got back to out climbing spot it was starting to get dark. Neither of us was looking forward to trying to climb back up in the dark but the thought of being stuck in the bottom of the gorge overnight sounded even less fun. That was one of the hardest climbs I think I have ever made and by the time we got to the top I had more cuts, scrapes and bruises than I could count plus I had ripped half the leg off my jeans from falling over a sharp rock. Once we reached level ground I collapsed and had to lay there for at least fifteen minutes before I had the strength to stand up. Everyone admire the ram and agreed that it was the biggest of the hunt (the other paid hunters came up empty) but I also had to listen to all the things I done wrong the whole way back to camp and half the night after we got there. We packed up and headed back to the ranch the next morning and again, I got to listen to non stop advice the entire trip.

   The guy that had invited me and was our guide was really nice about it and helped me dress the ram and get it packed for the trip home. I apologized at least a hundred times for the trouble I had cause him and every time he just smiled and said it was OK however, that was over 35 years ago and I've never been invited back so maybe it wasn't as OK as he said...