Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Fall means Coues time!

Last Friday marked the opener for general Coues deer tags all over the state. I was able to sneak a way for a day and hunt with Jimmy, something that doesn't get to happen enough these days. He was guiding a client but it doesn't matter that neither of us had a tag. I was just glad to be there hunting with him in awesome country. We had a great day saw some great country. I'll Try to post more later on that.

 On Sunday Leah, Kona and I headed out to see if we could find her a buck and to hopefully find a group of deer that we could hunt with her dad this coming weekend. We found several mule deer and had a great time. My parents came out and met us for a picnic lunch. It was a really nice day all around but no coues bucks to be found. We are headed out Thursday to hit the hills and I am confidant that the adventure will be a good one. Stay tuned!
Definitely two of my favorite hunting partners
 The wrong kinda deer... but still a good spot. 

We saw a group of 7 big ol gobblers I even got them to gobble back at me... Kona really wanted one.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Gearing up for the next adventures.

Contrary to what most of my friends and family think, I am and have been excited for several other hunts this year other than just my own sheep hunt. I got to be part of several early archery elk hunts here in northern AZ. The McDonald Family Clan had a pile of elk tags and a big ol camp of great guys in unit 9. It was awesome we had tons of big bugling bulls around us morning and night. Dan, Clint and Pat all shot great bulls. It was all three of their first time archery bulls!
In the middle of that hunt and trying to work and still get in scouting and prepping for my hunt I got to be part of Eli's and Jesse's bull hunt too.

My wonderful wife Leah, her brother Weston and Dad all have Coues deer tags starting this weekend! Leah and I are going to go out and see what we see and Weston and Greg are gonna be hunting with us next weekend. I cant wait!
My good buddies Eli and Nate have December Coues tags in my very favorite unit and to tell the truth I am almost giddy with excitement for their hunt.... maybe more than they are.
And as luck would have it, not only did I draw a sheep tag, I also have friend that drew a tag down south this year. Being that I am now a "died in the wool" sheep hunter, I am going to try my hardest make it down to hunt with him in the beginning of December. Meanwhile I am going to attempt to get a TON of work done and help Leah with all of her projects and Honey-do's, and I think my mom has an elk hunt somewhere in there too.
I am BLESSED to live the fantastic and never boring life I live. I can't thank all my friends enough for always including me in their adventures and coming along for mine. Stay tuned for up dates on the shenanigans to come.

LEFT: Me, Jesse and Eli w/ Jesses bull

 Eli and his last day 80 yard shot bull!

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Once in a lifetime for sure

My fiance, Leah, and I were in full swing of planning the last touches on our wedding and we were still unpacking and moving in to our new home when I was tasked with the biggest distraction ever. I had drawn THE Desert Big Horn Sheep TAG for units 9 and 10 in Cataract Canyon!

Everyone immediately starts telling me what and impossible task I have a head of me... Though I still think they were talking about the hunt, the real impossible task was staying focused and excited for my wedding and working on our house like I had promised my bride! She is a trooper, and the number one reason that it even had a chance at being a successful hunt is due to her 100% support and willingness to put other things aside so we could make this hunt happen.

The funny thing is that most of those people telling me about how hard this hunt is really didn't have a clue what they were talking about, they were just passing on hear-say. The truth about this canyon is: there isn't but a hand full of people who truly know its ins and outs and understand its enormity. I did my best to utilize my resources and track down those people, learn and listen and become one who knew it intimately. This tag is one that scares people away and in truth, it should. When people say, "oh, those sheep are just up there in Cataract" most likely they have no grasp on how big and expansive that canyon is. It is a beautiful, harsh and awesome place, with huge amounts of history, hidden places, and no shortage of huge cliffs. There have been hunters, great hunters, who hunt harder than me at that, who have spent the entire hunt in this unit without even a glance at a sheep let alone a mature ram. After I started doing my research and talking to people I realized how lucky I was that I had seen sheep several different times in years past.

Knowing just how big and awesome this canyon is, I realized I needed to start learning more of it.  Leah and Weston (my brother in-law) and of course our dog, Kona, made our first scouting trip up there the weekend before we were leaving for California for our wedding, I walked out to a spot on the canyon and sat down, looked at Leah and said, "holy crap, I'm screwed!"

She promptly reminded me that I hadn't drawn this tag on accident, this was the tag that I wanted and I had been on a mission to hunt bighorns in Cataract long before I drew this tag.

The following week was the best of my life. We had an awesome wedding and we were able to spend a few extra days there with our families and just relaxing. We had already made plans to honeymoon in January so the weekend we returned home she said she would let go of the reins and I could scout and hunt to my hearts desire. In between everything else going on I fit in a few weeks worth of  days of hard glassing and it wasn't until 2 weeks before the season when my dad came with me on a Saturday scouting adventure that he glassed up a mature ram and 8 ewes! This ram was then referred to as the WIDE ram. He was definitely on the shooter list.
Mind you, I am not a pro sheep scorer, but I knew that when I saw a ram that I would be happy with, I wouldn't care what he scored. After all, this isn't 24B or 22, this is unit 10!

