by Walt Limon
Former local resident hunter goes back home to harvest the oldest Desert Bighorn in California’s History to date in the nearby mountains…It all started back in 1987, 32 years ago when ram hunts first became available. I was consistent year in and year out, making that tag application process, hoping that one day my dream would become a reality.
Well, fast forward to 2019. Still waiting on the results until one night at work sitting in my bulldozer, I read on social media that the results were out. So anxiously I went to the sight and the Bighorn results were the first that appeared. I read “Y” on the part that says, “Did I win”, doing a double take and making sure it’s what I had read. I was in awe, saying, “No way!” I sat there for a bit in disbelief. It was true! I was a winner in the draw! Instantly I called my family at midnight leaving voicemails. It was a feeling like I had just won the lottery – ram lottery at that!
So, the preparation begins; the “do-alls” for this monumental once-in-a-lifetime hunt. The guide selection is first and that was a little challenging. There were a few considered, but when that time came, I chose Dry Creek Outfitters. I had read a lot about their achievements and past hunter success and satisfaction. Next on the agenda was conditioning. In between all this, my lady and I are headed to the required orientation in Sacramento. There I receive my tags and got to meet my guides in person firsthand. Great company! During all this time, I’m hiking for miles with a pack of weights and it’s starting to be the norm, which continues for 3 months. About a week and a half before my hunt, the flu hits me. It’s so bad it puts me in bed for 2 days. Here I am thinking I have this monumental hunt approaching and now this! Well, its’ finally here the Friday before the opener all packed and ready to hit the road, anxiously ready to do my dream hunt. I leave Morongo Valley, and on my way stop off to go by my mom’s to pick up some of the delicious food for the trip, and, of course, her blessings as usual. As I am leaving her town, I am starting to realize that this is one hunt I may never do again, and the emotions and feelings start to flow. This is the real deal, and the blessed feeling of being chosen. Along the way, I realize that I should double check my rifles accurately to make sure it’s all good and of course what better place to check it but Sheep Hole mountains. The rifle checks great! Onward to the destination to meet my guides and to set up camp! The campsite is in the Clipper Mountains, a familiar area I would see daily as a high school student from a school bus window on Old Route 66. I made it to the camp site early and all set up patiently waiting for the guides: Matt, Clay and Jake. We all got together that evening and all is well. These are a great group of guys. After all the comradery, we discussed the game plan for the opener.
Saturday arrives and we soon spot sheep, six ewes, and 2 rams; nothing worthy. Later that day we make a move and in no time my guides spot more. Still nothing that deserves a closer look, so the day ends, and we are headed back to camp.
During the day, the other guides, Clay and Jake were also glassing in their locations to see if any potential shooters were being spotted. Eventually, we all end up back at camp and the guys are going over their notes to prepare for Sunday.
Sunday morning, I am up at 4 am getting ready for the day. The winds pick up, and it is a bit chilly. This time we are on the other side of the mountain range. We are soon spotting sheep again, more ewes and four rams, all young ones, cookie cutters, the ones you would say, “hurry and grow older”. With that said, the future for ram hunting looks great!
The evening is here and my guide, Matt, gets a call from Clay. He’s got two rams spotted, one possibly a shooter. We pack up and head in Clay’s direction. Sure enough, they are spotted four miles away, feeding. While glassing, it soon starts to rain. We decide to put the rams to bed and head back again in the morning.
Monday starts with a nice wind from the north. We are back at the location on the south side of the two rams, while our spotter, Clay is to the north. Our hike is four miles up the mountain. We locate the two rams. Unfortunately, they are not what we were looking for. They were both younger rams, so we make the decision to hike back out. Once we got off the hill, Matt, with his keen eyes, picks up nine more rams on a hillside grazing just like cattle about five miles from our previous location. Matt informs me that there is one to keep in mind, and that we will get a closer look in the morning. The day comes to an end, and we are back at camp once again to discuss Tuesday’s plan. Tuesday comes quickly, and the morning is beautiful. No wind or rain in sight. The guys are up and the layout is set. There is something that a hunter feels deep down inside; it is going to be a great day. You can just feel that vibe. Even my guide, Matt, says, “We are going to get you one today”. While still in camp, I remember Guide Jake giving me the heads up on the area we will be headed to. His comment was, “It’s a little tough at first, but you should be good”. He was talking about the mountain climb that we were about to embark. Thanks for the warning, bud. A little more prepping on my part. Our hike starts off with about four to five miles over rocky desert terrain. THEN comes the mountain! The mountain was definitely a struggle with the flu symptoms still lingering from the week before. There I am taking a few breaks on the incline to catch my breath. About halfway up the mountain, my guide, Matt, asked if I wanted to just turn around and go back down to possibly check the ones spotted the evening before. My answer was, “Hell no! We are this far, I am not giving up, bud! This is once in a lifetime. It’s my dream working on a reality. Let’s do this!”
