Monthly Archive: May 2013
Bret Scott’s Monster Ram
Posted by admin in Big Game Club News | May 21, 2013
A First Person hunting Story by California NFAA member Bret Scott
I was dumbstruck as I watched my first Desert Bighorn Ram. I was on my first scouting trip, on a bright sunny August morning, in the San Gorgonio Mountains of southern California.
I had been applying for years for a “Once in a Lifetime” California Desert Bighorn Sheep tag with no expectations of ever being drawn. However, just two weeks earlier, I had been notified by the California Department of Fish and Game (DFG) that my name had been drawn and now here I am, on an uppermost ridge line, just 50 yards from a 150” class ram. By day’s end I had seen a total of six rams on this ridge and one was a shooter. During subsequent scouting trips walking this same ridge line over and over I learned that this could very well lead to a “Once in a Lifetime” Ram!
In July of 2011, I learned that one of my Bowhunting buddies, Nate Treadwell, had been drawn for a sheep tag in the Cady Mountains. Sitting behind my desk at work, I decided to check the DFG web-site to see if I knew any of the lucky applicants who were drawn for the other coveted sheep tags. As I scrolled through I saw what looked like a conformation that I had also been drawn. I knew that was not possible as it would mean that two guys, who were friends and archers had drawn in the same year! So I backed out of the screen and then checked again, and again, and again… Yes! I drew a SHEEP TAG for the San Gorgonio Mountains which was only an hour from my home.
The very next day, an outfitter from one of the local sheep guiding services contacted me by phone and provided me with his guide service information. I told him that I was not sure how long it would take me to get a ram but because I was committed to shooting MY ram with a bow I could not limit myself to the usual ten day hunt that he offered. I could not see his face or body language but I could hear the doubt in his voice when he said, “You are hunting with a BOW? Good luck!” Well believe me, when I am told I can’t do something, most often, that just lights a fire under me and I am more determined than ever to do it! So, he just lit my fire!
After all the required phone calls to my hunting buddies, I had a crew put together that included my son Travis Scott, and friends Jack Hankins, Ed Fanchin, Dave Semple, Bill Payne, Doug Meeks, and Wayne Raupe. They would all help me every chance they would get with the scouting and accompanying me on my actual hunt. All of these guys have been applying for the sheep tags for years, some for as many as 25 years. Even though they had not drawn they were as excited about me having been drawn as I was.
After several scouting trips I found the ridge line was my number one spot to hunt but I wanted to be sure so we hiked the WHOLE ZONE from the top of the mountain all the way to the desert floor. These scouting trips confirmed that the desert side and the ridge line were going to be the best bet as we always saw sheep there.
The DFG required that all Sheep Tag recipients attend a Mandatory Sheep Orientation Seminar, held in October, prior to being given our actual Sheep Tags. The DFG presided over the seminar, and the Wild Sheep Foundation, the BLM, the Parks Department and the US Forest Service were there to provide us with information. A short history lesson was given by DFG and the Wild Sheep Foundation on how and why we are now able to hunt the Desert Bighorn Sheep that was, until 1986, a “Fully Protected” animal. They gave us the ground rules of the hunt, where we could hunt in our Zones, and how to field judge a legal ram.
During the seminar all of the hunters had to introduce themselves and state their weapon of choice. When it was my turn I introduced myself, then, eyebrows throughout the room raised when I told them that this was an ARCHERY ONLY HUNT for me and I would only be using my bow and arrow. Several of the skeptics in the room asked, “Aren’t you bringing a gun for backup?” “What if you don’t get a sheep and it is the end of the season?” I simply replied, “It is archery only and if I don’t get a ram then I’ll just have to eat my tag.” Again, those that didn’t think it could be done smirked and rolled their eyes as if saying… That’ll be the day!
Glassing that first ram on my first scouting trip did something to me. I got hooked on it and I couldn’t wait to start my hunt. Two weeks before my zone opened the other zones opened up for hunting and that was killing me! I couldn’t just lay around the house thinking about those lucky guys so I decided to make one more trip to the desert and hike farther north. As I followed the ridge line north I spotted two big rams. One was an absolute GIANT!! I did a quick estimate and determined the biggest one would score in the upper 180’s or even into the 190’s. After watching them bed down on a knoll I slowly slid out of the area with a BIG GRIN on my face. Yep, I had really found the place to hunt!
