Antonio Gutierrez Camarena
Author’s note: This is the story of two seasons pursuing the same Rocky Mountain Bighorn, November 2011 and November 2012. It is a story of perseverance, faith, luck and stubborn determination. Set in the spectacular wilderness at Canmore, Alberta, Canada, this narration culminated my grand slam of wild North American Sheep.
I had already accomplished my Desert Big Horn Sheep in Sonora, Mexico, and my Dall Sheep in the Books Range, Alaska. A few short weeks later, I was fortunate enough to take my Stone Sheep in Northern British Columbia. With the Rocky Mountain Bighorn season approaching, I realized I had a chance to experience what only a handful of hunters have ever accomplished: to complete a North American Sheep Grand Slam in one calendar year.
Looking back at the beginning of 2011, I realize how unbelievable my hunting year had begun. In February of 2011, I took a magnificent, fifteen year old Desert Bighorn ram in Mexico. In August, flying into the wilds of the Brooks Range via Fairbanks and Coldfoot, I weathered 48 miles of tortuous terrain, early winter weather and Spartan conditions to take a superb Dall Sheep at 820 yards. This beautiful 37 1/2” ram took me to the limit; it also brought me half way to my end goal of a grand slam within one calendar year.
Within a short few days, I headed off to British Columbia, where I was able to experience one of the most beautiful, majestic hunts of a lifetime for my Stone Sheep. As luck would have it, on the second day of the hunt, I was able to take a stunning 38” Stone. Miraculously, everything had fallen into place. I was set to accomplish the almost unthinkable; complete a grand slam of North American Sheep in one calendar year.
As I prepared for the last of my Big Four, my thoughts turned to Canmore, Alberta. This final stage was going to test me far more than I could have ever imagined. Primarily a rifle hunter all my life, I had over the years become comfortable with the bow as well. With two solid years of practice, my bow skills had netted me several fine trophies. But for this final hunt, I had no choice. To be able to accomplish my grand slam, I had to sacrifice something: I did not want to squeeze dates between the Dall, Stone and the Big Horn. So I decided to go with Frank and Flint Simpson from Simpson Stone Sheep LTD, to his late season archery only area in Canmore, Alberta, Canada.
I arrived in Canmore on the 7th of November 2011. And after ten days of bitterly cold weather and miles of hiking, we failed to spot a legal ram. My guide, Lucas Seminoff and I decided to descend from the high ground, warm up and recuperate with a day’s rest. The following day, one of the other guides, Alan told us about a legal ram he had spotted in a different area, his hunter had already harvested a nice Ram so we decided to give it a try.
After climbing onto a high secluded ridge line, we spotted Alan’s escape ram right off, from over a mile away. Through my spotting scope, he stood perfectly outlined, a profile of the ages. A legal ram for sure, we decided to ascend the 2000’ ridge for a closer look.
After an arduous climb with our spike gear, we took advantage of the unusually sunny day and set up camp and planned an afternoon of combing the far ridges with our spotting scopes hoping to locate Alan’s mystery ram. To our surprise, we found him late into the afternoon, and what a magnificent ram he was! Heavy and broomed on both sides, we breathlessly stared in awe at his stunning stature. We could even count the rings of his spectacularly deep curls; but there was something unique about his horns. On his right horn, he displayed an unusual “chip”. This massive, dominant ram had probably chipped his horn during one of his many fights with other rams; so we decided to call him the “Chipped Horn Ram”.
During our afternoon of staring in awe at “Mr. Chips”, we watched him spar with six other rams, who took turns butting heads with the obvious leader of the band. But there was no doubt who was the boss; he was the benchmark for all the other wanna be rams. The rest of the younger rams, ewes and lambs just stood back and observed the joust fest as we did. All we could do was sit there and gaze at him for a couple of hours, as the ram and his followers were in a spot where we could not initiate a stalk. Too far away to take a shot with a bow, and with daylight dwindling away, we decided to call it a day. We headed back to our camp just in time, as the weather turned it’s other cheek. In minutes, the temperature plummeted from -10C to -23C. The wind exploded from a mild 10m/h to a howling 75m/h in a blink of an eye. The searing blast froze us to the bone as we stumbled into our four season tent, rubbed our frozen limbs and plotted the strategy for the next day.
