by Michelle Corder
California Wild Sheep – Spring 2017
“You drew the Bighorn Sheep tag!” my husband hollered on the other end of the phone. “Ok,”
I replied, puzzled by his excitement, “That’s good, right?”
As the news spread like wildfire through our small Northern California town, I quickly learned that yes, it was a very good thing; most hunters we knew had been putting in for years to be drawn for this hunt. I hit the hunting lottery – there were only three tags available in my unit, and just seventeen issued in all of California in 2016. In every conversation those first few weeks, my husband, Travis, would open with, “Michelle drew a Bighorn Sheep Tag in the Marble/Clippers!” Surprised smiles often turned stiff however, when they learned that I drew the tag with zero points.
Once I truly understood the rarity of this opportunity, I was determined and eager to prepare the very best I could for the hunt – to respect the other 3,116 hunters who had applied for a tag in this unit. I quickly assembled my “A-team” to assist me – obviously my best friend and husband, Travis, as well as his lifelong buddies and true hunting machines, Robert Utterback and Chris Holland, who generously took time off work and from their families to share this experience with us. I spent the next six months honing my shooting skills on Larry Plog’s long distance range with our local expert, Jim Gilligan, who also built my 6.5mm Creedmoor. In addition, I hired a trainer, who proceeded to ruthlessly kick my butt into shape to hike mountains while carrying a gun and pack.
While my personal learning curve was steep, my family was a great resource. Both my father-in-law, George Corder, and brother-in-law, Tarran Corder, are insanely competitive and committed hunters. Tanon was lucky enough to draw a Bighorn Sheep tag in the San Gorgonios in 2002. While George and Tarron decided to tackle the hunt on their own, they often turned to Tim Mercier and Cliff St. Martin from Dry Creek Outfitters for advice – which was given freely. With their help, Tarran was able to harvest a beautiful ram. When George learned that I drew the tag, he immediately commanded, “You need to hire Dry Creek!” Taking his advice turned out to be crucial to my success.
By the time Travis and I pulled into Dry Creek Outfitter’s camp, I felt I already knew both Tim and Cliff. They stayed in close communication for the months leading to my ten day hunt in late December – calling with information, quickly answering every question, and sending countless game cam photos to light my fire. Our crew quickly developed an easy camaraderie over days spent glassing and hiking the same hills General Patton used to train his troops, and nights sharing meals and stories in the cook tent. The tough as nails characters gathered together for my hunt were truly what made the experience so memberable. Dry Creek’s leaders were Tim “Cowboy” Mercier, the warm, spiritual heart of the team and Cliff “Partner” St. Martin, who organized with military efficiency and strode up hills as steep as a double diamond ski run without breaking a sweat. Quiet, sharp-witted mountain man Ben has dedicated his life to the hunt. I could just as easily see Ben wearing trapper’s furs a hundred years ago as the camouflage he wears today. Kurk, or “Sawyer” with his twinkling blue eyes and constant grin kept us laughing with his storytelling, and dedicated, funloving family man Tom “Tonto” spent every moment he could with us in the field. Our fanatical hunting fnends, Rob and Chris, were quickly recognized as the real deal and snapped up into the scouting team.
After dinner the first night, the spotlight turned to me. Cowboy quizzed, “Are you looking for a perfect, pretty ram to hang on your wall, or a rougher veteran with some character?” We spent the next couple of hours studying game cam photos until I could answer his question. There were four specific rams I set my sights on. These majestic old princes wore the scars from years of battles for supremacy. Of course, actually locating one of these wily, experienced rams in the rough, steep terrain of the Marble and Clipper mountain ranges was no easy feat. We saw nearly fifty gorgeous animals over the week, but the old rams I was seeking remained elusive.
Finally, it was the eighth day of the hunt, and my birthday. I had grudgingly decided that I would have to settle for one of the younger, “pretty boy” rams if we were not successful on today’s hunt. We began the morning by glassing the Clippers at dawn. Cliff and Ben quickly picked up a pair of rams following the sun about two miles into the hills. Cliff stayed on them, muttering, “He’s big -he’s really big.” After a few more minutes of intense focus, he exclaimed, “It’s the goiter ram!” That was all I needed, he was one of my targets -a rugged old ram with a distinctive lump on his neck. I jumped up and started packing my gear, ready to head out. Cliff and Ben were luckily not as excitable, they took their time plotting their strategy; locating the washes we could sneak through, possible shooting locations and alternate plans if we were spotted or winded. Ben took point on this hunt, and guided us silently and meticulously through the shadowed, bouldered creek beds leading to the base of the mountain. Even at this distance, the rams could easily spot us, so we leapfrogged; taking turns glassing to make sure we weren’t seen while the other two snuck ahead. The last thousand yards were nearly straight _ up a rocky cliff. As we drew close, Ben turned and whispered, “Michelle, you’re not going to have any time with this one – be ready to shoot.” He led us to an outcropping just 250 yards from the hilltop cleanng _ where the two rams were feeding. He was right; within moments after I spotted the younger ram, the old ram winded us. I quickly picked him up m my scope as he spun and streaked with staggering speed up a cliff. Travis quietly coached behind me, “Don’t shoot, wait, wait … ” The ram bounded on top an enormous boulder, spun, and quartered towards me. “Shoot!” Travis exclaimed, and I did. I jacked another round in the chamber, ready to finish the wounded ram as he leapt back down the hill. “Don’t shoot him again, Michelle -you got him,” Ben said, JUSt as the ram started tumbling; shot through the shoulder and heart.
As we crossed the 302 yards to my ram, the rest of the crew had already begun charging through the rocky miles and boiling up the mountain toward us. The old ram was exactly what I hoped for; dignified but worn -wearing the proof of the battles he’d won. As one man after the next crested the cliff leading up to the clearing, I shook my head in amazement, “These guys are badass!” Ben nodded and poetically added, “Monarchs and Badasses!”