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The Clipper Mountains "Golden Hammer"

by Kurt Lanning
Califonia Wild Sheep - Summer 2013


CWS-Lanning-150

The Clipper Mountains "Golden Hammer"
by Kurt Lanning

(From Califonia Wild Sheep - Summer 2013)

For a long six months I waited for the hunt date, with numerous calls back and forth to Tim Mercier and Cliff St. Martin of Dry Creek Outfitters. With their stories and more research my excitement intensified, making it even harder to be patient. I had also drawn a Unit 221/222 early elk hunt in Nevada which was to take place in November. With these two hunts booked, my fall hunting was going to make for a very exciting hunting season for my wife, Mary Margaret, and me, with high expectations for both hunts.

During my elk hunt in Nevada, I passed on 162 different bulls. Unfortunately, I also managed to injure my calf muscle, which apparently caused a deep vein thrombosis that led to a pulmonary embolus. Even though I exercise and stay in good physical condition, this caused me to come to a halt. Prior to a doctor's visit, I did not know why (all of a sudden) I was not able to get any air when exerting. Thinking it was maybe walking pneumonia (without a cough), I went to the doctor for antibiotics so I would be able to hike on the sheep hunt. Upon an ultrasound of my leg, they discovered a clot in that calf, which caused the pulmonary embolus. I was immediately put in the hospital for four days, not knowing if I was going to be able to go on my once-in-a-lifetime sheep hunt which was scheduled to take place in three weeks.

Once again, I was on the phone to Tim, explaining the situation. Not knowing how I would be in three weeks, they were willing to delay my hunting dates if necessary. But after returning to my exercise regimen with my personal trainer (wife) immediately after discharge I felt recovered enough to stick to my original dates.

Upon our arrival into sheep camp on December 28, 2012, my wife and I could not believe how organized and meticulously detailed camp was. We were greeted by our fabulous camp cook, Grover "Watchdog." The camp had all the comforts of home, including a hot shower. The very welcoming hospitality was much appreciated throughout our stay.

The first evening in sheep camp, we met the other guide and spotters who would be assisting us in our adventure. Dixie, Sawyer, }-bird, and McDairy all helped make this a very memorable experience.


Day 1: We all dispersed in different locations in the Clipper Mountains. Cliff, Mary Margaret and I hunted all day and turned up only two rams, with the largest in the high 160s. When we returned to camp and compared notes with the others, Dixie and Sawyer had found a ram that they felt would warrant a closer look.


Day 2: The crew ali went out to different locations again in the Clippers, while we went to take a closer look at the potential shooter ram. After locating the group of three rams, we moved within 500 yards to get a closer look. Cliff thought he would score between 168 and 170 and make book. But he also thought we could probably find something better since it was just our second day of the hunt. After I looked him over, seeing he was a beautifully squared off ram with no nicks or chunks missing, I felt he did not have the "wow" factor I was looking for and decided to pass. We hunted the rest of the day and saw eight ewes and seven more rams (cookie cutters).


Day 3: One group of spotters went to the Clippers and the rest of us went to the Marble Mountains. Cliff, my wife and I went for a long hike and met Tim at mid-day for lunch at an old outfitters camp. We ended up seeing only four small rams and two ewes for the day.


Day 4: Happy New Year! Since we were having a hard time turning up the upper class rams, we split up again in the Clippers and the Marbles and glassed for miles. This day we saw 21 rams, but nothing over the low 160 range and 19 ewes. It was a fun day to see so much beautiful sheep country. The rest of the outfitter crew also saw sheep with no shooter rams.


Day 5: While making the day's itinerary over breakfast, Cliff felt we really needed to go back to the Clippers and penetrate deeper into the mountain range. Mter another long hike, we journeyed into the high peaks. My wife wanted to continue higher onto the next range, so we stopped for lunch before our trekking continued. When we topped out, Cliff spotted four ewes across from us about 1000 yards away. Upon glassing for the ewes, about 150 yards below them, I spotted two rams. One ram looked exceptional on his left side, but not being able to see his right side, he required a closer look. As we dropped off the backside of the ridge to close the distance to the two bedded rams 1 I was concerned that his right side might be damaged or broken off. After sneaking up within 400 yards of the rams, I felt that the big ram definitely had the "wow" factor that we were looking for, even though I had not seen the right side yet.

