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South Bristol Ram Hunt

by Gary Rotta
California Wild Sheep - Summer 2014

article gary rotta 300

I applied for a bighorn sheep tag in 1987, the first year that California hunters were given the oppor­tunity to apply in our home state. Many of us dreamers never thought that this day would occur, but here it was. Filling out that application and getting it in the mail was truly exciting, as visions of chasing full curl rams in inaccessible desert mountains filled my head. Like many of us, I did not get drawn that year, nor the year after or sever­al years after that (we all know the story). But with each yearly entry into the drawing, I was full of renewed enthusiasm. Then came the preference point system, and I thought that this may improve my chances. Each year I diligently applied for the Old Dad Kelso Zone and continued to daydream of the opportunity.

But eventually applying for the tag just became routine and the visions of chasing sheep had dissipated; building up preference points seemed to be the only reason I applied; indifference on get­ting a tag had set in. In 2011 DFG opened up a couple new zones, so I thought I would shake it up a bit and apply for the new Cady Mountains zone for a couple years. In 2012, after considering the welfare of my knees and nagging back I said to myself that this would be the last year for me to apply for this tag. Result: another preference point.

When it came time to apply for the bighorn drawing for 2013, I was committed to let it go, not apply, and face the fact that this hunt was not going to happen. But with the application in front of me, and the insurmountable odds of getting drawn staring me in the face, some force inside me told me I would be foolish to quit applying now. So I stubbornly submitted the application, this time for Zone 8, South Bristol Mountains.

In the middle of June some of my buddies asked what deer zone I had drawn, and I said that I had not checked yet. So that afternoon I checked the DFG website and saw what I expected, drawn for zone X6a which is located basically across the street from my house. But then there was another row that appeared in my results; the successful col­umn said very simply, "Yes." What was this? No it could not be, let me read this again. In a bureaucracy sometimes Yes means No and/or No means Yes. So I read it again. The realization hit me, and I simply told my wife that I had been drawn for a bighorn sheep hunt - no real excitement, just disbelief and then an overwhelming feeling of what do I do now.

Well I got online, typed in "bighorn sheep out­fitters" and was immediately drawn to Dry Creek Outfitters. The website was eye-catching, well thought out, comprehensive, and easy to use. But best of all it became evident that this was an outfitter that knew the bighorn sheep zones in California and their success was evident in the multiple photos and testimonials on the website. On June 16 I contacted Dry Creek through email, got a phone call back from Cliff, then one from Tim. After calling several references, I was sold and on June 21, I booked my hunt for the opening 10 days in December, 2013. Not one minute of regret booking this fast with these guys.

On the day of my arrival, I found camp very easily. From the compound setting to the inside of the cook/dining tent, it looked exactly like the photos on the website. The woodstove was a god­send for the cold, windy desert nights; it was a great gathering spot to discuss the day's events and share recollections of past hunts prior to dinner. I had my own four-person tent that provided me the luxury for gear sprawl.

Opening day we spent a good portion of the morning glassing distant hillsides and rock out­crops for out-of-place white butts. Cliff and Jason were with me, and I was amazed how they quickly found sheep, especially from distances exceeding a mile. We were watching a group of ewes when we got a call from Tom that he had a ram in his scope that needed a closer look. About an hour later we found Tom and the ram he was observing. How he found this ram is truly amazing as it was almost two miles away and bedded near a saddle. Cliff and I proceeded to get a closer look while Jason went on a point to the south to observe from a different angle. We got within 800 yards of the ram when we decided it was not what we wanted. We spent the rest of the day observing more ewes.

The next morning we started glassing at the north end of the South Bristols. About 6:45 a.m. Cliff and Jason found one small ram in a draw on the lower third of the slope; soon thereafter we found three more rams up high in a rock outcrop sunning themselves and escaping the wind. We were about 1.5 miles from the sheep. Two of the three rams looked good, but one - supporting heavy horns - stood out. We watched them move downhill and over the crest of the ridge. We then made our move to get a closer look. Jason once again was sent to a rock outcrop on top of a ridge to the west, while Cliff and I slowly made our way to a side ridge that we anticipated would bring us into view of the rams. As it turned out, we needed to cross this ridge, walk through a small saddle and creep to a lower, northern ridge to find the sheep. Cliff got into position and scoped the three rams while I waited just below the ridgeline.

About ten minutes passed before Cliff came back and said that we had at least two shooters. Hearing "shooters" sent a jolt of anticipation, as well as a bit of apprehension through my system. This could be it; after 26 years of applying for this opportunity, I was going to see a desert bighorn ram in my rifle scope - unbelievable! Cliff and I moved up to the spotting scope to look at the best ram. Cliff said he thought it was a mid-160s ram. It was bedded 270 yards from us, facing away, and calmly chewing cud. Through the spotting scope I could see that the ram carried the mass of its curled horns well out to the broomed ends; each symmetrical horn slightly flared out. I decided that this was the ram which would fulfill all those 26 years of dreams.

For about 45 minutes we lay prone, looking over that ridge at the bedded ram. With my 7 mm mag propped on a backpack, I looked through the scope, settling the crosshairs on the ram. I felt really stable, my breathing was good - I was ready. All the ram had to do was stand up. Then the wind came up, the same wind that had been biting cold earlier in the morning. Cliff said he didn't like this wind, and I agreed. Soon I started to chill, and my hands got a bit numb. With the ram still bedded, we decided to back down the hill about 10 yards and get out of the wind to warm a bit. We were warm in no time and crawled back to our shooting post. Whoa! The ram was standing and appeared to be looking right at us. How could he be looking at us?

All of that previous 45 minutes of practicing the shot, the placement of my arms amongst the rocks, my breathing, had a calming affect on me and made me confident in the shot. But now at this moment I could feel my heart beating a bit faster and that was disconcerting. Cliff must have heard it, because he asked how my heartbeat was and told me to let it calm. There was no hurry, the ram was just trying to figure out what was going on but was not alarmed. About a minute passed, I told Cliff I was better; he told me to let off the safety, aim at the shoulder, and shoot when ready. I was ready; I was confident, and I was at ease. It was 1:45 p.m. On the blast, Cliff said the sheep was hit and fold me to load another shell. When I found the ram again in the scope, he had fallen under one of the few desert shrubs scattered across the hillside, then rolled out to the barren open slope on his back and did not move. Cliff slapped me on my back and said, "Dead sheep."

After hugs I gathered my stuff and proceeded down the hill to get my hands on my trophy. I crossed the draw and was heading uphill when the other two rams came back for a second look. They were about 50 yards from me, so I dropped my backpack, whipped out my little digital camera, and got about five photos of these guys; quite a nice bonus to my experience.

All of the Dry Creek guides that were out and about were alerted to the kill, and all arrived at the site to lend a hand. After numerous photos, all of the guides got involved in tending to my animal. When we were through with the caping, skinning, and packing up the meat, it had become dark. We all walked out of the dry, desert hills with head­lamps beaming ... almost as bright as our smiles.

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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