We finally make it to the top, still winded but hanging in there. Matt is glassing with his 15 x binoculars. It wasn’t probably two- or three-minutes Matt spots one. Without any question, this one was a “go”. He pointed it out and I also glassed quickly with my 10x powers. We saw the ram bedded two canyons over. Immediately Matt says, “let’s go”. Now we are hiking a canyon over to set up. Once we are at the spot, we soon set up for the shot. I am in a sitting position, and as comfortable as I can get. Matt then contacts Jake to make sure he’s also on the ram. At this time the ram has no clue we are there as he is bedded down facing the morning sun. Decision time is here. Either I wait for him to stand, which could be a very long time, or I take him while he’s bedded. Once I was comfortable in my sitting position, we both ranged him at 326 yards. I told Matt, “I’m ready, brother. Let’s do this”. He then hands me the round for the chamber. Matt then contacs Jake and tells him we are taking him and that it is a go. At that time, I was making sure the scope power was dialed in for the shot.
Boom! Goes the first shot. He hardly even moved. We both thought that he didn’t know what hit him or was it a miss? Matt says, “Put another in him!”. This time he stands up, stretches and poops. Again, I reloaded and fired another shot. This time he gets a little swerve and swaying. Then he falls over and takes a dirt nap. Glassing him up at 16x power through my rifle scope, I can see the bullet wound assuring he was down. Then all the excitement! It was unreal. It took a second or two to realize what I had just done. I remember saying, “I got a ram! I got a ram!” Hugs and handshakes immediately followed. After the excitement tapers down, I call family. My mom, my girlfriend and sister that I had succeeded in my hunt. Then the tears flow, and the emotions get the best of me. There was no holding back. The years of waiting for this dream hunt had just become a reality. I couldn’t wait to post my success on Social Media, “Ram Down!”.
Now we are headed to the ram. But before, Matt notifies Jake and Clay to start heading to the ram. Jake had seen it all unfold spotting the old warrior.
So, onto the ram, as we still have to go down and up another canyon to get to the small basin where he is. One thing I remember my guide, Matt saying, on the way over to him, was, “Walt, this is your last climb!”. I never thought of it like that, but hell yeah! What a sweet feeling when you busted butt all morning. Now I am almost to the ram and Matt was already near him. I asked if he would record me as I approached him. As I walked up to him, I am in awe, not believing what I am about to get my hands on. I throw my walking stick to the side, grab his horns, get on one knee, holding myself up by his horns, and thanking my Lord for putting me on this ram. I also said to the monarch of a ram, “Sorry it had to end,
but this is hunting, and this is what hunters dream about”. Also, my guide, Matt tells me that this is “big time, Walt!” After all this, I decide to name my ram, “El Groupo”, meaning, “The Group”. We did this from start to finish as a group and I felt it’s only right to include the guys, Matt, Clay and Jake.
After the kill, Matt tells me this was one of their two target rams. The guides have been watching this ram since 2013 with footage, and then again two years ago in trail cam pictures of this old warrior. He hadn’t been seen since. I assumed he was the granddaddy of them all in this part of the Mojave Desert called, “The Clipper Mountains”.
The work getting him off the mountain begins. Thank God for the guides. The deboning begins and was done quickly; professionals all doing teamwork. Thumbs up for sure. We are now packed and heading off the mountain. Along the way, I am replaying it all back and rehashing every moment. Every step I took coming down the mountain were steps of feelings of gratitude, satisfaction and being proud of myself that it was accomplished.
Matt contacts Fish and Wildlife to see if they can validate my tag, measure and plug the ram. With our luck, they were working close to our location doing sheep work. The plan is for them to come by camp. They arrive later that evening and aged my ram at 17+ years old, with extra horn to add. She then tells me that this is the oldest ram they have ever recorded in California! The previous record was 16+ yrs. old, also guided by Dry Creek Outfitters. After this is all done, we are getting together to spend the last night in the desert, barbeque and reminiscing the hunt.
When we were all back at camp, I couldn’t have painted a picture of that evening any better. The sunset was beautiful, desert orange, the sky was clear and calm, and once the night was here, along comes a full moon. The barrel, aka tub, had a fire while we enjoyed the last evening talking about the memories we had just made. A thought had crossed my mind as to how beautiful this had ended, and such a perfect sunset for this old monarch of a ram, as if it were set up for him.
Wednesday morning was soon here, and the guides are packing it up and so am I. These guys are buds for life. The bond that only a hunter understands. These guys are incredible, and the short time we spent together, seemed like I have known them for years.
Well, it is good-bye and see you later to my guide brothers, Matt, Clay and Jake. As I leave this beautiful desert, driving away where I grew up as a kid in these surrounding mountains, I can’t help to think that these mountains, the Clipper/Marble Mountains have a special meaning to me and hold a very warm spot in my heart. My dream hunt with memories that will last a lifetime.
Again, thank you to the group from Dry Creek Outfitters, and for all that supported me for my dream to come a reality.