Once in a Lifetime – AZ Archery Desert Bighorn Sheep Hunt

“We each have a special something we can get only at a special time of our life. like a small flame. A careful, fortunate few cherish that flame, nurture it, hold it as a torch to light their way. But once that flame goes out, it’s gone forever.”  Haruki Murakami
By: John Stallone

I’d never been faced with the implication of a once-in-a-lifetime experience. “Once-in-a-lifetime,” we use this phrase to describe many things. We throw it around with the commonality of much lesser experiences, even though those situations are not truly once-in-a-lifetime. I can’t explain the way it felt; it wasn’t what I expected. It was almost haunting. You know you can never do this again so you want it to be unforgettable. You start envisioning yourself conquering the mountain like a triumphant hero, and you picture yourself kneeling over an old warrior ram, revering his life and praising God for the opportunity. All these delusions of grandeur turn into stress and pressure because you don’t want to fail the experience. You don’t want to squander the opportunity to truly have a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

Sixteen years ago, I began applying for bighorn sheep, never truly believing it would ever become a reality. However, like the lottery, you can’t win if you don’t play. Each year, I did my due diligence and threw my name in the hat, so when I learned I had drawn the tag, it felt surreal. I was in denial for weeks. After it all set in, I knew I had my work cut out for me and began researching and scouting.

It’s funny how many people called me and asked if they could help, if they could go scouting, or if they could just be a part of it somehow. I was overwhelmed with the outpouring of support, but one by one they all dropped off. I get it, it’s hard to take off work and get time away from life in general. The good intentions were there, but it played games with my head.

Author (r) and Jake Domres

Opening day came and a few close friends stepped up to help me, for which I’m forever grateful. We had three goals – shoot a mature ram eight years old or better,I spent a lot of time by myself in desolation, and it began to wear on me. I began to feel a bit desperate as the implications and the magnitude of this hunt being a once-in-a-lifetime tag really sat heavy on my shoulders. The closer I got to the hunt, the heavier the load became and the bleaker the outcome began to feel. Fish and Game did a flyover and the unit was down 30% since the last survey. Moreover, I found out that I was limited to about 15% of the unit if I wanted to film my hunt because the military base that occupies the majority of the unit and consequently where all the big sheep lived did not allow filming. Therefore, a good portion of the scouting I had done was essentially wasted and I had to start all over.

I film my hunt so I can preserve the memory, and do it with the bow. We set out that first morning to a mountain range where I had watched some mature sheep earlier in my scouting, and we turned up a good-looking ram. We stalked in to about 50 yards. I drew back on him and shot him with my mind. It was opening day, so I wasn’t ready to end it on the first sheep we saw. I was after a specific ram I had named “Yellow.” As far as I knew, he was the only class 4 ram in this range.

Day two arrived with a new perspective. It was the first day since I had drawn the tag that I felt we would get this done. At first light, I spotted Old Yellow. He was with three other rams bedded high on a ridge 50 yards below the top. I checked the wind, studied my approach, and with plan in hand, I began my stalk. Three hours later, I found myself within 30 yards of the feeding rams. I waited for him to present a shot, and finally there it was. He had turned broadside, and the other rams were clear. I slowly drew my bow and began to rise above my boulder cover when he caught my movement and spooked. He ran 40 yards and stopped. I quickly ranged him, drew again, and he jumped up a few more yards, stopped, and turned. I settled the pin, let the arrow fly, and watched it sail harmlessly under him. I had misjudged his yardage. What had seemed like just a few yards to me ended up being nine yards. Not too shook up about it, I quickly made it back to the vantage point to try and pick him back up. We spent the whole day looking but didn’t turn him back up until last light. We put him to bed with the plan to get him the next morning.

Day three found us perched on a hill below the rocky ridges where we had bedded the ram the night before. Like a well-scripted play, at first light he was right where I had left him. However, he had a few ewes with him and two other rams had joined the bachelor group. Upon further inspection, there were sheep bedded everywhere, which meant a lot of eyes to fool. One of the two rams that had joined Yellow appeared to be larger than him. By all accounts, everyone agreed he was a better-looking ram. I wasn’t convinced, but with two good sheep in play I didn’t

After several hours of working my way into shooting range, it became a waiting game. Yellow was starting to feed off, and the other sheep in our way, including the new ram, did not move with him. After several more hours of sitting and waiting without food or water, desperation began to set in. Yellow had moved off and out of sight. I was going to call it quits, but my spotters and good friends, Jake Domres and Chad Roberts, talked me into making a play for the new sheep we were now calling “Long Curl.” My cameraman and I backed out to meet up with Chad to grab some water and look at a picture he had taken through the spotter. Levi and I had been within 30 yards of these sheep for the last few hours and didn’t even know it. Armed with the new intel, I knew exactly where we needed to go and how we were going to get there.waste time and began to plan my stalk.

Author with his Arizona Desert Bighorn Sheep

With Levi and now Chad in tow, we made our way back to the drainage below the sheep to make our move. We got to the bend in the drainage where they were feeding, and I crawled under a rock pile to get a visual. I peeked over the rocks and could see him feeding 40 yards away. I signaled to Levi and Chad who then joined me. I handed Chad my rangefinder and told him to range when we stood. I drew back, stood up to clear the rocks, and heard Chad whisper, “44 yards.” I settled my pin and let it fly. The moment the arrow left, I knew it would hit its mark. In a split second and with a resounding slap of a ripe watermelon, I received confirmation. The ram ran 10 yards, so I quickly reloaded, drew, and sent a second arrow. Upon impact, he tipped over and rolled down the hill. Elation. Pure and utter elation! Just like that, all the months of worry and pressure were lifted. I, no, WE had accomplished what we had set out to do – kill a mature ram on film with a bow. I couldn’t have been happier.

Author and Levi with John’s Bighorn Sheep
I think what resonates with me the most is that hunting sheep or hunting in general is a journey of self and each stalk is an education into who you are. The closer you get to understanding you, the closer you get to achieving your goals. With each failed attempt comes a deeper success. 

Filmed By Jake Domres & Levi Paul. Edited By Trevon Stolzfus Narrated and Produced By John Stallone Special Thanks to Chad and Buddy Roberts for helping me glass for sheep and keeping me company on those long solo scouting trips

For more Please go to: John Stallone

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