When you get the rare chance to hunt sheep, no matter the species, it is a privilege. My brother Cam and I purchased a central BC guide area in hopes of sharing some privileged sheep hunting memories together. Unfortunately this guide area was in the midst of a massive lungworm die off and dropped from 1200 California bighorn sheep to approximately 150. Our area went from 2 any ram tags to bottom of the eye socket full curl only. This created a difficult ram-hunting scenario. From this scenario comes my story.
We did kill a couple nice Cali’s in the early years of our guide area. Three as a matter of fact, a 34 lamb tipped, 37 inched for the premiere tag and a heavy broomed 36 inched. We did get to share a couple of our desired memories before Cam’s unfortunate plane accident and death in August 2008. We walked ridges together and talked of future sheep basin’s to check but in many ways we were still robbed future hunts.
It was October 2009, the time of year I usually role in from my father Stan’s northern Kawdy Outfitters operation. This is when I now run the California bighorn hunt and a few mule deer hunts. I sell the sheep hunt for a little above deer hunt cost with a bonus on a sheep kill. This makes it a very affordable sheep hunt fare to all. This season I had 73-year-old Cynthia Salzhaur. I also called in my first cousin Allana Oestreich to help me. Allana has a better Cali Bighorn area to the south of me and does quite well, making her a valuable asset to my hunt. These hunts come down to 1/8 to 4/8 of an inch of whether the sheep makes legal. Experience is hard to gain and the mistake of letting a legal ram walk cannot be made nor having a ram too short.
The first morning had us looking off a great vantage point into an ocean of fog. Mother natures number one obstacle for most sheep hunts. We did have a couple holes in the fog and a few minutes to pick out twelve sheep and three were rams. Nothing worth close inspection but off to a good start. We decided to carry on to new terrain and try and work around the fog. Our efforts never really amounted to beating the fog but we still managed another 25 or so sightings. The positive being an over 50% lamb crop and combining that with the solid lamb crop from the year before our spirits were quite high thinking of the future of this once diminished sheep population becoming real again.
The day was wherein on and I had nagging intuition. I had my brothers voice that kept bugging me in the back of my mind saying, “ I know where I would go, right to Harwell’s lookout”. Tom Harwell was a hunter from a couple years before that Cam killed the heavy broomed 36 for. You can see a large chunk of the prime sheep country from there. This thought was going to drive me crazy if I did not look.
We had about an hour of daylight left before I arrived with Allana close behind. I did not hold the binoculars to my eyes for more than 10 seconds and I had sheep in them. I looked in the exact same bedding spot where Cam found sheep a couple years before and there they were. Five total and one was a ram that at this extreme distance was still an eye grabber. I quickly scrambled around to get the scope on the sheep. You get worried that some unknown force is all of a sudden going to blow them off the mountain, but nope they never moved and were not going anywhere. These sheep weren’t going anywhere because they had been waiting all day for me. You can say what you want but I think we get a little help sometimes, a push if you want to call it!
Allana arrived with the Salzhauers. I was shaking, “I know it is the first day Allana but I think we got him”. Allana had a look and started raising an eyebrow herself, “ho ya I like him, and if he comes up like that at this distance he should make it”. We scampered down the hill to look across the canyon on a level before we lost light. Our surmise in the end was we had to go and check this ram close come morning. Our obstacle was a long walk up and down steep slopes. Cynthia quickly nipped that in the butt, “don’t worry I work out, I’ll be fine”. And little did we know she was about to prove herself right.
We were off the next morning about a half hour after light. We started down some steep Clay bank slopes that Cynthia navigated with caution and a sureness quickly giving Allana and I confidence. We were face with about 2 air miles of rough terrain and an all day mission for us never mind 73 years of age lady!!! Well Mrs. Salzhauer reached the bottom of the draw and set into a steady pace that was quickly eating the broken uphill terrain. A couple hours later found us on a ridge line several hundred yards away from the sheep in half the time we expected. Stepping along another 20 minutes found us above the herd but in a position we could now drop down in on them. We had the eyes of 4 ewes to contend with, the eyes of the ram were focused more on his ladies than us so he would not be a factor. 300 yards of slip sliding down the clay slope had us now in a very approachable position. We had come down the face, one revene back from the sheep. The ridge had a round role to it that we belly crawled across using sagebrush for cover. Prickly pear cacti found its mark a couple times but other than that the sheep did not pick us up and we were in a great vantage seat. We dug out a spotting scope, erected the try pod and slowly rose up to examine. Now was crunch time, after the long walk and careful sneaking into a shoot able position we needed to find out if the ram was legal.
The ram kept dipping and diving while he followed ewe’s butts around. He looked like he would make legal (which is the imaginary line from the base of the horn through the bottom of the eye socket. The rams tip must come up and break this plain). Allana and I spent a full 2 hours watching and reconfirming our thoughts back and forth. The ram finally bedded down and gave us the prefect look. We knew the right horn was short but now there was no mistaking the left side broke the plain solid.
We settled Cynthia into a well-anchored rest with her shooting elbow braced. The California bighorn ram was sleeping at 410 yards. A good shot any day. Cynthia made us aware that she practices at 400 all the time and had a 400-yard crosshair. We raised our binoculars and said shoot him then. Cynthia took her time and touched off perfectly. The ram jumped up and spun in a little circle; apparent right away that it was heart shot. Down he went with about a 20-yard role into a sagebrush cluster. We did quick congratulations and I was off. Yes a guide is always nervous of their call until all is confirmed. When I arrived to the ram my concern evaporated with an easy glance confirming legal. My concern was replaced with ecstatic jubilation this ram was much heavier than I realized, so focused in on legal I hadn’t taken note of his base mass. 15 5/8 bases and 36-½ curl, this was a ram to be proud of netting out at 163 green score. We had a joyous picture taking time and a happy climb back up the mountain. Kevin Frew and Jason Gilbert came and helped us pack out. We arrived back at the truck at 6:00 pm, just before dark. Cynthia was greeted by her husband Charles (82) and many compliments were handed out to Cynthia’s determination to constantly keep herself fit. Without question her fitness level played a major role.
In the end what makes this a ram to remember is the nagging voice in the back of my head and the fact that these sheep were laying in the same bedding area as the sheep from a couple years before. I have to say there was some pre destiny and family fortune. Bart Lancaster