Article Written By: Tom Fischer, RaffleHunts.com
Corporate America, with its symmetrical rows of beige cubicles, can be as quiet as a library or a graveyard –just worker after worker silently, or nearly silently laboring over email, spreadsheets, and powerpoint presentations. This past May, I shatter the silence. I let out a pretty loud, “YES” at work, jumped straight up, and started pumping my right arm like a wide receiver scoring a touchdown in the Super Bowl. My co-workers thought I had just won the lottery. In a sense, I had.
For some 49 of the year’s 52 weeks, I work as a product life cycle management configuration analyst in the solemn environment of one of the world’s largest semiconductor companies. The other three weeks of the year, I am a hunter.
This year’s adventure started back in April when, like just about every year, I applied for a bighorn sheep tag in my home state of Idaho. My wife, LeAnna and I were expecting our first child, so I wanted a late season permit. The baby was to arrive in September, so. I figured, I would have a little bit more time to hunt in the late season. Thank God, I have an understanding wife.
I could hardly wait for the draw. Some people buy lottery tickets and then sit in traffic on the way to work dreaming about what they will do with their millions. Me, I spent a month reviewing Cabelas’ catalogs, looking at zone maps, and dreaming of my anticipated hunt.
Day by day,the second week in May, crept closer. I arrived at work at 6am that morning. Went through my morning routine, and at my first opportunity, I logged on to the Idaho Department of Fish & Game website. I carefully entered my number and crossed my fingers. Almost instantsly, a banner appeared. ”YOU HAVE SUCCESSFULLY DRAWN FOR BIGHORN SHEEP.” I could hardly contain myself.
I called my wife to let her know the good news. I called my friend and hunting companion, Bryan Bailey, Bryan and I made a pack that if either of us ever drew a sheep permit the other would help. So Bryan was going hunting. Next, I called Chuck Middleton who had also signed up to go if I had drawn.
The planning started immediately. When would I scout the area? Who would I get to fly me in to the backcountry? I bought every map I could find, and loaded up on what might have been enough supplies to host an expedition to Mount Everest. Best of all, I talked to other hunters who had drawn permits for the same area. I wanted all of the data I could get. I wanted to talk to any hunter that had ever harvested a ram in my area. For that matter, I wanted to talk to every hunter that had ever seen a ram in my area. I have to confess, the middle of May 2006 was one of the best times of my life.
The end of May 2006, however, was one of the worst times of my life. The euphoria I felt at drawing my bighorn sheep tag, vanished. My pregnant wife started to have complications. Her blood pressure was too high, dangerously high, so on May 31st, she was admitted to the hospital. LeAnna, endured a battery of tests.
After several hours, stern-faced doctors determined that LeAnna had HELLP syndrome (H = hemolytic anemia, EL = elevated liver enzymes, LP = low platelet count) a potentially life threatening condition. Her only hope was to have our child right then. Our baby would be 3 months premature.
So on June 1, only a couple of weeks after I had drawn my tag and startled my co-workers, hunting was the farthest thing from my mind. I was completely focused on my one pound nine ounce son, Keegan. He had been born, in surgery, at 6:00p.m. Before I ever had a chance to hold him, my tiny son was rushed directly into the St. Alphonsus Regional Medical Center’s excellent Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU). His first couple days of life were very rocky to say the least. He had heart surgery when he was just 3 days old. The doctors told us to be happy ever hour that he was alive. So we counted Keegan’s young life in just moments. If all went well, he would be in the NICU for 90 to 120 days. It was going to be a long road for my wife and I.
LeAnna, spent more than two weeks in the hospital and some of that time in the intensive care unit, before she was released and ordered to stay in bed. Still the hunt was out of mind.
Over the next three months, I spent hours and hours a day at St. Alphonsus, sometimes just watching Keegan, sometimes just praying that he would live until morning.
Sheep hunting was forgotten.
Thank God, after a month and a half in the NICU the doctors were encouraged. Keegan’s progress had been good. He was getting bigger and stronger everyday. I started to look forward to when he would come home. I started to have hope again.
Keegan finally came home on September 7th after 98 days in the NICU, and with my son safe at home and finally doing well. I remembered my hunt. I would have skipped it but LeAnna thought it was best for me to go.
During our ordeal, and our hours in the hospital worrying, my hunting unit had been burning up. Forest fires had started in late June and spread quickly. The forest service had even closed down the area. No one was allowed in there at all. And even if I could have gotten in there, the smoke was to thick, there would be no pre-hunt scouting.
The season was steadily approaching and Bryan, Chuck, and I were finalizing our plans. We were to fly into my hunting unit on Friday the 13th of October, and for the first time in three months, everything went off without a hitch. We were able to land at the Soldier Bar airstrip at around 10:00 a.m. with plenty of time to step up camp and do some glassing before nightfall. Awe struck, I stood on the air strip. This was God’s country and every bit as rugged as Alaska or Canada.
That evening we saw a lone ewe skylined against a cloudless blue sky.
Anticipation was high as Bryan, Chuck, and I sat and discussed the game plan for the next day. Bryan and I would go south along Eagen creek, and look for sheep to the east. Chuck would head west and cross over to the next finger ridge, and go out a ridge from camp to the west.