Much to our dismay, morning brought us no relief from the maw of winter’s fury. Although the temperature had fallen even further, the fierce winds had abated. We slid from our tent and made our way to our previous evening’s vantage point. Lucas and I scanned every far ridge and valley; and although we spotted a few ewes and lambs, the Chipped Horn Ram was nowhere to be seen. After several hours of meticulous scanning, we climbed back down to our camp, filled our stomachs with hot food and drink and rested for the next day.
The brutal cold has the way of the stiletto. The wind and ice pellets knife through your soul and tear at your fortitude. The altitude robs you of your wind. The conditions of this hunt challenged me as I had rarely been tested in my life. I wanted to quit more than once. The pain of climbing, shivering and gasping for breath pounded like a kettle drum in my head and lungs. But this is what fair chase sheep hunting is all about. Everybody is a sheep hunter in base camp. Everyone is tough until they get punched in the mouth. But this is sheep hunting. Some call it a passion. Others call it an obsession. To the casual observer, it is just plain lunacy.
We descended back down to Canmore once again. As the forecast called for deteriorating weather for the next three days, we decided to wait until improved conditions arrived. On 24 November, the weather still hadn’t improved; but we decided to climb up once again to Mr. Chip’s last view point and hope for the best. Sometimes persistence supersedes intelligence.
With Lucas Seminoff scheduled to guide another hunter, I was assigned another experienced guide, Johnny Nikirk. As Johnny and I ascended back up to our spike camp, the fierce winds and bitter onslaughts of sandpaper snow announced to us that the price of returning to our unprotected camp would be considerable. We struggled three full hours longer than the first trip just to fall into our wind battered tent. We licked our wounds, gulped hot coffee and plotted our moves for the morning hunt. I crawled into my sleeping bag, exhausted and shivering, counting the hours until morning. All I could think about was a meek prayer for better weather in the morning.
But the morning brought no respite. Still inside my sack a block of ice covered my beard impeding my breathing. The unrelenting snow howled through the night. And at dawn, we could barely dig our way out of the tent. After scraping off the tent flap, Johnny and I crawled out to an amazing sight. The temperature had risen to only -10C and the wind had diminished to a whisper. Clouds swirled above us, but new snow is new snow. Our minds raced with the perfect day that lay before us. And even though we had no idea where the sheep may be, we reveled in the simple joy of the perfect day of hunting that lay before us.
We scoured the ridges for the Chipped Horn Ram. This 27th of November found us covering the snow covered rocky ridges, searching every outcropping, every nook of this vast terrain. After hours of steady hiking, Johnny spotted some tracks on the new drifts. So he decided to take a look over a side ridge as I waited a ways back. After only a few minutes, he returned. “The Chipped Horn Ram is just at the top of the ridge!”, he blurted.
I handed him my range finder and we cautiously made our way to a vantage point. As Mr Chips came into view, I struggled to breathe. The paralysis of adrenaline… excitement beyond description flooded my senses. Struggling to inhale, I recalled the realization that this was the moment I fully realized that my dream of a grand slam might actually come true: a grand slam in ONE calendar year. Johnny had ranged this ram at 38 yards; and I felt convinced that the moment of truth had arrived. I quickly set my Easton A/C/C shaft with X2 Blazers into the bow’s rest, with white vane up and the two pink vanes down. This vane color combo was my daughter Juliana’s choice, the T-3 G5 broadhead glistened at the tip of the arrow.
