Reloader: Arizona Desert Bighorn Sheep Hunting Part 2
Updated: Dec 27, 2019
Watch the film of the Reloader story "Monarch part 2" here.
The 2015 Arizona draw results were like no other year. Two Desert Bighorn Sheep tags, one for my dad, Richard Currie and one for my younger brother, Chance Currie would mark the beginning of an epic season.
We pull off of the freeway at our exit and headed away from the farmland and towards the jagged rocks in the western sky. The sun was slowly rising and painting a thin layer of teal across the black sky. We swung the first gate of several open and continued out across the desert crossing washouts, volcanic fields, and silt beds. Today was the day. We were already 21 days into the 31 day Desert Bighorn Sheep season and our focus was finding a ram worthy of Chance’s rare tag. This wouldn’t be an easy task even with the help riding in the truck with me. Cody Thomas, Hank Towers, and Tanner Kemp, three of my good hunting partners and Chase’n The King team members had all come back out for this if-everything-goes-right final day.
The days prior were spent on my Father’s sheep hunt further south of where we were now. On the 14th day of the hunt he was able to kill his spectacular ram. Friends had been covering the other unit in the mean time and now we were all out searching the arid Desert Mountains. On par with sheep hunting it was proving to be exceptionally difficult for finding mature rams. Two days previously Richard had located three rams on a black mountainous outcropping amongst the creosote flats. Today our game plan was to relocate the group of bighorns and determine which, if any, would be the lucky recipient of my brother’s tag.
We had located the rams a second time the night before and had a fair idea on their size and age class. At that time, Chance opted to make an attempt with the rifle on the oldest ram in the group. All three bighorns methodically fed towards the softy lit skyline as we made our stalk beginning for a mile and a half out. Closing the distance was a race to catch them before they crested the top and disappeared out of site. They fed to the top of their shaded bowl on the northeast side of the mountain just as we were within range. A quick set up and a split second shot choice were at hand. The oldest of the rams was the only one visible, broadside at 479 yards intent on consuming an unlucky cholla cactus. The other two were almost to cross over and he would be following in short order. Chance touched off the shot and the round impacted just above the ram. In a flash all of the sheep were out of sight and the sun had set on our day.
Now, there was a vendetta to kill this ram. But our tactics were about to change drastically. The rifle was out, and the Thompson Center was up to bat. This was now going to be exclusively a handgun hunt. Chance is a competitive shooter and an excellent shot. The day before had shown his only miss to date on an animal and sparked a new motivation to finish what he had started.
In the mid 30’s the desert was calm and still as we began glassing. My dad and brother were off at base camp still. Their task for the morning was to verify to scope on the 30/06 TC Encore and then meet up with us. By then we were to have hopefully relocated the rams. By now they had all been dubbed identifiable names. “Forty” was the smallest and youngest. “Flare” fell in the middle on both attributes having most likely the longest horn length and flared out much like the Nelsoni Desert Bighorns of northern AZ. “Heavy” was our target and named for obvious reasons his mass was the greatest and from what we could tell his age as well. He exhibited the characteristic boxy shape of the Mexicana Desert Bighorns we were pursuing in southwestern AZ.
The four of us made our first pass around the mountain and doubled back to our start point. The crisp morning had kept animal activity down and we hadn’t seen much of anything other than the occasional bellowing desert cow. The morning sun was passing through the light winter clouds and began the warm the east end of the mountain. As we set up to glass the three rams rose from the teddy bear cholla field on the mountainside and fed around between the black rocks are sparse Palo Verde trees. They shimmered in the direct sunlight, clearly visible from well over a mile with the 15x56 Swaros. So it began, Cody, Hank, Tanner, and I would keep eyes on these sheep until our shooter could meet up with us.
Back at base camp and unbeknownst to us the TC’s scope was not cooperating. We had turned up the rams just before 8 AM. Now, at half past nine and only five miles or so from base camp we were wondering what was going on. The desert was eerily calm and we could hear the occasional crack of the gun beyond the mountain. Something was up. The sheep continued to feed, bed down, and repeated this as they moved along the mountainside. I broke off, hopped in the truck and went to get radio or cell contact with my dad and brother to see what was taking so long. At the top of the ridge line our theory was confirmed. Chance crackled back as the handheld radio came to life. The scope was off on the gun. They had shot it a dozen times in an attempt to sort it out but the scope was unusable. Then he came back with “Dad is headed back to the house to get to the 250 Savage Contender.”