I told my boss about the big ram and he could see the excitement in my eyes. He knew I had been scouting the entire summer and with the season getting ready to start he asked me, “Are you going to be around for the next two months?” To which I smiled and replied, “I’ll let you know after I get my sheep!”
Opening day finally arrived! There was a slight drizzle, a little wind… and I had my bow in my hand and was hunting for a California Desert Bighorn Ram. Four of my hunting buddies would be helping me on this first day of my long awaited hunt. Bill, Doug, and Dave helped me set up camp in a small draw below my favorite ridge line. We then scaled the slopes to the ridge line where we began glassing and immediately spotted a small ram heading south on the west facing slope of the ridge. I decided to hunt north along the ridge line with Doug to the area where I saw the two large rams two weeks earlier. Dave and Bill were going to follow the small ram south to see where it was going and to do some glassing in that direction. Wayne, my fourth buddy, was located about a mile away in an adjacent drainage where he could glass from the bottom up.
Doug and I had a two mile hike to reach the knoll where I had earlier glassed the two rams. However, about half a mile from the knoll we spotted five smaller rams and one was a shooter. I field judged him to be in the 160 inch class. After about an hour of watching them we started the stalk by dropping down the backside and doing some side hilling. We climbed back to the top of the ridge and as we crested, so did the rams. We were busted and they in no time put a half mile between us. By this time it was late in the day, the wind was trying to blow us off the ridge and it was raining harder and coming at us sideways so we started hunting back towards camp. We met up with Dave and Bill on a ridge where they had been glassing. Wayne, meanwhile, had seen a few nice rams glassing from below and tried texting me but due to bad cell service I didn’t get the text until later. Between the five of us we saw 21 sheep that first day.
The next day of my hunt started with a little drizzle but no wind. We left camp and climbed the ridge to a vantage point for glassing. Doug immediately found a herd of seven rams about a mile away, as the crow flies, from our location. One of the rams looked as though it would be in the 170 class. Well, the crow was not flying so that mile turned into three miles as I tried to get there without being seen in all that large open country. But with a huge surge of adrenaline it only took me one-and-a-half hours to make the trek. When I got to the spot where I was to look back at Doug, to get a status update, he directed me to come over the top because the sheep were side hilling and feeding slowly toward me. As I crested the hill and scanned the hillside expecting to have the sheep in my lap my heart sank. The rams changed course and were now 240 yards below me still slowly feeding out in the open where I had no chance to make a stalk. All I could do was sit there and admire these majestic animals and study their horns as they fed out of sight. I had just gotten a huge dose of REALITY! I realized this once in a lifetime bow hunt could be very long and very tough both mentally and physically!
It was now 2:00 in the afternoon on Sunday and Bill, Dave and Doug all had to head home so they could get ready for work the next morning. As I was thanking them for their help and saying goodbye, Jack, another of my hunting buddies arrived. It was now just me and Jack. With two and a half hours of daylight left I told Jack we needed to head south to pick up my back pack that I left at the beginning of my first stalk of the day. When we got to the general location of the pack I told Jack to continue on up to a high spot and glass farther south while I dropped off the ridge and down a little cliff to get my pack. When I got back to where Jack was he told me that he had just seen a herd of 15 sheep with three giant rams! So, off we went on another stalk with adrenalin flowing. We came to some cliffs that blocked any hopes of us getting close to those rams before dark and I didn’t want to hike back to camp in the dark because we had cliffs all around us. Besides, my legs felt like Jello as they had not recovered from the first stalk of the day. We decided to leave and return in the morning.
We woke to a clear sky and no wind… Awesome! But after hiking six miles and glassing every nook and cranny with our spotting scopes we couldn’t find a sheep to save our lives! I started second guessing the situation, panicking, thinking we may have blown all the sheep out of the area with all of our hiking back and forth on the ridge spreading our scent as we went.
By the time we got back to camp it was five o’clock and it was getting dark. We had our Mountain House Meals and then made plans for the next day’s hunt and hit the sack. I didn’t sleep a wink that night! I kept thinking about all the different scenarios that I had played in my head, over and over again, for the last five months. Morning couldn’t come quick enough!
