Wyoming bighorn hunting is toughYou’ve got to admire my friend, John. He just turned 62 years of age, and he drew his second Rocky Mountain bighorn permit in northwestern Wyoming. The season opens tomorrow on the 1s of September, and John is determined to hunt without the aid of an outfitter. (John hunted this same country for bighorns in 1983 but didn’t get a shot.)
By: Bernie Kuntz, The Jamestown Sun
You’ve got to admire my friend, John. He just turned 62 years of age, and he drew his second Rocky Mountain bighorn permit in northwestern Wyoming. The season opens tomorrow on the 1s of September, and John is determined to hunt without the aid of an outfitter. (John hunted this same country for bighorns in 1983 but didn’t get a shot.)
So he has been scouting in lots of places on both sides of the divide that runs through that wonderful part of Wyoming — the Wood River and Greybull River on the north side, and many dozens of tributaries; the Wiggins Fork of the Wind River on the south side and myriad tributaries.
You’d have to see the country to appreciate it. No, you’d have to HIKE AND HUNT the country to REALLY appreciate it. The valleys in this country are 7,000 to 8,000 feet in elevation, and most of your hunting will begin at about 8,000 feet. The peaks are 12,000 feet high and more, so you will have to climb 2,500 to 3,000 feet every day over the course of several miles to get into the “hunting country,” and then return to camp by dark. Without the aid of horses, such activity could wear out a 22-year-old Olympian, I assure you.
I first backpacked and then hunted in the Wiggins Forks country, part of the Washakie Wilderness, in 1976. I was 27 years old, and was with a couple cowboy “guides” who were far better horsemen than sheep hunters. I managed to spot a 7-1/2 year old 3/4 ram with less than an hour of daylight left on the last day of hunting. We made a quick, steep stalk on foot and I killed the ram at 25 yards. We had horses on the trip which made things a lot easier than negotiating the country solely on foot.
Twenty years later I drew the same permit in the same country, and this time hunted north of the divide with an acquaintance who scrambled about the country and wore me to a frazzle. I shot a 4-1/2 year old ram on the fifth day of hunting. In retrospect, I wish I had hired an outfitter on that trip. It would have been an easier hunt physically, and I no doubt would have gotten an older ram. Such is hindsight.
We talked about this and other sheep hunts when my old friend Carl, visited me last week. He lives in Sheridan, Wyo., is in his mid-70s, and has taken three Wyoming bighorns over the years. He hunted with horses each time.
“The thing about bighorn hunting in Wyoming is that you need to get up high and glass DOWNWARD,” he emphasized. “If you hike a mile up a trail and glass upward, you probably aren’t going to see anything but pretty mountains.”
I cannot disagree with him. Carl said that when he hunted Wyoming bighorns he and his partner rode horses into the country.
“We’d spend the night camped out wherever we ended up,” he said. “That way we didn’t have to make that long return ride back to camp, and be facing the climb every morning.”
In my mind’s eye, I can see the country — a land of giant pinnacles, high sheep pastures with patches of last year’s snow, and volcanic conglomerate from eruptions eons ago in what is now Yellowstone National Park. I remember sitting high above timberline, leaning against a rock and glassing for rams. Far below I could hear the rushing of small creeks and waterfalls, and the sound of my own breathing. No traffic, no people … just quiet.
My days of hunting bighorns in Wyoming are long gone, but I was fortunate enough to have done it twice, so I can’t complain. Still, I get to thinking about tomorrow’s opener, and the crazy thought of having a bighorn permit in my pocket and once again being 27 years old.
Bernie Kuntz, a Jamestown native, has been an Outdoors columnist for the Sun since 1974