With Johnny slightly in front, he signaled me to wait for a moment as a curious ewe began to move toward us. The good news was that this ewe was the sole interest of the Chipped Horn Ram; and soon we could see him dutifully following his prize, moving straight for us! There he was! Up close and personal right before me! I drew back my Hoyt Carbon Element, knowing in my heart that all my dreams were about to come true. A calmness had settled inside me. I had plenty of time; and as I drew back, I instantly reviewed all my steps in my mind’s eye. I anchored perfectly, and waited for this monumental ram to stop. When he did pause, I looked through my peep and chose my third pin from top to bottom. This was my 40 yard pin; and I had been deadly in practice at this distance. As soon as I saw his shoulder/back double long spot, I simply touched my release, the arrow shaft sailed perfectly towards it’s mark. We literally heard the massive ram’s bones crack as the arrow struck home. The big ram lurched forward as if shot from a cannon, and headed towards the back of the ridge. We sat, catching our breath, waiting at least a half hour before cautiously moving out. During our wait, the snow began to fall heavily. So when we picked up the ram’s track, we could find no blood trail. It was most likely covered up by the fresh snow, we reasoned. As we followed the track but a short distant, we came up and over a short rise and bumped him! The huge bighorn sprang into action, trotting away from us. But I was ready for him, a second shaft knocked into place and picking my third pin in an instant. I had to eye range him, no time, I thought 45 yards and took a clean shot as he increased the ground between us. I’d hoped to hit him in the spine or side the get his vitals; but the wind drifted my arrow to the left, hitting him in the left quarter. I could see the ram make his way to the next ridge. He even climbed up a bit; and that really concerned me. Animals seriously wounded rarely climb; they usually move laterally or even head down hill. We decided to call it a day as darkness and swirling snows began in earnest. The temperature remained at -5C; and we were confidant we’d find this big boy the next morning.
We rose early the next morning, full of anticipation we’d find my magnificent ram straight away. After a couple of minutes moving to where we’d seen him last evening, we came upon some tracks in the timbered snow. We traced the tracks through the timber until they moved into the open ground again. And that’s where they ended. The heavy night snow had erased the track!
At about 2pm, just when we didn’t know what to do or where to look, we found the little herd of sheep again! I calmly put my spotting scope on them, desperately looking for the Chipped Horn Ram. But he was nowhere among his little band. We figured he had probably expired sometime during the night. And since we had little provisions left, we decided to descend to base camp and get some well deserved rest. We reasoned that the next day, we would simply glass for a dead ram from down below. I remember feeling very confident in this plan as Johnny and discussed our options.
The next day, a beautiful, sunny 29th of November found us back at the base of the mountain, looking for crows or other predatory birds drifting in the clear swirling gusts. Their presence often means a lifeless animal on the ground. A few crows fired our excitement, and we expected to see our ram at any moment. But all we found in our glasses was a dead elk. My ram was nowhere to be found. We failed to see the little herd of sheep that day as well. Desperation began to settle in the pit of my stomach like an unwelcomed guest.
On the last day of the season, the 30th of November, we decided to climb one last time to the other side of the ridge, we had not yet looked. This side of the ridge is out of my permitted hunting zone. So we left my bow back in camp, since I no longer needed it. We packed light, hoping to cover more ground quickly to increase our chances of finding Mr. Chips. This day gave us no wind; but very soon a light snow began to drift from the sky.
After a 2 hour climb, constantly glassing and watching predator birds and inventing imaginary tracks, Johnny spotted a group of rams. We’d stumbled onto them at close range; but the snowfall had increased, cutting into our visibility. Our binoculars quickly told us we had three rams in this band. We ranged them at 150 yards; so we set the spotting scope onto the tripod to take a closer look. And just like a gift from heaven, there he was! There stood my Chipped Horn Ram, fighting with the other two rams. Wounded and weakened, but still determined enough to maintain his regal status. We could even see the two bloody spots on him where my arrows had found their marks. We took video to confirm this fact; and then he turned to his right and we saw another blood spot on his opposite side. Exit wound from arrow number one! Incredulous, we knew the wound might be a bit high, but certainly close enough to vitals to be lethal. But NO! This ram was very much alive, three days after I’d hit him twice, once again butting heads with his young rivals. It was the last day of the season and we stood on the wrong side of the mountain. There was nothing else I could do. Absolutely nothing. But we decided to make the stalk anyway, hoping to just stay in this magnificent animal’s presence for a few more moments.
