Desert Bighorn Sheep Hunting Articles
ARIZONA GUIDED HUNTS OUTFITTERS
"The One Day Ram Hunt"
By Andy Charnoki
When I was 8 years old at a friend’s house, I saw my first bighorn that had been harvested. I was at such aw that I told myself someday I will hunt one of these great animals. Little did I know it would take another 52 years.
When I got ready to apply for the 2011 draw, I joked that it was the 18th of May and the check I made out for the draw also had an 8 in one of the numbers. The number 8 is my lucky number. So with that in mind, I drove to the Game and Fish office on this 18th day and hand delivered my application.
On July 19th I checked the draw results. I was so stunned, that I had to look at it 3 times (Results: Drawn for Bighorn Sheep). I told my wife and both of us jumped up and down.
On July 22nd I contacted Pat Feldt by e-mail. I had never talked or met him before but he responded immediately. I knew after talking with him that this was the guy.
Pat’s hard work scouting 2 ½ weeks prior to the opening day, resulted in locating several sheep; one being a large Class IV Ram in a unit not known for big rams. He sent me a video and picture of this majestic ram and we made him the number one priority for my hunt.
The day prior to opening morning, Pat and I just finished setting up camp. The weather was calm and rather hot at 78 degrees. The second we finished, Pat says, “let’s go look for some sheep.” We had about an hour before dark. Pat has the ability to see, find, and class sheep like nobody I know. Within minutes, he was able to locate a young ram 800 yards away. We were able to get within 200 yards and take some video. It was a nice ram, but Pat said we are after a much larger and older ram.
At 10pm the night prior to opening morning, the weather arrived with a vengeance. The temperature dropped and there were wind gusts up to 50 mph.The wind rocked the camp trailer back and forth all night long. Needless to say, there was not much sleep that night.
Opening morning continued with 35-50 mph winds and blowing rain. Pat arose from bed and said, “Andy, we might not see any sheep today.” I just laughed and soon off we went. About 1 ½ hours of persistent glassing in 50 mph winds and rain, Pat located two ewes and a small ram. They were well over a mile away. We worked our way in their direction for a closer look. Once there, he began to glass distant ridges and spotted three more sheep: the big class IV ram, a ewe, and a smaller ram. They were 2.5 miles away feeding in a small cut shielded from the wind. It was decided to pack up again for a closer look. We began a rugged, wet and windy 4-hour stalk over mountain ranges and behind ridges so we could not be spotted. The hike found us in rough and steep places unimaginable by most people.
Upon cresting the final ridge, we finally found ourselves within shooting distance of the feeding sheep. We were able to set up for a shot at 329 yards. Once I was able to locate the majestic ram in the rifle scope, I realized how big and grand the animal really was. Watching him through the scope, I said to Pat, “Wow, what a big ram!” Although the rain had started again, the wind had now calmed down, allowing me to take my shot.
Pat said, “You hit him. Rack-in another round and do a follow-up shot.” I did and the ram went to the ground. Once I knew we had him, I just could not believe my dream had come true. I used Pat’s cell phone to tell my wife and she exclaimed words of joy for me.
In order to approach him, we now had to cross a big canyon and then climb another mountain that had extremely loose rock with no footing. Pat told me since he has been a sheep guide, that I hold first place for getting a ram in the worst weather conditions and also shooting it in the roughest place ever to retrieve it.
When we finally got to the ram, I could not believe how grand he was. He was 8 to 9 years old, had massive horns with a great curl, and was very beautiful! Pat and I took photos then skinned and quartered him for the pack out. It took another 6 hours and 5 miles to get him back to the trailhead. If it was not for Pat, this would have never been possible.
Thanks for making my dream hunt come true.
"Finishing The Big Ten"
By Dan Rorbach
I’m a native Arizonian and have been hunting in Arizona with my family ever since I was old enough to hold a rifle. In my family hunting was a way of life and the yearly trips to the J-Six Ranch, Chiricahuas or Graham Mountains was a special time that everyone looked forward to. In those early years, deer and javelina were the main species that I hunted but as I grew older the weekend trips grew into one week to 10 day vacations with everyone taking off work and school. We traveled further to the White Mountains or Flagstaff after elk, or to the Kaibab for deer. As I recall, it was sometime in my late teens or early 20’s that I started dreaming about obtaining my Arizona Big Ten. After all I thought, how hard could it really be? I’d already bagged 5, whitetail and mule deer, javelina, elk and turkey. That is half, so naively I figured I would just go after the other 5. Well last year I turned 60 and Desert Bighorn Sheep still kept me from accomplishing my goal. I had no idea way back then how hard it is to get drawn in Arizona.
The spring of 2009 was no different than every other year when I sat down to fill out my application. Every year I would read about the areas and because I was unfamiliar with so many of the areas I would put in for the favorites 31-32 Aravaipa or 37A Silver Bells. After so many rejections I decided to change areas. My brother, David, enjoys, for some strange reason, to hike around in the low deserts. I called him for some insight into areas I’d never been. He told me he had seen sheep during a recent hike in the Kofa National Wildlife Refuge and suggested I put in for the northwest portion, 45A.T here was only 1 tag available, what the heck, and figured I can’t do any worse than I’d done for the past 30+ years.
