Last Chance for Desert Bighorn Sheep

I had a really strange dream last night, and if you’ve ever had a close encounter with a big desert ram, you’ll know what I’m talking about. In the dream, I had climbed to the top of a big peak while stalking a giant bighorn. I lost him until suddenly he bolted over the top of the ridge and knocked me off the mountain with his huge horns . . . I fell and fell and fell — then I woke up.

Now most people know that you have a better chance of winning the lottery than getting picked for a desert bighorn sheep tag, but someone out there got lucky. And that someone has until the 21st of February to fill that lucky tag.

The typical California bighorn hunt ends around the 7th of February, but in the rugged San Gorgonio wilderness, the season closes later. I’m not sure why but if you’ve been in that country, you know how extreme it is. If you don’t have a horse, you might end up being the proverbial skeleton holding an empty canteen you see on a Death Valley postcard.

There’s a guy named Terry Anderson who knows everything there is to know about desert bighorn sheep. He’s also an outfitter. Although I’ve never had the opportunity to hunt bighorn, I would pick his outfit as a guide service. They never fail to produce big trophy rams and have the state record. Terry also has worked with the Fish and Game Department and works closely with the Wild Sheep Foundation.

If you do get lucky enough to draw a tag, you can be certain that it will be the hunt of a lifetime. Bighorns have been called the trophy of trophies in hunting circles. One thing is for sure, you have a lot of work ahead of you to try and get close, so plan on a long trip.

Once you locate these majestic creatures, you will probably be aware of the beautiful surroundings they inhabit. My uncle who passed away last year told fascinating stories of ram hunting in Canada. He always said they were the most beautiful hunts he ever went on and had several trophies to his credit. High snow capped peaks and pristine meadows were some of the highlights, and endless miles on horseback made for solid sleep. You had to work very hard to get a shot and he loved the challenge.

I had an encounter with a nice big ram a couple years ago in the Anza Borrego desert. It was getting dark as I was coming down a trail and he walked right in front of me and stopped. I knew that you could determine the age of a ram by counting the annuli (age rings) on their horns, but I also remembered that if the base of the horns were three fingers width or more, he was a good one. I got lost in his stare though and felt pretty insignificant in that moment.

Honestly, I don’t think I could have shot him even if I had a tag. It was as if he presented himself to me so I could appreciate his rugged beauty and powerful presence. It was as if he wanted me to know who the boss was. I stood there silently as I watched him walk down the ravine. He never looked back.

I’ve had big bucks stop and do the same thing but this encounter was a little bit different. Many hunters have had similar experiences — it’s hard to explain. I’m not sure if I’ll ever get drawn for a bighorn tag and I can’t really be sure that I’d even shoot one if I had the chance. I do know one thing though: There is something about this creature that captivates me. I’m sure Terry Anderson would agree.

Photo credit: Dreamstime