So Johnny and I cautiously moved out, hoping to get a closer look, but also hoping to get as close as we could to Mr Chipped Horn Ram. Within 30 minutes or so, we moved to within 25 yards of the little band without them noticing our presence. My eyes started to fill with water, and I didn’t know why. Was it because of my arrogant goal of completing a grand slam in one calendar year? Or was it because I got the chance once again to meet face to face with my Mr Chipped Horn Ram one last time, to tell him that he will be able to rule the mountains one more year? To be able, right there in his very own territory, suffering the same conditions that he suffers year after year, and tell him the joy I felt to have coincide with him at that unforgettable site? Or were my tears merely out of love and respect as we contemplated the magnificence and majesty of this awe inspiring species?
“I did it!”, I bellowed. “I did it!!” The rams bolted away as I shouted. Johnny and I just stood there and watched them make their way up the long ridge. We laughed. I cried. This bitter sweet culmination, capped by standing so close in his presence…. For one final farewell.
I’ll let you decide if I accomplished my ambitious goal or not. For me, none of it matters anymore; for this final day of my hunt I was blessed, by miraculous, inexplicable circumstances to see my Chipped Horn Ram one last time. Once again, we stalked him and we hunted him. We just couldn’t make the kill.
We descended back down the mountain to base camp at Canmore where Flint Simpson greeted us. We excitedly told our story to everyone there, full of animated gestures and poignant prose, attempting to do the Chipped Horn Ram justice. If we hadn’t filmed the entire moment, no one would have believed what we had witnessed. I had never experienced such a fulfilling hunt, even though I had left the magnificent ram on the hillside, very much alive and full of life! This hunt profoundly changed me; it’s unique ending was a gift in a strange, satisfying way, the best hunt of my life. My toes remained numb for three months after my return home. Physically and emotionally, this was by far the most demanding hunt I had ever experienced.
After returning home, after considerable thinking, watching the videos and reliving the hunt in discussions with my companions, we arrived at two critical mistakes I had made during the hunt for the Chipped Horn Ram:
After a couple of months and a great deal of meditating my options, I decided to attend the SCI convention and talk once again with Frank Simpson. Frank is a wealth of wisdom and experience. And soon into our conversation, I told him that I wanted to book the same hunt again. In my heart, I knew I needed to give this hunt another chance. He told me that he had seen the Chipped Horn Ram two weeks after I had seen him last. So, an outside chance remained that he might survive his arrow wounds and the grueling winter months to live another year. “Hey Tony”, Frank said, “He still has a long way to go. He has to survive the winter. And old sheep don’t always make it. He has to survive the cougars and wolves. And then he has to survive the rifle season. Even if he does survive all of this, he can go anywhere. He might like that ridge; but there are many bands of ewes seeking his magnificent company.” Frank spoke the straight up truth. Fate and destiny sound good in a fairy tale. But I held many illusions about running into the Chipped Horn Ram a second time. I knew my chances would be slim to none, but I booked the hunt anyway for November 16th through November 30th, 2012. Was it even remotely possible I might see my ram again?
My excitement grew as the months passed and moved me closer to one more visit to Canmore. I practiced with my bow every week, entering numerous 3D competitions.
My wife Gaby even challenged me to exercise with her, no small feat in itself! She pushed me. I pushed myself, constantly reliving last year’s images in my mind. As October faded into early November, I felt confident that I had reached the top of my mental and physical game. I was as ready as I’d ever be.
I spent countless hours talking strategy with my good amigo, as he calls me, Bob Fromm from Performance Archery. He has inspired and taught me so much, elevating my bow hunting skills. So, before returning to Canmore, I stopped one last time at his store to gear up, tune my bow and pick Bob’s brain one last time. Of course, he thought I was crazy, going back to Alberta to get “my” ram. But he still encouraged me to go. I diligently practiced with the new Easton AC Injection Deep Six arrows; and I was shooting pretty consistently with the Muzzy Deep Six DX-3 broad heads. So I picked up twelve new arrows and twelve new DX-3’s for this epic second hunt. As I left his store, Bob left me with, “Hey Tony, keep that range finder with you at all times, ok?”
