Sheep Hunting Stories
From the first time I talked with Eric Roybal, owner of Bear Creek Adventures, I was pretty sure he was the outfitter I wanted to hire. He loves and specializes in guiding Rocky Mountain Big Horn Sheep hunts. He brought a video of some nice rams he had spotted 2 days before he came to my house in July after we spoke on the phone. I was sold at that point. We agreed to meet near Arroyo Seco, N.M. about noon the day before the hunt. We loaded the horses and rode 2 ½ hours to the base camp. Eric and his son Joseph had prepared the camp a couple of weeks before the hunt so all we had to do was unload our gear and provisions. Eric asked if I wanted to ride up to Vallecito Peak and scout for rams. Ten minutes later we were on the horses headed up to the tree line at 12,000 feet. By dark Eric had located an excellent ram that had bedded down for the night with 5 others. Opening day dawned bright and clear as we headed the horses up towards the rams. When we rode out on the ridge below Vallecito Peak we saw 2 rams feeding just below the peak. Eric looked over the rams and one was a shooter but not good enough. Two hours later on a ridge to the south of us we could see 7 rams with 3 to 4 real good ones, though not the one we were looking for. We turned our attention to the basin below us and spotted 3 of the rams from the night before but not the best one. Eric was sure he was somewhere below us hidden by the overhang of the ledge. We decided I would stay there while he walked around the ridge to see under me. An hour later he came back up to tell me the ram bedded down about 600 yards behind and below me. While I was waiting for Eric to get back 5 more rams appeared and eventually bedded down. When he arrived and looked the rams over carefully and said we could do better. We dropped down through an avalanche chute making our way across some narrow ledges. At the end of the last ledge we looked down and there was my ram still bedded down. So we tossed a couple of rocks off the side and he got up. Having never shot almost straight down, I shot over him twice and he walked towards us and out of sight under the ledge. Eric let me know all was not lost and my ram would show up. About 20 minutes later he comes out below us to our right at 300 yards. I just got my crosshairs on him when Eric said “don’t shoot. That’s not him”. He was right. A few minutes later the right ram comes out. I get off 2 well placed shots right over the top of his shoulder and he disappears back under us again. Total frustration set in. Eric calmed me down by saying nice things about my shots and that there will be another chance. There is no place for Mr. Ram to go that we can’t see him. Suddenly he reappears near where we saw him the first time but 400 yards away. I hit low but missed again. He and the other 5 rams are now 500 yards away and headed across the basin so no more shots. Eric said “let’s watch and see what they do”. They stop at a line of spruce trees and bed down. Eric asks if I can make it back up the avalanche chute over Vallecitos Peak and on to a point on the ridge just above them. My answer was “certainly”. Three hours later after countless falls on slick rock caused by a light shower I ease out on to the point where my ram is supposed to be. I can see Eric on the side of the mountain 1200 yards away. He motions to let me know my ram was still near the trees 150 yards away. I started glassing the furthest trees – nothing. I was checking every rock and bush from the trees back when I caught a flicker of movement. There was my ram barely 50 yards away with only his head showing. I get ready and toss a rock and he slowly gets up with his whole body showing now. I shoot and he staggers but does not go down so I jack in another round and shoot. He rears back on his hind legs and falls over backwards and rolls down the mountain. Several expletives and 30 yards later he rolls into a tree and stops. I have my ram. An hour later, Joseph hiked up from below me where he left the horse in the trees. Minutes later Eric shows up from above us and the work began. After pictures, caping and quartering we stumbled, slid and fell our way to the horse ¾ of a mile away arriving 2 hours later about 9PM. At 11:30PM after traveling only about ¾ mile farther Eric says its time to spend the night before one of us or the horse gets hurt. He and Joseph built a fire so we could dry out and keep warm. Next morning at first light we walked 200 yards and found the game trail we had looked for the night before. An hour later we were on top of the ridge with the other horses and on our way back to base camp. I can’t thank Eric and Joseph Roybal enough for an incredible once in a lifetime hunt for my bighorn sheep with a beautiful trophy and wonderful memories. Thanks Eric, Joseph and Bear Creek Adventures
Memoirs from the Timberline
By Joe Clayshulte
As we glassed the southwest ridge descending from the peak, we heard a soft whistle from the ridgeline behind us. As we turned, Phil and Chad motioned urgently for us to come to them. We dropped our binoculars and quickly mounted our horses while the others unlashed their lead ropes and tied to a patch of dwarf spruce trees. We wheeled the horses around, gave them a solid kick in the ribs, and were off to see what had captured their attention. But wait! Hold on just one second-I`m getting ahead of myself. Let`s begin from the beginning, shall we?
