by Jodi Hanggi
The early morning hours of June 12, 2019, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife email, read “big game draw results available, find out if you drew that tag of a lifetime. So tapping the “see results now and entering all the necessary GOID numbers and so on I continued on down to the results list. Knowing I had maximum points for Elk, and Sheep I figured I had the best chance at the Elk tag but always optimistic that my number would someday come up for the California Desert Bighorn. So, the first results that came up on the list was Bighorn Sheep and beside the “did I win” column was the “Y” and I just about went through the ceiling when that came over. I had to have my wife double check the “Y” to make sure that it was for real, she said yep to the “Y”. I had applied for Zone 507, White Mountains. With the extra 3 tags available this year for a total of 6 for the zone I thought I would have better odds of drawing the Whites. The other reason for the 507 Zone application is that it is August and is easier to get away than in December or January as I am a Citrus Grower in Tulare County and constantly monitoring nighttime temperatures throughout the winter months. During the next few hours I started to text my hunting buddies and calling family members about the great news. One of those texts went to my cousin and long-time friend and hunting partner, Kirk Stiltz. Kirk is one of the Guides/Sheep spotters for Dry Creek Outfitters which is based out of our hometown of Three Rivers, California.
My next call would be to Cliff St.Martin to get a list of options for the hunt. We went over several things including, backpack hunt versus the use of pack stock. After consideration of all options I opted to hunt with Dry Creek Stock to get us up to where we needed to be. Matt then called longtime friend and World Champion Bishop Mule Days Packer, Nick Knutson, to provide the horses and mules.
In early August we made a scouting trip to the Whites, at which time we decided where we would place our spike camp. On the morning of August 14th, 4 days prior the opening day of my hunt we put a few things in our pack for the long and steep hike up the mountain. Nick would pack the heavier gear on the mules. We finally arrived at the spike camp at an elevation 12,800’ at 3:00 pm. Nick had already unloaded the stock and was heading back to base camp because the Operating Plan/Permit for the Whites does not allow Outfitter’s stock to be held overnight in the Wilderness.
The next day we began scouting for Sheep in different directions. Matt and Shawn would head North about 4-5 miles, while Kirk, Brooks and myself would stay closer to spike camp. Matt and Shawn decided to stay higher up on the mountain Friday night to keep closer tabs on the Rams they had located. We knew that the 5-mile walk Saturday morning would take over 2 hours, so alarms went off at 2:30 am. We coffee’d up and hit the trail at 3:30 am and eventually caught up with Matt and Shawn by 6:30. Matt, Brooks, and Myself made our way up to the vantage point while Kirk and Shawn covered our blind spots. After glassing for a few hours, Matt motioned for Shawn to move forward to the South to investigate the next basin. Within a few minutes, Shawn reappeared and signaled for us to join him ASAP. Matt, Brooks and I gathered our gear and made tracks up to Shawn’s rockpile. Shawn had spotted 5 rams 1,800 yds. out. Brooks repositioned and located another group of rams with one that required a closer look. We worked our way around the back side of a long ridge that we had walked up earlier and relocated the rams. Matt positioned me at a spot where I could take a good look at the larger ram. At that point Brooks ranged the ram at 440 yds. but the ram was bedded along side three other rams. Now the waiting game was on. Finally, they stood but began walking straight away. Finally, the old ram turned broadside and Matt said, “there it is” and I sent the bullet of the Kimber .300 W.S.M. right over his back! The ram ran out to 485 yds. then stopped giving me the broadside shot. The second shot hit perfectly behind the shoulder. Shawn yelled down to us “you got him he’s down”. After high fives, hugs, and handshakes, we headed down to my first ever Big Horn Ram! Shawn motioned for Kirk to come up and join us. After admiring this tremendous ram, we followed with pictures and the capping and the quartering of the meat. Once we got all packed up, we began the 6-mile hike back to spike camp. Nick was to bring the stock in Sunday morning so that worked out perfectly for us.
As I lay there that evening absolutely exhausted from the day’s events, I had the chance to reflect on all the preparation that went into this hunt. All the workouts at home on the treadmill, bike, rower, etc. etc. and then the 4-5 high country hikes out of Mineral King at over 10,000’ each time. Many thanks to my wife Esther for pushing me and helping to convince me that I could accomplish this amazing adventure. A big thank you to my cousins Kirk and Brooks Stiltz for being there for me and for the scouting trips. Also, for Cliff and Matt St. Martin for doing the groundwork for this hunt. Shawn and Nick my appreciation goes out to you as well for all your help. I would like to thank Dry Creek Outfitters for this once in a lifetime hunt!