The next morning Bryan and I made our way south on Eagen Creek to get a better vantage point to look back to the north. The path was littered with boulders and sharp, pointed rocks. The trek felt like we were climbing to heaven. After arriving at the top of the ridge we started glassing to the east and to the north.
The view from the top of the ridge revealed a seemingly endless ocean of rocky and craggy mountains one after another. Bryan started picking out some ewes that were 3 to 4 miles away. After Bryan had spotted the ewes we started to focus our search in and around that area. There was an immature Ram all by himself about one and half miles away from the ewes. So we figured it would be worthwhile to started picking apart the area near the young Ram. Slowly, we started seeing an occasional ewe, then a few ewes, finally a bunch of ewes. They were coming out of the proverbial woodwork.
There was a flash of horns. We had caught a glimpse of what might be a ram behind some rocks as we watched the group of 25 or 30 ewes. But it might have been nothing. It was just too quick to be sure.
Bryan and I did what any good hunter would have. We waited, and we kept watching intently. If the ram had been real and not some ghost or vision in our collective imagination, he would show himself, surely he would. We had hoped that at some point, this ram would follow the ewes out into the open so we could get a better look.
It did not take long, the ghost, as we had hoped, stepped out from behind his rock. We thought we would be able get a good look at him, but we would have to move closer twice before we knew for sure.
At first, I studied him through my Swarovski spotting scope. Then Bryan took a look. We couldn’t tell. We would need a better view, a better vantage point to see if he was the bighorn ram we were looking for.
Bryan and I decided that I would make my way toward where Chuck was west of our camp to get a closer look. I needed to be sure if I was going to commitment. Bryan stayed put to see if there were more Rams in the area.
After the hour hike down to my new position I set up my spotting scope. The change of view made some difference. This ram was a legal ram. I watched him for several hours. I examined the way he moved his head. I marveled at his grace and balance. But I also started to wonder if he was really the one. It just seemed too early in the hunt.
Finally, I radioed Bryan we had agreed before hand to turn our radios on every hour at the hour. I asked Bryan to leave his spot and take a look at this ram. Really, I wanted Bryan’s opinion.
Bryan had drawn and harvested a California Bighorn in his home state of Washington and had been looking over Rams for the past 30 days, so his eye for was sharp. Bryan thought I should get an even closer look.
We made our way down to camp to get dinner out of the way before we packed our bags and crossed Big Creek. We were on the South side of Big creek and the ram was on the north side. We wanted to cross the river tonight so we didn’t have to do it in the morning. Chuck spent the night at our base camp. In the morning, Chuck would again head west, so that he would have a different angle of view. He would be able to give us information if he saw the sheep.
During our climb the next morning we were in contact with Chuck via radios. The hard hike up the hill took about 2 hours. We came across the small Ram at about 50 yards at this point we turned off the radios as to not reveal our location. We ended up just freezing in our tracks to not alarm the Ram then out came three ewes and start to look at us. After a little while they went back to feeding which provided Bryan and I the time to back out of sight and sneak around the ridge to see if the ram we were looking for was in this group. We dropped our packs and started snaking our way to a small rock cropping which was about 150 yards above the sheep. After about ten minutes of watching the sheep the ram we were after appeared. We looked at him for a while and determined that he was a good ram and I should harvest this animal.
I was not in a good position to shoot so I had to sneak out to a point that was about 20 feet in front of us. I crawled the whole way remaining concealed so as not to spook the ram. I set up the bi-pod on my gun, but I discovered that I would not be able to shoot and miss the rocks in front of me. So I ended up taking the bi-pod off again and resting the rifle on some rocks in front of me. I had a clear shot. Now it was just a waiting game.
Just as I was about to shoot the ram bedded down and I lost my shot. Then some ewes walked in front of the ram further obstructing my view. Something scared one of the ewes and all of a sudden she jumped. This caused the ram to jump up from his bed onto a rock cropping. He provided me with a perfect broadside shot. But before I could pull the trigger a ewe stepped behind the ram. I had to keep waiting. Bryan, seeing me hesitate, he assured me
that I would not hit the ewe. He was on higher ground with a better perspective. After I heard that I pulled the trigger on my Evolution USA 300. Win Mag. and made a perfect shot.
After the shot the ram dropped off of the rock, and I lost sight of him. Bryan and I started down the mountain to see if he was down for good. After getting to the rock we discovered that he was and my Idaho Rocky Mountain Bighorn sheep hunt was over. Now the work was going to start.
Since Bryan and I dropped our packs for the stalk, we had to go get them and make our way back to the ram. When we got back to the ram I felt very blessed to have harvested and finished the hunt so quickly so I could get home to LeAnna and Keegan. I also enjoyed this hunt with Bryan and Chuck which made it a time I will never forget. I cannot say thanks enough to Chuck and Bryan for taking off time from work and time from there families to help me on my hunt. I also say a big thanks to my wife for taking care of our son while I was gone and thanks to God for keeping us and our families safe while we were gone.
I spent the rest of my vacation at home before returning to corporate America. With its symmetrical rows of beige cubicles. I have 49 weeks to my next adventure.