“I think I learned that lesson the hard way, Bob”, I replied. Time would tell what I had, or hadn’t learned.
Juan Bringas, my partner and hunting buddy for years, also booked this hunt for the same dates. When we arrived in Calgary together on November 16th, Flint Simpson stood patiently at the airport to greet us. We gathered our gear and headed straight away to Canmore. On the way, I asked Flint if someone had by chance spotted my ram. “Nobody has seen him Tony,” he said. “No one has seen any rams in the area where I left him last year.” That was more than a little disappointing; but nobody had been up there looking for him yet. I didn’t know exactly why, but I had always maintained a quiet confidence that I would find him again… almost to the point where I was probably the only one with that thought in mind. I knew it sounded crazy; but I didn’t care much anymore what others might think.
Once at Canmore, Juan and I shot our bows for the last time. We practiced for a couple of hours, making sure our bows were sighted and tuned perfectly. I had my 5 pin sight, with the top pin set at 20 yards and my bottom pin notched at 60 yards. At noon, we wished each other luck, since Juan would go into a different area. We would not see each other again until the end of our respective hunts.
It was good to see Johnny once again; I immediately learned I wasn´t the only crazy one thinking about the possibility of finding the Chipped Horned Ram again. We made our way by truck to our jumping off point, parked the vehicle, shouldered our packs and began the long hike up to the base of the ridge. After glassing for no more than a half hour, we spotted two hunters climbing the far ridge. Were they hunting sheep or elk? We couldn’t tell. Then we spotted a band of ewes and lambs, startled and running at full tilt. The hunters had probably spooked them and everything else on that ridge. We didn’t see the hunters again, so we began to climb familiar ground towards the spot where we had set our spike camp the year before. Half way up the ridge, I spotted two rams at the top of the ridge, sky lined and beautifully silhouetted. We couldn’t tell whether they were legal rams or not; but one of them looked obviously heavy horned. “It could be my ram,” I thought. But it was far too early to tell.
AS we continued to ascend, we found human tracks in the snow, descending down the ridge. This encouraged us. It meant that the hunters we’d spotted weren’t headed up to the ridge next to us.
Finally reaching the spot where we had spiked the year before, we set up our tent and organized our gear for the morning, still hoping to take advantage of the waning afternoon and do some preliminary glassing. We made quick work of our climb to the top of the ridge, but failed to see any rams. We spotted a small band of sheep, just ewes and lambs. No rams….. But this band was a long distance from us. All the activity on the ridge had moved any animals a considerably distance away.
That night, as if on queue, the wind rose out of nowhere, blasting us with howling gusts upwards of 50 mph. These freight train arctic blasts heralded our return to hallowed ground. It was of course, our “welcome home” to the ridge we knew so well. We were exposed; and there was just no escape from this chilling onslaught. The snows soon followed. It was as if wind and snow rushed to greet us, reminding us that no quarter would be given, even to old friends. After a couple of quesadillas with salsa, we called it a night and hit the sack.
The next morning found us headed back to the top of the ridge once more. And after glassing for an hour or so, I spotted some new tracks on the snow. We set out after, I spotted three rams at about 500 yards, directly in front of us, discreetly hidden amongst the trees on the backside of the ridge. Johnny pulled out the spotting scope for a closer view. Against all odds, contrary to all feasible circumstances, there he was….. the Chipped Horn Ram!