It all started a lazy June 22nd, as I logged on to the New Mexico Game and Fish website to check draw results. My best guess was drawing for elk, and perhaps antelope, with my annual six-dollar donation for Rocky Mountain Bighorn license processing fees. As I scanned the results I read with disappointment "Unsuccessful, Unsuccessful, Unsuccessful" and then finally, "BHS-1-103." With utter disbelief, I clicked the `refresh` icon and scanned the list again. Sure enough, I read the same hunt code again, signifying that I had drawn the first and only youth license for Rocky Mountain Bighorn Sheep in the Pecos Wilderness area of north central New Mexico.
Still nearly paralyzed, I began to call everyone I could think of, starting with my father. "Don`t even think you can sell that story to me," was the response I received. "No, I`m serious! I drew for bighorn!" I replied, and after several minutes of bantering, I finally convinced him to come home and look.
"You lucky devil!" dad exclaimed when he saw it with his own eyes. We were absolutely elated, but all too quickly, reality caught up to us as we began to consider what was going into this hunt. Among our problems were the altitude of bighorn habitat, its inaccessibility, how to get the ram out with all of our gear, et cetera. Despite the fact that I usually hunt with only my father, it quickly became apparent that hiring an outfitter was necessary, but we hadn`t the remotest idea of how to go about it.
Luckily, the outfitters took care of the problem. Within two weeks, I received several letters advertising guide services. One was particularly interesting, however, which was from Eric Roybal of Bear Creek Adventures located in Pecos, New Mexico. Besides his down-to-earth prose of his letter, one of Eric`s guides, Tito Naranjo, also called and seemed extremely congenial and knowledgeable about the sheep and their habits. After 52 years of hunting the Pecos Wilderness, Tito knew the game and just talking with him was beginning to get me anxious.
After keeping in touch with Eric and Tito, my father and I made plans to scout with them at the end of July and make plans from there. I also contacted the New Mexico Game and Fish Department and began to make plans with Officer Phil Howes, who was to accompany us on the hunt. Considering the three-quarter curl limitation on my ram, the Department was taking no chances with bad judgment calls and making sure the go ahead to shoot was condoned by a conservation officer.
On July 30th my father and I met up with Tito at the north end of the wilderness in preparation to scout. After discussing plans for the morning, a restless night ensued with the excitement of the oncoming ride. The following morning, we met Eric and Tito at the trailhead and rode in at 6:00 AM. After riding several miles, we came to the basin where Tito had observed a large three-quarter curl a few weeks before, but to our surprise there was not a ram to be found. Not disconcerted, we crossed another basin and began the steep climb to the "Skyline Trail" where we found a group of seven small rams from half to three-quarter curl, but not quite the size the coveted tag was destined for. After lunch and spending a few minutes enjoying elk and black bear antics, Tito finally spotted a group of four mature rams. My heart began to pound as we slowly made our way towards them to get a better look. The serenity of the wilderness however, was shattered by the clamor of an ATV mounted by a shirtless rider plowed up the side of the ridge opposite the rams. When approached, the rider along with his three companions below left in a rush as we called the Forest Service. Unphased, we continued our stalk within 40 yards of the rams for some great pictures. All four were mature but one towered above the rest: a true giant that Tito estimated to score between 192 and 196 (which he endearingly named El Grande), ending the day perfectly as we made our way back to the truck. Soon we were on the way home with anticipation thick in the air.
The month of August followed with lots of running, weight training, and pouring over magazines to create an exact image of my dream ram. I flung carbon every afternoon in the back yard with my faithful Mathew`s Outback, tuning in the broadheads out to sixty yards. Several trips to the rifle range followed as I confirmed the zero on my .243 Win coming along for back up. As the hunt date approached, I invited my good friend and videographer Chase Kemp to come along. He enthusiastically agreed and began to condition his mind and body in eager anticipation. I began to get less and less sleep every night as my mind continually reflected thoughts of the hunt.
