Man versus ram EXCERPTS FROM THE HUNTING JOURNAL OF GARY EVENSON, RETIRED BOILERMAKER

July 14, 2015: Arizona Game & Fish hit my credit card for $300.00. That would be the amount for a desert bighorn sheep tag! I let out a holler that shook the foundation of our house. I had been waiting 21 years for this tag of a lifetime.

The next hours were filled with phone calls to family and friends, starting with friend and brother Boilermaker, Collin Keisling.

I had already drawn an Arizona antelope tag this year and had been walking in the mornings to lose some weight, but now the bar is raised. I'm gonna have to work hard to get ready for my sheep hunt. I was going to have to start incorporating mountain hikes into my routine. In Tucson, July, August and September are brutally hot. Mornings are the only time you can work out. Set the alarm for 4:00 a.m.!

My wife, Bonnie, and I started hiking the Sweetwater Trail in the rugged Tucson mountains every Sunday. The first time we made it 1.5 miles up for a 3-mile round-trip hike. We added a half mile to every hike until we made the trail's terminus at 3.5 miles for a 7-mile hike. So far, our longest hike has been 9.25 miles through the mountains on the Hugh Norris Trail, which we re-named the Chuck Norris Trail because it kicked our butts so badly. All the while, we have continued our morning power walks around our neighborhood.

Oct. 28: I was in Page, Arizona, staying with my friend and brother Boilermaker, Jabe Warner, scouting for my upcoming hunt. Jabe and I had just reached the promontory we were to glass from when he told me, “Get down. Stay quiet. There are sheep right over there.”

This band of one ram and five ewes, was about 1.5 miles away. The ram looked to be a Class IV Ram, around 160 points, B&C. He had a wide arc to his horns and they extend below his jawline. Jabe shot some photos and video of him and about 15 minutes later, the ram walked to the top of the sandstone, giving us a 360-degree view of his head gear. I named him “The Poser.” While we were watching Poser and his ewes, a California condor flew into our field of view, right above the sheep. After we were finished glassing and hiking back to the truck, we saw the condor again. I can't believe how close we got to this endangered bird – within 10 feet!

Oct. 29: We drove to some of Jabe's sheep haunts in a remote section of the unit and glassed up a band of one ram and six ewes. It was a cloudy day, with lesser visibility, but he looked like a nice ram. He was near the base of the Vermillion Cliffs with huge sand dunes on each side of him. I dubbed him “Dune Surfer.” That afternoon, the rain picked up, so we put our optics away and head back to Page. So far, I’ve seen eight rams, three of which look to be shooters.

Nov. 29: We rolled out of Page, driving into Utah and dropping back into Arizona on a rugged, two-track dirt road. There was a skiff of snow on the ground, which made the lighting intense with all of the reflection from the new fallen snow. We definitely wanted the sun at our backs for glassing. Suddenly, Jabe said, “I've got a ram on a dune in that side canyon.” He was probably three miles away. Even at that distance, he looked big!

We watched him walk up a near-impossible route and pop out on top of a vast sage flat. He was always moving, stopping only to grab a mouthful of grass. This prompted us to name him “Boomer,” as that is what Boilermakers call their traveling members. Boomer is the biggest ram we have seen, and Jabe told me he could be the biggest ram he's ever seen while hunting! We'll be back at it in the morning for our last scouting trip. After that, it’s Dec. 1. It’s on!

Nov. 30: We scoped the mesa for Boomer all day. He’d disappeared. We glassed from two different angles for 10 hours and couldn't find Boomer. We went to Jabe's house to evaluate Boomer with Collin. After watching the video we have on this brute, Collin said he believes Boomer is a 170 Class ram!

Dec 1: It’s opening day. Collin, Jabe and I were on our vantage point looking for Boomer. About 15 minutes in, I declared “I've got a Ram spotted!”

This big ram skedaddled along the canyon rim for a half mile or so then bailed off a steep talus slope. He covered what would take an Olympic athlete a couple hours in about 5 minutes! We deducted that this big ram is Boomer because two rams of that Class wouldn't tolerate each other during mating season. Collin walked out farther to try to get a view of this ram and spotted him with five ewes in a secluded bowl. The good news? He is big – 170 inches plus! The bad news? He may as well be on Mars – he's inaccessible. At sunset, we headed back to town.

Dec. 2: Boomer is hiding somewhere. We spent 10 hours looking, but no luck. We drove to town in the dark again, feeling a little deflated. Where's Boomer?

Dec. 3: We were back in place at first light again. I saw something white – a sheep’s butt! It was Boomer! He was impossible to mistake as his horns rose high above his head before curling back, down and circling around below his jaw line. We moved down a half mile or so to get a better view. He was absolutely humongous!

Jabe scanned the Mars-Red landscape of the Vermillion Cliffs for other rams while I kept Boomer under constant surveillance. At about 1 p.m., Boomer was on the move. We watched in awe as he effortlessly negotiated the unforgiving terrain. Boomer re-joined his band of seven ewes and two small rams up top. When we set up our scopes, I found him first, again! I'm getting pretty good at this.

