CPW Field Journal
When it comes to outdoors expertise, no one understands Colorado’s fishery and wildlife resources better than Colorado Parks and Wildlife’s diverse staff of wildlife managers, park rangers and biologists. For these dedicated individuals, working for CPW is not just an occupation but a way of life. When they’re not enforcing fish and game laws, patrolling state lands or conducting fish and wildlife research, most CPW employees are avid sportsmen and women who spend their leisure time hunting and angling throughout the state. Here, CPW staff share their personal stories and experiences, provide on-the-ground field updates and offer a unique, “inside” perspective on all things hunting and fishing in Colorado.
In this special, multi-part series of CPW Field Journal, CPW employee Michael Scott shares his personal experiences applying/drawing for sheep and moose licenses, and provides real-time updates during his preseason scouting and fall hunting trips.
Part Two: “Scouting for Bighorn Sheep”
I told you last post how I had “hit the lottery” and drew two premium licenses (sheep and moose) after 21 years of applying. Figuring that I had plenty of time to scout once the snow came off in the high country, I spent the first month studying maps and plotting locations from previous years’ harvest. A friend of mine, who had hunted sheep a couple of years ago, also gave me some good advice about getting my gear ready well before the season. And like I said earlier, there are a couple of free resources out there (Google Earth and CPW’s Hunting Atlas) that really let you see where you will be hunting long before you actually put your feet on the ground.
On June 29, I, along with about 200 other lucky individuals, attended the annual “Sheep and Goat Orientation” that is organized by Jim Bulger, CPW’s hunter outreach coordinator. I have to give Jim some serious kudos for putting together such a great seminar, with experts talking about sheep and goat behavior, hunting techniques, taking care of the trophy parts and meat as well as survival skills while hunting in some of the most extreme locations in Colorado. The speakers and vendors who participated, along with the wildlife officers and biologists who were there to answer questions about their specific game management units (GMUs) provided an excellent opportunity for all of the hunters to learn and prepare for their upcoming hunts. As a side note, the youngest hunter who attended the orientation was a 15-year-old boy who was hunting a bighorn ewe. The oldest was 74 years old. And even though there were only about 30 or so hunters who had applied for more than 20 years before drawing a license, one person had waited 43 years to draw a tag! I guess I don’t feel so bad about waiting 21 years now.
Right after the orientation, I headed up for my first overnight scouting trip. I drove up to the basin where most of the sheep had been harvested in past seasons, and I set up camp as it was getting dark. Unfortunately, I was about an hour too late to do any real scouting but it didn’t matter. I was camped at timberline and excited to see sheep the next morning. The smartest thing that I did was bring along my girlfriend Shannon on the scouting trip. She has a knack for spotting game, whether it is mule deer, elk or now — bighorn sheep.
I have to admit that I didn’t sleep too well on the hard ground. I guess I’m starting to get old — that and the rock under my butt didn’t soften up overnight. About a half hour before first light, as we were starting to get up, the first car drove by and headed up the hill. Then another. And another. I couldn’t believe that there were that many other hunters headed up to scout that morning (I guess the orientation the day before must have gotten everyone excited). After the 6th or 7th car drove by, and I watched a couple of old men with trekking poles walk up the road, I finally figured it out. We were on a road to the trailhead of a “14er” and these folks were all planning to get an early start so they could reach the summit before the afternoon thunderstorms rolled in. Good thinking and something that sheep hunters need to consider as well.
Long story short, we did see sheep that morning–OK, Shannon saw sheep. I was busy watching two large herds of elk above timberline when she pointed them out to me. From a mile or more away, I looked at five rams feeding up the ridge through my spotting scope. They quickly dropped over to the far side of the ridge and out of view, but not before I saw that they consisted of mainly ½-to ¾-curl rams–nothing huge but definitely something to get excited about. I tried to figure out how to take pictures with my phone through the spotting scope. Suffice to say, I had a hard time as you can see from this photo.
After seeing nothing more than elk and deer in that basin, we decided to try and cover as many areas as we could to familiarize myself with how to get around in the unit. Unfortunately, even though most of the snow has melted, there were still some pretty significant drifts across a couple of roads that blocked access to good sheep country. We hiked past one drift and up onto a ridge that had not shown any sheep harvest in years past but which looked pretty good to me. It didn’t take long to find sheep droppings and trails that, I was pretty certain, were not being used by deer and elk. Encouraged by what we saw, we hiked back down to the truck and drove back down the road. As we were driving out, Shannon told me to stop and back up. She had seen sheep above us on the end of the same ridge that we had just hiked. Are you seeing a pattern here too?
A quick look through the binoculars revealed several ewes feeding on a hillside in the middle of the day. A little more looking revealed 4 more ewes and 5 lambs just above them. I have to tell you that those lambs were about as cute as anything I have ever seen. They jumped up on rocks, knocked each other off and played like there was no tomorrow. After months of getting in shape, I still can’t climb up and down those hills as well as those two-week-old lambs.Those were the only sheep we saw that day, but I did get to see a lot of the unit. And I cannot believe how fast time is flying by. I know that with work commitments I won’t be able to scout nearly as much as I would like, but I do plan to get up a couple more times before the season starts. Maybe I should have waited until I was 74 years old and did this hunt after I was retired. Nope. This is too good to miss, and I plan to share it with my kids as much as possible. And you can bet that I will be bringing Shannon and her sharp eyes!
Here’s some video of bighorn sheep taken through my spotting scope: