“Two surgically repaired knees and the ravages of accompanying arthritis ended my sheep hunting several years ago. However, when my son Patrick drew a 2006 Wyoming bighorn tag for area 5, I decided that I had enough left to at least give kibitzing a try. Patrick agreed that accompanying him on the hunt would be fun for both of us.
I hunted the same area in 1999 with wonderful results, I booked my hunt with Dean Johnson Outfitting, who proved themselves superb in their trade. Naturally, I recommended them to Patrick, who contacted Dean Johnson. Dean advised him that, although he was still doing some guiding he had sold his outfit to Justin Jarrett who, until the time of the sale, had been one of his elk and mule deer guides. Justin now trades as Wapiti Ridge Outfitters. In his typically enthusiastic manner, Dean extolled the sheep guiding prowess of a young guide working for Wapiti Ridge by the name of Chris Nielson. “He really knows how to locate a good Bighorn,” he said. Dean was prophetic.
We were scheduled to arrive in Cody on September 10, to begin hunting on the 11th, but became somewhat disillusioned when in mid-August we began receiving word of fires burning across area 5. We spoke to many locals about the status of the fires, including members of the game and fish commission who were offering guaranteed postponements until 2007. In other words, if a successful applicant wished to decline hunting in 2006 due to the burning he would be assured of a license for the following year. Patrick was undecided until he spoke to Chris Nielson who discussed having gone into the area on a scouting mission just days earlier. Chris concluded, with the confidence that became his trademark, “Come hunting and we’ll be fine.” We did and we were.
Justin and Chris met us in Cody and took us to a spot where we erected a really comfortable tent camp from whence the hunt would begin. The horses were already corralled and were enjoying the grass even though it was stiff and brown from the summer’s drought. The fires by this time were for the most part burned out, although we did observe some residual smoke to the north.
On the first day the weather was hot and dry which encouraged the sheep to spend the midday in the timber, making spotting difficult at best. Lots of rams were located, but only in the early morning and late evening. One late afternoon ram proved “interesting” according to Chris, but was too far away for a stalk. “It would be dark before we could get there,” he advised. Day two proved to be the same. I enjoyed the shade of some evergreens while the others scaled the heights and scanned the timber for a flash of horns or a rump. The interesting ram showed up again, but again too close to dark. The third day’s hunt was in a different locale with altitudes over 12,000 feet, but with temperatures still in the high 80′s. Rams were spotted, but none creating much excitement. The next day was a return to Mr. Interesting’s digs, but with more of the same from a weather standpoint. It was almost totally dark when he showed that he was still there, not exactly in the same place, but close enough for optimism. The late night ride home on Wapiti Ridge’s very special horses grew chilly and the first cool air we enjoyed prompted Justin to remark that things would be different tomorrow.
Plans were made at dinner for a much earlier start so that arrival in the area would be at daybreak. As per Chris’s plan, the ram was centered in the spotting scope before sunrise. He was the one. Should Patrick take the shot from where they were? It was about 500 yards and Patrick was much more than capable of making the shot, but he decided out of respect for the animal that they should try to get closer, but still rather long shot. The guide and hunter were quiet and stayed low as they worked the escarpments and ledges before settling into position. It was 350 yards to the ram, who had not moved. The shot was perfect and the interesting one tumbled more than 1500 feet to a point in a dry stream bed. There was concern as to the condition of the horns, but there was nary a chip. After the compulsory hero shots, field dressing and packing, arrival at camp was shortly after 2 p.m. the balance of the day was given to celebration and praise to God. The ram was dead. The ram was dead. Long live the ram – and he shall be in our minds ‘ eyes and on Patrick’s wall.
Not enough positive things can be said about Chris and Justin. After breaking camp we contacted Dean Johnson and invited him to a late breakfast the next day. Chris was about a half hour late, but showed up with a beautiful framed photo of Patrick and his ram. What a nice touch it was. They were quick to congratulate even Old Dad “for bringing the best-prepared hunter” they had guided. He was in sheep shape and showed that he had practiced with his .270 WSM. I had teasingly ordered them to get him a nice ram, but one that was smaller than mine. They followed this instruction, but cut it perilously close.
Leonard Reeves, PA