Looking back on past sheep huntsIt never fails to amuse me when a bureaucrat announces to the press that he/she is “thrilled” by something that occurred in the workplace. It has been a long time since I’ve been “thrilled” by anything, particularly in the work place, but when Major Ed Johnson, U.S.M.C, called me a couple weeks ago, his news was indeed astonishing:
By: Bernie Kuntz, The Jamestown Sun
It never fails to amuse me when a bureaucrat announces to the press that he/she is “thrilled” by something that occurred in the workplace. It has been a long time since I’ve been “thrilled” by anything, particularly in the work place, but when Major Ed Johnson, U.S.M.C, called me a couple weeks ago, his news was indeed astonishing:
“Bernie, you drew a Nevada desert bighorn sheep permit!”
“No, I just looked some names up on the computer, and you drew in unit 211.”
So there it was — after 18 years of applying in Nevada, I had pulled off an incredible feat. I quickly sent an e-mail to Roy Lerg of Grand Slam Safaris in Smith, Nevada. (I have been taking his advice for a number of years in applying for units that my creaky old legs and back can still handle.)
I have long been an aficionado of sheep hunting. My first sheep hunt was for Rocky Mountain bighorns in the Washakie Wilderness of northwestern Wyoming in October, 1976 when I was 27. It was a typical grueling affair, and I spotted a legal ram with minutes of legal shooting light remaining on the ninth day of a 10-day hunt. (We were to pack out in the morning.) Two young guides and I scampered down the gorge of the upper Wiggins Fork, climbed up into the pinnacles, and I shot the ram at about 25 yards. It was a 3/4 curl, 7-1/2 years old.
Less than two months later, I shot a record class desert bighorn sheep, 8-1/2 years old, in the Plomosa Mountains of western Arizona, and packed the ram in two trips back to the pickup.
In 1979 I traveled to the upper Yukon, flew in a Cessna some 90 miles north of Dawson City, then in a Piper Super Cub that landed out on the tundra where horses, wranglers and guides were waiting. Several days later, Athapaskan guide Jackie Semple and I sneaked up on a band of seven rams on an unnamed mountain south of Mount Taggish Charlie in the Ogilvie Range. I missed my first shot, over-estimating the range, clobbered the eight-year-old ram on my second shot.
The next year my father Jake and I were hunting Stone rams in the Muskwa-Kechika of British Columbia. We saw rams every day. Old Johnny Gauthier, our Indian guide and us climbed half a day to get above a band of rams, and when they spooked and came out above us Jake and I each killed one. We had seen 16 rams on that mountain. My Stone ram was 11-1/2 years old, and completed my first Grand Slam on North American wild sheep at the age of 31.
I hunted Dall sheep twice more in the Chugach Mountains in Alaska in the mid-’80s with Laurie and another couple, passed on several rams, couldn’t get to within range of two different rams that I would happily have taken.
Due to the demands of raising a family, I didn’t hunt sheep again until 1996 when I drew another Wyoming bighorn permit at the age of 47. I hunted with a partner, a headstrong guy who almost killed me in my trying to keep up with him. I had a boss breathing down my neck and elected to shoot a 4-1/2 year old ram on my fifth day of hunting. My partner and I boned the carcass and packed the entire ram out, mostly in darkness, staggering back to the pickup after 10 p.m.
Two years later, in 1998, I traveled to the Nahanni River country of Northwest Territories for a backpack hunt for Dall sheep. I had a 26-year-old guide who set a comfortable pace, and I was able to take a 10-1/2 year old ram early in the hunt.
My last sheep hunt was in 2002 in the Pelly Mountains of the southeast Yukon. The weather was abominable, and sheep were scarce, but on the sixth day I spotted seven rams too distant for a stalk. So the next day Indian guide James Dick and I undertook a long horseback ride to approach the rams. A couple grizzly bears got between us and the rams, adding to the drama. After a lot of scrambling that included me sprawling in the creek, I had to shoot uphill from 175 yards in a high wind and while kneeling, but managed to hit the darkest ram twice in the lungs. It is a very pretty 8-1/2 year old Stone. I used the same old custom .270 that I have on all my sheep hunts with 130-grain Nosler Partition handloads.
During that hunt I realized I had a hip problem, and later learned I have degenerative arthritis. After a number of surgeries and joint replacements, I am somewhat of a “has-been” sheep hunter. Still, if I get this Nevada desert bighorn I will have completed my second Grand Slam. All I can do is the best I can do…
Bernie Kuntz, a Jamestown native, has been an Outdoors columnist for the Jamestown Sun since 1974