By Erica Forsyth
Focusing my optics, the unmistakable silhouette of three bedded rams burned into my memory. It was a long ways to be looking with binoculars, but the “helmet head” look left no doubt in my mind that we were looking at mature rams. I swung the spotter over and confirmed my suspicions. A couple of them were curling up enough to be in that full curl category. A tingle came over me, as I knew we’d be climbing up to get a better look. I could barely contain my excitement. Thoughts of previous encounters stirred my heart. I couldn’t help but think that this year would be THE year. I yearned to finally cut my bighorn sheep tag.
What it is, I don’t really know. In fact, I don’t think there is one main reason why sheep hunting is so addictive. Maybe it’s the amazing country. Maybe it’s the sudden burst of excitement after hours, days, weeks of fruitless effort. Maybe it’s the bonds you create, with nature, with the animals, with other sheep hunters. Maybe it’s the mesmerizing way that the heavy horns sweep back and sling low, wrapped in rings built of each season’s toil and scarred from impacts between rivals. Maybe it’s the thought of a fresh cut of back strap, lean and dark red, ready to be consumed to fuel your next outing.
Sheep hunting is more than just an itch that needs to be scratched. It’s an obsession that slowly builds. Your first time with a sheep tag in pocket is memorable, and definitely special. It’s like a seed that’s been planted, ready to sprout and spread. The fall air fuels it, the miles hiked start to light your passion. The time spent scouting and glassing add the nutrients for the drive to grow stronger. It starts to consume your thoughts, and an urge from deep within blossoms to the surface. To a non-hunter, they would look at it as a weed, sucking resources from the host. But to the hunter, it is a precious entity, nurtured, cherished, and obsessed over.
So as I watched my shot drop the old ram down the slope, I thought I had completed a task. I thought I had accomplished a goal. I thought I had ended my journey. But the realization slowly set in. As the days passed and the amazing high faded, I started to drift. My mind started to wander and daydream. The call of the slopes beckoned me, and I wanted to be back in sheep country. Gradually I started to better understand myself. Sheep hunting isn’t a goal to meet, with the finality of ending the task. The true reward is the journey, the struggle, the anticipation. It’s the sound of horn cracks echoing off the canyon walls as mountain monarchs battle for dominance. It’s looking at a yearling ram, playing within a healthy band of ewes and lambs, and wondering if you will cross paths with him in future seasons. It’s sharing the story of an exciting encounter with another hunter afflicted with the same passion. I don’t want to say that I have hunted sheep, I want to say I am a sheep hunter. The drive in me is stronger than ever, and I hope to see you on the mountain one day. That’s where you’ll find me.