Richard rushed back to the house, which is no short distance from sheep country and picked up the older TC in 250 Savage. Not without first having to sit down at the reloading bench and build 20 fresh rounds! A short, several-hours delay with the gun switch and ammo build and he was back at base camp with my brother sighting in the new pistol. A couple shots at the target off the Triclawps on top of the Outdoorsman’s tripod and the Contender was ready to taste bighorn.
The sun had surpassed the halfway point in the sky. The cold shadows shifted to the northeastward sides of the Palo Verde trees and Saguaros and the rams continued their inconsistent march through the cacti around the east end of the ridge. Cody and Tanner broke off and headed up the mesa to the east as the band settled in on a high shelf, out of sight from our original side of the mountain. Hank and I trekked back to the truck at the north road and headed around to the southern side. The clock kept spinning, all four of us occasionally making a radio call or voicing out loud “when are they going to get here?”
The radio barked and sputtered, and a quick response came from our spotters on the mesa. Chance and dad had crossed the first mountain in the Jeep and were now able to talk with us. They were en route and it was game on! Hank and I could see one of the rams bedded on the southern exposure of the spine as they rolled up to us in the truck.
A bit of a debate followed punctuated with some more waiting for the desert dwellers to move to a better, more approachable spot proceeded. Finally they were up and feeding and Richard, Chance, Hank, and I were on our way in, the spotter team keeping visual tabs on the sheep and us. We covered ground as quickly as the landscape would allow, traveling up the sandy washes to the base of the mountain until their terminus. We began our accent through the cholla ridges and crossed through the first saddle. The rams had fed back over to the northeastern side of the black rock spine. Cody bailed off from his perch as they moved around and out of site to gain a better perspective.
We inched forward, hoping to get within 250 yards of the yellow horned monarch. Our progress was painfully slow every step crunching the granite pebbles under our boots. The sheep were very slightly above us feeding in the back of the ravine. The point of the mountain formed a shaded bowl with a black cap rock rim around the top. The shaded slopes covered in dark round rocks blackened with patina over eons of harsh exposure. The tall dried grasses and cacti obscured our view as we crept further around the face.
At last, the circular bobbing shape of full curl horns could be seen through the towering grey Ocotillos. “Flare” could be seen feeding on the far side of a large Palo Verde, the white of his rump surrendering his position. “Forty” was feeding downhill in the back of the cut. The first Bighorn in site was “Heavy” the highest on the hill and closest to us. A press of the range finder read 206 yards. Unaware of us, we patiently set up, Chance readying the TC and settling the Contenders low powered scope on the broad side of “Heavy.” We waited as the ram fed past an Ocotillo blocking his shot. As his front shoulder cleared the shooting lane he stopped head fixed in a bush.
At about 5 PM Chance clicked the hammer back and we gave him the green light “take him.” The 250 savage ripped through the ram, rocking his body. He spun around and bounded out onto the open face of the mountainside next to his companions. “Hit him again!” Although unnecessary, Chance quickly reloaded and got back on him. “He is the furthest left one.” Hank and I both quickly stated. The Contender’s Mag-Na-Ports spoke loudly with the concussion of the shot. The 85-grain bullet slammed the Desert Bighorn through his shoulders, instantly collapsing his legs beneath him. Head first the sheep piled down the rocks for nearly fifty yards. The radio spoke as Cody yelled, “that sheep is down, you got him Chance!”
A long day of watching these Desert Bighorns move across the mountain was over. My brother had taken his once-in-a-lifetime Desert sheep with a handgun, with bullets literally built that day for that specific sheep. We approached the sheep after the six of us regrouped and celebrated the spectacular animal God had allowed Chance to take and all of us to chase. This was a hunt that required everyone involved and played out like no other. The usual, long-winded documenting with cameras was next, followed by skinning and quarter of the ram. We made our way off the mountain in the cool darkness of night and our season was over. 2015 ended in the culmination of countless hours behind glass in God’s country and an incredible hunt with my brother, father, and closest friends. The pictures and videos tell the rest of the story.
To read Petrichor: Arizona Desert Bighorn Sheep Hunting Part 1 click here.