We watched him until he bedded down for the night, and we headed to town to get food, clothes and sleeping bags before making the four-hour drive to the other side of the canyon. We would go after Boomer at first light. We fell asleep in Jabe's truck at 3:30 a.m. At 5:30 a.m., we woke up. No coffee this morning. We set forth toward the ram that we had each spent 50 hours watching or looking for. Collin said Boomer had moved about a mile away from where he bedded down.

We made our way down to Boomer, who was lazily basking 452 yards away. I slowly got into the prone position and started to get a comfortable, steady hold on the resting ram. I had the 450-yard hash mark behind Boomer’s shoulder. I inhaled, exhaled and pulled the trigger ... BANG! I missed! I had a great rest but lost focus on the trigger and pulled the shot up and right! Sheep fever, I guess.

Boomer ducked down with his band on the rim, and we followed. Jabe is 23 years younger and 150 pounds lighter than me. I churned the sand trying to catch up, running up a sand dune. I got another shot at Boomer, but I was breathing so hard I didn’t think I could hit anything. BANG! I didn't see where the shot hit. I was busy trying to keep from blacking out from a lack of oxygen. I went from the summit of Everest to the Mariana Trench in about five minutes. I'm pretty good in accepting failure ... in other people.

I went to sleep that night counting sheep ... One sheep ... Boomer.

Dec. 5: Today was a planned day off. I needed a break. I got a pep talk from my friend, Rudy Pariga, and some encouraging words from Bonnie.

At about 6 p.m., Jabe called me. He went to one of his glassing spots and shot some new video of five rams. One is a definite shooter. He watched the herd until they bedded for the night. Jabe said, “Pack light. Leave your spotting scope and tripod. Just pack food and water for the day and your rifle. I'll see you at 4 a.m.”

Dec. 6: We parked the truck, donned our packs, and I grabbed my rifle. It’s go time. We start walking through the darkness, making our way by headlamps. About a mile into our trek, we made the first of eight river-crossings.

It was light when we got to the dead tree landmark Jabe spotted, and we changed our socks and liners, which froze in the cold of December. From the banks of the Paria River, we ascended the steep, sand hills. It was like walking up a down escalator – you can get there, but you'll have to work twice as hard.

Jabe spotted some rams. We got down behind a finned sandstone boulder, and he looked them over with his binos. Jabe said, “There are 12 rams. Three are shooters, and one is an absolute monster.”

We moved to get a shot from about 200-250 yards, hoping to avoid another costly miss. This was tough slogging, almost straight up in some stretches. Just before we reached our destination, we felt a nice, refreshing breeze ... at our backs!

By the time we peeked over the top, the 12 Rams were 700-800 yards up ahead of us. We pursued, but to no avail. We headed back to the truck. I was simply too exhausted from the day's earlier hike up the side of the canyon to go up again. We had hiked 13.26 miles that day.

Dec. 12: After a few days of hiking and spotting, we headed to a spot that we hadn't even scouted yet but Jabe knows holds sheep.

We came to a beautiful overlook on the canyon rim and set up our optics. There were sheep emerging from below the canyon rim. We eventually spotted seven ewes and five small rams in the band. After a couple of hours, Jabe took his scope over to a point that juts out into a canyon about half-mile away. About 30 minutes later, I trained my spotting scope on Jabe, who was excitedly signaling me to join him. He saw a good ram, and we followed.

About an hour before sunset, Jabe said the ram was about to emerge from the canyon rim below. As if on cue, the ram popped up on top of a big sandstone knob! He looked like a shooter to me. We named him “Slacker” because he tended to lag behind the other sheep. We headed back to the truck. At first light, I’m going to kill this ram.

Dec. 13: We parked the truck and hiked 1.75 miles to our vantage point. After 30 minutes Jabe found Slacker! We crouched low and crept forward to look over the rim of the mesa. Jabe said, “He's 442 yards away. You’d better shoot him.”

After blowing the shot on Boomer nine days earlier, I was determined to get a good trigger squeeze off. BOOM! I missed ... again ... but the ram didn't know where the danger was coming from. I jacked another cartridge in the chamber, lowered my aiming point a bit and got off another good squeeze. I saw the ram hunch up just before hearing that satisfying “thump” of bullet slamming into flesh. Slacker fell over without taking a step.

At 10:04 a.m., I sent a text to my family and close friends: “Ram Down! BIG RAM DOWN!”

I called my wife, and then went to work extracting Slacker. Jabe’s brother, Josh, agreed to assist. A little after noon, we headed out to retrieve the ram, which proved to be equally as difficult as the hunt itself.

This ram was a monster! After scoring, the right horn was 33 4/8", the left one 32 4/8" which the scorer said were the biggest bases he’d ever measured. Unbelievable! Slacker’s total gross score was 169 6/8" with 1" of deductions, for a net score of 168 6/8”!

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Jess Levens
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Photos courtesy of Gary Evenson

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