In an earlier article posted to this website, I discussed hunting Bull Elk in the beautiful mountains of Colorado. In this article (Part 1), I will discuss my hunt for a Rocky Mountain Bighorn Ram. In Part 2, I will cover my quest for a Rocky Mountain Bighorn Ewe.
In September 1980 when I retired from the U.S. Army after almost 21 years of active service, my wife and I settled in Colorado Springs, Colorado to begin my second career as an aerospace systems engineer. Several of my co-workers were avid big game hunters and were very familiar with hunting the various species of Colorado big game.
They told me about hunting Rocky Mountain Bighorn Rams but warned me that you could only get a Bighorn hunting license through annual lottery drawings, and it was difficult to get drawn for a ram license. For the entire state of Colorado, only about 90 permits were available per year. One of my co-workers had been unsuccessful in the drawing for 11 straight years. However, they convinced me to enter the drawing.
I followed the advice of my co-workers and applied for a Ram license in 1981. Unfortunately, I was not successful in that drawing. I tried my luck again in 1982 and was lucky enough to get drawn for a ram permit for Sheep Unit S6 which included the Pikes Peak Mountain and the surrounding foothills.
Knowing that the sheep habitat was mostly between timberline (about 10,000 feet) and the top of Pikes Peak, which is at 14,110 feet above sea level, I knew that I had to be in excellent physical condition to be able to successfully hunt the sheep. At that time, I was working at Ford Aerospace Corporation with offices in a 15-story office building in Colorado Springs. Every workday, I would make at least one round trip up and down the 15 flights of stairs in the morning, at noon and again after work.
One of the first tasks, after I received my notification that I was successful in the drawing for the license, was to find a highly recommended qualified licensed guide for the hunt. I got in touch with Dan Aubuchon of High Park Guide and Outfitters from Trinidad, Colorado. Dan was familiar with Bighorn Ram hunting in my sheep hunting unit and had successfully guided Ram hunts in that unit.
Included in his guide fee, Dan provided an 8 day one-on-one guided hunt in September and 4 days of scouting the sheep habitat during the summer. Dan would personally guide me on the hunt. He provided me accommodations in a tent base camp just below timberline near the area he expected to conduct the hunt. The hunt included all meals, lodging, riding horses, a pack horse to pack out my ram, plus skinning and capping of the ram. I agreed to these terms, paid him a deposit, and was all set for my hunt.
On June 19, 1982, my youngest daughter, Debbie, and I drove my pickup to the top of Pikes Peak to get the lay of the land. The view from the top was awesome. We saw no sheep that day.
On July 31, Dan and I made our first scouting trip to the area where Dan expected to find Bighorn Rams. He concentrated on an area called Sheep Mountain. We saw some beautiful country but again no sheep. We saw several large water storage reservoirs owned by City of Colorado Springs, in the foothills surrounding Pikes Peak. The reservoirs collect melted snow and rainfall which is then released, as needed by the city, in streams and pipelines down the mountain to the city water supply system.
Our second scouting trip on August 7 & 8, included two nights of camping at the proposed camp site for the actual hunt. The site was just below timberline at the base of Sheep Mountain. On this trip we saw numerous sheep. One flock of 11 sheep included three 1/2 curl rams and eight ewes and lambs. Another group included four 3/4 curl rams and one 1/2 curl ram. We also saw several individual rams but no trophies.
Our third scouting trip occurred on August 20 to 23. We again stayed in the proposed base camp. Although we had great clear weather on our first two trips, this trip proved to be more challenging. We scouted in different areas for the other trips. We saw some very rugged country and saw sheep every day. We also saw lots of different animals, including elk and mule deer. We even saw a lone wild white burro (donkey). The burro probably descended from the burros used by gold prospectors during the Cripple Creek gold rush of the late 1800s and now lives in the wild. We also saw several ptarmigan, which is a large bird (grouse) that lives year-round at and above timberline. For camouflage the ptarmigan is white in the winter and brown in the summer. The ones we saw were in transition–part white and part brown. These beautiful birds are only found in this type of mountain environment.
We concentrated on observing a group of three rams–one 1/2 curl, one 3/4 curl and one almost 7/8 curl. Using Don’s 60X spotting scope, we decided that the largest ram was a true trophy. It had unusually heavy bases and was beautifully symmetrical. It also had a distinctive mark on its left front chest for easy identification later. The mark was probably the result of an earlier fight with another ram. I told Dan that if we could not find a larger ram, I would seriously consider harvesting this ram during the actual hunt.
One afternoon as we were riding down the mountain toward our base camp due to a lightning storm moving in, we spotted a young 1/2 curl ram who was standing watch on top of a rock outcropping above timberline. His task was to watch for predators and warn his partners of danger. According to Dan, this is a relatively common sight in this sheep habitat. When lightning struck near us, the young ram left his post to seek shelter. Dan and I could feel the electricity in the air from the lightning and were seeking shelter as well.
Our fourth and final scouting trip occurred on September 5 – 6, one week before the sheep hunting season opened. We again saw some beautiful country and some sheep but no trophy rams larger than the one I had selected on our previous trip.
Now I was ready for my actual ram hunt. The season started on Saturday, September 11, 1982, and I had a contract with Dan that could last as long as eight days of hunting.
As it turned out, September 11 was my Dad, Adolph Scheel’s 70th birthday. My nine siblings and I were giving him a big birthday party with dinner and dance at Bexar Social Club in Zuehl, Texas near San Antonio. My Dad told me to go on my sheep hunt rather than come to Texas for his party. However, I felt obligated to celebrate this important milestone in his life. I decided that I would delay my sheep hunt for one day and start my hunt on Sunday afternoon. Dan told me that would not be a problem.