I remember driving home from my cabin in Pinetop on a hot Sunday afternoon in mid July when I had this really strong urge to check the AGFD website for the draw results. That evening I got on line and SUCCESSFUL was next to Bighorn Sheep.Little did I realize that after all the dancing and screaming that evening, Bighorn Sheep were going to consume every waking hour of my life for the next 6 months. I was very excited and couldn’t wait to go scouting and see the Kofa’s but it was summer and the temperature along the Yuma/Quartzsite Highway 95 was 110+.In the meantime I read, watched videos, went to sporting goods stores and tried to absorb everything I could about an animal that I had never ever seen, in a land that I had never been to or stepped foot in.
Finally, I could stand it no longer and in late August (still ridiculously hot) my brother and I went for the weekend to the Kofa’s. I was expecting low rolling desert type hills. I thought glassing would be easy from the flats in my truck with the air on and the sheep would just be grazing on the slopes. Wow!!!! Did I get a rude awakening! The hills were giant mountains with deep canyons and spires that towered high like something out of “Lord of the Rings”. There were rocks and boulders everywhere. Where are the sheep? High? Low? In between? I was in complete awe, confused and most of all worried. Scared would be a better word. I was scared that I was going to blow my one chance to accomplish my dream. Noticing me turning pale, my brother asked what was my problem and I responded that I was in a lot deeper than I ever expected.He asked what I was going to do and I said, “Go home and hire a guide.”
I’d received a lot of mail from guides around the State and I immediately began calling. I narrowed my search down to 3 skilled sheep guides and personally interviewed each. All were very good and had great résumé’s, lots of referrals and had hunted 45A in recent years.I felt it was very important to meet and talk to the guide and get that comfortable feeling. That is what I felt when I met with Pat Feldt, Arizona Guided Hunts. It just clicked, we liked each other and as an added bonus Pat lived only a couple miles from me in Vail, Arizona. Pat took me along while he scouted and I saw my first Desert Bighorn Sheep in the wild.He helped me set up my Ruger 25-06 with a 6.5-20X Leupold for long shots and we went to the shooting range together twice to sight-in and practice.
In late August I received a flier from the Arizona Desert Bighorn Sheep Society for a clinic that they put on in late September.My brothers and I went and the seminars that they offered were very informative.Last years trophy mounts were on display and I met with representatives from Kofa National Wildlife Reserve, BLM, and AGFD. They had maps, area rules and game statistics. Additionally, there were vendors showing binoculars, tripods, etc. At the ADBSS table I met last year’s president, Dave Mattausch. ADBSS had a raffle going on and Dave signed me up for a membership in the society. I got posters and pamphlets about Desert Bighorn Sheep and drove home that evening more excited than ever with a wealth of new knowledge in my head.
After what seemed like an eternity, the wait was over. It was December and the season had finally arrived. I was ready, my gun was sighted-in, I was fit and trim after months of exercise and walking and all my equipment, new and old, was packed. I was excited beyond belief as Pat picked me up and we drove off to the Kofa’s. Pat’s friend Eliot and my brothers met us at the Kofa National Wildlife Refuge to set up camp along the main entrance road.On our last scouting trip, the month before, we had seen a nice Class III ram and we were hoping to find him again.We were told by AGFD after their annual November survey that there were no class IV rams and only 3 class III rams in 45A. We felt fortunate that we found a class III and I content that was the best we were going to do but the season was young and there was more time to look. On the second day we found the class III ram we had seen previously. We called him Flare because the tip of his right horn flared out.Flare was way up high and watched as he went over the top of the ridge. The next day we went around to the other side and early in the morning found what we thought was Flare, but some how this ram looked different and seemed bigger. His horns brightly shined in the early morning sun. We named him CT for “Car Tire” because he looked like he had perfect circles, similar to white wall tires hanging from his ears. CT was about 1.5 miles away, across the valley, half way up the slope with 1 small ram, 4 ewes and a lamb. While glassing CT we found Flare on the same slope and side of the valley as CT, only one ravine over to the west. CT was definitely bigger and could even be a class IV. After watching him for what seemed like forever, we began our stalk.1 ½ hrs later, Pat and I were in the base of the valley, 800-900 yards away from CT. CT was lying down on a small rock outcropping, the other sheep were lying down also except for one that was grazing. Slowly we advanced from a high bank, to a tree and then to a bush. We had come to a point where there was no cover left, except for that bush. We had made it to 600 yards and were busted. CT jumped up, stared in our direction, and Wow! He ran fast, straight up and over the highest ridge. I was sick, totally deflated, he was gone.
For the next couple of days we scouted and saw some sheep but smaller rams. We found Flare again but CT was on our mind. We stayed out of the valley where we saw CT in hopes that he would return but no luck in our distant spot checks. We decided after 2 days to go back into the valley early the next morning. It was the 6th day, the 6th of December and we hiked in the dark, about 3 miles, to the middle of the valley. As the sun was getting ready to rise, Pat and I split up to look at different slopes.Pat started up a small mound in the middle of the valley and 2 ewes ran down the mound right past him. I was watching from my perch on another mound and followed the sheep as they ran across the valley to the northern slopes. There on the slope was Flare again. Pat and I signaled that we both saw Flare and we began glassing the slopes to the west. Unbelievably, the sun peeked over the east slope and both of us at the same time saw CT’s big horns glowing. Halleluiah, my heart was trying to jump out of my chest. CT was just west of where we had seen him before, the same slope that Flare was on 3 days before. We watched CT for a long time and decided to cross the valley way to the east and then skirt the north slopes using them as cover. After over two hours we came to the last slope and drainage from CT.Quietly, we climbed the slope and saw CT grazing across a major drainage, 400 yds away. There was just no way to get any closer, so I crawled to the top of the slope and lay down behind a bush. I was now 375 yds away. I calmed down, took my time and shot. Oh my God!!!My shot went high.CT darted to the left and stopped next to a Palo Verde tree staring in our direction, obviously confused as to what just happened. I shot again and unbelievably missed again grazing the tip of his inside ear.This time he turned and ran over to a rock outcropping and again stopped and stared. I waited for another shot, calmed down, aimed and squeezed off my third shot. It hit him perfectly in the chest and he dropped. “CT is down,” I exclaimed. Pat and I crossed the drainage to CT and I could not believe the size of the horns up close. We took pictures and processed him. My brothers had watched the whole thing from 2.5 miles away through the spotting scopes. They immediately came running to help pack him out 4 miles to the road.We were all very tired that evening as we ate tenderloin from the ram but I felt completely satisfied.It was the end of years of putting in applications and 6 months of getting prepared for the hunt of a lifetime. Finally, I had my Arizona Big Ten!
