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What A Ride!!!

by Bob Richert
California Wild Sheep - Winter 2012

bob-rickert-articleMy quest to draw all of the tough draw animals in California started well over a decade before. I had drawn two X-Zone mule deer tags and an elk tag in the past six years. I was gaining notoriety with my friends as someone who they didn't want to be friends with anymore. I figured someone had to draw them, so why not me. We'll call it a lucky streak, but for how long, no one knows.

After being at max points for antelope and sheep for ten years, I figured I would draw an antelope tag. It was just a matter of time.

I got a call one day from one of my customers, who might be the most hard core hunting son of a gun I know. If I ever need a fix, I can call Brandon and get some stories of him taking his wife on a mule deer hunt when she is 8 months pregnant or something crazy like that. It never ends with him.

I hadn't spoken to him in a while and we were catching up. I told him I was waiting until Friday to find out if my middle daughter, who had just passed her hunter safety course, was successful in the apprentice hunt draw. He said, "The results have been out since Monday." I should have known better since that has been the case several times in the past. After slogging through the website, I finally found the page I needed and checked on my daughter's results. Unfortunately, she wasn't successful this year for elk, antelope, or mule deer. I then checked on my results. I couldn't believe what I was reading. I asked him if he was sitting down. When I told him I drew a desert bighorn tag in the Whites, he couldn't believe it. I had to read it a couple of times before it really sunk in.

Unbelievable!!!! I thought it would be a couple more decades before I caught lightning in a bottle. I ended up staying at the office late that night on the internet trying to find out as much as I could about an animal I knew very little about. I had a feeling this would be something that I needed to consult with a few people about. I have several friends in Reno that have killed sheep in Nevada, and I contacted them in the next few days. The story was the same across the board. It isn't like deer or elk hunting. Every one of them told me that hiring an outfitter for this hunt would be the only way to go. You have one shot at this and you don't want to squander this opportunity. It was the same thing that was in the back of my mind.

I contacted Tim Mercier with Dry Creek Outfitters a few days later. I spoke to Tim at length that evening. I told him I had the tag and I knew, looking at their website, that they had hunted the White Mountains successfully for several years. After talking to Tim and his partner Cliff St. Martin the next evening, I knew I wanted to hunt with them. They were very careful to inquire about my level of fitness, height and weight, as well as what caliber rifle I shot and my comfort range with the gun. The White Mountains are very high in elevation and it isn't the easiest place to be.

I had a little less than two months to get ready and in shape for what I was going to tackle. Climbing the hill behind my house, as well as biking up a long grade by my house a couple of times a day put me where I was hoping I needed to be before the hunt. The last two days before my hunt were too smoky, due to fires in the area, to ride or hike. I took that time to go over my checklist and be sure I had left nothing behind.

The season opened on Saturday, August 18, so I planned to get there Thursday evening. When I arrived at camp, Tim, Cliff, and Jason were all set up and they told me they had located a ram earlier that day. One of their crew, Clay, was driving in late that night. Tim and Cliff decided to send Jason and Clay out early the next morning to look over some different county and see if they could locate some more rams. I would be hunting with Cliff every day. Cliff and I sat on the "bank" ram all day on Friday and watched him.

At the end of the day, the results were the same. We had one ram located and we decided to keep our eye on him on opening day while the rest of the guys kept looking for more sheep. We found the ram on the same cliff face he was on the previous two days. We watched him for about an hour before two coyotes, chasing marmots on the ridgeline above him, spooked him into the next draw over and out of our sight. We sat there for the rest of the day to see if he would make it back to our side of the ridge, but he never showed up. At about 2:30 in the afternoon, it started to hail. It started getting real western in a hurry. With lightning and loud thunder claps, we decided to get out of there. We had a wet and cold 2-1/2 mile hike back to the truck. By the time we got back there, we had over two inches of hail on the ground and it was 34 degrees. This is in the middle of summer. Welcome to the Whites!!!

Since the guys had come up empty in their search for more sheep, we decided to get after the ram we had been sitting on. Jason found him the next morning two draws over from where we had seen him before. Cliff and I met up with Tim at the head of that drainage and they discussed the stalk. We would descend from above with the wind in our face down to a rocky point where we could get a shot. How Cliff and I got down there without making any noise on that loose shale was nothing short of amazing.

We got to the point where we intended to shoot from and Cliff ranged the ram. He looked back at me and said, "480 yards." I said, "Not me. Not today." He smiled and told me that they had never had a hunter kill a ram at that range. I told him he was going to need to wait, because it wasn't going to happen on this hunt. Being that far out, we had very few options. Cliff told me we could try to walk toward him in the open. He said the percentage of it working was slim, but it had been done before. We didn't think he would go too far if we bumped him, so we gave it a go. Within 20 minutes, we had closed the gap to 300 yards, a range I was confident with.

We sat down in an old sheep bed and I got set up. The ram was bedded and we waited for a bit. He stood up and started to feed. I was comfortable and ready, my trigger finger tapping methodically on the bolt of my rifle. Cliff had him in his spotting scope and was trying to get a solid look at him from the side. He said, "Don't shoot." I couldn't believe it. I am ready, steady, and calm. I have never been any more calm in a hunting situation than I was right then, looking through my scope at a desert bighorn and I can't shoot. When I asked him why not, he told me he wasn't sure he was legal. The ram's right horn had broomed off and his left was a lot longer. Unfortunately, we could never get a look at him from the left side to be sure that horn was long enough. He bedded down at least three more times and walked to within 240 yards of us. In the mean time, Jason was on a mountain across from us watching the whole thing. He was wondering why we hadn't shot, as the opportunity was there more than ten times over the course of 2-1/2 hours. Ultimately, the ram crested the ridge and dropped into the next draw. Hunt over for the day. We packed up our gear and made the hour-long climb out of that bowl.

