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Saturday, January 17, 2009

2008 Arizona Desert Sheep Hunt

I have been putting in for a desert bighorn tag for the past 9 years. I had 9 bonus points plus 1 "hunter ed" point, and 1 "loyalty" point, for a total of 11 points. I put in for units that were within 4 hours drivng distance from home so I could scout it more easily if drawn (not that I ever expected to be).

One morning my 18 month old son woke up at 5AM and my wife told me it was my turn. So while he was playing on the floor I decided to check my email. I checked the email and decided to see if I was drawn for deer. I logged on to the AZGFD website and noticed I did get drawn for deer in 30A and almost clicked off when I noticed I had been drawn for something else. I blinked a few times to clear my vision and to my amazement...I was drawn for a desert bighorn tag!! Now here's the problem...it was 5AM. Who the heck can you call at 5AM to tell them you were drawn for the most coveted big game tag in the US?? Pretty much nobody, because anyone who knows what it is will be so jealous that they will want to kill you, and the rest of the world couldn't care less!

I had to wait until football signup, for my 8 year old son later that morning, to tell anyone. That's when I told my business partner and hunting buddy Jon Tate. He was so jealous he wanted to kill me. It took him a few days but he couldn't resist and started to help me plan the camp, and scouting trips. I thought about hiring a guide but decided to do it on my own with friends. A friend of mine who is a well known hunter and conservationist in Yuma, AZ suggested that I call his brother-in-law Mike
Daily to see if he would help. Mike is a sheep nut who lives in Yuma. He knows about almost every ram killed each year in AZ and tracks sheep populations around the state. He is especially knowledgeable about what is going on in the Kofa NWR and the other areas around Yuma. Mike told me that the Mtn lions had hit the Kofa sheep pretty hard, but he thought that we could still get a good ram in there. Mike sent me a bunch of data going back to 1990 on the sheep killed in the unit that we would be hunting, 45A. The average ram was about 153" so I figured anything over 155" should do, especially since sheep numbers there are well below normal. The AZGFD survey flights flown in November confirmed that the numbers were down. A few scouting trips to the area by myself and Mike continued the bleak outlook. We saw 2 ewes and Mike saw 1 ram pre-season. So when Jon and I set off for camp, I figured it could easily take every bit of the 31 day season to find a shooter. We had a lot of helpers. For the 2 days before the Dec 1 opener we had about 8 guys out glassing different parts of the unit. We glassed every hour of daylight for 5 days and saw a total of about 5-6 ewes and 2 very young rams. I started to get a little discouraged but Mike, Jon, and Bobby kept my spirits up. Jon wanted to check out a particular part of the unit which was a pretty long drive on some rough roads. When Mike went to town to go back to work for a couple of days, we took a shot at this new place. It was midday when we stopped the truck in a very nice valley to have lunch and wait for prime glassing time. I went to set up my tripod and binos so I wouldn't have to later. When I focused on the mountain I instantly saw a ewe, then when I glassed a bit I saw 2 rams, and then Bobby saw a 3rd!! We hit paydirt...three Rams and one ewe through the spotting scope. Now I really wished Mike was with us because he was the best at judging rams on the hoof (although as it turned out, Bobby was right on). I ran to try to find cell service to call Mike back out there, but no service. We watched these sheep and "put them to bed" at dark.

Back at camp I reached Mike and he met us at about 5:30 the next morning. We drove within a mile or so of the spot, then we hiked on in to the glassing spot we had marked. At sunrise we found the sheep almost immediately and Mike and I started the stalk while Jon and Bobby stayed back to keep an eye on them. After about a 2 hour stalk, in some pretty rough stuff, we were within 400 yards and Mike was able to see the biggest ram. He confirmed he was a 160" class ram, which was my personal minimum, and we stalked in a bit further. At 325 yards I set up for the shot. But the ram was bedded looking away from us, so I had to wait another 15 minutes or so till he stood. As soon as he stood I fired and broke his shoulder and clipped the heart. He wobbled a bit and stood

there. I've shot enough animals to know that if they're still standing, I'm still throwin' lead. So I took a final shot to anchor him and he was down. Now came the real work!!
It was a great hunt and a great experience thanks to Jon, Mike, Bobby and the rest of the guys. Thank you for all your help.



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