"The One Bonus Point Ram"
By Brian LeVan
“Are you going to make it?” I heard Pat ask me with concern in his voice as we made our way across the rocky slope.
I was hunting with Pat Feldt, owner of Arizona Guided Hunts (www.arizonahunting.net) in Western Arizona for a chance at an Arizona desert big horn sheep. This area contains the flare-horned Nelsoni subspecies of desert sheep. It was the first year that they offered two tags in this area and I had drawn the second tag as my second choice in the draw. Surprisingly, I had drawn with only one bonus point!
Now what? What equipment would I need for this type of hunt, maybe a new rifle, scope, range finder, spotting scope, boots, etc? I finally slowed down enough to think about what I already had and not just what I thought I needed for the hunt. I enjoyed looking for the range finder and spotting scope that I would need to add to all of the other hunting items I already owned.
Like all of the other lucky tag holders, I got a number of notices and brochures from guides, but being an experienced hunter and having taken Pennsylvania Whitetail deer, California Tule bull elk and a California buck antelope, I didn’t think I would need a guide. I would try to do it on my own. The next step was to get as much information on the area that I could. I attended the Arizona Desert Bighorn Sheep Society information clinic, got maps and a few tips on where to start scouting. My hunt area was in the desert wastelands along the Colorado River. The first time out scouting, I got stuck in a sand pit and had to walk 2 ½ miles across the desert until I found two dirt bike riders. They gave me a ride to the nearest gas station. Once there I found a guy who would pull me out for $175.00. Of course I had to wait two hours for him to return from his current job to pull me out. Needless to say, I did not see any sheep on that scouting trip, but at least I was on my way home and not stuck in the sand. On the second scouting trip, I did not fair much better. I saw many wild burros but no sheep. I did manage to get stuck again, but this time I was able to free myself after a couple of hours of digging and problem solving.
After much anticipation and scouting, it was opening weekend. The elements were against me from the start when I drove through one huge rainstorm into another. It rained all Friday and into Saturday morning. I had to sleep inside my truck and bring in as much gear as I could so it would not get wet. In the morning, I took my ATV into some areas that I had not scouted hoping to finally find some sheep. I was unsuccessful and discouraged. I drew a great tag, put forth much effort, and had yet to see a sheep. I kept thinking about wasting a once in a lifetime opportunity and wondering about a brochure I had received from Pat’s guide service. It was difficult to consider that I was not a good enough hunter to be successful on my own.
While already a week into the season and with much apprehension, I contacted Pat to talk with him about his services. He told me that he knew the area and would be able to gather data on the recent sheep activity and would be able to provide his expertise in sheep hunting. I knew there was no guarantee of success with his or any other guide services, but I knew there was an even greater chance of failure without it. Since he had other hunts scheduled earlier in the season and it was on short notice, we reached an agreement to hunt the last week starting December 26th. It seemed like forever waiting for the day of the hunt.
This hunting trip began differently than my first attempt earlier in the season. This time it was sunny and no rain was expected. It was the morning after Christmas. I was up early and had packed everything that I thought I would need for the day. I met Pat at a gas station and moved some gear from my truck into his. Even though we had not met before, I felt very comfortable with him. We went to the first area that Pat had expected to see sheep. He spotted a single ewe through his 15X56 Swarovski binoculars after just a few minutes into glassing. We watched the sheep for a while when Pat spotted a mature ram on a far mountain nearly 2 miles away. We looked at him for a while through the binoculars with the Swarovski Doubler attached. It was so exciting to finally see my first desert bighorn ram in the wild. Unfortunately, there was just no way to reach him. We watched as he disappeared over the horizon.
No other rams showed up that morning, so we decided to move to another area. This area was not accessible by truck and barely by foot, so we walked up a ridge and set up to glass a distant set of jagged peaks. Within minutes, Pat spotted two rams moving down a mountainside about a mile and a half away. The two rams butted heads with each other. What a sight to see in the wild! We watched for about 15 minutes when Pat said that he saw five more rams moving down the mountain. He thought that one was a really good trophy ram and that we could reach them. We began walking and within an hour or so, we reached a rocky bluff about 700 yards away from the sheep. Pat looked around and said we needed to find a way to get closer without being seen. This was a feat in itself since there was absolutely no cover, except for a couple bushes ankle high. He suggested we go around the backside of the ridge we were on and come up over a saddle. He felt this would put us in a good position for a better look and hopefully a good shot on one of the rams.
