The shock was instantaneous, then Tracy Turner said: “Mr. Norris are you still there?????” I gasped, “Is this some cruel joke?” Tracy laughed out loud and told me, “Mr. Norris you have won the Nevada Dream Tag drawing for California Bighorn Sheep.” I’m not ashamed to admit that I started shaking with excitement and began mumbling that I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. Tracy calmed me down, mostly by laughing with or at my reaction. What a great job she has, Tracy gets to call people up and tell them the hunt they’ve always dreamed is about to happen.
I viewed this tag for what it was, “Once in a lifetime.” So I cranked up Google and started interviewing Bighorn Sheep guides in Nevada. I also called and spoke with the local game warden in that are as well as the state biologist. I was doing my homework. After researching online and calling references, I eventually settled on Victor Trujillo of Borrego Outfitters. Victor had excellent references, and his sheep hunting results were second to none. Victor hooked me up with Gary Lawry who knew the area we were going to hunt well. Gary had been making some scouting trips in the area and suggested that we hit the Double H mountain range. He would have liked to hunt the Montana range, but due to a disastrous pneumonia outbreak, the Nevada Fish and Game had to destroy all the sheep in the range to protect the rest of the herds in Nevada and Oregon.
After a 24-hour drive from St. Louis, MO to about 1.5 hours north of Winnemucca, NV we arrived at camp. Gary set up his fifth wheel camper at the northern edge of the Double H’s. The evening before the hunt Gary ran through the game plan and reminded me that it was up to me to decide which sheep we were going to take. We woke up early and packed up the rangers to drive around the eastern face of the Double H’s along the valley floor. The scenery was spectacular as we set up the spotting scopes. The sun began to blast across the southern sky, illuminating the mountains to the west with bright sunlight contrasting the shadows cast by the peaks to the east. It was my first sunrise in northern Nevada, and I was truly impressed. We drove the length of the valley base stopping frequently to glass the steep cliffs hanging above us for rams. Although we spotted several rams, none of them offered the size and mass we were looking for. My first day ended, and we had put our spotting scopes on about 6 or 7 rams and another 20 ewes, all in all, a good start.
Day 2. Sunday, we decided to head to the top of the range and glass from above. The weather changed for the worse that day. The wind was incredibly fierce, with gusts up to 40 mph and sustained winds in the 20s. It was nearly impossible to keep the spotting scopes steady to size up the rams, much less sitting on the side of a cliff trying to glass for the sheep. But this was the day we first saw the ram that we began to call the “Collared Ram.” He was one of two rams on the mountain that Fish and Game had collared to track the movements of the herd. There was just something about him that tugged at me. Unfortunately, the wind blew us off the mountain early as a massive wall of dust slammed into us creating low visibility. We watched the wall approach for about an hour before it struck. We still managed to put the glass on about 20 more sheep before calling it quits.
Day 3. Monday, it rained during the night which helped to knock down the dust that had blown in the day before. We went back to the valley floor and spent the day working our way down the valley floor until we arrived at the southern pass which allowed us to drive the Rangers to the top of the plateau. We worked our way along the cliffs peeking over the edge for sheep. It was on the top of the rim while sneaking up on a small herd of sheep we saw a promising ram. Unfortunately, he spotted us before we could get a good look at both horns. Instead of running away, he began working his way over to us via a cut in the side of the mountain. We lost sight of him as he dipped into the cut, but Larry assured me that he would be coming over the rise in front of us any minute. And that he did. He was massive, but as he approached us at under 40 yards, Larry could see that his right horn was broomed way back. The ram was missing essentially ¼ of his right horn. That was the side of his horns we could not see during our stalk. The ram realized that we were not a bunch of lonely ewes on the prowl and took off across the face of the mountain at full speed. As the morning turned into the late afternoon, we decided to head back. It was then that we saw the Collared Ram one more time. This time he was walking between two cuts about 400 yards below us. He was with eight ewes and another potential shooter ram. The two rams walked almost side by side giving us a real perspective of their relative mass. They were in and out of view rather quickly; I was not in a position to take a shot and truthfully, I was not sure I was ready to stop the hunt just yet.
Day 4. Tuesday morning, we decided to get up early and be on top of the mountain before dawn. We spent the day glassing two more shooter rams. The most exciting point in the day came midafternoon while glassing on the edge of a cliff watching two or three different groups of sheep several hundred yards down the mountain. We weren’t really paying attention to the area right below us when Todd said “Don’t move, there is ram right below us at 50 yards. It was a younger ram, and he was slowing making his way up the cliffs to our position. Next thing we knew the ram was 15 feet from us standing with his front hooves on a boulder looking down on our position, and we got the whole thing on film. Todd eventually spooked him off before things got interesting. We called it a day and headed back to the camper for dinner. That night we sat around the camper and discussed the rams we had seen over the past several days. We decided to go after the Collared Ram.
Day 5. Wednesday morning was cool, and the forecast was for possible showers by mid-day. Gary decided that our best approach was to run down the valley and glass the cliff faces for rams. We got about half way down the valley when we noticed the Collared Ram near the base of the mountain with six ewes grazing their way north, laterally along the lower basin. We left Todd to glass several groups of sheep in that spot while Gary, Scott and I made our way down the mountain. Our discussion kept coming back to the Collared Ram. Finally, I turned to Gary and said let’s go back to Todd and take the Collared Ram. Gary asked me if I was sure, and I said, “Yes.” Once back with Todd we noticed that the ram was still working his way north along the basin heading towards a grassy saddle that was perpendicular to his route. The plan was simple. Get north of the ram, hike up the north side of the saddle, crawl up on top, and wait for the ram to give us a shot. Rarely does a stalk go as planned, but this one worked perfectly. By the time, we belly crawled to the top of the saddle the Collared Ram was 200 yards away at our same elevation. The ram noticed us but showed no sign of bolting off. I think he was curious. My first position did not give me a clear shot as the grass was blurring his body in my scope. Gary told me to make a move forward quickly, or we were going to lose our advantage. I quickly belly crawled ten more feet toward the ram adjusted my rifle on the pack. The ram was facing me and then decided to turn and walk down the hill toward two of the ewes. He took one step, and I placed the crosshairs on his shoulder and squeezed. We instantly heard the thwack of the 225 grain Remington Corelokt bullet hitting its mark. The ram stumbled for a few feet and then fell over dead. That is when the cheers and high fives broke out. I was immediately overwhelmed by emotions of the moment. I had just accomplished something I never thought was possible. We walked up to the ram, grabbed him by the horns. He body was massive, and he had a huge Roman nose. After counting the growth rings, the ram turned out to be nine years old and a perfect representative of the species. We took pictures and videos. As we relived the stalk and the shot, we congratulated each other on a perfect stalk. The ram was far enough down the basin that we were able to drive the Ranger to within 20 yards of him just as it began to hail.
Download and watch: Norris, Jim 2016 The Sheep movie
I can’t thank Borrego Outfitters enough for such a great hunt, but more importantly, I thank the Nevada Dream Tags fund. Their lottery makes it possible for the hunter with average means to make a once in a lifetime hunt without mortgaging the house. This is a once in a lifetime memory for the price of a cup of coffee. Give yourself a chance at the impossible, buy a ticket.
Rifle: Browning A-Bolt
Caliber: .338 Win Mag
Scope: Vortex Viper HSLR
Ammo: 225 gr Remington Core-Lokt