A young sheep hunter braves the hazards of the Idaho mountains in search of a very special bighorn.
As I watched the bighorn ram bedded beneath the cliff, I wondered what was taking my son Logan so long to arrive. He had been glassing above me, and I when I spotted the ram I had motioned him to come down, around a large cliff face, to where I was. Suddenly I heard some rocks falling from the cliff and then experienced a father’s nightmare. Out of a crack in the cliff something fell, landing on the rock slide below, and began rolling down the jumble of rocks. Watching in horror, I saw arms flailing and hunting gear strewn down the mountain face. What should have been a great moment suddenly turned to a jolt of fear for my son’s life.
Logan began his hunting career at a very young age, and his interest in hunting and trapping is insatiable. Only fourteen years old, he has continually impressed me with his patience and skill in hunting situations. I was thrilled when he told me in the spring of 2016 that he wanted to put in for the draw for bighorn sheep in the unit by our house in our home state of Idaho.
I had put in for sheep in multiple states for nineteen years and never had success in drawing. I found out in June that the draw results were available and hurried to check what I knew would be a familiar “sorry, you were unsuccessful” response. I typed in our numbers, closed my eyes, and hit “enter.” When I opened my eyes I was shocked to see on the screen, “Congratulations! You are SUCCESSFUL in drawing a bighorn sheep tag.” BOTH of us had drawn. We now had two of the only four tags in this unit. I had drawn in my twentieth year of trying, Logan in his first.
As I related in my story in the July/August issue, earlier in the season we had tried shooting at two rams at the same time. I got mine, but quickly went from sheer exuberance to a feeling of guilt realizing Logan had missed. But Logan said, “You know, Dad, I’m actually glad it worked out this way. I would have loved to have gotten that ram but at least it was a clean miss and I got to share the experience of you getting your ram. Plus, now our hunt isn’t over, which means we get to spend more time on the mountain together.”
After packing out my ram, we regrouped and headed back up the mountain in search of a ram for Logan. We searched for two days but could not locate the same band of rams again. In the afternoon of the third day we had traveled several miles along the ridges where the rams had been all summer. Then the weather began to turn. Soon it was blowing and starting to rain and then snow. We decided instead of spending an uncomfortable night on the mountain, we would head down to the house.
The following morning I looked out at the mountain and saw it was still clouded over. We slept in a while longer and when I awoke, the clouds had lifted. I walked into Logan’s room and woke him. As we were talking, I looked out of his bedroom window and noticed something on the mountain. I told him there was an animal over there and hurried to grab my binocular. As I put up my bino I couldn’t believe my eyes. I had spotted a bighorn ram from my son’s bedroom window!
We hurriedly gathered our gear and headed out. After crossing the Salmon River we watched the ram cross back over a saddle and out of sight. We worked our way up the steep face to get to the top, hoping the ram had bedded in the cliffs just beyond the saddle. It took us an hour to reach the top of the mountain and we circled to get the wind in our favor and slowly approached the top of the cliff overlooking where we thought the ram had gone.
Logan Reed with his hard-earned bighorn ram.
We crept to the edge, slowly peeking over, and saw nothing. We moved along the rim, looking down in the rocks below, but could not locate the ram. We then moved to a point overlooking the saddle where the ram had made his appearance and subsequent retreat. I figured if he did reappear, he would use this saddle again.
An hour or two passed with no sign of the ram. We decided on a plan where I would circle and slowly make my way along the cliff face. If the ram was still there, I might push him into the saddle where Logan had a great shooting position. I went back and down the mountain and began slowly working my way toward and underneath Logan’s perch.
There was ram sign everywhere. Beds, tracks, and droppings littered the area. This ram had clearly been living here. I rounded a point and could see Logan on the cliff a few hundred yards away. I moved just a few yards more and something caught my eye up next to the cliff face. Tucked behind a boulder was a ram’s white butt! I dropped down and began frantically trying to get Logan’s attention. I finally did and gestured furiously to indicate I had spotted the ram and he should work his way around to my position. Of course, in my mind these frantic hand signals conveyed a clear message, but to Logan, not so much.
Eventually I saw him gather his gear and head in the direction I had signaled, and then I lost sight of him. I sat, anxiously awaiting his arrival. That’s when I heard rocks rolling from the cliff and saw the rolling mass with what appeared to be arms flailing, leaving a path of hunting gear strewn down the mountain.
