The Hunt of a Lifetime for Rocky Mountain Bighorn Sheep with PSE’s John May
I tried for 6 years to get a tag for a Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep in Colorado. I felt really lucky, because I know a lot of people have applied for that tag for 20 years or more and never have been drawn. I was one of two nonresidents to draw an archery tag that year. I was hunting unit F 32. I had read a lot about this unit in hunting reports, and I knew it contained a lot of sheep and mature rams. There were a very limited number of tags given for this unit, and the unit had produced a large number of high scoring rams. I had an outfitter who did a lot of scouting for me. I arrived at the unit a couple of days early, so I could glass the area I would be hunting with a spotting scope and large binoculars like the Swarovski 15×56. I also spent 3 months with a personal trainer, Bert Seelman, before I went. Eric Shum was going to accompany me on the hunt and film it, so he trained with me. In those 3 months, we were able to put on some muscle, lose some weight and get our legs and lungs in shape to try and tame the mountain. But, regardless of how good of shape you think you’re in, mountains always will take their toll on you. We were hunting between 5,550 feet of elevation and 14,000 feet. We hiked for about 7 days.
I’m often asked, “Why did you think spending 3 months with a personal trainer was important before your hunt”? My response is, “I’ve always worked out and tried to stay in shape.” But, when I was lucky enough to draw this once in a lifetime tag, I wanted to give myself the best possible chance to take a ram.” In sheep hunting, the first consideration is, can you physically get to the place where you need to be to take the shot? When you do a lot of mountain climbing at steep elevations, you have to be in really good shape, able to endure the terrain and mentally prepared for the hunt. By that, I mean climbing at steep elevations for several consecutive days means you’ll be tired and often mentally whipped. So, the better you can prepare for a hunt like this, the better your odds for success are. I realized this was a once in lifetime hunt. Even though I’d always done my own training, I knew I needed someone to push me to the outermost limits of my physical conditioning. Too, I wanted help with the dietary supplements I’d need to get my body to perform at a high level of physical activity over an extended number of days. After 3 months of working with the personal trainer, I felt like I was in the best physical and mental shape I could be in to go on this hunt.
When we finally arrived at the area and started glassing, we could see that most of the sheep were holding right at the tree line. We drove into Georgetown, Colorado, and went across the interstate from the unit I had drawn, to get up to some really high elevations to look for the sheep. If we saw a sheep we wanted to go after, we’d have to go down the mountain, cross the interstate, come into town and get on the other side of the highway to get into my unit. Then, we’d have to hike or ride horses over the top of a mountain, so we could see the base of the mountain where most of the sheep were holding. Each time we glassed, we usually saw about 8 or 10 rams. One time, we found a band of rams, and in that band, there was one ram that we guessed to be about 180 inches. He eventually got in a bachelor group of about 25 rams. I had a couple of stalks during the 7 day hunt, where I got in close to several different rams. However, then either the wind would switch and take my scent to the rams, or the thermals would change, and the rams would smell us and blow out of the area.
On the sixth day, I stalked in close to six rams. The big 180 class ram I wanted to take was in that group of five other rams. But, before I could get close enough for a shot, the ram winded us and went over the mountain. The next day, we had to spend half a day trying to find that band of rams again. Once we finally located them, we watched them feed and finally bed down. We used the terrain to hide our movements, as we moved up through some cracks and crevices in the mountain. Finally, we reached a spot above the rams. When we peeped over the top of the mountain, we saw a 160 ram standing on a rock outcropping. We’d hunted so hard and been so totally unsuccessful, that I was ready to shoot and take this ram. Although I would have been pleased to take that 160 ram, the ram I really wanted was that 180 incher, which also was with this band of rams. The 160 ram was well within range and looking straight at me from 40 yards away, but he was downhill. So, I realized I couldn’t shoot him with my 40 yard pin, but would have to shoot at him with a much closer pin. I aimed with my 20 yard pin. As I waited for that ram to turn his head to take a shot at him, the ram got nervous, and the 180 class ram pushed the 160 class ram off the rock where he’d been standing. Then the big ram stood in the very same spot as the other ram and looked down the mountain and away from me, while slightly quartering away. My 20 yard pin settled behind his shoulder, and I released the arrow. The big ram went about 30 yards down the mountain and piled up.
I was shooting the PSE Nitro at that time. I couldn’t have asked more of any bow. The shot was perfect going behind the shoulder and down and taking out the ram’s heart. My Nitro I was pulling was 70 pounds, I shot the PSE 300 arrow shaft, and the broadhead was a Rocket Hammerhead. When we reached the ram, we skinned and caped him, put the meat in game bags and hung it in trees. We placed the cape and horns on a pack frame and carried it back to camp about a 2 1/2 hour hike. Then we returned the next morning and packed out the meat. The ram scored 178. The year I took him, he was the largest Rocky Mountain bighorn harvested with archery equipment in Colorado.
Tomorrow: PSE’s John May Hunts Arizona Buffalo After Waiting 20 Years for a Tag