by Chad Cola
Just like most California hunters, every year I sit down and put in for the big game draw…selecting my favorite deer, pronghorn, and bighorn sheep zone. Like many bay area residents, I expect to end up with the typical A zone deer tag and points towards those coveted hunts that I figure I can only dream about. So, imagine my surprise when I sat down at home when results were out and saw I had received the X zone deer tag I was hoping for (with my son also selected for the same X zone apprentice hunt) AND…I did not think I was reading it right…saw a ‘Y’ next to my bighorn sheep results. I was in shock, had I just won the lottery of hunting this year? I even had to call my wife to verify what I was seeing. In a tough 2020, it was a dream come true.
In the few days that followed, I researched and realized that this was not a hunt I could do without someone experienced in sheep hunting. I’m an avid hunter, having hunted in and out of state…but never for sheep. So, I called in the big guns. After a great chat with Cliff St Martin at Dry Creek Outfitters, I booked my hunt for mid-December. Sheep shape began in earnest. I’m lucky to have a regional park in my backyard and spend most weekends in the Sierras. So, training began. I wanted to be ready for this hunt.
We arrived in the Cady Mountains at camp on December 12th and met Cliff and the guys from Dry Creek Outfitters. These were my kind of people, down to earth and easy going. Our hunt started with a long haul to the opposite side of the unit. They were seeing sheep on that side. I’ve hunted a lot, it’s one of my greatest passions, and I really enjoy glassing. But I had no idea that we would be glassing from miles away. Although it took me a bit to get the hang of spotting the sheep, once I spotted my first sheep I had it figured out. And thank goodness for Cliff and Dry Creek Outfitters, I would have been glassing in the complete wrong areas.
Day one and two we didn’t see much, some ewes and a few sickle horns. We walked, glassed, walked, glassed. I was in my element. On day three of the hunt, we located a group of rams and wanted to get a closer look. Split the group up and sent one guy in to get a look. No real shooters in the group. That afternoon as we were glassing more, we located a ram. We decided to hold off, thanks to Cliff he advised we continue hunting…it was a shooter, but we felt we could do better. Just seeing one close…I had the leg twitch. Man, I thought it looked good, but in hindsight…glad we held off. We named him the Tower Ram and proceeded to see him again a few days later.
Day four, we did a walk about of the interior. More small rams and ewes. Towards days end, we spotted a nice ram but as hunting would have it, the days end was closing in. While it was a tough call, we decided to head back to the truck. Hunting was hard this trip; we hunted our rears off the next few days. Didn’t see much at all. Day six provided some action, we had spotted a group of rams and stalked in on them. Was on the gun and ready, but luck was not in our favor. They slipped out another way when they got up from being bed down.
I would be lying if I didn’t confess, I was getting a little nervous as we marched toward the end of the hunt time. We were well into the ten-day hunt, we were not seeing a lot and the rams we were seeing, were moving. And I mean MOVING. Cliff and the guys from Dry Creek Outfitters were doing everything…we were glassing, walking, strategizing. Late on day eight, Cliff got a call from his spotter. I think we literally partially walked and ran two miles. Climbed a shale cliff and spotted the ram. He was nice, but likely 600+ yards out and my shooting position was horrible. We tried another spot, but he spooked and was gone.
Day nine we glassed and glassed and moved and moved ending up at one of our favorite glassing spots. Low and behold I spotted some rams. We were off. We drove closer hoping to get within a decent walking distance as the afternoon drew in. We stalked in and there they were. We ranged them around 450 yards. I threw my pack down, Cliff ranged them again, kept me calm and told me to take the shot. A 440-yard shot and my dream was realized.
Walking up to the ram was surreal. I could not believe, and still can’t, that I was lucky enough to be drawn for a California Bighorn sheep. What a once in a lifetime experience that I am thankful for. I got to experience it with my partner in life, my wife. She was a trooper. We made memories to last a lifetime, friends in the Dry Creek group, and enjoyed every moment. To say I am hooked on sheep hunting is an understatement. A huge thank you to Dry Creek Outfitters; Cliff St Martin, Kirk Stiltz, Casey Nick, and Shawn Pepper.