“Damn, damn, damn. I should have taken that lead ram of the five I saw opening day,” I thought as I planned my next three days of hunting.
I saw 25 or so rams, with at least 12 of them presenting good shots, but they all appeared too young. I was warned by sheep-wise hunters, outfitters and game experts not to take the first ram I saw because they always look big to the novice hunter.
I was a novice hunter, but I spent considerable time learning about bighorn sheep. I studied videos about sheep behavior and learned all I could about field judging of trophy bighorn rains. I read masters’ theses from the University of Montana that reported the studies of bighorn sheep in my hunting permit district in Granite County, Montana. I picked the brains of as many knowledgeable people as would answer my questions. Still, I felt there was so much to learn in such a short time. Would I find the ram I hoped to find? What if I didn’t?
After 18 years of unsuccessful attempts to draw a permit, this was my one and only chance. I would not be eligible to apply for another permit for seven years. By that time, I would be well over 70 and no longer able to climb mountains.
My plan for the next three days of hunting was to climb to my spike camp (a tiny mountain tent with backpacking equipment), hunt the benches on the northwest side of the mountain, drop into the next drainage, hunt out the pockets on a south-facing drainage, and on the third day, hunt down a long ridge back to the bottom.
I left the pickup in the dark and started climbing the 3,000 feet to the top of the mountain where I hoped to find sheep. I moved slowly and did a lot of looking and listening. I reached a point on the ridge at 9 a.m., set up my spotting scope and examined the edges of the openings above me.
I picked up four sheep in the scope. They were feeding away from me toward some benches near the top of the mountain. One ram looked like it deserved closer scrutiny. I decided to work my way up the mountain and position myself in order to locate the rams on the benches later in the day. I backed off the point and climbed up along a fringe of timber to a fallen fir free. The sun was starting to feel good, so I sat with my back against the downhill side of the log when I heard a rattle of balsam root leaves behind me.
“Nuts, here comes another hunter,” I thought.
Out of the corner of my eye I saw a ewe walking. It went around to the end of the log behind a Christmas tree-sized fir and stood 40 feet from me. It bleated softly and repeated it insistently. I heard the balsam leaves again. Mother ewe appeared and joined the first one. This was repeated and the pair became a trio. All this took place in a span of three or four minutes. The ewes nonchalantly moved across and down into some timber. They had no idea I was there.
I gave the ewes a half-hour to get out of the vicinity so I wouldn’t spook them and started to put on my pack to move up the mountain. Just then, the five young rams trotted across the open hillside 150 yards above me. I waited for them to feed out of sight. Before they were gone, three more young rams appeared in the far corner of the hillside. I was surrounded by sheep. Every sheep in Montana’s Rock Creek area seemed to feed between 10 a.m. and 1 p.m.
I waited another half-hour and worked my way up through a line of trees to the timber. A storm came in from the west so I hunkered down in a patch of young firs while the thunder grumbled. The rain didn’t amount to much, so I decided to explore a few grassy benches toward the top of the mountain. As I worked my way through the benches, another storm cell came across the mountain. I decided to move to my spike camp before the storm hit.
I moved along too fast, not paying attention to my surroundings. Three magnificent rams stood up and stared at me from 40 to 50 yards. I had my hat in my left hand because I was hot and sweaty My rifle was in my right band. I remember thinking I didn’t want to drop my hat for fear the sudden movement would spook the rams. The hat was still in my left hand as I brought my rifle up slowly and grasped the forearm. Which of the rams was the biggest? I couldn’t tell. They weren’t going to stand there much longer.
“Come on, Mavis. Put your research and experience to work. Make up your mind,” I thought.
The middle ram turned and gave me a profile. That was it The ram’s horns matched the criteria I studied on videos. The size of the hole in the curl, the drop of the bottom of the curl below the jaw line and the way it carried the mass of its base out to the fourth quarter told me this was a keeper. I didn’t dare move into a kneeling position so I took an offhand shot. I was close and didn’t want to shoot over the ram, so I held on its shoulder. I hardly remember squeezing the trigger.
KAPOW! Down went the ram I jacked in another cartridge, hit the safety, and climbed up to the ram. I hardly believed my eyes. The size of the ram looked huge with all those horns and large head.
“Yahoo! I did it! I did it!” I yelled. I was shaking as I cut out the month and date on my permit. I must have figured it three ways to confirm the date was October 6, 1993.
About the time I marked my permit all hell broke loose. The storm that had moved my way hit with thunder, lightning, snow, sleet and rain. The wind howled and the three snags overhead groaned. It was too dark to take pictures. I had to work quickly since it was almost 3 p.m. A taxidermist had shown me how to properly skin out the animal for a full mount. So, as the storm howled around me, I set to work. I had the ram skinned with the head and horns draped over a stump and the meat quartered in three hours.
Darkness was falling at 6 p.m. when I started down the mountain. I alerted a local outfitter that I had taken a ram and would need help in the morning hauling everything off the mountain. Rain poured all night and I didn’t sleep much, worrying about the meat and cape. The ram wasn’t disturbed when we returned the next morning. Four inches of fresh snow had fallen in my spike camp and rain and sleet made the day miserable, but I was so happy I hardly noticed. My feet were barely touching the ground.
After the 60-day drying period, my ram was scored by an official measurer for the Boone and Crockett Club at 200-1/8 points. Not bad for a woman who will never see 65 years of age again.
Witness the hard-core determination of North America’s most successful hunters. They combined physical conditioning with research, fair-chase ethics, and shooting prowess to seek out and harvest legendary trophy animals.
Thirty hunters. Thirty record-book trophy big game animals, most of them taken without guides on public lands. Thirty epic tales to share back at hunting camp. These are the real-world stories behind some of the top-scoring trophies ever recognized by the Boone and Crockett Club.