We had been hiking for a while when Pat looked back and asked chuckling, “Are you going to make it?” Having a willing mind and an able heart but bad knees, I told him that I would make it, just not as fast as he would. Once on top of the ridge, we crawled on our hands and knees “hoping beyond hope” that the rams would still be there. Wow!!! There were seven rams, two really nice ones bedded on the opposite side of the canyon. One good ram was facing away while the other was facing directly towards us. We had a crosswind and the sun was over our shoulders. I was using a custom 300 Remington Ultra Mag with a 6.5-20X50 Leupold Long Range scope. Pat used his Leica 1200 laser rangefinder to estimate the distance at 396 yards and then he “clicked-in” the scope. I laid prone behind the gun for over an hour getting adjusted to the rifle and scope. Pat and I had plenty of time to discuss which ram was the largest and oldest of the group. We chose the ram facing our direction because of his character. His horns had flare and great length. He seemed to be the oldest of the seven with his facial battle scars and broomed-off horns. Now all we had to do was wait for him to stand up and present a broadside shot. Soon my neck became kinked and I was really getting cramped from lying still so long, but I knew as soon as I moved, so would the ram. I took a chance and rolled over on my back to stretch, and BINGO, Pat said, “He’s up”! I rolled over surprised that I had not lost my sight or cheek weld on the stock.
The ram stretched for 10 seconds, turned around and bedded right back down. Only now he was almost broadside, quartering slightly. The only obstructions were a huge boulder at his rump and one hiding part of his brisket. Pat and I discussed that a bullet could now be placed into his vitals. Pat coached me where to take the shot and to bring my finger back on the trigger very slowly, but only when I was totally ready. I was confident at making this shot, since the crosshairs were rock solid and I had taken animals in the past out to 350 yards. The shot was taken and the ram jumped up then tumbled. The 180-grain Nosler Accubond bullet went exactly where I put the crosshairs.
The day after Christmas was a successful day of hunting. I was standing next to a beautiful Nelsoni desert big horn ram. He was pale in color, almost a blonde. After photos, skinning and boning out my sheep, we worked our way 2 miles back to Pat’s truck. When we got back, he instantly pulled out his tape measure and scored my ram at 166-7/8 inches gross, making it the largest ram to ever come out of that zone by about 10”. The ram had nearly 36-inch horn length and was nearly 30 inches tip-to-tip! Pat said this was an exceptional ram for the area. I took the ram to the Phoenix Office of the Arizona Game and Fish Department to get it checked-in. They scored him within an eighth of an inch of Pat’s measurements and aged him at 8+. Then I drove to Weller’s Wildlife Studio in Tucson to have the head mounted. I already have a space picked out for it on my office wall.
If asked, I would tell anyone drawing a once in a lifetime sheep tag to get in shape, get good optics, and more importantly, HIRE A GUIDE. You can contact Pat Feldt at Arizonagh@aol.com or 520-237-2705.
A few younger rams seen on the hunt.
"In Pursuit of Lefty"
By Gabriel Lopez
This article has appeared in "The Ram's Horn" magazine, "FNAWS Conservation Connection" and "Eastmans' Hunting Journal"
My pursuit of the Arizona desert bighorn starts a little different from other people.As usual, I applied for numerous big game hunts in June 2004 and waited for the normal denial letters. Yet, this year was different.I was not surprised that I had been denied for an Arizona desert bighorn tag because I had only applied for two years. But, after five years of applying for elk, I was finally successful in receiving a late season bull tag. November 2004 could not come soon enough and after a lot of scouting and research for the bull elk, I knew that a 340-350 inch bull was attainable.
Finally November arrived. I was at home getting ready to leave for the elk hunt when I received a letter from the Arizona Game and Fish Department. A sick feeling came over me because I thought the letter might say that I had made a mistake on my application and was no longer eligible to go on the elk hunt. In fact, I didn’t want to open it until after my elk hunt. The temptation was too much, so I opened the letter. I was in disbelief when I kept reading that there had been an error in the draw and I had been awarded a coveted desert bighorn sheep tag! The only catch was that I would have to accept the tag for the following year in December 2005.That was fine with me!
I proceeded to go on my first bull elk hunt for myself with my dad and two friends, Derek Hill and Danny Sanchez. On the third day of the bull elk hunt I successfully took a 6 x 6 at a distance of 510 yards with my 300 Ultra Mag. The bull scored 363 inches; his main beams were 59 inches, his width was 50 inches and his royals were 21 inches.
I now had a year to do research and start learning how to hunt for desert bighorn sheep. Arizona has two subspecies of desert bighorn, the Nelsoni and the Mexicana.The major difference between the two is the way the ram’s horns look. The Nelson variety has thinner horns that flare away from its head, while the Mexicana variety seems to be heavier horned and has a tighter curl. The unit I drew holds the Nelson subspecies. I started reading books, watching videos, and speaking with other hunters who had been lucky enough to hunt these animals. I spoke to members of the Arizona Desert Bighorn Sheep Society and of course spoke with Arizona Game and Fish Managers for the unit.Clint Adams from the AZGFD was very helpful in giving me areas that I should start my scouting.Mr. Adams told me that this unit usually produces rams in the 145-155 size, so my goal of taking a 160 plus ram would be a difficult task. It was not impossible though, since one of the hunters from 2004 had shot a ram that scored around 175 inches.
My hunting partner Derek Hill and I started scouting in August 2005. On our first trip the temperatures reached 115 degrees. Needless to say, we saw no sheep and very little sign. With the amount of time and effort we put in, I was a little discouraged after seeing no sheep and felt overwhelmed at the sheer size of the unit. Mr. Adams had told me that my unit could be very difficult to hunt because there was not a high sheep population. To complicate things more, there were five mountain ranges that held those low numbers of sheep. Furthermore, miles and miles of flat desert separated these mountain ranges.
