The Second Chance Ram
July 9, 2020 in AFM News
Michael Posey, AFM Lufkin, TX, District Manager, shared details about his recent desert bighorn hunt with The Bighorn, the bi-annual publication of the Texas Bighorn Society. The following article in its entirety will be published in the fall 2020 issue.
The Texas Parks and Wildlife Drawn Hunt Permits Program is a highly popular program designed to provide a wide range of affordable hunting opportunities on public and private lands across the state. Thousands of hunters apply annually for the opportunity to hunt native and exotic game animals on a wide variety of landscapes across Texas. I have utilized this program to hunt game animals not found near my home in East Texas and for a change of scenery from the Pineywoods. Over the years I have been selected for a few hunts, for white-tailed deer and javelina. Then, on October 16, 2019, after nine years of applying, I drew the most coveted draw permit in Texas, the Guided Bighorn Sheep Hunt Package. I was contacted by TPWD and we scheduled the hunt for April 15, 2020 on Elephant Mountain Wildlife Management Area. It would be guided by the TPWD Elephant Mountain Biologist, Dewey Stockbridge. The hunt that seemed so out of reach that I almost stopped applying was now a reality.
Then, I waited. I spent hours looking at pictures of sheep. I reached out to other hunters that had been on the hunt in previous years for what to expect. I learned about and joined Texas Bighorn Society. I researched taxidermists, just in case. I daydreamed, and I waited.
The next notice I got from TPWD came in March shortly after the COVID-19 pandemic started to shut down the country and my worries were confirmed. The hunt was being postponed but would need to get done before the end of July. Around mid-May, I was contacted by TPWD with good news, the hunt was on! Through a lot of work from the project manager with folks from Austin they developed some protocols for social distancing and agreeing with those we were good to go.
I left Diboll at 0330 on Sunday, June 7, bound for West Texas. I arrived at the facility earlier than expected so I had time to look around and snap some pictures before going to check my rifle. Dewey already had guys on the mountain, and one had a particularly good report. A ram that Dewey had game camera photos of near a guzzler had been spotted. Dewey knew he was a mature ram and wanted to make him our first look on Monday. The scout sat on the mountain until dark and put the ram to bed.
Sleep did not come easy that night. I was up at 0500 and watched the scout go up the mountain to get set up and find the ram from the night before. A little coffee and a little breakfast and we were ready to go. Dewey and I were joined by another TPWD guide, Cody McEntire, and by 0730 we had our eyes on the potential target ram feeding low on the mountain just over 750 yards away. After glassing him for a half-hour, Dewey and Cody agreed this ram was indeed mature enough to pursue.
One of the great things about Elephant Mountain is accessibility. There are roads all over and up the mountain. This helped facilitate our next move. While out the evening before, the scouts spotted a couple other groups of rams, with some in the group that sparked Dewey’s interest. He called in the scouts that were out spotting and put them on the ram, then asked if I wanted to go up the mountain to look at the other groups. Naturally, this was an opportunity I couldn't pass up. We left the ram with the spotters and drove up the mountain. Once on top they spotted a group of 7 rams that were far away and moving off too fast to pursue. We then moved to the east side of the top of the mountain to look back into a bowl hidden from our previous vantage point. There we spotted a group of 20 or so rams at roughly 700 yards. After some time studying them, one was picked out that looked to be older and in poorer condition than the rest, but by that time the distance and heat waves made it tough to get a firm idea of his age and size, so we decided to move to get a better look. We closed the distance to about 350 yards and set up on the group again. From this vantage point the potential target ram looked much healthier and probably younger than originally thought. After studying them, the decision was made to go back down the mountain and make a move on the big ram from that morning.
We returned to where we left him with the spotters. He was bedded under a juniper with 2 others, a nice 7-year-old and a 2-year-old. Dewey put together a plan for the stalk. Because of the rolling nature of the north side of the mountain and how low the rams had come down, we used the cuts and drainages to close the distance and came up to a spot across a drainage from the rams at 260 yards, still bedded under the juniper. I took the time to get a comfortable rest, sat up on my pack and settled in to wait for the shot opportunity.
It took 30 minutes or so for the first ram to move. The 7-year-old was laying between us and the target ram, and he stood to stretch for a few minutes then moved to our left about 10-15 feet to get back in the shade, clearing my shot at the target ram. After 15 or so more minutes, the big ram stood and stretched. I was given the green light, but unfortunately, he was standing quartering to us. Eventually, the ram moved a little to his left, but as the broadside opportunity presented itself, he bedded down for another rest.
The next 45 minutes felt like an eternity. My wrist and hand got sore. My feet were asleep under me. I was almost out of water and it was 100 degrees out in the desert sun. We watched the ram chewing his cud and dozing in the shade of the juniper. Finally, whether from the flies or out of mercy, he stood and the moment I had been waiting 8 months for was at hand. Dewey again gave the green light. I picked a spot on the ram, pulled the trigger, and the one thing I was so anxious and worried about the entire time waiting for the hunt happened: In front of God and everyone, I missed! The shot went just over the ram’s back.
Fortunately, luck was on our side.
The rams left from under the juniper with no idea where we were. They ran down into the drainage between us. The first ram up and out of it was the 7-year-old. Dewey called him out and we watched as he came up the draw. The second one out was the youngster. Finally, the old ram came up out of the drainage and stopped at 200 yards, and at 1400 on the first day of the hunt, it was over.
After celebratory handshakes and some much-needed water, we crossed over to where the ram fell. We found him where he fell, and I took some time to admire the big ram and reflect on everything that led up to that moment. Upon closer inspection the ram was 10-11 years old. By the time we finished with a few pictures were joined by several of the TPWD folks that were out for the hunt. They collected samples to provide information on the health of the ram and the herd, and we loaded the cape, horns and meat in packs and hiked off the mountain. Back at the big house, the ram was scored by the Boone and Crockett Big Game Scoring System and would gross 170 1/8”. Finally, a horn was plugged.
I'll never be able to express enough gratitude to all the people that made that hunt possible. In all, we put eyes on over half of the rams known to be on the mountain. I enjoyed the time spent with the TPWD staff learning about the WMA, the sheep and listening to stories from their experiences out there. From the TPWD personnel, Elephant Mountain WMA, the facilities, and obviously the rams, everything was top notch. I am very thankful for TPWD, the Texas Bighorn Society and all others that place and keep our native sheep on the mountains of West Texas. It was truly a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.