By Brian Patterson
I was in the field for four full days prior to the Wednesday opener trying to locate an exceptional ram. I was also very fortunate that sheep hunting experts Clint and Cindy Bentley planned to set camp with me and help out. (Clint is one ram away from completing his 3rd grand slam; Cindy got her ram in this unit 3 yrs ago). We spotted several rams in several different locations but nothing that got either of us excited. Clint and I were headed back to camp with about 20-30 minutes of light left before opening day. There is a spot we never pass without stopping to glass so of course we pulled over to glass the last bit of light. Almost instantly Clint located rams. Ten rams total all bedded and bunched up. By the time I got the spotting scope on them light was fading, but two in the bunch looked really good. Clint looked through the scope and I could tell he was excited too. We didn’t have the best of light but Clint said there were possibly two exceptional rams in the bunch. After 47 days of scouting we have a real solid plan for opening morning.
Opening morning we positioned two spotters in the location we had last seen the rams when it got dark. Clint and I headed up the ridge to be in position when the sun came up behind us. We sat in our selected rock outcrop waiting on the sun. It was still too dark to see, I’m not sure if it was the chill in the air or my excitement but I couldn’t sit still. I forced myself to tie and untie my boots over and over to help calm my nerves. Each passing minute the visibility got better. No rams in the big bowl, no rams on the edges or on the skyline. An hour of good light passed and we couldn’t locate the rams. They must have fed out of the bowl during the light of the full moon.
After looking to the south and west the ten rams could only be to the north end of this small range. We were careful to take our time and glass everything. Finally just as the small range was dropping off to the desert floor I spotted a ram, then another ram then a third, three rams bedded down. We glassed everywhere looking for the other rams, nothing. We discussed our options, sit and wait for a couple hours for the rams to get up and feed or move another 100 yards or so to get a different view of the draw below us. We decided to move.
I wasn’t ready for what we saw when we peeked over our chosen rock pile. Sixteen rams bedded below us at 228 yards! There was horn everywhere! I’m scanning all that horn and selecting this ram then no that ram on the left is better, no the one toward the middle is the biggest, wait what about that one partially hidden by a boulder? My mind is racing between 3-4 of the better looking rams. Clint has been quiet the whole time and has his spotting scope set up. I’ve started to get ready for the shot. Range, then re-range the distance to confirm no false readings, bino’s then rifle scope, first one ram then another ram in the sight picture. This is just awesome 16 rams and I don’t know which is best. I keep looking toward Clint hoping for his expert evaluation to give me some direction. Finally he says “I can’t get any of them to go better than 165.” “What?” I say. This is our group of rams from last night, one really dark ram stood out. They must have picked up six new buddies, where are those “exceptional” rams? Don’t get me wrong a mid 160’s ram is a very good ram, but I wanted an exceptional ram.
I laid the gun down. It was just opening day and if Clint confirms there isn’t the sort of ram we’re looking for I’m going to pass. I felt very calm once I made that decision; up until then I was a nervous wreck. Now we could just look at rams at close range. I got some good pictures of all those rams together.
Everyone left camp on Wednesday night before Thanksgiving but I decided to stay out and hunt Thanksgiving morning, before heading to town for a late afternoon holiday feast with family and friends. Almost two hours of glassing produced nothing. Then I caught some movement about a mile and a half away, seven rams on the move. At that distance one really stood out, first with the 15’s then with the spotting scope.
They had worked their way across a steep slope to the base of some rocky cliffs, I thought they might bed down there. Nope, the big ram picked a line and climbed the cliff and was up and over the top. The other six rams staged together below where he went up, they hesitated then backed off and found a spot down the cliff that was an easier climb. The big ram really was a tough old guy. Watching the rams for a half hour I had their route memorized, I’d have to follow their trail across the steep slope and over the cliff in the same spot, it looked like my only choice. Quickly I gathered up my gear and scrambled down the slope to my quad.
I kept my bino’s but dumped the other gear and any excess weight. The climb was really steep. I finally cut the sheep trail and found their tracks in the scree. I just kept picking my way up toward the cliffs. There was a natural window or hole in the rocks, I climbed up and eased into the hole on my stomach to peek through and see if I could locate the rams. I glassed but could not see them. I found the spot where the big ram went up. Wow too scary for me, just like the other six rams I wasn’t going to try that route. I found the spot where the others went up, it was about 10 to 12 feet straight up.
