Spotting a bighorn sheep

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I have mentioned in this column many times about how my grandfather was quite the worldwide hunter. One of his first trophies that was returned was a mount of a Dall sheep he took in Alaska. It was a beautiful specimen of an animal, in full-body mount standing upon a casted rock base. Yes, this was museum quality and a fine initial addition to the trophy room.
As a kid, sometimes we do what kids do, which is not necessarily the smart thing to do. I was at his house looking through his World Book Encyclopedias for a school project. Yes, we had actual books of encyclopedias back in the day, and each volume provided key information on the history and reality of the world.
Well, it turned out that the mount was in the same room as the encyclopedias, and my attention was drawn to it. The pure white sheep’s shoulder stood about head high to me, counting the base of course. The ribbed horns made a complete circle with a large, thick base and a bristled point from a lifetime of wear.
The hair was a bit coarse, but manageable. Manageable enough for me to take the comb out of my pocket — yes, I once had hair — and decide to tidy the great animal up a bit. That is a mistake I never made again.
Papa later added a stone sheep to the collection, in almost identical mount. The two rams stood beside each other for many years, greeting anyone who visited the impressive menagerie.
I have always been in awe of the sheep. Their beauty, coupled with their difficult environment they called home, made them particularly special. The tales of Papa’s hunts for them along with the imagery found on various hunting shows hosted by people such as Tred Barta helped me place myself in the midst of one of these great expeditions.
On a hunt for mountain lion in Arizona, I checked what other animals I may encounter, such as elk, mule deer, jackrabbits, and kit foxes. Sheep did not appear in my search. However, I only checked the area of the state I would be hunting, not the areas I would be traveling. High upon one of the sheer cliffs, I believe I saw my first wild sheep. I would have to guess it would have been a desert bighorn sheep, but in retrospect with nearly a decade of memory reformation, it could have been a number of different species, and not necessarily a sheep.
That is why on a trip I am currently on, when the weather offered me delay and opportunity to visit a new place, I gained a little excitement.
On the first day, there were a multitude of animals spotted. Pronghorn antelope, prairie dogs, a lone coyote and an ensemble of mule deer all greeted me at various locations. The land itself was a mixture of heaven and hell. Ninety degrees plus temperatures with twenty plus mile-per-hour winds and what felt like one hundred and ten percent humidity ensured only short stays were possible. The landscape was rough, and provided an otherworldly appearance.
But about midday, I encountered something I will always remember. I caught a movement out on the flat near one of the rugged sheer cliffsides and decided to put my hunting skills to test. No, I wasn’t hunting with a firearm or bow, but my stalk was on point regardless. As I rounded a small mount, maybe 50 feet high which is small compared to the cliffs, I came face to face with a vision I had dreamed of in the past. A bighorn sheep picked his head up from munching on the desert grass below, equally startled and inquisitive. I snapped a few shots with my camera and left the old ram to his browsing, knowing I had just checked off another line on my list of things to do.
Bill Howard is an avid bowhunter and outdoorsman. He teaches hunter education (IHEA) and bowhunter education (IBEP) in North Carolina. He is a member of North Carolina Bowhunters Association and Pope & Young, and is an official measurer for both.