Now just a note about an other hurtle of this hunt - this little thing called the Havasupai Reservation. The canyon winds and meanders while the reservation boundary zigs and zags along straight survey lines, and of course has no markings denoting state land from reservation, it is very hard to know where the reservation is or isn't. The Wide ram was too close for comfort to that line. But he never left the back of my mind.

I took the next week off from driving all the way out there to scout to instead go elk hunting with a few friends and get my mind off of it. We had a great time on the elk hunt and I got to be part of several bull hunts with some great friends. Those are stories for a different time. 

My hunt is different than most Desert Bighorn hunts in Arizona because it starts in October, and goes through December. The department made this change after they realized that the sheep go farther down in to the canyon and the reservation as the weather gets colder. October 1 was on a Monday, my work had given me the go-a-head to switch my schedule so that I could work long days in order to have long weekends. That Thursday was to be my first day of being a sheep hunter instead of just a sheep hoper! 

My dad and I made a good first day hunt but didn't turn up any sheep or even any fresh sign where I had seen some sign in my many scouting trips. We had a good Monsoon season and the sheep could be anywhere and have all the feed and water they wanted. My aunt, Sara, (my dad's sister who I have hunted with since I could hunt) came out to camp that night and we sat around the map looking at what our plan was for Friday. With all of my scouting I had laid eyes on just about all of the hunt-able part of the canyon except one side canyon. I decided that is where we needed to go, I  needed to see and know every part of the canyon. There weren't any roads that led to the edge so it was a hike to both sides. Dad and Sara took the west side and I took the east side. I no more than got out there and started glassing before I heard rocks rolling. I instantly got nervous and excited and giddy. It didn't take Sara and Dad very long to come back and say "Sam, the sheep are RIGHT below you" 

This little cheese-ball drawing doesn't really give the full picture but you get the idea. The sheep were in the bottom of the canyon and before I could get a shot off, they bedded right at the base of the bottom cliff they were literally under and over hang 1500+ ft below me. We decided to wait them out. About 9 hours later, dad said he thought they would be there in the morning and we hiked out in the dark back to the trucks. That was the longest night of my life!

Leah and my friend Chad drove out to camp that night to hunt with us the rest of the weekend, the more eyes the better! Thank goodness too, because the extra company and Leah being there kept me calm-ish.

By day break we were back on both sides of the canyon, Leah, Sara and Dad on the west and Chad and I on the east. It seemed like eternity before we glassed the band of sheep up feeding and rutting around out in the open in the bottom mid-morning. Chad and I got set up to shoot where I could see the ram and he could call shots for me.

I shot at 558 yards straight down at a 70 degree angle. I knew to aim low, but not low enough. I shot clean over his back....twice. They didn't spook very badly, but they went underneath me again and bedded down out of my sight.

We decided at this point it would just be easier to go across the canyon and shoot from my Dad's vantage point. After a few hours of hiking and driving and more hiking we were set up for another shot from where the rest of my family was across the canyon. 684 yards at 45 degrees and I still shot high! but hit close enough to make him run a little ways. We quickly relocated up canyon a 100 ft and found him again. 640 yards... Shot....HIT! I made one more follow up shot for a quick clean kill. He was down!

That is a bit of an ironic statement, he was WAY WAY WAY down.... in the bottom of the canyon. We were well prepared with repelling gear and the know-how to get down there but that last cliff was just too big. No way any of our ropes would make it, even if we tied them together! I made some calls to a few friends in Flagstaff and with no hesitation they were on their way. I knew of a way in to the canyon several miles upstream and we decided that even though it was long, it was the safest and fastest way to get to him.

 The ram is under the big rock in the center of this picture.

At 4:00 pm, four extremely good friends followed me into the canyon. We hiked hard and fast until about 9pm when I knew we had to be really near to where the ram was. We stopped for a break and heard rocks rolling, the rest of the band of sheep ran past us in the dark no more than 80 yards away, it was cool. We sprawled out in this massive boulder field and began to look. I told all the guys that he was next to a big flat boulder on the right side... yeah right! there were big boulders EVERYWHERE! At 10:00 pm exactly Kyle started whooping and hollering! RAM DOWN RAM FOUND!!!

A few pictures and high fives and an hour later we were packed  up and hiking again with a totally boned out ram, the head and cape and still plenty of water to get us back. We hiked most of the night and decided to take a nap for an hour at about 3:30 am. It was cold and we had none of the comforts of camping but it felt good and was much needed. At first light we were looking at our final ascent on the 1500 ft wall in front of us. A slow steady climb on the old indian trail brought us to the top at 8:30 am, we had walked about 20 miles round trip. Dad , Sara and Leah were waiting at the top and excited to see us. We had done it. An unlikely crew of family and great friends had managed to hunt, find, shoot and recover an awesome ram out of Cataract Canyon.

I am going to just pile the rest of the pictures here below in no particular order.
I want to thank my Dad, my wonderful wife, Leah, my aunt Sara for all your help during and leading up to the hunt. Chad, Mav, Chris and Kyle, you guys are some bad dudes! I owe you big time.. just not if you draw the unit 10 sheep tag, then I'm out!

I know I have a ton of other people to thank for their help and advise leading up to this hunt. Hope you know who you all are.