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 4: “The Search for Sheep”
Go to Part 3 of this series
As the season has grown closer, I’m finding myself getting a little nervous about my plan. I had mapped the kill sites from previous years and found that most were within a couple miles of the roads that reached above timberline. After looking at the rest of the unit, it looked as though there was great sheep country in a lot of places that were not near roads. My goal on this hunt is to have a “quality” experience. While killing a good ram would certainly add to the quality, being able to see lots of new country and stalk wild sheep without having to compete with a dozen other archery hunters is a higher priority. So I have spent the last month and a half looking for the parts of the unit that hold good sheep but are a little harder to get to and ignored by most hunters — “sleeper” areas as described by one of the district wildlife managers (DWM) who oversees this unit.
A benefit of looking at new country is that you learn about areas that you otherwise would never have visited, like a 4-wheel-drive road that is better off hiked than driven. We tried taking an ATV up one such road into what seemed like a great sheep drainage. Before the trip, I wondered why no one went in there and tried to hunt sheep — now I know. Huge rocks blocked the road about every quarter mile—a rock crawler’s dream, but a nightmare for anyone who valued their truck (or ATV for that matter). After about a mile of white-knuckle riding (and seeing only one mountain goat), we decided that drainage was best saved for another day when we could travel up it by foot.
Another benefit is that I have seen a lot of elk on these trips. And I mean a TON of elk. I never get tired of looking at elk, which is probably evident by the fact that Shannon has spotted sheep on several occasions while I am busy watching elk.
One “sleeper” sheep-hunting area was the focus of our last scouting trip. We set up mid-afternoon and spent some quality time behind glass looking for sheep. We (or should I say Shannon) found the first group of sheep: 22 ewes, lambs and young rams on a hillside more than a mile away. We couldn’t get a good look to see if there were mature rams nearby, so we circled around the basin as the weather moved in. I just had time to see what looked like two, good rams on the skyline as the clouds literally covered them up, not to be seen again that weekend. Darkness fell and we hoped to look for the rams again in the morning. The sound of rain on the tent all night pretty well told us what we would see the next morning: clouds, clouds and more clouds.
When we woke, we knew we would not be looking at the tops of the mountain. The clouds had all of the high stuff covered but not the lower ridges. About 35 head of elk fed in the green hillsides, and all we had to look at were hillsides and basins that we had covered thoroughly the day before. Low and behold, I finally saw the first sheep of the day—a group of 6 ewes and lambs. We watched the sheep feed into a ravine and then waited for them to come out the other side. After a while, we moved down the hill to get a better look. Apparently, they were hiding behind rocks because they seem to have disappeared. It took a good hour to locate two of the sheep again, which provided one of the most significant lessons of my scouting season: sheep can disappear and appear out of nowhere. You need to glass a mountain once and then glass it a second and third time. Even then, you don’t know for sure if there are sheep there or not.
We only found a few other small groups of sheep on that trip but no mature rams. Granted, we were significantly hampered by weather, but where were the big boys? I know that mature rams don’t mix with the ewes and lambs this time of year, but they should be somewhere nearby if you are in good sheep country, and we were definitely in great sheep habitat.
Nevertheless, the great part of archery sheep season is that it provides nearly four weeks to hunt. I can hunt four days on opening weekend, go back to work, hunt another five days, go back to work and still have a week to hunt at the end of the season. Having that much time should allow me to explore some fringe areas, deal with some bad weather and still experience a quality hunt. But I still needed to make a decision: Should I head to the core area, where we saw mature rams, but where there will definitely be a number of other hunters? Or should I trust my gut and hunt the “sleeper” areas? Guess I will have to make that decision very soon.