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Lightning In A Bottle

by Bob Richert
Eastmans' Hunting Journal - November 2013

Bob-Richart Photo

High in California’s White Mountains, one hunter’s lifelong dream comes true.

My 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. I checked my draw results online and I couldn't believe what I was reading! I drew a desert bighorn tag in the Whites. I had to read it a couple more times. I thought it would be another decade or two before I caught lightning in a bottle.

I stayed late at the office that night, on the Internet, trying to find out as much as I could about desert bighorns. I knew I needed to consult with several friends in Reno that had killed sheep in Nevada. Every one of them told me that sheep hunting isn't like deer or elk hunting and that hiring an outfitter is the only way to go; you have one shot at this and you don't want to squander this opportunity. That only reinforced what I was already thinking.

I contacted Tim Mercier with Dry Creek Outfitters a few days later. I spoke to Tim and his partner Cliff St. Martin at length that evening and knew they were my guys.

I had a little less than two months to get ready and in shape for my hunt. Climbing the hill behind my house, as well as biking up a steep incline a couple of times a day put me where I physically needed to be. The last two days were too smoky to ride or hike so I took that time to go over my checklist and be sure I had left nothing to chance.

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.

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."

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 meantime, 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?

As we drove up the road on my last day I saw something on Sheep Mountain a mile and a half away that didn't look right. I told Cliff to stop the truck and I grabbed my binoculars. There were seve sheep standing on the ridgeline.

Everyone stated scrambling. Tripods unfolded, spotting scopes were flying and we set our gaze on a band of seven rams fully lit in the morning sun.

Tim said, "Definite shooter - third one from the right." In that instant my adrenalin started pumping.

We hadn't laid eyes on the rams for more than five minutes before Tim and Cliff told me to grab my pack and rifle and started hiking at a quick pace. The sheep had strolled out of sight, but we figured they would be pretty close to where we saw them last.

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.

Cliff was to my left. When he 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! In one fluid motion Cliff pulled his pack off and kicked it down to his feet for me to rest on. During that time one of the rams made us. He pinned us down while the other six fed behind him, oblivious to our presence. We were inside of 200 yards and couldn't move.

My gun was leaning on my right hip, with my left arm still in my pack and binocular strap and we were lying down in the middle of a large, flat bench. The ram that had us pinned momentarily diverted his attention elsewhere, giving me the opportunity to move into shooting position.

I slid down and got my rifle set up. My heart was pounding hard and at 12,000 feet I couldn't catch my breath. It took me about a minute to calm down and concentrate on the shoot.

Cliff let me know the rams were getting nervous and wouldn't stick around long. I had one small lane to shoot through and the lead ram was moving first. As soon as he cleared the other ram I touch off a shot. I heard the wallop but couldn't tell where the bullet hit. All of the rams were gone in a flash.

We didn't know it at the time but Tim and Clay were two miles north of us and saw everything unforld. The only thing they couldn't tell was when I shot since the rifle report took a few seconds to get to them. Later they told us they watched on ram peel off to the right and the rest of the rams went to the left.

Cliff and I headed to where the rams were and started looking for blood or hair. Cliff found my ram less than 100 yards from where I shot him and after a quick follow-up shot he 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 and arguably the toughest sheep zone in the state and I took the first ram of the 2012 season. I was out of my mind. Jubilant backslaps and hugs went all around as we admired my ram.

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.

My ram grossed 162-1/8 and netted 159-7/8. He had been captured and tagged with a radio collar four years prior and was eight years old.

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

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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