As I looked down at my ram laying on the shelf below us, I realized that I had finally killed a ram. The excitement and emotions got even higher as I picked my way down the cliff towards him. This was our seventh year of hunting sheep in this unit, we had blown opportunities and missed shots in past years. My buddies and I had burned all our points to hunt this unit and it was worth it. We were sheep hunting, something we had always wanted to do.
Being up in this country makes you feel small, with only the gear you can carry on your back or on the back of your buddy’s mules, which helps a lot. Either way, it requires you to bring your best. Being in shape is a must and having the right gear is helpful. None of this matters though, you first have to have a tag in your pocket. That is the biggest hurdle to sheep hunting – the tag.
Sheep hunting in recent years has become increasingly more expensive with hunts for Dall’s and Stone’s costing more than your child’s college tuition. The draw odds in states with Rocky Mountain and Desert sheep have become harder to draw than the PowerBall jackpot. However, there ARE ways to increase your chances of getting to sheep hunt.
Yes, it may still take time and will cost money. The one thing that holds true is that you have to pay to play. Whether that is in state drawings or going to events like Wild Sheep Foundation banquets and playing the raffles. It all increases your chances, and you need to start now. I want to give you ideas on how to do that and a few on what you may need to do once you have successfully acquired a tag.
A strategy I wish I had started sooner is applying in other states and getting in raffles. The Wild Sheep Foundation holds both their national show and local banquets, all of which have raffles or drawings. Your chances of winning at one of these are usually far higher than in the state draws. Even if you only buy one ticket at these, you are drastically increasing your odds of hunting.
When looking at the state-to-state drawings, look at draw odds in each unit. Play the percentages but, keep in mind that higher odds can mean lower trophy quality. You will have to decide what you are after. This will require more research in each state, and some may require an outfitter. States use different definitions of what a legal or mature ram is, usually by age or by curl. Local biologists and past hunters can be very helpful in this. The state draws can be a lot to navigate, but it again increases the odds of drawing a tag.
Going back to the raffle side of it, Wild Sheep Foundation has their <1 Club. This is the club, as they put it, you want to be kicked out of. It is pretty simple, for $25 a year you get a t-shirt and an entry into that year’s hunt draw. At least you are guaranteed a shirt, and if you go to the Sheep Show put on by the Wild Sheep Foundation in Reno every year, there are numerous other raffles and drawings to put in for.
Another drawing is held at the Western Hunt Expo in Salt Lake City and is put on by the Full Curl Society. Aptly named, “Sheep Camp” this, again, requires an annual membership. This one is designed to help hunters get a chance at the Sheep Slam. They limit the people in the room to 1,700 and give away between 14 and 20 hunts a year. I have had two buddies win Dall’s sheep hunts this way. You also have the chance as you walk the floor of the Expo to win other hunts put on by the vendors.
Another way to sheep hunt is through the Montana unlimited units. This is a guaranteed draw tag so, yes, it burns ALL your bonus points. You are, however, allowed to do it every year until you kill a ram. This is WAY easier said than done as many of the units rely on 100% migratory rams. Weather is usually required to get them moving and each unit is on a quota. This means you will need to be able to call in to the harvest line and check the status of the unit quota at all times. Most of these units are in wilderness country and require a massive hike or horse/mule ride. This can be some of the toughest sheep hunting in the world. Unlike draw units where the tags are very limited and you might only see a few other sheep hunters, it is not unlikely for there to be 40-60 other hunters holding an unlimited tag in the same unit. This is how I got my start in sheep hunting but, like I mentioned above, it took us seven years to pull it off.
So, you got a tag and you’re going sheep hunting, now what? Well, you had better be in shape, and this is different for everyone. The sheep hunt you are going on, the area can all be different. You may have to scout the area or it might be guided. All of this will go into how you prepare for your hunt. If it is an all-DIY hunt, your scouting will go a long way in helping you get in shape. You will find out quickly how much physical preparation you need to do. Now, if you are going with an outfitter, talk to your guide. Take their advice and don’t let your physical abilities be the reason you are not successful.
If you are going to DIY, you will have to scout and there can be many different variables. Depending on the type of unit and if you are hunting a trophy unit or not, sheep can be the easiest thing to find or they can be quite difficult. Learning the area can be key and this can be done by taking the time to familiarize yourself with the unit. I truly believe that the biggest hurdle we have in sheep hunting is drawing the tag. That is why I spent so much time on different ways to increase my odds. With this being a limited opportunity to hunt sheep, local biologists and past hunters can be a huge part in getting you close. Sheep are managed tightly in most states so the biologists are very reliable. Most past hunters are far more willing to share information, as it is not a honey hole they can go back to every year.
When I started my sheep adventure, I had experience with elk and deer hunting in the backcountry. I had what I thought to be good mountain gear. I was always able to get by comfortably and it did work. There was room for improvement and gear changed over the years. One thing I learned was weight and quality matter a lot. I am not going to be pushing any one brand but, my gear is one thing I changed the most.
Take care of your feet. Your sheep hunting boots should be stiffer in the ankle and shank. Make sure they are broken in and you don’t have extra movement. Good socks are a must with an extra pair on hand to keep your feet dry by switching. I also try to have something for blisters. Either duct tape or mole skin are good options. I use it on hot spots the second I feel them. I know you have probably heard this but, these tags are hard to get so don’t let this be the reason you don’t fill your tag.
What’s on your back matters. Just like your boots, try on as many packs as you can. You should have them fitted to you with weight in them. I would suggest a minimum of 50 pounds. That will give you a better idea of how it is going to ride. There are many great pack companies out there. Try them on and buy the one that fits your frame.
Optics is another area I have constantly been improving and, although it is nice to have the best, this is one area I feel you don’t have to go all out. Buy the best you can afford. A decent pair of 10-12x binoculars will do. I would also suggest a good 30x spotter that isn’t too heavy. Remember, you have to pack it. Couple these with a light-weight, but sturdy tripod and you will be good to go. A tripod adapter with binoculars makes grid glassing to locate sheep easier and then you can switch to your spotter for a closer look.
The final piece of gear that I feel is very key is your shelter. There are plenty of light weight tents and teepees out there now. If you are hunting with a buddy, a hot tent is super convenient for drying clothes after storms. Make sure it will stand up to wind and snow loads. The wind howls up there and storms come out of nowhere.
If you are reading this article, you may already have the urge to sheep hunt. My goal is to increase that and make you want it more. Hopefully, I put more ideas in your head of how you can make it possible. Sheep hunting CAN be for everyone, some of us just must be creative. My final piece of advice, make friends with other sheep hunters and get involved in your local chapter of the Wild Sheep Foundation. This will accomplish two things, get you access to the raffle hunts and put you in touch with other hunters. Don’t wait, start now!