by Jim McIsaac
California Wild Sheep – Spring 2017
Opening my e-mail last April, I wondered what New Mexico Game and Fish was sending me. All I saw was congratulations, successful, and bhs. BHS! THAT’S BIGHORN SHEEP! I logged onto their website and sure enough there was my tag. After telling my wife, Sue, and calling good friend Gary, I sent out a “you ain’t going to believe this e-mail” to family and friends.
A week later I was contacted by Gilbert Villegas, the biologist for the White Sands missile range, where the hunt would take place. I would be allowed three people to help me, and we were all required to have background checks before entering the base. Good friend and fellow sheep hunter Gary Bordessa was my first choice. My next choice was another group of fellow sheep hunters. In 2009 I hunted with Dry Creek Outfitters in Southern California. I’ve since been back with them helping glass for some of their hunts. They were itching to go along on my hunt. At one point
I told Cliff I would just hire them to guide me. His response was “No, you’ve helped us we are going to help you.” Does life get any better than this?
At Cliff’s advice we had background checks on two more people in case someone had to back out. For the next six months there were many phone calls and e-mails to Cliff, Gilbert, and other hunters. Unfortunately about a month before the hunt, Gary called and said he couldn’t make it. A call to Cliff and I still had my three man team. Leaving early on December 12th, my first stop was to pick up Cliff St. Martin (aka Partner), Shawn Lindey (aka Alabama), and Tim Mercier (aka Cowboy). We drove to Arizona that night, then on to New Mexico for the orientation at the White Sands. With four sheep hunters, Gilbert divided the hunt into four areas. We would rotate our areas after four days, or when a hunter harvested a ram. I drew area one, which historically has held a large number of sheep.
Gilbert had set up some days in August when we would be able to learn the roads, lay of the land, and do some glassing. Since I didn’t get there (New Mexico is a long way from California), Gilbert would escort us. Did I already say, does life get any better than this?
On opening morning Gilbert told us that from his surveys, he knew of a ram pushing 180 who never comes off the very top of the mountain. He also knew of a 165 ram that was usually in a very accessible spot. Shawn said “Let’s put some glass to the mountain first”. Within minutes of getting set up, Cliff picked up some ewes and two smaller rams. A short time later, four rams with some ewes were spotted. Two of them were shooters, one of which was collared; he was the number two ram. They moved around the ridge out of sight, which worked to our advantage. By 7:30 Cliff, Shawn, and I were going in on them. Tim and Gilbert stayed on the glass, both from different vantage points. Three miles up the canyon, Shawn set up behind Cliff and me to get a different angle on the sheep.
Right away we spotted a ram and a few ewes not far from where we first saw them. Cliff knew this was not one of the shooters. A while later a bigger ram came into view. I got ready to shoot 400 yards. Instead of staying with the others, he came off a steep bluff towards us. Cliff said. “That’s a big ram, but we need to see all four before we make a decision”. Sometime later the collared ram came into view. We waited to see the last ram, while the big one kept coming closer. Finally the last one came out. Cliff said “Take this one”, referring to the one that continued to get closer. By this time he was only about 200 yards, but there was brush between him and I. I stayed on him until he disappeared into a low spot. Until now I was calm, I knew I would see him again but didn’t know where. It seemed like minutes, but was probably only seconds, when he ran through a deep wash then came out past it and stopped. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a ram this close. No need for a rangefinder. If he was over 100 yards, it wasn’t by much. It still took two shots- the first one hit him low, the second put him upside down. As I got to him, I thought “WOW, what a ram”. When Shawn got there, all he could say was “look at those bases! Those bases are huge! I can’t get my hands around the bases! Bases! Bases!”
Cliff arrived with a tape. With both horns sporting bases of 16 4/8, he became known as Big B. We started taking pictures while waiting for Tim & Gilbert. Gilbert arrived and gave me a big bear hug. He said “I always hug my hunters”. With Tim and Gilbert there, we took more pictures with everyone. We told Tim and Gilbert how the ram came to us. Tim said with a chuckle “I bet that ram was tired of living on that mountain”. Gilbert said we made a liar out of him. This is the ram he saw on the very top of the mountain.
Next was skinning, quartering, and packing out. Like they say, many hands make light work. Tim said a prayer when we were all packed up. ”Thanks to the Lord for this opportunity and His help getting us off the mountain safe.”
I’ve packed out sheep heads and capes before, but none as heavy as this one. Tim and Cliff had to rearrange my pack part way out. What a day. We left the pickup at 7:30 am, had the ram down at 11:30 am, and were back to the pickup before 4:00 pm.
When we got back to where we had cell service, I called Sue, then Gary. My dream team was sending pictures to my family and friends, and everyone they know. The next day we went to the Game & Fish office to have the ram scored, aged, and plugged. He is 11 + years old and grossed 182 6/8.
Drawing this tag, killing a great ram with great friends – “Life is Good!”
Thank you Cowboy, Partner and Alabama! I could not have done this without your help.