I then was lucky and met with Robert Gamez, a hunter who had successfully taken a ram from the unit in 2004. I met with Robert regularly and he was more than willing to help me with information such as road access, where water encatchements were located, and more importantly, where he had seen sheep the year before. Robert told me about a remarkable ram he had found on a scouting trip that he thought would go above the 170-inch mark. He said the ram’s left horn flared up over the bridge of his nose.Robert hunted for this ram for nearly two weeks with no avail. Not only did he not see this ram on the hunt, he did not even see a sheep in the area. Discouraged with no sightings in the area, he ended up in a totally different mountain range taking a respectable ram on the 18th day of the hunt. Robert felt the big ram was still out there and knew that the other successful hunter had not taken him. I quickly became excited knowing about this animal and the fact that I would only be competing with one other hunter in this unit.
I knew this hunt would take a considerable amount of scouting. One problem I faced was that my work schedule would not allow me to go on as many scouting trips as I would have liked. The fact that the unit was a six and a half hour drive one way also made it difficult for scouting. I started thinking that I might have “bit off more than I could handle” and may need to hire an experienced bighorn sheep guide.
I then had a stroke of luck. Clint Adams from AZGFD called me and told me that they were going to fly over my unit in October and he would share where they found some rams. The problem was that whatever he shared with me, he would be sharing with the other hunter in the unit.I already knew there was an exceptional ram in one of the mountain ranges. Now I would just have to be lucky enough to find him. Clint quickly informed me that on the fly-over of the unit that they had seen a magnificent ram that would measure in the mid 170’s to 180.He also told me that the left horn flared out and he was near a certain water development. From that info, I immediately knew this was the same ram that Robert had told me about.
As I was still contemplating on hiring a sheep guide, a friend referred me to Arizona Desert Bighorn Sheep Society member Pat Feldt, the owner of Arizona Guided Hunts. I liked Pat right away since he was not pushy and arrogant as many of the other guides I had spoken with. He had helped other hunters take large desert rams in the past and was very experienced at locating, hunting and judging rams. After the meeting with Pat and viewing his website (www.arizonahunting.net), I knew that going with him would significantly increase my chances at harvesting the record book Nelsoni desert bighorn.The next day Pat and I had scheduled to go on a scouting trip for late October. I was amazed at the time and research that Pat put into the trip. He had every topo map of the unit and had marked numerous areas in which to glass from. He had spoken with numerous friends and had gathered more information on the unit in two weeks than I had in 9 months.
Late October found Pat, Derek, Robert and I scouting for the big ram. As luck would have it, we found the remarkable ram by 8:00 a.m.! We glassed him from a little over a mile away with our Swarovski 15 X 56 optics. This gave us an opportunity to get some good video footage. We videoed about 25 minutes of the 175-inch ram and a smaller 150-inch ram. Pat informed me that I had to be one of the luckiest people he knew; not only had I drawn a tag in my third year of applying, but my first ram I had EVER SEEN was a huge ram that would score in the mid 170’s and would easily make the Boone and Crocket Record Book. He also explained this was an exceptional sheep for the area.
After scouting the entire mountain range and learning access points and roads, Pat, Derek, Robert and I decided to scout other areas to give us more options. We found another good ram that would score in the low 160’s in the next mountain range. Pat explained he too was a nice ram for the Nelson variety and that we should put him on the back burner as a secondary ram. I was so excited I could not wait for the hunt in December. My fear now was that the big ram would not be in the same area for the hunt or that he would vanish into thin air like he had the year before when Robert had hunted for him.
The hunt was now here and I would have my Dad, my friends Derek Hill, Robert Gomez and Pat Feldt in my camp to assist on the hunt. My dad and I arrived two days before the hunt in hopes of finding “Lefty”.We glassed all afternoon and were unsuccessful at finding the big one, or any sheep for that matter.The next day we were confident that we would find some sheep because Pat had arrived. We now had experience on our side. Within 30 minutes of glassing, Pat spotted “Lefty” near the same mountaintop that we had found him in October.He was only a mile further north and still with the smaller 150” ram; only he now had two ewes with him. We immediately closed the distance between us from the mile and half away to within 900 yards. We proceeded to stay with him for the next 9 hours. We took some great video footage of the ram as he sparred with an ocotillo and played with the ewes.
Day One of the hunt found Pat and I across the canyon at a distance of 450 yards from where we put Lefty to bed. Pat believed the ram would present a shot for me first thing in the morning. At 7:30 a.m. the two ewes appeared exactly where we were expecting them to be. The problem was that the big ram was nowhere to be found. For some reason the big old ram had decided to leave his ewes and smaller companion.Fear set in and I started thinking that maybe we spooked him or he had fallen from a cliff or been taken by a mountain lion. Even though we had not seen the other hunter, I was also getting nervous because I figured that he would be hunting this ram as well.