The walk out to the truck and the drive back seemed to take forever as my stomach was twisted up in knots over the day's events. I didn't talk much on the way out. I was on day two of a three day hunt and had a ram in my scope and couldn't shoot. Who knew how fortunate that series of events would be? We got back to camp and, after a beer or two and a good dinner, my stomach had settled and we discussed the final day of my hunt. We would go after this ram on Monday and see if we could get a shot.

As we were driving up the road on day three with the sun coming up to our right, I saw something on Sheep Mountain a mile and a half away to my left that didn't look right. I told Cliff to stop the truck and I grabbed my glass. I couldn't believe it! There were seven sheep standing on the ridge line. Are you kidding me? Everyone was scrambling! Tripods unfolded, big glass was flying and we were looking at a band of seven rams lit up by the morning sun. Their tan coats contrasted the dark shale and the adrenalin was pumping. Tim said "Definite shooter, third one from the right". We weren't there more than five minutes before Tim and Cliff told me to grab my pack and rifle. Cliff and I loaded up and started hiking at a quick pace. The sheep had rolled out of sight, but we figured they would be pretty close to where we saw them last. It took us about 30 or 40 minutes to get to where we would eventually lay down to shoot. As we walked along, we noticed another person on Paiute Mountain, just to our north. He was at the top of the basin we were in the afternoon before and at least a thousand yards from where we thought the sheep might be. Cliff was to my left and he was looking at the person to our right. When he looked to his left and I looked past him, we spotted the sheep at the same time. Cliff turned back to me with a look on his face that meant one thing. Hit the dirt!! Cliff pulled his pack off and kicked it down to his feet, where I would shoot from. In the mean time, one of the rams had us made. We were pinned down by one ram while the other six were feeding behind him, oblivious to us being there. We were inside 200 yards and couldn't move.

We lay on our sides for what seemed like an hour. Realistically, it was probably more like 5 minutes. My gun was leaning on my right hip and my left arm was still in my pack and binocular strap. We were lying down in the middle of a large, flat bench between the two mountains. We were pinned. As if by design, the guy on Paiute Mountain started to descend toward us and that got the attention of the rams. This gave me the window I needed to get in position to shoot. I slid down and got my rifle set up. My heart was pounding and I couldn't catch my breath. At 12,000 ft elevation, breathing becomes more difficult. My ram was on the right and my only shot was straight on. This wasn't the shot I was hoping for, but Cliff let me know they were getting nervous and would not be there for long. The ram that spotted us started walking toward the ram I wanted and, as it seems to happen, stopped broadside in front of my ram. I now had a view of his head and nothing else. The only thing I had in my favor was that the other.rams were balled up to the left of these two and they were 6 or 8 feet from them. That gave me a small lane to shoot through. I knew they would go to the left and I just watched his head. He was the lead ram and I knew he would go first. When I saw his head turn, I was ready. When he started to move and cleared the other ram, I touched off the shot. I heard the hit, but couldn't tell where I hit him. All hell broke loose and they were gone in a flash!

We didn't know it at the time, but Tim and Clay were 2 miles north of us and were able to watch everything unfold from that distance. The only thing they couldn't tell was when I shot. The report took a few seconds to get to them. They told us they watched one ram peel out of the line to the right as the rest of the rams went to the left. Cliff and I headed up to where the rams were and started looking for blood or hair. Cliff found the ram less than 100 yards from where he was when I shot. It was a double lung shot and my ram was down. Another 3 shots from a shaking hunter on a shale slope and the ram was down to stay. What a rush!!!! I couldn't believe what we had just done and I couldn't believe how it all came together. I had filled one of the hardest tags to draw in arguably the toughest sheep zone in the state, and I took the first ram of the 2012 season. I was out of my mind!!!

Jason, who didn't even know I shot, was the first one to get to us. He was heading for the top of Sheep Mountain to the same spot he watched us from the day before. The wind changes his mind and he was on the other side of the mountain during all the excitement. Hugs went all around as we looked at my ram. Tim and Clay showed up 45 minutes later. It was then we got their version of the hunt from the vantage point they had. The same words that Cliff was saying to me as we were watching the rams were coming out of Tim and Clay's mouths. "They are getting nervous" and "He better shoot here pretty quick".

After the accounts from everyone were told, we got ready for the photo shoot. The pain in my arms and back didn't register until after we took pictures. I shot the ram at 7:45 a.m. and we were back to the trucks by 1pm. We headed back to camp and got to celebrating. Tim and Cliff measured the ram and came up with a rough score around 162". The official measurement at the office of Mike Morrison with Fish and Game came up with 162-1/8" gross and 159-7 /8" net. My ram had been captured and tagged with a radio collar 4 years prioL He was 8 years old and he was just a beautiful as I could have imagined!!!!

I dedicated this hunt to my late father, Mike Richert. Although he wasn't a big game hunter, he always enjoyed the passion I had for it and I know he would have been proud.

I would like to thank Tim Mercier, Cliff St. Martin, Jason Lyman, and Clay Gibert with Dry Creek Outfitters for making this a hunt of a lifetime. They made me feel welcome and were very organized in every facet of the hunt. Their experience and skill hunting bighorn sheep, as well as their enthusiasm, is as good as it gets.

Who We Are

Dry Creek Outfitters is a professional hunting guide and outfitting service. We specialize in Trophy Desert Bighorn Sheep hunts in Arizona, California, and Utah. We also offer hunts for Rocky Mountain Bighorn Sheep, Mule Deer, Elk, Pronghorn Antelope and Javelina. We are fully licensed, bonded, insured, and permitted.

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