by Kevin Townsend
California Wild Sheep – December 2017
I didn’t have high hopes for 2017 based on how it started but it did get much better as the year moved along. Early in the year my best friend Brian Barton left work with what he thought was the flu. In a few short weeks he lost his life to complications from a very common virus that almost all of us carry. We grew up together, went to school, played sports, hunted and fished together for almost our entire lives, he was like one of my brothers. A few months later I was blessed with a beautiful granddaughter. Life begins and life ends, sounds simple but it sure makes you think.
One thing I kept thinking of was Brian’s plan to take his two sons fishing in Alaska but time for my friend ran out much quicker than anyone ever expected. When the time came to apply for my 2017 hunts Brian was definitely on my mind. I would be 60 years old by the end of 2017 so I made the decision to stop applying for hard to draw hunts and start burning points while I still had my health.
Hopefully when my time comes to go to the happy hunting grounds it will be with no preference points in my pocket. One of the hunts I applied for was for Desert Bighorn sheep in California so I went with the Cady Mountains instead of the areas that were producing the bigger rams. Hopefully when my time comes to go to the happy hunting grounds it will be with no preference points in my pocket. One of the hunts I applied for was for Desert Bighorn sheep in California so I went with the Cady Mountains instead of the areas that were producing the bigger rams.
When the results of the draw came out I was shocked that I had actually drawn the Cady Mountains tag, sure the odds were better than the other units but it was still like winning the lottery. I know very little about sheep hunting and even less about the desert so I started looking for help on the internet. I sent an email to Cliff St. Martin of Dry Creek Outfitters asking a few basic questions. Within a half hour I received a call from him. He didn’t pressure me to hire him but he did let me know howlare this tag was and that I would be wise to make the most of it.
The next week I was talking about draw results with a friend and when he found out I had drawn a sheep tag his first words were “my cousin knows a guy named Cliff that you need to talk to”. I said “that’s funny because I have been talking to a guy named Cliff”. The endorsements were stellar but I already knew from talking with Cliff that he was the real deal. You knew that he spoke the truth and when he said he would do something, it would get done, you could take that to the bank.
It was clear to me that this once ln a lifetime hunt. qualified for the kind of help Cliff and Dry Creek Outfitters specialized in. Dry Creek is not your typical outfitter, they are professionals top to bottom. I had never been on a guided hunt but I know outfitters and I have even spent a little time working for one. There are no flakes in the Dry Creek bunch and you find out really quick that you are the king and they are there to please you. I love do it yourself hunts but going with Dry Creek on this hunt was probably the best decision I have made in 50 years of hunting.
My nephew Josh Townsend flew in from Colorado to join me on this hunt. Being a diehard mountain hunter Josh knew this might be as close as he ever gets to a sheep tag and he just couldn’t pass up the chance to learn from some of the best sheep hunters around. We met Cliff’s partner Tim Mercier at camp and he showed us around while Cliff, Ben Mattausch and Kirk Stiltz were still out looking for rams.
That night Josh and I had a great meal in a great camp and we started to learn a lot about sheep hunting. The next morning everybody went in different directions looking for sheep. By the end of the day Josh and I realized we didn’t know what we thought we knew about long range glassing. I thought two miles was long range before this hunt but that is the close stuff for these guys. Ben and Cliff were spotting and judging rams that were in a different time zone.
On the second day of the hunt they spotted a band of nine good rams on a mountain that was several miles away and just when we thought they would bed for the day they headed off for another mountain. My hopes sank until I ask Cliff about the chances of us ever seeing them again. I got a warm feeling all over when he confidently said “really good”. It got even better when Cliff didn’t even give me the option to shoot a high IS0’s ram that afternoon. Tom Humphreville joined us that evening and I just looked at Josh and said “we have five of the best sheep spotters in the world and two pretty good amateurs looking for one ram to shoot. How cool is this”.
The third morning saw five of us back in that same area looking for the band of nine while Kirk and Tim kept an eye on a few rams they thought would score in the low 160’s. The morning started slow but Cliff moved a mile to the west and quickly picked up four of the nine rams we had seen the day before including the biggest of the bunch. Tom took Cliff’s place in the crow’s nest while Cliff joined Ben, Josh and I for the final stalk.
Everything was perfect until my guides realized that the two smaller rams were higher on the hill than the bigger rams and we would need to be exposed to them before we could see the bigger rams. I didn’t think it was a big deal, but I didn’t realize how good sheep spot a small amount of movement that is three hundred yards away. They busted us and Cliff told me to quickly move up and take the shot. I threw my pack on a rock that thought it was a teeter totter and held at the top of the back for the 300 yard downhill shot. That rookie mistake sent the shot over his back and the race was on. The second shot found its mark at 317 yards and the big ram fell back from the other three. A third shot ensured the eleven year old desert warrior would be going home with me.
I know this big ram will be on my wall but he belongs to Josh and the guys at Dry Creek just as much as he does to me. When the ram comes back from the taxidermist I will remember this hunt when I look at him, I will also think about the friend I lost and the five new ones I made.