Then Cliff informed me that he had a large chunk out of the right horn. Upon closer observation, it also was broomed about four inches shorter than the left side. So my first gut instinct was to pass on this ram. Then Cliff remembered what I had told him prior to the hunt ... that I wanted a ram without sinusitis or chunks missing. So he questioned me about what I thought of this ram and whether or not the missing chunks was a "deal breaker." In the meantime, the rams got out of their beds and started walking toward us, stopping to pose every 25 yards on every large rock he came to. As they came closer we watched and took videos and still shots of this outstanding ram. Still contemplating whether or not I wanted to harvest a ram with chunks missing, Cliff informed me that he should score in the mid-170s, even with the missing chunks. He said that he was a "great old warrior." Making sure not to persuade me one wayor the other, he mentioned that this ram would probably get the Patriarch Award for this hunt season. But both my wife and Cliff wanted to make sure that I would be happy if I harvested this magnificent ram.

Still undecided, we watched him majestically walk down the hill, posturing in the sunlight on every large rock in his path, soaking up the last sunrays of the day. It was then that my mind was made up and I chambered a round. I looked up to see the smile on Cliff's face as I closed the bolt on my 308 Norma Mag. At this ime, Cliff let Tim know where the rams were on the hill 1 and the crew on the valley floor could then see the ram standing on the rock through their spotting scopes miles away. With my wife and Cliff next to me, watching the ram through their binoculars, as well as Tim and the crew watching from three miles away, all witnessed as this massive brute went down with my 364 yard shot.

After moments of excitement and congrats, we gathered our gear and started toward him. We knew I harvested a large ram, but when we approached it, I then could see that it was way bigger than we thought. It had ground growth instead of ground shrinkage. We were in awe of this extraordinary animal. It was unbelievable! Since it was getting close to dark, the decision was made to come back in the morning with the rest of the crew and take group photos and pack the ram off the hill. Taking just a few quick photos and a few measurements, we field dressed the ram and started walking off the mountain leaving the covered ram behind.

Unfortunately, on the trek out, I sprained my ankle. Not once, but twice. It was severe enough that Cliff had to pack out my backpack for me and I had to use both trekking poles to balance me. It ended up being a two-hour trip back to the truck in the dark as I hobbled off the rocky and roughterrain in severe pain. Tim and a bird came to assist us off the lower end of the ridge back to the trail head. On the way out, I was devastated as my wife and I realized I would not be able to make it back up the mountain the next day to help with the pack out or to take group photos with my ram.


Day 6: As the crew got ready for the exciting trip to retrieve the ram, Mary Margaret and I were extremely distraught that our once-in-a-lifetime adventure had been derailed once again. But we did get to enjoy a beautiful desert day with Grover at sheep camp. Upon the crew's arrival back to camp that late afternoon, we took a few more pictures with the full group before dark. After another great meal for dinner with ram "mountain oysters" as hors d'oeuvres, we celebrated a great harvest with a toast.


Day 7: With a call the night before to Andy Pauli, the Fish & Wildlife biologist, an appointment was made to meet up with him early on this day. So we got up and packed while the crew cut and bagged all the meat for us. When it was time to leave camp to meet Andy and to have the ram plugged and scored, it was an emotional good-bye. Since we had numerous phone communications to Tim and Cliff prior to the hunt, attended the orientation with Tim and Grover, and hunted for six days together, it was tough to leave. Even though it was only six months in the making, we feel that we have made friends for life with them and their entire crew.

Tim accompanied us to meet Andy and his wife at the Mojave Fish Hatchery. Andy scored my ram at 180 4/8" with 16 6/8" bases and 40 3/8" on the long horn. This ram has the largest bases ever scored in California, as well as the longest horn length ever scored in California. One of only two rams with horn length over 40" in this state. And it was aged over 131h years old. If he had matching horn lengths and no chunks of sinusitis, he would have gross scored right at 190" and would have been the new state record. At this point Tim called Cliff to inform him of the unofficial Fish & Wildlife score so he could relay the message to the rest of the crew. They were all ecstatic when they found out it was classified as a 180" ram (even with the huge chunk missing). He is truly the Clipper Mountains "Golden Hammer" of my dreams.

The professionalism of the Dry Creek Outfitters crew, and their compassion for sheep hunting, along with the attention to every detail of the hunt, is a true statement of the kind of elite outfitters they are. I will highly recommend their services to anyone on this type of a hunt-of-a-lifetime.

In closing, I still can't believe I was able to harvest such a special and magnificent animal. I want to thank my beautiful wife, Mary Margaret, for being at my side for the entire hunt and sharing in the memories. Thank you to the California Desert Sheep Program, Andy & Laurie Pauli, CA WSF, and the Desert Bighorn Sheep Society for all their efforts in managing and allowing us to be able to have this opportunity to hunt these awesome animals. And to the Dry Creek Outfitter crew - Tim, Cliff, Grover, Brooks, Jason, Kirk, and Jim - I can't thank you guys enough. You provided my wife and me with memories that will last a lifetime.

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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