CPW Field Journal ‘Sheep and Moose Hunts’ (Part 6)
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, multipart 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 6: “Moments and Memories”
Go to part 5 of this series
Wow! What a long, grueling season it has been, but also unbelievably rewarding. I have made it sheep hunting a total of eight days so far and those have been pretty scattered between work and other commitments. But I have the last week of the season blocked out for annual leave. So, I could potentially get 15 days of sheep hunting in during this 26-day season — not bad. And during these eight days, I have gotten to know the sheep, the mountains and myself better than I ever thought I would.
Here is one lesson I continue to learn: Sheep have all of the advantages over a bowhunter. They spend an afternoon bedded down in the rocks at 13,000-feet elevation, weathering rain and hailstorms, as easily as I watch a Rockies game in my living room recliner. When I try to enter into “their” world, I realize that we, as humans, are very soft.
A perfect example of this occurred on a day when I was hunting with my brother Mark. Mark is a lifelong Colorado resident, hunter and firefighter who is in pretty good shape. In fact, he just completed the “Warrior Dash,” which is a 5-kilometer obstacle run at Copper Mountain. So, we expected that even though Mark hadn’t been hiking the mountains like I had, he would be able to do OK on the hunt with me.
As I was stalking to within 150 yards of a group of feeding rams, Mark was sitting above on the ridge that we had climbed and he was watching through the spotting scope. A hailstorm rolled in and Mother Nature unleashed her fury on us. We both hunkered down under ponchos and the hail pelted us like someone throwing handfuls of gravel. When the hail and rain let up, I peeked over the rocks toward the rams and watched as they shook off the rain and resumed feeding. Except, now they were 500 feet higher in the rocks and heading the opposite direction. I called Mark on the two-way radios to make sure he had made it through the storm and lighting alright, and he told me that he was not feeling well and was headed back to camp. I thought that this seemed odd, but I decided to watch the rams until dark. I then hiked the hour and a half back to camp through the 2 inches of hail that had piled up.
When I got back to camp, I wondered why Mark didn’t come out of the tent to eat the dinner that I was cooking up. Well, it turned out that for the first time in his life, my brother experienced altitude sickness. I was pretty sure that we should have immediately hiked the 3 ½ miles out of camp and down to a lower elevation, but Mark, being an EMT, said that he could make it through the night and just needed some sleep. Needless to say, we headed back down the mountain first thing in the morning. I was amazed at how quickly Mark recovered once we departed from 13,000 to 10,000 feet.
Another lesson learned: What takes a sheep 10 minutes to climb may take me hours, especially when I am trying to be sneaky. On several occasions, I was unsuccessful stalking rams because it took me too long to get around and above the sheep. One such occasion was when my friend Dan, a successful sheep hunter himself, was with me. Dan and I spotted rams bedded at the top of a basin and decided that I had plenty of time to hike along the backside of the ridge to get above them. In the meantime, Dan watched the sheep from below and gave me hand signals when/if the rams moved locations. After an hour-long hike along a sheer drop-off ridgeline, I thought I was finally in position. I peeked over the top but found no sheep. Thinking I was in the wrong spot, I repositioned myself and looked again — still, no sheep and no Dan. As I stood up higher to look again and again, I finally realized that the sheep were no longer bedded down. They were now feeding in the bottom of the basin and were now looking up at me. Once they spotted me, they spooked and ran up the opposite ridge. After a long hike back down the mountain, I talked with Dan about what had happened. Turns out that the sheep decided to take an early dinner and moved out of the rocks to feed just 15 minutes after I began my hike up the ridge. Dan, not having a way to communicate with me, watched as the rams fed to within 200 yards of his location. Not wanting to spook the rams, Dan moved down the trail. He assumed that I had seen the whole thing from the ridge, which of course I hadn’t, but I sure did get my exercise that day anyway.
I know that drawing this sheep license was probably a once-in-a lifetime opportunity. I’ve known so many hunters who have applied unsuccessfully for many years and have never drawn a sheep tag. Because of this, I have been eager to share my good fortune and this epic adventure with anyone willing to make the hike up the mountain with me.
I grew up hunting with my dad, uncles, brothers, friends and anyone else who wanted to join us at deer camp. So, my fondest memories are not of trophies taken, but of the camaraderie of being in hunting camp with family and friends. Growing up, I remember my grandmother making homemade chicken and noodles for dinner when we returned from a long day’s hunt, my uncles giving me tips on how to walk through the woods more quietly and how to spot deer. My memories of frozen toes and fingers while watching a hillside at sunrise or sitting on the tailgate of a pick-up truck eating lunch with family, everyone dressed in orange vests and hats while listening to the Broncos game on the radio. The smell of sagebrush, the sound of the wind through the aspens — these are the types of memories that I hope to bring home with me after this sheep hunt is over. Although I haven’t harvested a sheep yet, the “hunt” is ultimately what my license is for. And I have already gotten my money’s worth. I hope that those who have shared this experience with me will take home some of these same memories.