Day Two found all of us glassing in the same area for the big ram. It was noontime and none of us had even seen a sheep. I started thinking that this ram had vanished again into thin air like he did to Robert Gamez last year. Pat kept me motivated and reminded me that he would be there to help me find this animal for the next seven days. I also had to remind myself that I had 29 more days left in the season. At 12:30 Pat made a plan that he and I would take our ATV’s and go about two miles to the north end of the mountain range. Pat was confident that the ram was on the mountain and had no reason to leave. Around 1:15, after about 10 minutes of glassing, Pat had found “Lefty.” He was by himself and was traveling in the direction that we had just come from.We met up with Derek and he had also seen “Lefty” going back to where we had found him the day before the hunt. Robert was on the south end of the mountain glassing the backside and we had no way to contact him to let him know that we had found the big ram. My dad was also at a different mountain range at this time. The ram was constantly moving and would not bed or stay in any location for any length of time, which made a stalk impossible. We would lose sight of him for 10-15 minutes at a time. At 3:45 I turned to Pat and said that we needed to make a decision to go to the right side of the mountain or go to the left, which would require us to climb straight up a mountain. I depended on Pat’s past experiences and he said we should go to the left and take the hard route. It was 4:25 p.m. and the sun sets at 5:20 p.m. We realized we would soon be running out of daylight. When we finally approached the top of the ridge, Pat peaked over to find the ram standing broadside at 529 yards! We knew it was now or never. Because of the steep cliffs and limited amount of time, we could not get any closer. I was confident shooting at this distance since I was using Pat’s 300 Ultra Mag topped with a 6.5-20X50 Leopold target scope and shooting a 180-grain Nosler Accubond bullet.
The scope turrets were clicked to the distance of 529 yards and the gun was set on the bipod as Pat got the video camera rolling. I could hear every breath I took as I tried to calm down. I heard Pat tell me to take my time and put it on his shoulder. I slowly squeezed the trigger and immediately heard Pat tell me that I had hit the ram well and that he was “very sick”. I was instantly back on the ram, which had run about 20 yards to his left. He was still standing broadside and I was about to shoot again when I saw the ram start tumbling down the mountain. I cannot explain all the emotions that I felt. I actually started shaking and I felt like I did when I shot my very first deer at the age of twelve. I said a prayer and gave thanks to God for allowing me the opportunity to take such a magnificent animal and for letting me share this once in a lifetime experience with my dad and friends. As Pat and I were walking towards Lefty, we saw my friend Robert approaching the ram. It ended up that Robert had been about 400 yards from the ram and had seen the whole thing expire. After we approached the ram, Pat had estimated he would score around 173-175 inches and thought the left horn was over 36 inches long.Pat was right on; the ram has been scored at 175 4/8 inches. His bases are 15 inches, his left horn is 37 ¾ inches and his right horn is 34 inches in length. If the tip on the ram’s right side had not been broken, he would gross near 180 inches. This is one large Nelson ram! At the time of this writing this is the largest Nelson desert bighorn taken in Arizona for 2005.
In closing, I want to thank everyone that helped me with this hunt. It certainly would not have been possible without my two best friends, Derek Hill and Robert Gomez. I also want to thank their families for understanding our passion for hunting.To Pat Feldt, owner of Arizona Guided Hunts, I am ever indebted. Thank you for all your time, hard work and dedication to make this dream possible. To my family thank you all for putting up with my passion, and finally to my Dad, thank you for teaching me to respect the animals that we are lucky enough to hunt and for always taking the time to take me out hunting.
Article and Photos of Claude Sanchez's 2010 Desert Sheep Hunt
Claude glassing for desert bighorn sheep in the distant mountains. Camp is in the background.
"Desert Sheep – A Dream Come True"
By Claude Sanchez Jr.
When I was 10 years old, my uncle took me along for the first time to hunt Mule Deer in Central New Mexico. As we were climbing the rugged mountains, we spotted a group of Bighorn Sheep on the cliffs above. I stopped and watched in amazement as these majestic animals walked above us. It was then, that I knew one day I would pursue and hunt for these beautiful animals. Little did I know it would be some 45 years later, after filling out countless applications in all the states that have Bighorn Sheep populations. Never being fortunate enough to draw a sheep tag, I booked a hunt in the fall of 2006 in the Wrangle Mountains of Alaska, where I was able to harvest a great full curl Dall Sheep Ram that scored 158 3/8. Now I had my first of the elusive Grand Slam. My desire to hunt Bighorn Sheep grew even stronger. For the last three years, not only did I apply for tags, I also began purchasing raffle tickets in all the states and Wild Sheep organizations that offered the opportunity to win a Bighorn Sheep tag in order to increase my odds. Knowing that the raffle drawing had taken place in Oregon on May 19th, 2009, I looked online for the results and to my amazement, I had been drawn as the first alternate for the California Bighorn tag. In other words, I was the first loser. I didn’t let this discourage me because somehow I knew I would draw or win a Bighorn Sheep tag that year.
My wife and I headed for Montana in early June with our RV to spend the summer fly-fishing. On the morning of July 20th I was checking my email and saw that I had a message in my junk box. I didn’t recognize the address and almost deleted it, but something told me to open it. It read “Dear Claude, your ticket was drawn as the winner of the Desert Bighorn Sheep tag at Saturday’s Super Raffle Drawing.” I must have read it a hundred times before I almost jumped through the ceiling of our RV, shouting “I WON, I WON!” My wife thought I was crazy, and everyone in West Yellowstone must have heard me and thought the same thing. Shortly after calming down, I called Charlie Kelly, president of the Arizona Big Game Super Raffle. He confirmed that I had indeed won the coveted Desert Bighorn Sheep tag. The rest of the summer I couldn’t believe I had really won and that I was finally going to get the chance to fulfill my dream to hunt Desert Bighorn.