I hurriedly grabbed my binocular and, to my relief, saw that what had fallen down the cliff was just Logan’s backpack, not Logan himself. I was still concerned—where was he? I was relieved when he soon appeared and began gathering his gear. I tried to signal him to go lower and work his way over to me, but to my dismay he went back up to the base of the cliff and began working his way across the bottom of the cliff face. The path he was on would take him within ten yards of the ram. I frantically waved my arms, then resorted to jumping up and down and waving my hat, but Logan took no notice. I was sure the ram would notice the commotion at any moment and bolt.
Logan was now within thirty yards of the sheep. I decided I had nothing to lose at this point and I figured he should at least be ready for a possible shot when the ram bolted, so I yelled, “Logan!” Incredibly, he didn’t hear me, nor did the ram move. Now he was only twenty yards from the ram and I yelled louder, “Logan!” This time he froze, trying to locate me. Unbelievably, the ram stayed bedded through all of this. I motioned to Logan to go back. He reversed course and headed back across the boulder field.
About halfway across the rock slide, a rock rolled under his feet and down he went. I saw him hug the rifle as he tumbled two full rolls down the steep slide. He sat for a moment to gather himself and then soldiered on, eventually reaching my position. I looked him over. He was cut and bruised, but gave me an exhausted smile. He had saved the rifle from any hits as well, but his arms and shoulder had paid for it.
He explained what had happened. He had misunderstood my very clear (to me) hand signals, and came down the cliff in a crack. He got to a spot where he was hung up so he unraveled a para-cord bracelet he had made and lowered his pack with it. He lost his grip on the rope and that is when his pack came tumbling down the mountain. It was the sleeves of his coat, which was tied to his pack, that appeared to be arms flailing as the pack rolled down the mountainside. We both began to giggle, astonished that all of this had unfolded and yet the ram was still bedded a mere 100 yards away. After composing ourselves, we wondered if the ram were deaf or dumb. I had yet to see the ram’s head to determine his size, but we knew it had to be the ram we had spotted from the bedroom window. I told Logan the ram would eventually get up and turn around and bed back down, as rams always do. But another hour or two passed and the ram hadn’t even twitched.
Logan said, “Maybe he’s dead.” That started us giggling again.
I told him to be ready for a shot as I was going to try to slip out and get a look at the ram. I scooted across the ground until I could finally see one side of the ram’s horns. His head was up so he was definitely alive. I crawled back to Logan and told him the ram’s horns were fairly long and flared out, but they weren’t real heavy, so the choice was his.
He replied, “Dad, we might be able to go and find a bigger ram somewhere else, but we could never top the story behind this one! I always wanted to shoot one where I could look out of my window and see the mountain where I shot my ram, but I never figured we’d actually SPOT the ram from my bedroom window!”
Finally the ram stood and turned and bedded back down, never offering a shot. Logan could now see the ram’s head and vitals. He said, “He does flare out nice. I think I’m going to take him.”
He settled in for the shot and I told him where to aim the .300 Ultra Mag. At the shot, the ram came tumbling down the mountain toward us and lodged against a boulder. I told Logan to get ready and stay on him. After a few minutes and no movement from the ram, I hugged Logan and told him how proud I was of him. We gathered our gear and began working our way up to the fallen ram. I was ahead of Logan and heard him say something. I turned to ask him what he said and, wide-eyed, he exclaimed, “He’s up!”
I turned and couldn’t believe it–here was the ram stumbling across the rock slide above us. Logan quickly reloaded and took an offhand shot, which finished the ram.
After reaching the ram I congratulated Logan and then told him to go to the top of the mountain to see if he could get a cell signal to call my wife, Mariah, and have her bring a vehicle to the road below us. After about an hour, just at dark, I had the ram ready to pack out. I could see Mariah coming along the road below and flashed my headlamp at her. A short while later she had climbed up to the kill site carrying our two-year-old daughter, helping our four-year-old son, and followed by our other two daughters. All of them clawed their way up the steep mountain to admire the ram and congratulate Logan.
Logan and I loaded up our heavy packs. I held the four-year-old’s hand, Mariah carried the two-year-old, and with the other two in tow we headed down the mountain to the truck waiting below. One more trip up and down the mountain, and we were done. Logan was so proud of his ram and during the course of both hunts had taken several very nice photos, including one that appeared on the cover of the January/February issue.
The next day we took the rams to check them in and get the horns plugged. The whole family went along and the Idaho Fish and Game biologist, Jamie, included the kids in the process, explaining what she was doing and why, and the various things they were testing for. This was truly a family sheep hunt and one that will stand out among my most special hunting adventures.
Logan was proud of his ram, but it wasn’t long before he asked me, “Dad, can I start putting in for the draw in other states?” And thus another sheep hunter is born.
A heavy load he’s happy to carry.