Sheep Hunting 2009
"Sheep hunting is not an every year event for most people and when a good friend gives you a call and says he drew a tag and asks you to come along it is not a difficult decision..."
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Sheep hunting is not an every year event for most people and when a good friend gives you a call and says he drew a tag and asks you to come along it is not a difficult decision. I was sitting at the gas pump in Pinedale when such a call came to my cell phone from the pastor of our church and my fall schedule was instantly booked. Pastor Jim Silvey was one of 12 successful Bighorn Sheep license holders for area 23/8, which is the vicinity of Green River Lakes just north of Pinedale, and it was a true honor that he had called on me to assist in this once of lifetime endeavor. Over the course of the next couple of weeks we made plans for both a pre-scouting/archery trip as well as a full week of rifle hunting. Jim also called on the services of my great friends Aaron Willson and Scott Corwin and the fall of 2009 was shaping up to be a true highlight of my hunting career.
The summer scouting trips were turning out to be very discouraging after a couple trips into some of the easier areas where the sheep summer as well as several conversations with one of my lifelong friends Casey Saxton who had also drawn a tag for the same unit. Casey, who is a master sheep hunting guide in area 23, had spent nearly every weekend from the middle of June scouting some of the more remote canyons of the unit not turning up a single mature ram. We knew the grey ghosts were there and it was just going to take some time to pick the mountains apart so we stayed true to our original plan of a base camp near Crescent Lake and going as deep into the Wind River Mountains as we needed to.
We headed in for our early season archery hunt with our two sons in tow on the 16th of August. This was going to be a great opportunity to spend some time in the mountains with the boys before school started back up and also to get acclimated to the high country.
Aaron Willson packed all of our base camp gear in with horses and mules while also accompanying us for the first few days of the hunt.
The trail into Crescent Lake with horses and mules is no cake walk and thankfully we arrived to our destination without a single mishap. Within a couple hours Pastor Jim had already spotted a small group of ewes and lambs and the anticipation of this “once in a lifetime” hunt was beginning to build. The following day we put on several miles without seeing a single sheep.
The snow that still remained in the high country was incredible this year. It actually made the walking extremely easy in most areas where you could travel the vast, flat mini glaciers rather than through the uneven terrain of the boulder fields.
By the next morning Aaron had to return home with the horses so the rest of us decided to go back into some of the same country as the day before but with plans to spike camp at Daphne Lake. We also knew that we were going to have to become more patient with glassing the country with our binoculars. This is the secret to sheep hunting and definitely a challenge for me. I like to hunt on the move and it is a difficult task for me to sit more than an hour at a time.
While I was helping Aaron get off the mountain, Jim and the boys radioed to me that sheep were spotted. I hustled to finish packing up my pack and hit the trail to meet them at the top of the ridge above our base camp. This spotting ended up being a group of ewes and lambs along with a single half curl ram. It was very enjoyable to watch the sheep playing in the snow and they certainly acted like a bunch of kids.
After looking over the other side of the mountain and only spotting another small ram we decided to move on to our ultimate destination at Daphne Lake before sundown. No more sheep were spotted that day but what an incredible hike and some great scenery. We had heard that the Daphne and Bear Lake country always held sheep and so it was our plan to hit some of the high ridges early the next morning to do some glassing before sunrise.
There was a group of backpackers who had been in this spot for the past couple of days doing some fishing and I believe their presence had any of the sheep pushed out of the immediate area so we decided to head back towards camp by way of Faler Lake and check the upper end of Clear Creek Canyon.
Many people have passed through some of this country and know what I am talking about when I say it is rugged. Our first incidence happened on this stretch when Clancy, my 11 year old son, jumped off of a rock and had his binoculars reflex back and bust him in the lip. This was not a pleasant experience with blood spilling everywhere, but soon we were all doctored up and down to the bottom of the lake.
This lake holds some of the pristine Golden Trout so it did not take long to crack out the fishing pole and get Clancy’s mind on something other than his big fat lip. (Some of you may recall that Clancy caught his first Golden Trout at the ripe old age of 4.) Catching a few small Golden was better medicine for him than anything I was carrying in my pack and soon we were headed back towards our Crescent Lake camp. Before the sun was to set this particular evening we had one more encounter with another small ram just to keep the juices flowing and our spirits up.
We awoke to some more great weather the following morning. This was our final day for this trip and the plan was to hunt our way back to the trailhead where we had left our pickup over what is known as Osborne Mountain. Jim’s son, Jeremiah is a sophomore at BIOLA College and needed to get home so he could get packed and headed to L.A. for the start of his fall classes. It was really great to have Jeremy along for this hunt. He has been a real mentor in my son’s life and it was a blessing to have the boys together for this hunt. He is also a real pack mule and we loaded his pack with as much as we could get away with, even when he was not looking.
The final day’s hunt was pretty exciting with some more close encounters on Osborne Mountain with ewes and lambs but in the final descent we had come up empty handed in our pursuit for the big one. Clancy and I did run into his first black bear “in the wild” sighting at nearly 80 yards and picked up a nice 5 point elk shed. By the time we made it to the truck we were ready for a shower and a hamburger which would both come to pass before nightfall.
What a great trip to end the summer break for the boys. It is probably an adventure that our sons will remember for the rest of their lives. Of course we did not get a sheep that we were all hoping for but that story remains for another trip off the paved road...
Photos courtesy James Rogers..
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Click on small thumbnail pictures to see a larger version. Copyrights: Photos and stories by author James Rogers, 2001-2010, unless otherwise noted. Off the Paved Road is an outdoor column sponsored, hosted and copyrighted by Pinedale Online. Graphic artwork for Off the Paved Road by Pinedale Online. No part may be reproduced without permission.