My wife and I drove by car to Texas to celebrate the birthday on Saturday evening. Early Sunday morning I took the earliest flight from San Antonio to Denver, Colorado where I arrived at about 7 AM. A few days earlier I had taken my hunting truck to the Denver Airport to facilitate getting to my hunt as early as possible. On Sunday on my way to the hunt, I stopped by my home in Colorado Springs to pick up my hunting gear. At about 2 PM on Sunday afternoon I joined Dan at our base camp.
Dan told me that I had not missed anything. It had been snowing heavily all-day Saturday and Sunday with blizzard conditions on the mountain. I settled into camp and had a delicious dinner which Dan had cooked for me. Dan and I reviewed his plans for the hunt to start as soon as the weather cleared, hopefully by Monday morning. We set the alarm for 5 AM and went to bed early.
When the alarm woke us at 5 AM, the blizzard conditions continued so we stayed in bed. At about 7 AM, we woke up to bright sunshine. Dan asked me to fix breakfast while he saddled the horses and loaded our equipment. By 8 AM on Monday morning, we were finally on our way up Sheep Mountain to begin my hunt.
When we got to timberline, our route took us through a deep snow drift. Our horses were belly deep in snow. We continued to the top of the ridge on Sheep Mountain where it was bitterly cold and windy with no cloud in the sky. We decided to ride down the western slope of the mountain to some large rock outcroppings to get out of the wind. We could see the area where we had spotted the large ram on our scouting trips. It was now covered with about one foot of snow with deeper drifts.
After about an hour of looking, I spotted three rams about 1/2 mile away on an adjacent ridge. Dan set up his spotting scope and lo and behold we spotted the big ram with the scar on his chest. That was the ram I was looking for.
There was a deep sheer cliff canyon between our location and the rams. We rode our horses to the top of the main ridge on Sheep Mountain and worked our way to the top of the ridge where the rams were located. We then rode down that ridge to within about 500 yards of the rams. We tethered our horses and carefully walked down the ridge toward the rams. At about 300 yards, we spotted the three rams. Slowly we worked our way toward the rams, sitting on the ground and sliding downhill on the seat of our pants. At about 200 yards Dan set up his spotting scope to ensure that I was in fact looking at the correct ram. We confirmed my ram by the scar on his chest.
I then got myself into a good prone shooting position. The adrenaline was flowing but I calmed myself down and took careful aim. As I slowly squeezed the trigger, the 180 grain Nossler partition bullet from my Remington 700 BDL 30.06 did its job. My quest for my Rocky Mountain Bighorn Ram was over. The ram was down.
After the mandatory photo taking, Dan began processing the ram. He field dressed the ram and propped the cavity open to cool the carcass. He then skinned the ram and placed the meat into the panniers on our pack horse Spook. Dan then carefully caped the head ready to deliver it to the taxidermist. After he methodically did all his tasks, he loaded the cape and skull with horn trophy on Spook and we were on our way back to our base camp.
That evening Dan prepared a wonderful dinner in camp. As the appetizer he fried a fresh Rocky Mountain oyster from my ram. That was my first ever experience with eating Rocky Mountain oysters. The appetizer was delicious. It started a wonderful tradition for me, and I have eaten Rocky Mountain oysters from several game animals ever since. Dan packaged the second oyster for me and told me to freeze it for a special occasion. I did as he suggested and took it with me on a subsequent elk hunting trip and shared it with my hunting buddy.
September 15, 1982, we broke camp and headed home. What a wonderful experience of a lifetime. I had just experienced a successful hunt for my Rocky Mountain Bighorn Ram which a small percentage of big game hunters ever are able to experience.
I will digress a bit about the taxidermist. When I first met Dan several months earlier, he suggested that I use a quality taxidermist and not trust any taxidermist to mount my Ram trophy. Dan had recommended a young taxidermist in Colorado Springs who had mounted several rams for his previous clients. I met this taxidermist and arranged to have him mount my anticipated ram trophy. Unfortunately, I do not remember his name. One week before my ram hunt, this young taxidermist lost his life in a Jeep accident on a pronghorn antelope hunt east of Colorado Springs. I normally hunted antelope in that area.
Dan suggested that I contact a mutual friend of his and the taxidermist who was killed. This friend, Rusty Phelps, was not a full-time taxidermist but had done some excellent taxidermy work. Rusty was well known, and is famous today, for his bronze western sculptures which are in demand around the world. As a favor to his departed friend and my guide Dan, Rusty agreed to mount my ram.
The first stop after I got to Colorado Springs with my ram trophy, was at the Colorado Division of Wildlife (DOW). Mark Elkins from DOW inspected my trophy and assisted me in completing the mandatory questionnaire about my sheep hunt. Mark then placed a permanent small metal plug into the base of the ram’s horn. This permanent marker affords me a measure of protection from theft of the trophy and makes it more difficult for a poached animal to become someone’s illegal “trophy”. The next stop was at Rusty Phelps’ office where I turned over my ram trophy for him to shoulder mount. Out of a total of 93 rams killed in Colorado in 1982, mine ranked #9 from the top.
Today in July 2021 my trophy Rocky Mountain Bighorn Ram hangs in a place of honor in my living room in New Braunfels, Texas where I can enjoy it for the rest of my life. Now I can relive my once-in-a- life-time hunt on Pikes Peak for my Rocky Mountain Bighorn Ram. Knowing that the ram was mounted by world famous wildlife sculptor Rusty Phelps makes it even more special.
This ends Part 1 of my “Pair from the Peak” article. In Part 2, I will discuss my quest for a Rocky Mountain Bighorn Ewe.