Montana - When I first heard that I drew the tag for a big horn sheep, I was beyond excited! After the excitement subsided, I realized I was beyond out of sheep shape and hit the gym immediately. With only a few months to prepare, I saw just how tough this was going to be! The time finally came to go after my sheep, I had called FWP, called some outfitters, and talked to anyone and everyone that had ever set foot in the Missouri Breaks of Montana. I had my game plan, I knew where I was going to go, and where I was going to camp.
After months of preparation, and a 7-hour drive, I was finally stepping out of my vehicle onto the now wasteland of the breaks. Montana has had a horrible drought this year and in turn created fires everywhere, left water holes dry, the grass Brown, and the animals scarce. I started my hike in with 7 days of rations. 2.8 miles in to where I planned on camping, I noticed the scenery of something you would see out of a movie where hell had come to earth. The steepness of the terrain gave the eerie appearance that the edge of the earth was right around the corner. You could look straight down for a mile and then it would go straight up for a mile. It was almost all rock, the brown grass trees were sparse and so was the water. I set up camp that first night and sat on the only water hole for 3 miles (the only other water around was the river), nothing came into the water that night.
The next day I felt pretty discouraged as there were no fresh tracks going to or from that water. I started to hike and 2 miles without seeing a single animal, not even a deer, made my hopes start dwindling fast. Another mile in I sat down and started to glass. There they were, yet another mile away but there they were. That feeling of excitement and joy was filling my body as I figured out what route they were taking as they walked. Then the realization of where they were at, a mile away down into hell. After 10 minutes of self-talk and saying, “this is why I’m here, this is what I’m after” repeatedly in my head, I finally made the decision to go after them.
But before I made it there, they had moved further away but luckily hadn’t crossed another drainage. I managed to circle around them and close the distance to 40 yards. With her staring at me, I drew my bow and let the arrow fly. My heart sank. I missed. I shot right above her and watched my arrow soar over her back into the abyss of thin air. With my heart torn in two and the wind knocked out of my sail they took off. I watched them cross another canyon and deeper into hell. They settled down on the side of what most would consider a sheer cliff. I reminded myself why I was there and took off after them again.
When I finally hit the ridge top, I looked down and saw the group walking away yet again out of my life. I decided to look up the draw to my right and to do so I would have to walk down the ridge into the canyon a little further. But before I could take my second step I saw her, 20 yards below me and never had a clue the group was even there. I threw my rangefinder up and it read 20 yards, 13 with the cut. So again, I drew back and let the arrow fly, only this time it hit its mark. Heart pounding and hands trembling, I watched as she scaled the cliff and bedded down on the ridge. I had shot my sheep! Where she had bedded down, I could take the ridge all the way back to camp (relatively easy pack) and have some well-deserved backstrap for dinner. It wasn’t seconds after that thought that she tried to stand up and as she did, she died and fell down down down, as did my heart. It was no longer going to be an easy pack out.
By the time I got down to her it was noon, the sun was hot, my water bladder was running on empty, and I still had to get her back to camp. When I had finally gotten her butchered and loaded on my back, the water supply had become dangerously low and the terrain was like something out of Mad Max. A mile into the pack out I ran out of water, I still had 2 miles to go as the crow flew. After another half mile I could feel dehydration setting in, I couldn’t even make enough spit to try and wet my tongue. After another half mile I made the decision to drop pack and make my way back to camp before dehydration set in too hard. I was getting faint, my tongue felt super glued to the roof of my mouth and I was starting to see floaters in my eyes, I knew things were getting dangerous. Alas camp, water, refuge. I had finally made it to the water hole and drank, it was like nothing I had experienced before, the water hit my mouth and I couldn’t stop, guzzle after guzzle of water until it had hit rock bottom, then up that water came. Two more times did I do this until my stomach finally settled down. I had spent at least an hour by the water (it was dark-thirty now) and I finally walked the hill back to camp and passed out from exhaustion.
As I woke the next day and started to head back to my pack, I made it about 1/4 mile from camp, looked to my left, and I saw them, more sheep. I swear they were laughing at me as I passed by them heading back into no man’s land and back into hell as they were so close to camp. But as I pass by them, I can’t help but feel the accomplishment of going where sheep go, walking the same cliffs they do, and gaining such an appreciation for the balance and strength these amazing creatures have. It will be a hunt that I will never forget and if given the chance to do it again..... well.... I would in a heart beat!