I knew I would not be able to begin hunting until February 2010 because of a very busy fall hunting season. I had several other hunting trips in New Mexico for archery elk and deer. I also had booked a Yukon Moose and Caribou hunt for late September, which turned out to be a disaster. More importantly, my daughter, Sheila, was getting married in mid-October and I was also expecting my first grandchild in late January. I knew I would still have plenty of time left on my tag since I had a full year to hunt. After returning home I began to contact several outfitters in Arizona to guide me on my Desert Sheep hunt. Knowing that I would not be able to hunt for the remainder of the year gave me plenty of time to find a quality outfitter. One who would spend the time pre-scouting, but more importantly, someone I would be able to get along with personally. I spoke with Pat Feldt of Arizona Guided Hunts and immediately knew he was the guy I wanted to guide me on my dream hunt. He was very professional and knowledgeable, but mostly he was sincere. I could tell he would work his tail off to help me fulfill my lifelong dream. We both agreed he would be my guide. Now it was just a matter of being patient and waiting for my first grandchild to be born. On January 26th at 2:50 am, Loni Sophia was born. I can’t tell you how proud I was to hold my new hunting partner in my arms and to be a grandfather for the first time. The next day I called Pat to let him know I was now able to begin my hunt and that I would be arriving in Kingman on February 9th.Even though I wasn’t going to be hunting for at least 5 months, I kept up my rigorous workout routine to stay in good physical condition; knowing I would be hunting in very steep, rocky terrain. In addition, I would go to the shooting range at least once a week to shoot my rifle at long distances so I would be prepared to make a clean shot at any distance. On the morning of February 8th, 2010, I left my home for Kingman, AZ. I was filled with anticipation, but confident that I had prepared myself both physically and mentally for a once in a lifetime hunt for Desert Bighorn Sheep. The day after my arrival I called Pat to let him know I was in Kingman, thinking we wouldn’t be meeting until the morning of the 10th, but to my surprise he was only minutes from Kingman. Pat came over and after meeting each other for the first time in person, he suggested that we just go ahead and set up camp to begin the hunt.
After setting up camp and having a bite to eat, we grabbed our gear to see if we could spot some sheep that afternoon. We walked to a high point and began to glass the area. It wasn’t very long after we began that Pat had spotted some ewes and lambs. This was actually my first opportunity to see Desert Bighorn Sheep in the wild. I thought to myself how lucky I were to be sitting here at this very moment in these rugged, yet beautiful high desert mountains. I was looking at my surroundings with the sheer cliffs, cactus and no visible signs of water. I wondered how these sheep could possibly survive in such harsh yet breath-taking country. Even though we didn’t spot a Ram that first evening, I was confident that we would eventually spot a shooter. Besides, both Pat and I knew we were in prime sheep country.
The next morning Pat and I got up at 4:30 am and had some breakfast. We got in the truck just before sunrise to head out. We soon hiked to a high position and began to glass for sheep. We hadn’t been glassing long when Pat spotted several small bands of ewes and lambs. No rams were seen after glassing several areas, so we headed back to camp to have some lunch. Pat suggested we drive the truck to a new location for the afternoon hunt. We parked the truck at the end of a road and began to walk the trail, which led into a wilderness area. We had only walked for ¾ of a mile when I told Pat to hold up so I could glass the area above us. I had barely raised my binoculars to my eyes when I spotted a young ram as he was moving slowly through an opening in the rocky cliffs. Shortly, a second ram appeared into the opening. My heart jumped. He was a good-looking ram. Pat saw him too and agreed. The rams moved quickly through and were out of sight. Pat immediately said the second ram was definitely worth getting a better look at, so we began to move quickly towards their location. We hadn’t moved 100 yards when I looked up and the smaller of the two rams popped up above us. We got down quickly and our hope was that possibly the bigger ram would walk up to where the smaller ram was standing. The smaller ram looked in our direction, but didn’t seem alarmed as he went back out of sight. Pat said we needed to get higher to see if we can spot the bigger ram. We stayed put for a few more minutes to make sure they wouldn’t decide to come back in our direction. We began to back out and climb higher to see if we could spot them. When we got to a higher position, we began to glass the area, but we couldn’t locate the rams. After thoroughly searching the area, Pat and I decided there was only one direction they could have gone without us seeing them. So, we went back down and around to where we thought they may have moved to. As we began to approach the top of another ridge, Pat peeked over, only to spot them some 800 to 1000 yards away. They had joined up with another young ram and were slowly feeding along the base of the cliffs. Pat said we needed to take a good look at the mature ram with an orange tag in his right ear. So, we began to work our way slowly in their direction. We finally got within 200 yards and I set up while Pat evaluated the bigger ram. He was a beautiful ram with a lot of mass and he definitely was an older ram, but when he turned to his left side he was a little shorter than we were looking for. I was in position to take the ram, but after watching him for over an hour, both Pat and I decided to pass on him. Most hunters would have been proud to take such an animal. Besides, it was only the second day of my hunt. We also knew where he was and could always try to locate him again if we weren’t able to locate a bigger ram. The orange tag in his ear would make him pretty easy to identify. As we headed out, I began to question if I should have really passed on that ram. On the third morning we were back out early checking new locations to see if we could spot a larger ram than we had seen the previous evening. We covered a lot of ground and weren’t able to even spot a single sheep that morning. As we headed back for lunch, I knew we were both thinking about the ram from the day before. After lunch, Pat got out his maps of the area and showed me a spot that he thought we should checkout that afternoon. It was a huge bowl that had a spring in it and he thought it should hold some sheep. So, off we went, stopping on occasion to glass. We walked about 1½ miles through a dry wash. When we arrived at the base of the huge bowl, we climbed a bit so we would have a good view of the entire area. Pat began to set up his spotting scope and I looked for a comfortable spot to sit, figuring we would be here for the rest of the afternoon. Not more that 10 minutes of glassing, I heard Pat say to me, “There they are!” He had spotted a group of rams moving above us, probably about 1½ to 2 miles away. He could see there were at least 8 rams together and that 2 of them looked decent enough to have a closer look. I have to admit, when I looked up to see where we had to go, I began to wonder if I was really in that good of physical condition to get there quickly enough to just evaluate the rams. We had to close within a minimum of 1000 yards and it was around 3:00 pm. To further complicate things, the rams were moving up and away from us. This didn’t leave much time to get there before sunset. I looked at the rams one more time through the scope and said to Pat, “Let’s do it!” As we began to ascend towards the rams, we would stop on occasion to glass. This allowed us to keep track of their location and reassured us that we were pursuing two quality rams.
