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PONCHO

by Caleb Crawford
Califonia Wild Sheep - Spring 2013


HF-Calib-150Matt's emphatic, "Take him!" had hardly been uttered when toots exploded, launching the 130 grain Federal Triple Shock bullet steeply downward that smashed into the excellent Orocopia ram. In the blink of an eye, I was the happiest guy on the planet.

It all started back in June 2012. I'd received a letter from DFG congratulating me for being drawn for themdesert sheep hunt in the Orocopia Mountains. If I'd only known! I called Dad, "What's this all about?" And he started laughing. He had put in applications for both of us, never saying a word to me. Surprise! We talked for a moment, then Dad said he'd call Uncle Paul. Gazillion phone calls later we were hooked up with Cliff St. Martin and Dry Creek Outfitters. Cliff is
a lifelong friend of my Dad.

I'm a student in San Luis Obispo and work for Tognazzini's Dockside Fish Market in Morro Bay. I owe my two bosses, Capt. Mark and Mark T., a ton of thanks for their understanding and support. I've hunted deer and pigs in California, and deer and elk in Colorado, but never anything like this. Talk about your life-changing experiences!

The day after receiving the letter I began training in earnest. I knew what was in store and with whom I would be hunting. All those guys are in great condition, so I would be also. Frank Smith, my trainer at Club 24 in San Luis, devised a training regimen bordering on diabolical. I'm sure he lay awake nights conjuring new ways to torture me. It worked. I was ready. I also spent many hours at the shooting range. I tried nearly every ammunition sold. Toots, my old Remington 270, decided she preferred Federal Premiums Barns Triple Shock in 130 grains. I just wish I'd paid more attention to my footwear. I'd borrowed Mark T.'s Cabela's boots. I should have spent more time in them!

I took a lot of good-natured ribbing at work. Mark T. has been applying for a ram tag for years. While we were loading the Captain's boat I'd hear stuff like, "Is that all you're going to carry ram boy?" Or, "How are you going to get that ram out if that's all you can haul?"

Finally, December 14, 2012, we loaded up the old Dodge and blasted off. Showtime! We had to hurry- the world was supposed to end on the 21st. We arrived at camp about 4:30p.m. to a steady rain. It had been raining most of the day. We unloaded our equipment and settled in. After introductions, Tim Mercier showed us around and went over some details, and then we joined the others in Grover's Palace, the cook tent. Hunting stories flowed, and then strategies were discussed. The rain would change things. After dinner we talked a bit longer, and then turned in. The next morning dawned cold and wet. We had to hang in camp longer than usual. Apparently optics aren't much use in a rainstorm. It cleared up about 9:30 a.m. and we headed out. We parked the rigs and began our climb. We were into sheep fromthe get-go.

Because of the previous day's rain, everything was bright, clear, and wet. There was a heavy mist that made glassing difficult. We had to wait for windows to open in order to see anything. They had seen a big ram earlier in the week, so everyone was upbeat.

I was hunting with Cliff, his son Matt, and partner, Tim Mercier. They had sent Shawn Lindey, Brooks Stiltz, and Troy Scott to other areas to search. These guys make up a hunter's "Dream Team," if you will.

About 3:30 p.m. we saw him: a really good ram, he was heavy, dropped low, wide, and had flaring tips. It was too late to go after him, so we put him to bed and bailed off the peak.

Sunday, December 16, we were back on the hill. We found the ram in a draw farther down the canyon. Serious discussion followed. If we went after him today, we would have to take him out to the canal road miles off. There was no way we were taking him back up the hill.

Matt explained, "If we go after him, it's going to be a long night." I thought to myself, "It's a hunt of a lifetime! It's not supposed to be easy!" "Let's go!"The ensuing pursuit was no cake-walk, after all. The stark terrain and heavily shaled slopes made the stalk a veritable slip 'n slide. Devoid of any natural
cover, we were forced to approach from the far side of the ridge. This made contact with the ram intermittent and inaccurate. Several times we had to retrace our steps or reroute because of sheer drops in the terrain. Finally, after four hours, Cliff sent Matt over a low knoll to locate the ram. They'd moved! They were right below us! Matt signaled, "170 yards!" I sneaked up to Matt and set toots on the tripod. We watched the rams for what seemed an eternity. Several big rams milled about. One smaller ram continually jostled, pestered, and butted the big ram, frustrating access to him. After watching him for what seemed forever, I began to shake. Matt calmly advised, "Put the rifle down. Take a few deep breaths." It worked. At one point all seven rams suddenly jumped up, greatly agitated, and ran off about 10 yards. Then they just settled back down as if nothing had happened. Moments later the smaller ram moved away. A clear shot finally presented itself. Settle the cross-hairs, deep breath, squeeze, the infinitesimal time of the bullet's flight ... the magnificent ram on the ground. Relief and exultation all merge into one incredible feeling! Congratulations all around.

Slowly we made our way down to our trophy. Pictures, pictures, pictures. Matt tried to encircle the bases with his hands. He couldn't. "He's even bigger than we thought!" he exclaimed. Cliff's tape came out; rough measurement put him over 180 inches. By then Shawn and Brooks showed up. More pictures. Cliff caped him, he was quartered and loaded, and we began our triumphant eight-mile trudge to the truck. My feet became a blister factory. Boss's revenge?

That night, after dinner, the entire story unfolded. Versions differed. Perspective works that way, but that's what makes it that much more fun. Shawn's description hit the spot. "I was watching that bunch of rams and saw this big golden donut!" It doesn't get any better than that!

The next morning we headed to the COW office in Blythe. After the official measurement, he came out at 182 3/8 inches and 9 1/2 years old! An incredible trophy. The memories of this incredible six-month adventure have to be experienced to be believed. Trust me, it's worth the hard work and blisters. Thank you Dry Creek Outfitters. How about a Tule bull elk tag next year, Dad?

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.

We have a full time team of professional, knowledgeable guides. Please take a few minutes to look over the information we have provided for you. We think it will substantiate the professional and dependable guide service we have to offer. We sincerely hope that you will consider using Dry Creek Outfitters to assist you in making your hunt truly a HUNT OF A LIFETIME.

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