Finally, the long awaited August 25th rolled around and after a quick stop at the Sportsman`s Warehouse in Albuquerque for some new gear, we arrived at Glorieta, the Baptist church camp at the south side of the Pecos where Eric`s Bear Creek Adventures is headquartered. After preparing the pack saddles for the following morning and watching several tantalizing videos of massive rams, all the missed sleep over the past few weeks finally caught up with me and I crashed out until 7:30 AM, but luckily we hadn`t planned to leave before 10 o`clock. After a quick breakfast and packing the horse trailer, we were at the Jack`s Creek trailhead before I knew what was going on. We unloaded and packed the horses without a rodeo and we were finally off.
We arrived at the base of Pecos Baldy at around 5:00 PM, where we set up camp and jumped back on our steeds for some quick glassing of the surrounding area. My heart sank, as the only sheep we spotted were scarcely distinguishable white dots several miles away, much too far to determine the sex. We returned to camp were Phil Howes soon arrived with another conservation officer, Chad James, in tow. We discussed the morning hunt over savory barbeque pork ribs, baked potatoes, corn on the cob and cherry pie, but rest again evaded me (and for the most part, everyone else) with anxiety over the next day compounded by the constant ringing of the bell around one of the horse`s necks. But finally rest came and I drifted away with visions of 200 pointers dancing in my head.
I awoke at 5:00 by the subtle beeping of my alarm clock and was greeted by below freezing temperature as I crawled out of my sleeping bag. I rolled about in the darkness trying to pull my new Under Armour on before donning my camouflage. Within a half hour, the entire entourage was awake and we had a fire crackling to warm our spirits, our bodies, and most importantly to warm breakfast. As we chatted over burritos, Eric beckoned me out to the middle of the meadow where he had his Swarovski 20-60x65 spotting scope set up. I was astounded to see a group of four ewes only about half a mile away. We continued to watch these sheep as we finished eating and saddled the horses. The group disappeared then reappeared, and then grew to over twenty sheep. Naturally, this was the first direction we headed. As we crossed the saddle near the sheep, the herd appeared to consist entirely of ewes. But on closer inspection, there was one young half-curl ram calmly munching his breakfast, paying no attention to the six of us, as if he knew he was safe from the would-be trophy hunter. His face was covered with scars, which according to Phil and Chad were due to his case of the "little guy" syndrome he had the previous November when he jousted with rams far more mature than himself. After a hard but quick decision, we left him be and continued on our course. After all, a half-mile ride to shoot a small ram on opening morning wasn`t exactly my vision of `trophy` hunting.
We rounded the saddle and continued northeast, along a treacherously steep rockslide, where there was no choice but to dismount and lead the horses. After about 200 yards of this, the slope eased and we remounted, and followed the ridge north, stopping to glass several times. As we rode away from a vantage point, I noticed a metallic `clink` every time Sunny, my horse, dropped his hind foot. We stopped and examined it and to my dismay it was missing several nails, an item we left sitting neatly in a pannier back at camp. Eric immediately rode straight for camp, now about two and a half miles away, as the rest of us waited anxiously. When he finally returned, we quickly repaired the shoe and rode on.
About a mile down the trail, Phil and Chad split off from the rest of us and rode the eastern face of the ridge. We continued on the western slope for thirty minutes then stopped to glass Truchas Peak, still a couple of miles distant, for the herd we had seen there the previous evening. While second guessing the opportunity to harvest the young ram we saw in the saddle, suddenly my luck changed.
Now back to where we started the article, we rode to Chad and Phil who were making no attempts to hide the Cheshire-cat smiles on their faces. "Whatdaya got?" I asked as we dismounted and tied our horses. "A pair of rams: one half curl and a big three-quarter," Phil replied, "feeding of the back side of the ridge. I don`t think they spotted us." "A big three-quarter, huh? Just how big is he?" I questioned doubtfully. "Let me put it this way," Phil said, "If you pass on this ram, Chad and I are packing our gear and going home."
I could feel my eyes widen and my heartbeat bump up a few notches just from hearing their reports. Over the next few minutes, we discussed the location of the ram, which was supposed to be 80 yards on the other side of the ridge. We then formed our attack plan and belly crawled over the crest to a rocky outcropping. As my eyes flashed frantically back and forth, there were no sheep to be found. I glanced back towards Eric who assured me that the rams probably moved into the timber about another 50 yards beyond where the rams were sighted. We slowly moved down the slope and stalked through the trees. No sheep. We withdrew to allow the rams to cool off in case they had made us.
