For those hunters out there you know the feeling of having a dream to hunt a bighorn sheep. My dad put in for 36 years before his fate changed and he was drawn for a bighorn sheep hunt in unit 24B in Arizona. Growing up I knew the importance of this hunt and how hard it was to get this tag. My youth had many hours spent sitting on the phone waiting to hear draw result for my dad. Ah the days of yore. In Arizona these hunts are coveted. There was one other hunter in his unit, and one Governor tag hunter in the unit adjacent. We joked that he should be stocking up on Powerball tickets after we got this tag, and then was blessed with the best bighorn guide in the state due to a relationship. PHENOMINAL! Here is his story about the long awaited bighorn sheep hunt….
It was in July 2015 when I heard the draw results were out. I as getting my hair cut and barber Bob informed me that some of his clients were reporting that their credit cards were being hit with Arizona Game and Fish charges for tag fees. When I was done with the hair cut I sat in my pickup and checked my account for charges. I saw a charge for $300.00 from AZGFD. My first reaction was they over charged for my boat tags that I just authorized for $30.00. Then I thought I should check and see what a Big Horn sheep tag costs. I really didn’t know since I have been putting in for the tag for 37 years! Sure enough, $300.00 is what the tag cost.
After texting everyone I knew that I had a tag (and some I didn’t know) the task of “now what” set in. I, of course, went to the AZDBSS Sheep Clinic in September. The clinic was a well prepared and informative clinic that had us engaged the entire time there. One piece of information was to contact the Game & Fish through the public information request and get the names of the tag holders in my unit for the last five years. So I did.
When I opened the email with the names of the previous tag holders I spotted a familiar name, Tim Downs. I hadn’t seen Tim in 20 plus years. We had hunted together back then and with time and family raising responsibilities we hadn’t seen one another.
I phoned Tim and got caught up on our lives and I told him I got his number through the Game & fish. He thought I was calling to book him as a guide! I had no idea that Tim’s passion for hunting had him focused on sheep guiding and more particularly unit 24B South! We struck a deal and the hunt was on.
My sweet wife Darlene had an Elk hunt and a deer hunt in October that occupied that month and in November we started scouting. I knew I was in the right group when I was told to report to a donut shop at 5:30am for a pre-scouting briefing. I thought, wow! This is my kind of hunting!
That’s where Tim introduced me to “Big Horn” Bob Kyhn and Todd Garvin of Koury Guide Service. The plan was to split up and cover different areas of the unit and look for sheep. This is where I started getting my education on sheep hunting. These men spend time looking for sheep all year long. They even give the bigger rams names, like Crusty, and through photos taken over time, track there movements and growth.
The scouting was a Friday Saturday and Sunday event up until Thanksgiving. We photographed and video taped over a hundred sheep. Friday after Thanksgiving we scouted until season opened on Tuesday December first. That’s when the donuts and glassing turned into climbing the steepest country around. A person can stand up and lay down at the same time in this country!
Day one was a crisp clear morning with 38 degree weather. We hiked into a canyon where we had seen sheep the day before. We wanted to get a good look at a couple of rams that were promising. We did find them around noon and it was too late in the day to approach them as they were a long ways off but still promising in size.
Day two was a great day, lots of sheep spotted. We photographed and video taped them for further documentation. There were a few 160” rams that in most any other unit would be about as big as they get but 24B South rams grow larger due to the abundance of feed and ample water.
Day three was an exciting day. Todd and Tim hiked to the top of the canyon and Big Horn Bob and I stayed on the desert floor glassing up the canyons. Tim and todd appeared on the horizon about 9:00a.m. They were separated by a couple hundred yards when Tim came face to face with two rams. The rams ran directly towards and almost ran Todd over! Fortune was on our side when the rams made their way down one of the canyons that Big Horn Bob and I were glassing.
One of them looked like a ram we had spotted in the canyon on day one so we planned a stalk on him. Bob’s knowledge of the terrain made it easy for him to know exactly the best route to stalk undetected. We spent a little over an hour getting closer. We got close enough for a god look. Bob determined that his left horn was broomed back more than he and Tim cared for, so we passed. Wow, these guys are dedicated and know their sheep.
Days four and five were spent looking at more amazing sheep but none made the grade.
Day six is when it got real exciting. We spotted 5 rams about a mile and a half out at the very ridge top where Tim and Todd had their face to face encounter and we believed one of them to be Crusty, the ram we wanted. Two of the rams were butting heads. The noise of two rams butting heads can be heard for a long ways. That noise must be what drew the attention of a mountain lion. We watched in disbelief as a lion stalked our rams. We watched the whole group go over the top, putting an end to our plan.
Surprisingly, that evening Big Horn Bob spotted the same 5 rams in almost the same spot. He watched them until they bedded down for the evening. Our team was very excited for the next morning’s adventure. Two reasons, one was that we had high expectations that the rams would be there in the morning and reason number two was that Shane Koury, the namesake of Koury’s Guide Service was going to be joining us.
The dawn was still an hour away as we hit the trail into the Superstition Wilderness using headlamps to guide the way to what we hoped were five rams that “Big Horn” Bob put to bed the night before. We marched in silence as the sky turned crimson red. The weather was a crisp 40 degrees, perfect hunting temperature.
It was a little after 9:00 a. m. when we spotted the rams feeding up high across the canyon. We quickly analyzed the group to see if “Crusty” was with them and he was. We quickly set the back packs up on a large rock to stabilize the .300 Remington Ultra Mag. I was set to shoot my once in a lifetime Desert Big Horn Sheep when we heard an approaching hiker with what seemed to be a voice through a megaphone, he greeted us with a hearty “good morning.”
We explained what we were about to do to the hiker and he graciously waited. The report from the .300 echoed down the canyon. You missed high right! Oh no, I thought in disbelief! The ram did not move and the second shot landed. This monarch of the mountain barely flinched. As I ready for a follow up shop the ram started to run. He ran about 300 yards and stopped. We thanked the hiker for his patients and he continued on his morning hike as we backtracked down the trail and set up again on the ram. He was not very steady on his feet at this time. I shot him again and he stumbled backwards and fell.
No sheep hunt story should end there. Now we had to skin the 10 year old ram and bone out the meat for packing out. Thanks to the strong backs of Tim, Shane and Big Horn Bob we got our prize off the mountain. I say our prize because with out these men I could have never accomplished this amazing feat.
If you want more hunting post, then check out my Pre Scouting Tips for Elk Hunt.