Daybreak had not arrived yet but we were up and headed south to the area where the three big rams were heading the previous afternoon. At first light I spotted some sheep going around the corner of a ridge toward some cliffs on the far side. I was sure I could make it over the top in time to intercept them. I jerked my boots off and I crept up the hill and eased over the edge looking down on the cliffs. There they were! I could see the backs of sheep as they fed with their heads down. I nocked an arrow and started creeping, on my hands and knees, closer to the edge. To my disappointment none were rams. I was within 28 yards of nine ewes! I was feeling good about the stalk, but I was frustrated because I had yet to be within bow range of a legal ram, with my bow in hand. We backtracked to another ridge to do some more glassing. As we topped out Jack started glassing and immediately said, “Look! There are the three Amigos. They’re about a mile from of us.” We both looked at each other – they were right where we had been hunting the last two days! We knew exactly where we had to go to intercept them. So off we went… again.
We ran around the back side of the mountain and started to climb up towards the ridge line. That’s when we spotted the sheep; they had fed over the top and were now feeding on our side of the ridge. We melted into the side of the hill and watched until the sheep had fed back over the top and were again out of sight. Climbing as fast as we could we finally reached the knoll where I was sure I they would be. Jack stayed back about 30 yards as I eased around the knoll. I knew I was close so I got on my hands and knees and started crawling slowly toward them. Then I saw the backs of a couple of sheep. I could tell that they were ewes as their coats were light in color compared to the much darker rams. As I sat there contemplating what my next move would be I noticed a ewe about 30 yards from me looking right at me. She was trying to figure out what I was. Then she started walking right toward me, not taking her eyes off me, until she was 10 yards away. Realizing something was not right, her eyes opened really wide, then she spun on a dime and busted out of there taking 25 sheep with her which included three BIG rams. Then Lady Luck stepped in and they all stopped and looked back up to see just what the heck they were running from. I grabbed my rangefinder and ranged the closest ram, he was 57 yards away. I drew my bow back, let my pins settle on his ribs and released the bow string. It seamed like I was watching my arrow fly in slow motion then it disappeared into the ram’s chest. As the band of sheep thundered off downhill, I turned towards Jack and raised my arms to let him know I just shot my ram… but he had seen the whole event unfold and he was as excited as I was. We watched the sheep continue their flight for about 300 yards, until they came to a very narrow finger ridge where they stopped. I saw my ram wobble a little bit then he laid down and it was over. The rest of the herd took off and Jack and I started to hoot and holler! I had done it!! I got my Desert Big Horn Ram with my BOW!!!
We descended the steep hillside to my ram and as we approached I couldn’t believe the mass and length of his horns. We knew we had something special but we just didn’t know how special. I had been after a legal, mature ram but this one far exceeded that goal. I pulled out my cell phone to call my son Travis to tell him what I had just done but I was shaking so bad Jack had to dial it for me! After blurting out that I had a BIG RAM down I asked if he could get off work and help us pack it out? He called back a few minutes later to inform me that he and Jason, another hunting buddy, were on their way and would be there in an hour. They arrived as Jack and I were finishing up on the skinning and quartering. We loaded our packs and headed back to the truck where a few more friends had shown up. My buddy Wayne took pictures of us packing my ram out of the canyon and he also brought a bottle of Sparkling Apple Cider (our faux champagne). We toasted this extremely successful hunt and I thanked everyone for all of their help in making this hunt such a success.
I needed to report my kill to Jeff Villepeno, the DFG Sheep Biologist, so I called him and asked where he would like to meet. Jeff provided us with a meeting place so we all loaded up in our trucks and traveled by caravan to meet Jeff. He gathered all of the required DFG information and then measured and plugged the horns, then he said, “You really got a great sheep, and with a bow!” After calculating all of the measurements Jeff said, “He green scores 180 & 7/8 inches!!! I couldn’t believe it! My ram ranks as the New #1 Desert Big Horn Ram ever taken with archery equipment in the State of California!! Additionally, the Green Score places it in the top 2 for the Pope and Young Record Book!!!
I am still on top of the world with this accomplishment, not only did I get my ram, I got him in 3 ½ days on my own and he turns out to be a record! This isn’t only a tag of a lifetime this was a Hunt of a Lifetime and a trophy of a lifetime!
The Official Score after the mandatory 60-day drying period was 178 4/8 net with 179 1/8 gross… only 2/8” below the Pope & Young Club World Record!!!