Thirty minutes later we were on the prowl again. Eric, Chase, my father, and I took position on a vantage point, glassing the valley below while Phil and Chad went looking for the ram down the ridge. A few minutes later, Phil and Chad again became our saving grace when they came back with news that they spotted the ram down the ridge. Immediately, with hope anew, we trotted in the direction the rams were. Suddenly, two chocolate brown forms sprung up 30 yards away and ran away, turning back 30 yards later for a look. As we hit the ground and I nocked an arrow, I gazed at the magnificent ram, with massive horns sweeping below his jaw line and stopping just at the magic three-quarter mark. I immediately knew that this was the ram I came for. However, the ram and his companion had different ideas as they walked briskly down the slope and out of sight. We slowly rose again and began to walk much slower down the ridge. Just when hope began to fade, Eric grabbed my shoulder and pointed down the hill. Both sheep, oblivious to our presence, fed in a clearing 38 yards away, according to the rangefinder. I drew and the 30-yard pin instinctively settled at the top of the vitals. As I gingerly touched off the release, time slowed almost to a stop. I never had so much emotion wrapped around arrow as it gracefully arched towards the ram and passed completely through him. The ram spun and sprinted downhill. A few minutes later we watched the ram bed down, then roll down the hill and expire long before we reached him. After lots of handshakes and congratulations, the day ended with a ram`s cape loaded in a pannier and laughter rising up like sparks from the campfire.
As I write this, I can glance to my right and see my magnificent accomplishment hanging from my living room wall. The ram officially scores 158 6/8, making the Pope and Young record book by nearly twenty points. I thank God each day for this opportunity of a lifetime and also my father who encouraged me in everything I did to prepare and was a great asset on the hunt. Thanks to Eric for the excellent services and knowledge and to Chase Kemp for the camaraderie and support.
A beautiful ram taken on opening day with a bow on the first New Mexico youth bighorn hunt, and making Pope and Young to top it all off. It doesn`t get much better than that!
Joe`s Equipment: Bow: Matthew`s Outback Sight: Copperjohn Deadnuts Rest: Muzzy Zero Effect Arrows: Gold Tip XT Hunter lOptics: Leupold Golden Ring 10x42 Binoculars, Leupold Golden Ring 12-40x60 Spotting Scope Camo: Advantage Timber
Kinney`s New Mexico Rocky
By Lane Kinney
It was late one evening in early July, my cell phone rang, and it was my wife calling to tell me that a man just called saying something about a sheep hunt. She called me thinking maybe I was expecting a call. When I heard this my heart began to race. I had been applying for sheep tags in six states for six years. Maybe, just maybe, I had drawn a tag. I asked her a dozen questions that she could not answer.
My hunting partner, J. D. House, and I have been members of The Huntin Fool for several years. As I was dialing the number, my mind kept going back to Garth and Jason`s advise I had read so many times. "Apply, Apply, Apply, somebody has to draw the tags."
When I returned the call about the sheep hunt, Eric Roybal answered. Introducing himself as a guide/outfitter and the owner of Bear Creek Adventures in Pecos, New Mexico, he gave me the news. He had just checked the internet for draw results and I was 1 of eight lucky people to draw the once-in-a-lifetime New Mexico Rocky Mountain Bighorn sheep tag.
We talked for an hour and he patiently answered all of my questions. Over the next few days we spoke several more times. I determined Eric was an honest and hardworking man and I booked my hunt with him. Eric told me the Pecos were high and rugged mountains and I would need to get in shape to hunt at the 12,000-13,000 foot elevations. I had a short eight weeks to get my Florida sea level body ready for those elevations.
I arrived in New Mexico nine days early to get in some pre-scouting and acclimate myself to the extreme elevations. It was on this early scouting trip that I met Tito Naranjo for the first time. Tito lives in the Pecos and is a great resource to Eric on his sheep trips.
Tito is a Santa Clara Pueblo Native American and is widely known in sheep hunting circles as a bighorn expert. In fact, he has written several chapters in his late friend, Duncan Gilchrist`s books, "Montana: Land of Giant Rams" and "The Quest for Dall Rams."
Tito, Ron Corven, who was a sheep hunter from last year, and I scouted the north end of the Pecos for two days. Tito had made numerous trips during the summer into the area and had watched two large rams that he named Mr. Symmetrical and Ruffles, both which he had estimated to be in the 180 B&C range. We did not find the rams that trip and Tito concluded that they had moved from their summer range to their fall range several miles away.
