I specialize in Desert Sheep and Rocky Mountain Bighorn Sheep. I also guide Tule Elk, American Elk, and Mule Deer.
2020 was an interesting year, as it was for just about everyone. We didn’t end up having many hunts, and the ones we had were challenging due to the complete lack of moisture, which put the animals in off-the-wall spots. We ended up with some incredible animals on the flip side and finished the season above average for trophy quality.
I was in high school working as a fishing guide in Big Bear Lake and the boat captain, Kurt Dills, recommended I consider being a hunting guide. A brief time later, I decided to head to Montana and go to a wilderness guide school. Still unsure, I went back home to California. I volunteered to help on some Desert Sheep hunts down south, and after the first sheep I saw hit the ground, I was fully and entirely hooked--for life.
I had many mentors in my influential years, but three stand out. My dad helped me fully understand being a man and chasing a passion. Earl Graham, who taught me horsemanship and business. Terry Anderson, who is to blame for my obsession with bighorn sheep.
There is a journey that you go through when hunting sheep. It soon takes on a roll bigger than hunting when it tries and challenges you in every aspect. I haven’t been on a sheep hunt that is just another hunt. Every hunt changes something about you, and you end up learning new things about yourself.
The desert kills. It cooks you alive in the day and freezes your bones at night. Equipped with the wrong gear and you will find yourself in a great deal of trouble, fast. Breathable, quick-drying fabrics are a must in the day, and down insulation goes on the second the sun sets. Unlike most areas, when the down layer goes on, you must put a protective shell on the outside to protect everything sharp and prickly in the desert. The importance of breathability is HUGE. You need to always cover and protect yourself from the sun. Often, I’m in long sleeves, long pants, and a hood on. That’s why the Gila hoodie is my new absolute go-to. I almost forgot; does it have to be ultralight? Packing around a five-pound parka all day in the heat doesn’t sound appealing to me. Ultralight is imperative.
Game is scarce in the desert, and hiking through the mountains hoping to get close to something isn’t realistic. So you find yourself behind your glass for the better part of every day. Most of the time, I spend behind my Leica 10x binoculars or my spotting scope. I’m a little old school and don’t always have a pair of 15x’s on me, but they can be helpful. Every time I am glassing, I take the time to put them on my tripod, even with my binoculars. It’s unreal what stability will help you pick up. I have had the same tripod for 14 years now. I use the outdoorsman medium tripod with a pistol grip.
The first would be my instinct. Remember your first thoughts when you spotted the ram. After that, I look at the drop. Below the jaw is best. Then I look at length. Does he come all the way around? Holding the mass is relatively easy. Then I see if he dinks out towards the 3rd quarter or carries it out to the end. The next is starting mass, and that is hard. What are his bases? For this, you must have a side profile and a back view. I looked for width at the base and blocked out from the back. A big-based ram will have trouble with the skull side of his curl due to the difficulty in tightly curling the mass in the horns. I’ve found tight curl rams often have smaller bases.
In 2015, I was in one range in the desert for 58 days. At the time, my wife was cooking for us, and she was six months pregnant. She wasn’t happy with my decision to keep after it. We knew there was a giant there, but he was a ghost. We didn’t end up getting the target ram, but again, that is the appeal of sheep hunting. Sometimes the hardest and smartest work you do isn’t rewarded with a ram. That’s humbling.
Yes, Goliath was Jason’s Grand Slam ram in his home state! I could write a book about the pursuit of that ram. I saw a lot of life come and go in the years chasing that ram.
Sometimes a hunt just hits different; that was Goliath. An emotional journey from start to finish, and it just so happens he was a complete giant. I will never hunt another animal that will try me like that ram, from my personal life to years of boots on the ground. It gives me chills just thinking about it.
We see a lot of sheep! Some with just the slightest differences. We name them so we can better communicate what we are seeing amongst the crew and hunters. We have had some interesting ones over the years! Some probably wouldn’t be very politically correct, but we are hunting guides; what do you expect. Here are some examples of past rams: Black Bart- A dark-colored ram that was a complete giant. Black Bert- A total dink that will never be a decent ram but was dark and hung out with Black Bart. One horn Willy- He had one horn. Knight- A big ram that would always make big moves at night. Horseback, backpack, truck, GPS, paper maps, etc.
I begin on my couch. I spend countless hours at home combing every inch of a range before I get there. I do this research even if I’ve hunted it 100 times. Maps are like a good book. Something new will always reveal itself.
After I get the mapping done, I go to the field. Usually alone or with a skeleton crew. I see if my original ideas line up with what is there. Then I systematically break down the zone attempting to clear sections off, starting with the highest probability area. Usually, locating the target rams before we must start back at the first section we looked. As far as horses and backpacking, there is so much prep that goes into it. We work year-round, training our stock and perfecting our gear. Usually, on hunts if I can get a horse there, we are riding them. It saves our legs for when we need them.
I stress shooting because you don’t get a re-do with big rams. I usually over mentally prepare the hunters, so it’s slightly easier than expected if it goes as planned. If things go sour, though, they hopefully are physically and mentally prepared. A hunt this year is fresh on my mind; Doug brought his two boys out for the first few days of his hunt, we were both expecting a 4–6-day hunt, and his boys could be there before they had to return to work. One thing led to another, their travel plans got canceled, and ten long hard days later, we got a great ram, with his boys there. Things are constantly changing, and the more mentally prepared I can have the clients before they get there, the fewer surprises they will have.
I come from a mountaineering and Search & Rescue background. Before I even knew what mountain hunting was, I knew gear could make the difference between life and death. When I first started guiding, I found myself in some of the same sketchy places I was during rescues, but now I’m in crumby gear cause its camo? It seemed silly, doesn’t it? KUIU holds its gear to extreme mountain standards and puts a fantastic camo pattern on it. For me, it’s not about a brand or a look, and it’s about safety and performance under very demanding conditions.
It seems I’m fortunate to live a life where all my hunts are incredible. We are going into spring, where we will be doing our horseback wild pig hunts. They are fun, plain, and straightforward. We will follow that up with another fantastic fall with some great trophy tags lined up.
Final thoughts… We must keep hunting genuine and real. It’s about pursuing wild game in their native habitat. Nothing more, nothing less. It’s up to us to keep traditions alive. Keep it original and keep it western.