Magnificent elk and bighorn taken on two different hunts
I started off 2019 anticipating a quiet year for my hunting schedule. On our social calendar, Leean and I were planning to celebrate our 50th Anniversary in September. The kids had arranged a weekend long event at a beautiful winery in Temecula, California. In February, I was able to participate in a Georgia plantation quail hunt with some SCI Past Presidents. It turned out to be an excellent hunt!
Afterward, the year was progressing uneventfully, but that was about to change. I have been using the Huntin Fool Application Service for over 20 years, submitting applications in 10 states for around 20 different species. In March, I received a call that I had drawn an Arizona Area 10 Tag for elk. This was an early rifle hunt in September. Lucky for me, our anniversary party was scheduled for the weekend of September 13/15. Opening day for my hunt was September 27th. “Perfect!” I thought.
I immediately began researching outfitters through my network of hunter friends and settled on A-3 Trophy Hunts, Chad Rhoton. After working out the details with Chad, we decided that Ryan Langner would be my guide. I wanted to use a couple extra spotters and A-3 was able to accommodate that.
I believed that having drawn such a highly desired tag, I wanted to go “all in” and have the advantage of extra help. I’ve hunted elk dozens of times over the years in B.C., Montana, Wyoming, Arizona and California. I was still looking for that “Big One.” “Maybe this time?” I thought to myself. AZ Unit 10 has produced some monster bulls, so I was pretty excited about the trip!
June rolled around and I got another call from the folks at Huntin Fool; I had drawn a second tag! Yes! I drew a Montana bighorn sheep tag for Unit 680 on the Missouri Breaks. I couldn’t believe it! After 20-plus years of entering, I drew two trophy tags in the same year!! I immediately went to work researching outfitters, as this would be a physically challenging hunt for me. Given my heart condition, it’s difficult making the climb anymore. This is a coveted tag and I had to at least attempt it.
After researching with several contacts, I decided to book with John Lewton. John is a world class mountain hunter and works with his son, Forrest Lewton, with Montana Trophy Outfitters. After a discussion with John, we planned to hunt toward the end of the season. If the weather cooperated, the rams would be on the plateaus along the river and I could get at them there.
Not long after our wonderful anniversary weekend, I was ready to make the drive to Arizona. I went up a day early, just to scout around and check things out. It’s about a seven-hour drive from Anaheim. This would not be the typical elk hunt; I was staying at the Grand Canyon Inn, since the hunt area was less than an hour away. Hot dinner meals and comfortable beds. Yes!
I met with Ryan and we planned our hunt. He had several trail cameras out and had seen a couple of nice bulls. Opening day came and we saw some bulls, but no shooters. I had seen a trail camera photo of a nice 6x7, and he was etched on my mind. He looked to be the biggest of all the bulls. There was another bull, a 6x6, but I passed on him, holding out for the 6x7. The elk were bugling and moving around a lot, so I needed to be patient.
Day 3 started out cold with a 35-40 mph wind. After a couple of hours passed, we bumped into the 6x6 we saw previously. After some consideration, I still passed on him, hoping to run into the 6x7. An hour or so later, one of the spotters located the 6x7 bull across a canyon with a couple of cows.
We decided to make the stalk. It took me a while to make the 700-800-yard stalk and get into shooting position at 240 yards. The 35-40 mph headwind was proving to be problematic. I could see the bull lying down and there was just enough brush that attempting a shot was unacceptable. We waited and waited. After a couple of hours, he finally stood up and presented a good window for a shot. The wind was fierce, but I was confident. I shoot a Brown Precision .30-378 Weatherby using Barnes 180-grain XXX bullets. It’s been my all-around for over 20 years.
Ryan and I discussed shot placement and decided that the headwind could push the bullet down. I found out that “you shouldn’t outthink your bullet.” Because after I placed the crosshairs on his back, the shot sailed right over him! Lucky for me, between the wind and the distance, the bull didn’t spook and just moved toward the cows a little more. My second shot tipped him over!!
Tag number two:
I headed to Bozeman on November 12, my birthday. I thought, “What a great present it would be, if I was able to take a bighorn for my birthday!” John picked me up at the airport, and as we headed out, it was rainy and cold. John said that the river had frozen, but it looked like it was starting to break up. We hoped it would break up and thaw, so we could get on the river in the morning. It was late by the time we got to the ranch, and I was whipped. That night, I met my other two guides, brothers Jeff and Blake Tragmo. They would be my extra eyes on this sheep hunt.
On our first morning of hunting, we hooked up the boat and headed to the river. It took some time, since the dirt roads had frozen or were muddy in places. It was 18 degrees and once we got down to the river, we found out that there was too much ice to be able to launch the boat. We decided to head back to the ranch and pick up some quads to go into the higher elevation. We towed the quads up to the area we would hunt. Unfortunately, by midafternoon, it was too muddy to use the quads. It just wasn’t my day.
On the second day, we were able to launch the boat. It was 22 degrees and freezing, but the boat was perfect for the four of us. The weather began to warm so there was fog on the river. We got into an area where we could hear the rams rutting, but by the time we arrived, they had moved up into the timber. The next day was Friday, and I began to worry as we began to see more hunters and fisherman. All the growing activity could have pushed the sheep into the high timber. John decided to go ahead and leave the boat on the river. This would allow us a quicker start the following day.
Day 3 had less fog on the river, but it was still 22 degrees. One positive, most of the ice that had been on the river had cleared. We went several miles up the river, stopping to glass at key points. It seemed to be better to glass from the opposite side of the river. We came around a bend in the river and there were some ewes and a couple rams. We got to the riverbank and I was able to get into position and take a magnificent ram!!! He will definitely be a full mount and make a fantastic addition to my trophy room.--Dennis Anderson SCI Past President