By: Kirstie Pike
CEO Prois Hunting & Field Apparel for Women
Talk about the hunt of a lifetime. This was definitely the most difficult hunt either my husband or I have ever experienced. That said, it was all totally worth it. Now.
This Colorado Big Horn tag took 14 years for me to draw. I consider myself lucky to get it that quickly as I know many people who have put in for the draw for many more years than I. Not to mention, if I had to wait to Medicare age to pursue this monster, I’d most likely be doing it with a walker and oxygen.
We scouted and prepared all summer for this hunt. We had located a decent band of rams and had watched them periodically through the summer months. All were legal and there were definitely some fine rams in the mix. Until the week before season, that is. We made one final scouting trip to do a final locate only to note that the band had moved on. While we knew the animals would move about the varying basins and ridges in the region, we knew we would need to get into camp a day early to do some reconnaissance.
We packed into camp 8 miles on horseback, dropped gear and had a friend take the horses back out as we wouldn’t be able to keep an eye on them if we were on the peaks all day. Camp was set and we were ready to get to work.
We spent a day and a half hiking and glassing the basins which reach well into the 12,000+ elevations. Just a note here…there isn’t a single area in the region that is easy to access. The elevation climbs were only a small part of the difficulty. Some of the ridgelines are completely inaccessible without dropping down into dangerous scree fields and cliffs along the basins. After a day and a half, we were unable to locate any rams. Due to recent rains, we assumed the rams had timbered up but luckily we were having a stretch of sunny weather. We decided to save the basins that were a farther (and more dangerous) distance for opening day.
Opening day we were climbing the peaks at 4:30 under the light of headlamps. While I previously thought the climb was tough in the daylight, it was exponentially more difficult with a loaded pack in the dark. Reaching to peaks at 6:30, we were able to glass the closer basins. As with previous days, these basins were devoid of any sheep. We pushed out to the further three basins to glass but again, no rams were visible.
We decided to set out to the further basins which required a descent into steep scree fields taking us down over the cliffs of the basins. The terrain was very difficult and at this point I decided to stash my pack as the additional weight made balance and maneuvering difficult. After quite a bit of navigating we were able to round out the basins and climb back to the ridgelines. We dipped into surrounding basins and glassed without finding anything but a few ewes. We decided to start heading back toward camp.
Interestingly, while we were traversing the skree fields, we noted a lone ram feeding his way through the basin. We determined he was a great old ram and we were going to work our way down on top of him. While I sat the ridge and watched for further movements from him, Steve crossed the second basin to retrieve my pack. Yeah, I agree…that is indeed true love! Well, true love and the fact that he could maneuver the scree fields much faster than me! The ram hadn’t moved and looked to have bedded down.
We worked our way down the ridgeline about an hour as the footing became difficult and the ridge had a number of hidden drop outs that we had to work our way around. As we worked our way up the ridge behind the ram I finally got my first close look at him. He was stunning. The wind was in our favor and we had luckily worked ourselves into a 110 yard shot. I was able to level off a shot to take him down. This old monarch was determined to be 14 years old by the biologist. His lamb tips had completely broomed off. He was solo and most likely too old to continue to fight the younger rams. As is, he was 7/8 curl on one side and 3/4 curl on the other. He was magnificent!
I was exhilarated and exhausted. And the big work was only to begin! We worked our way down and around the ridge for about 30 minutes until we came back upon him. He was indeed magnificent. While I had seen Big Horns in my life, I had never had the opportunity to lay my hands on one. I was completely taken aback by the mass of his head and horns as well as the size of his body. This is about the time I started computing the weight and the pack out. Ugh.
We clicked off our pictures and set to work on quartering and caping. No easy task on a steep hillside. We calculated that our pack back to camp was going to take about 3 hours or more with weight. And had I mentioned the terrain? No? Steve packed the massive head and I packed the straps and a quarter as well as some of the gear. We opted to ditch the remaining heavy gear with the three remaining quarters we stashed in a nearby tree. The weather was cool and would be just fine for the meat. We planned to head back at first light to pick up the remaining meat and gear.
It did indeed take over three hours to pack back to camp. By this point we were both exhausted from the weighted climbs, tough terrain which required walking on all fours in some stretches and the fact that we were now getting fairly depleted. There is no doubt we had some very silent stretches. We made it back to camp in time to stow the meat and head. And maybe just enough time to take a dip in the stream and eat some dinner before setting out in the morning. I can tell you one thing for certain, we slept very well that particular night.
After hydrating and wolfing down a solid breakfast we started out for the remaining meat and stowed gear at 5:00 am. After a three hour trek we located our gear and went to work on deboning the remaining meat. Packs loaded we flipped around and trekked back to camp. Time to break camp!
We had arranged for friends to ride in and meet us around noon to bring us horses so we could pack out. We literally got camp dropped right before they arrived. We were exceptionally happy to see them as we weren’t really looking forward to the prospect of hiking out. We had a celebratory shot of Jack, loaded the horses and headed out for the three hour ride to the trailhead.
We arrived home after dark but we were so happy to sit down with a fatty, salty porkchop and a glass of wine. Of course, we were asleep very shortly after. I am so grateful to my amazing husband Steve who will work tirelessly to help me on such hunts. His skill and knowledge never cease to amaze me. This was indeed the hunt of a lifetime and the level of difficulty made the success even sweeter!
Now…have I mentioned that Steve has a mountain goat tag we need to go after? Stay tuned!