It was June 15th 2013 when I opened the mailbox and found a letter from the California Department of Fish and Game. I quickly opened it up. Then, I stood there for a couple of minutes in shock. I had to read the letter a few times to get it to sink in. I had just been drawn for the Kelso/Old Dads Desert Bighorn Sheep tag!
I quickly went online to gather as much information as I could about sheep hunting and guide information. It was then I learned about the pneumonia outbreak that had been discovered just a few weeks earlier in the Old Dads. After doing a lot of research, I called Terry Anderson of San Gorgonio Wilderness Outfitters. He had first hand information about the outbreak, and told me to keep my fingers crossed. He told me there was a good chance that the DFG was going to close the zone and refund me my money. I was sick. It felt as if I had been kicked in the stomach.
I spoke with Regina Abella who was in charge of the sheep at the DFG. She said that they were waiting to do an emergency aerial survey in mid July to determine if they were going to allow the hunt. The survey showed that numbers were down, but there was still a viable population of sheep in the area. Regina said they needed to present the information to the DFG board for further review before any decisions would be made.
As the months went by, I continued to prepare for the hunt. I still wasn't even sure if the hunt was even going to happen. Then, in mid September, Regina called me to tell me that the DFG had given me the green light. The hunt was on! Now, with only seven weeks before opening day, I could truly focus on my hunt.
December couldn't arrive fast enough. With all that had gone on during the last 5-1/2 months. I had been in touch with Terry on a weekly basis and he told me that it was going to be a tough hunt.
Terry and his crew, Jake Franklin and Andrew Pontious had been scouting the area for weeks prior to my arrival. They had finished successfully guided an auction hunter the week before my hunt was to start. They had spent countless hours hiking the desert without seeing many sheep. Terry prepared me for a long 10 day hunt to find my desert trophy, but assured me that we could get the job done.
Just three days before my hunt, I got a call from Terry letting me know that they had spotted a group of rams, and that there was a nice mature ram with them. Those were the longest three days of my life.
My brother Paul and I drove all day, and arrived at camp late on Friday night. My hunt was to start the next morning. We met with the Terry, Jake, and Andrew, swapped hunting stories, and had a nice dinner. Then we came up with a game plan for the next morning, and retired for the evening. I have to say, it would not be my most restful night's sleep. I was way too excited. Counting sheep wasn't going to help this night.
Morning arrived and a quick breakfast, and a cup of coffee and we we off. Because our camp was in the middle of the Mojave desert we didn't have to go very far to get to where we were going. Jake took my brother and I to the area in which they had seen the rams just three days before. They had watched the rams go in, but never saw them come out. They had been glassing the area from a distance so ever since, so as not to put pressure the animals. Jake said there was a bowl up on the top that they were unable to see from down below, and thought that's where they were hiding. We hiked for about 45 minutes to get to the area he thought the sheep should be.
It was a cold clear morning, around 30 degrees, and the wind was blowing around 25mph. We sat down on the top of the bowl and began to glass the valley below. Jake spotted some freshly broken barrel cactus and said he thought we were in the right spot.
It was only about ten minutes later that Jake said, "there he is, he's the one!" My heart began to race as I saw him. He looked so majestic, a true trophy. The ram came out across the valley about 450 yards from where we were sitting. As we watched, a second, smaller ram appeared.
As they fed along the edge of the valley, the larger ram lifted his head and looked right up at us. We all froze in our tracks. Because we were sitting on the face of the hillside we were pinned down, and had nowhere to go. Jake said he figured that either he had spotted us, or wanted to come up here.
It didn't take long to figure out what this ram's intentions were. He put his head down, and started walking right towards us. I couldn't believe my luck. This ram was going to walk right into our laps. I made sure I was set up with a good rest, and was ready to go. As we watched, the two rams begin their trek across the valley floor. As they waked, they fed. Now they were at 350 yards and closing... now 300 yards.
Then the sheep dropped into a draw and were out of sight for what seemed like an eternity. "Get ready" said Jake. "They are going to come out right below us.Then, as I watched, out they came, and they were moving fast. Jake whispered "take'm when you've got a shot." The big ram stopped. Jake ranged him at 170 yards. I quickly lined up my 300 Win Mag, and as I slowly exhaled, I squeezed the trigger. The shot rang out, and we heard the tell tale "thud" as my aim was true. The ram dropped on the spot..
We quickly made our way down to the ram. Terry and Andrew joined us. There were a lot of "high fives", and a barrage of photos. It was only then I could truly absorb what had just transpired. A 170 yard shot, at 9:00am, on opening morning, I had harvested a Nelson Desert Bighorn Sheep. I could not be happier. He was officially scored by the DFG at 159-5/8".
This ram marks Terry Anderson's 150th and Jake Franklin's 50th successful sheep hunt. Thanks to all the SGWO crew.