Decision time, here I am by myself no one knows exactly where I am and I’m faced with climbing a cliff face with a pack and gun on my back. Twice I started to climb the cliff and got about 3-4 feet up before I chickened out. I backed down and walked along the base of the cliff in both directions, there just wasn’t a better spot anywhere, that’s why the rams had use that line. Back at the base of the cliff I took a drink of water swallowed hard and headed up. Once I pulled myself over and flopped on the top, the whole ridge sort of sloped off gently to the south. I stood up and looked around, no sheep. I told myself I wouldn’t be going back the same way I came up.
It was almost two hours since I’d seen the rams, I was sure they had bedded. I got my gun and shooting sticks and left my pack. I was easing around glassing into a draw on the right, then the left. A small hill hid most of the draw to my left so I eased around it glassing below. BINGO there they were I got a quick look at 2 bedded rams. I eased up and saw all 7 rams, bedded. Time to calm down I told my self.
I walked back to get my pack. The rams were bedded and calm, the wind was in my favor, walking back 100 yards to my pack would calm me down. At my pack I pulled out the video camera and put in on the tri-pod then headed back to the vantage spot. I really wanted to get my hunt on film but since I was solo, this was going to be difficult. I was focused. I ranged a rock formation out in the flat at 254 yards; the rams would be closer than that. Gun and shooting sticks in one hand, tri-pod and camera in the other I eased along the side hill. It was at this point I decided trying to film and shoot was too much to get set up. I elected to set the tripod and camera and pushed “play” hoping I might catch some of the action.
I had only stepped in front of the camera about 10-12 yards when I saw the rams up on their feet and moving. They were calmly starting to feed again. I quickly sat down, got my gun on the shooting sticks and readied for the shot. The big ram looked pretty heavy, he dropped below his jaw and was a full curl. I didn’t have Clint there to give me his opinion but he was old and mature and looked exceptional to me. I got settled in behind the gun waited for him to clear then touched off the shot. The rams bolted to the left but the big one was left behind, he rolled over on his back in the bottom of a small wash. Reflexes kicked in, chamber another round, re-acquire the ram in the scope ready for a follow up shot, then hit the safety and grab the bino’s to look first at the downed ram then the remaining six….confirmation, I had shot the correct one.
I turned to face the video camera pumped my fist and then the emotion of what I had just done finally hit me; eighteen years of waiting for the tag, numerous sheep hunts helping other guys, 47 days in the field scouting, hours and hours of research, miles of hiking, months in the gym sweating, and 7 days hunting was now over. I sat alone on the hill and cried a few tears of joy, accomplishment and sorrow that I was done. Before I walked down to my ram I called home to tell my family of the news. They were happy for me and wondered if I’d make it home in time for Thanksgiving dinner, I said I’d try my best but first I had to get a close look at my prize.
I walked up to the old ram and he had it all; good mass, length, dropped below his jaw line, full curl and lots of “character”. He had a big bump on his nose and lots of chunks and cracks in his horns, he was definitely a fighter. I have learned over the years you can’t take too many photos before you start the work of breaking an animal down. I set my camera on the tripod and took lots of self photos and some video with my ram. It’s always a bit harder being solo and not seeing in the viewfinder if the shot is centered or the nose should be tilted left or right or up or down, but I did my best. I skinned him for a life sized mount. I bagged the four quarters tied them off, then got the back straps, head and hide in my pack. Now I needed to find a way back to the quad that didn’t require going down that cliff face again.
I decided to follow the small wash were I had killed the ram, it was a long hike around the ridge I had climbed up but I eventually made back to the quad and then to the truck. I hurried as best I could, got home and jumped into the shower and made it to Thanksgiving dinner just 10 minutes late. Lots to be thankful for this year; a healthy family, great friends and the ability to go on hunts of a lifetime.
As it turned out I did catch the hunt on video, it’s posted on YouTube titled 2013 NV desert sheep hunt bpatterson if you are interested in seeing the footage. I didn’t get a close up of the shot on video but everything else was there. NDOW green scored the ram at 167-7/8ths gross. All the “character” chips cost him a couple inches but all in all another exceptional ram was harvested out of one of the best units in the state. He didn’t meet the 170 inch mark I had set for myself but even Clint said he would have told me to shoot that ram.