Three days later, Eric and I, along with our two wranglers, Charles and Justin, packed into sheep camp. Tito would scout the north area one more time and join us on Friday, the day before the season opening. We scouted hard all day Thursday and located six rams a few hours before sundown. We watched the grandness of the sheep as they bedded down for the night, and then had a three-hour horseback ride back to camp. We had video taped the rams and Tito confirmed that the biggest one was Ruffles. Mr. Symmetrical was nowhere to be found.
Friday morning, Eric and I packed up supplies to spike camp on the six rams, to avoid the three-hour ride back up on Saturday morning. We searched for the rams from the previous day, but were unable to locate them. Less than an hour before dark I located two rams, one was a definite shooter. With sheer excitement of the possibilities ahead of me the next day, we glassed them until they bedded down at dark, and walked to our spike camp.
Friday night was a restless one due to very high winds, rain and above all, the anticipation of opening morning. No matter how many times you face the opportunity of a big hunt, the emotion builds, each hunt is special in it`s own way. We were up long before daylight and positioned where we had watched the rams bed the night before. As the eastern sky started to lighten up, we could not find the rams. Eric continued glassing and finally located the big ram, still bedded down. The rangefinder read 187 yards, straight down. I unfolded the bipod on my 7mm rifle, and with one shot, took the big ram in his bed. What a moment!
As we approached the ram, he kept getting bigger and bigger. I was flooded with all the emotions a hunter experiences after taking such a beautiful and majestic animal. It was a unique mixture of joy, relief, and sadness. Tito arrived a short time later and confirmed that we had indeed taken the ram he called Mr. Symmetrical.
Several days later, the New Mexico Fish and Game scored Mr. Symmetrical at 179 1/8 B & C. We learned later that an Alaskan hunter had taken Ruffles in the same area. He scored 181 7/8 B & C.
In retrospect, my New Mexico once-in-a-lifetime tag yielded much more than a trophy sheep. I will always have the priceless memories of my mountain hunt and will cherish the bond of two new friends, Eric Roybal and Tito Naranjo, who made this hunt a truly awesome adventure.
The Nagl Ram
By Jason Nagl
My first choice after receiving the news that I had drawn a sheep tag in the Pecos was whether or not to hire a guide. I am a cop with a family and on somewhat of a limited budget. Because of what I do, I know the good and bad areas to eat, live, park, shop, etc. This influenced my decision to hire a guide, knowing they would possess valuable experience pertaining to good areas, animal movement and field judging rams. It turned out I was right.
My NM Bighorn sheep hunt started shaping up in July of 1999 when I signed on and met with my outfitter Eric Roybal of Bear Creek Adventures. The hunt itself actually started three days before opening day in an attempt to start locating sheep. When I first arrived in the high country of the Pecos Wilderness I was stunned at the beautiful and expansive terrain. It seemed like country you would find in Canada or British Columbia, but not New Mexico. I was honest with Eric in relaying my hopes of taking a 170 class ram or above.
Mix the awesome terrain with the pursuit of an animal that dances around cliff ledges, yet possesses the brute force to derail a train with one head butt and now you are sheep hunting.
After three long days on horseback, we located four rams the evening before opening morning. The dominant animal in this group was a giant compared to the other three. After scrutinizing him for more than 45 minutes, I was satisfied he was the one I wanted to take. He appeared to fit the 170 standard and now the long wait was to begin. We spent the night in the forest underneath the stars 1000 feet below the sheep. I didn`t sleep real good that night. I can remember having two worries: Are the sheep still going to be there? And, is one of these horses going to step on my head?
An hour before sunrise found Eric and I quietly scrambling our way up the base of the mountain and a quick scan of the shale rock slide revealed all four rams. One wrinkle in the plan was the big boy was already on his feet moving away and it was obvious he knew something was wrong. We were in perfect position by legal shooting time, I picked my shooting position, calmed myself down, and touched off a round. Sparks exploded off the rocks directly behind the ram indicating a perfect hit. Shortly thereafter, the ram began a brick tumble down the mountainside before getting hung up on a bush. I later verified by range finder that I had shot the ram at 297 yards.
The animal I harvested taped out with Game and Fish Biologists at 180 1/8. I affectionately named him Chip as he was missing a decent chunk out of the first third of his right horn. Because my guide was smart enough to cape my sheep for a full body mount, I now have a full sized Rocky Mountain Bighorn sheep standing in my living room. Chip stands as a proud achievement for me, and is the ultimate focal point of many conversations with both hunters and non-hunters alike.