As we moved on, I began to think of all the days, months, and countless hours I spent preparing for this moment, also wondering if my shot would be true. When we got close enough to evaluate the rams, about 900 yards away, we crept up and put the spotting scope on them. YES, they were both excellent rams! One of the rams was a bit longer with a green tag in his ear, but the other ram had much more mass and was definitely the “old man” of the group. It was decided that I would take him if we could get within 600 yards. One problem was that we had to expose ourselves to make our final move. The two older rams, along with three younger rams, had moved out of sight, but two of the youngest rams had stayed behind. As we stood up to make our final move, the two youngest ones spotted and locked their eyes on us. Pat and I froze in our tracks hoping they would not spook and alert the others to move down behind the rocks where they were standing. What seemed like an eternity, we stood motionless for at least 10 minutes with both of them looking directly at us. Finally, they lost interest and moved out of sight towards the other rams. We had to move very quickly down the ridge we were on and up the other side, estimating we would be within 500 yards of where we last saw them. About 25 yards from the top, Pat and I stopped to catch our breath and to get ready for our final approach. Pat went first to see where the rams were. As he crept to the top, Pat motioned that the rams indeed were there and they were feeding towards our left. He told me to crawl to the top and set up my rifle. Pat set up his tripod a few feet to my left and told me that the bigger ram was in the back. He had ranged them at 405 yards, but said because of the incline, to hold for 365 yards. At the same time that I was finding the ram in my scope, Pat gave me the yardage, identified which ram I should shoot, and was videotaping the whole thing. I thought to myself, wow! All I have to do is shoot. As the rams were moving to our left, I had to wait to make sure the bigger ram was clear and standing broadside. He finally stopped and I asked Pat one more time if he was sure I should take him and Pat said, “He’s a really good ram.” I settled my crosshairs on him and squeezed off the shot. It felt great and I was sure I had made a great shot. The ram jumped three or four steps forward, but then stood looking in our direction. Pat said, “I think you missed to the left.” I said, “No way!” So I chambered another round and then I heard Pat say, “Hold on! He’s hit! You got him!” We both watched as the ram faltered and then rolled over lying motionless a few feet below where I originally shot him. He landed in a bush preventing him from rolling at least 1000 feet straight down. I stayed in my shooting position for a moment, my heart pounding and thinking to myself how lucky I am to be here at this very moment and thanking God for this amazing opportunity. Then Pat and I began the customary high fives and shouting, thanking each other for everything! Not too long after we settled down, we began the walk up to my Desert Bighorn sheep. It took us at least 30 minutes to get to him, as it was very steep terrain. As we approached the downed ram, we both realized what an exceptional ram he really was. “What a ram!” Pat shouted. “Look at the mass, he’s an old guy!” All I could say was “Wow! What a hunt and what a ram!”
After taking pictures and video taping the experience, we now had to get to work because it was getting dark and we had a lot of work ahead of us. We had at least 4½ to 5 miles back to the truck, in the dark, with no moon and down some really steep mountains with my sheep. I loaded up all Pat’s gear with mine in my pack, while Pat took the entire sheep on his pack. We eventually made it back to the truck at 2:30 am and back to camp at 3:30 am. That morning Pat and I woke up pretty sore and tired. We hardly ate breakfast and talked about what a truly memorable hunt it had been for the two of us and what a remarkable ram we were so fortunate to harvest. That afternoon we arrived at the Game Office in Kingman and checked-in my 9-year old ram. They were very impressed. I would like to give thanks to my family, especially my loving wife, Millie, who has been with me and supported me for 36 years. I also want to thank Mare Sheppard of ALREIUS Gunsmithing in West Yellowstone Mountain for building my custom 300 RCM Sheep Rifle. Also, thanks to Paul Lucero from Albuquerque, NM for developing a custom load for me. I want to thank the Arizona Big Game Super Raffle for letting a dream come true. To Pat Feldt: I just want to say again how thrilled I am about the Desert Ram you put me on. It has to rank as my most memorable hunt ever. I still can’t believe it. You are the most professional and knowledgeable guide I have ever had the privilege to hunt with. Your camp and gear were both top notch, but more importantly, your knowledge of the sheep and the country they live in was unsurpassed. I really enjoyed your company and would certainly hunt with you for any species, any time and anywhere. I consider you a life long friend that shared a dream of a lifetime, to hunt for “Desert Bighorn Sheep.”Claude's Testimonial: "I just wanted to tell you again how thrilled I am about the Desert Ram that you put me on. It has to rank as my most memorable hunt ever. I still can't believe it. You are the most professional and knowledgeable guide I have ever hunted with, your camp and gear were top notch, but more importantly your knowledge of sheep and the country that they lived in was unsurpassed. I really enjoyed your company and would hunt with you for any species at any time and anywhere, I consider you a life long friend that shared a dream of mine to hunt for "Desert Bighorn Sheep."