The Chipped Horn Ram….. my ram…. The twice shot, twice hunted, forever revered and remembered monarch of his domain…. just 500 eternal yards between us. He stood serene, stoic and perfectly calm…. Magnificent in all that he possessed. “Unbelievable,” I whispered, more to myself than to Johnny…. Maybe I spoke to my ram… He was more majestic than even I remembered. This was spiritual….crazy loco…. (I had been called that on more than one occasion, discussing with my friends my contemplated return to this sacred ground). But sometimes in life, one simply has to trust one’s instincts…. The thought-turned-decision that has no logical explanation… just the solid resignation that some inner, invisible voice is, at times, in charge of our actions. For inexplicable reasons, I had been given a second chance. Excited and full of adrenaline, we tried to shake this euphoria and get our heads into the plan.
The rams were situated in a perfect spot… right at the top of the ridge just behind our spike camp. As we watched them lying in the snow, feeding on the deep grasses, we realized we had one huge problem: just above the rams, a small group of spying ewes and lambs watched over the big boys. We waited until the band had climbed down and then we began our stalk. As we traversed to the back of the ridge, we slid very close to where we had first spotted the rams. Soon we located a lamb; but the little guy had seen us first! We couldn’t see the rams, but the band had surfaced again, sending the rams in close pursuit of the ewes. And then again, there he was! Eighty yards and running away, with no chance to shoot. My old friend Mr Chipped Horn was the last one to leave. I could plainly see that chip in his horn with my naked eye, but he never saw us. He was just doing what he was supposed to do… dutifully following his ewes, patiently waiting for his moment as his instincts immutably would dictate. Patience… timing… impasse. We headed back to our spike camp and called it a day.
On November 19th, 2012, we spotted my ram once again. He stood alone. But he had chosen his ground well… almost impossible to approach undetected. So all we could do was glass him all morning. His band lay nestled at the top of the ridge, behind our camp, exactly where we had first discovered them the day before. As if on queue, the wind exploded around us, fortunately without brother snow to complicate our visibility. With biting cold and 50 mph gusts, we hunkered down, watching and waiting for our moment. No one can tell me a person ever gets accustomed to this bitter arctic torture. By the afternoon, my ram began to move closer to his band behind our camp. Traversing, climbing, he eventually threaded a path, visibly worn through the years, up the ridge. These very same animals had used this very same trail within days of being exactly a year apart! Instincts…. Nature’s built in survival mechanism. We made note of the pattern, and planned the next day’s hunt accordingly.
November 20th, 2012
The bitterly cold morning rousted us early from the tent. Johnny immediately headed up the ridge to set up shop. Just minutes after I joined him, we spotted Mr. Chipped Horn, along with another younger, legal ram. They were both bedded, with the band just a few yards below them. They had once again used the same trail to feed on the grassy ridge line. After strategizing with Johnny, he said,
“If I was hunting with my brother, this is what I would do: lets go to the back of the ridge behind camp. We will hide in a tree next to the trail. Your ram will eventually follow that trail back as they have been doing every day. Of course, there are multiple trails once we get to the back. But we only need a little luck… and maybe.. just maybe… he will come close to us.” Instincts… would they doom us, or bless us?
So we retreated back towards camp. We chose a spot close to the trail where we could see the rams. The band of lambs and ewes sat just below the rams, but we could still see the big boys. We waited until finally, the two rams started to make their way up the ridge to the upper trail. If they followed the plan, they were going to come in just a little high to us, so I moved up as soon as they couldn’t see me. They walked deliberately, steadily. They were close now, and at about 150 yards, they turned directly toward me. The wind died…. And the snow took it’s place, it’s slow motion descent falling all around me. Silent…slow motion flakes. Blood pumped in my neck, heart thumped in my chest… time to relax, take what life gives me… all the pieces in place…. Inexorable, instinctual. My right hand raised the Leoupold TBR range finder, following as Mr Chipped Horn closed the distance between us…. 100 yds….96….80. But at this point, he turned off his trail, drifting away, soon he will start to lengthening the distance between us! Desperate, I stepped from behind the tree, exposing my silhouette to him, attempting to move closer. He stopped, but didn’t give me a broadside look. The big ram planted himself in the deep snow, staring directly at me, as if to challenge his foe. I ranged him one final time… 72 yds. I drew back my Hoyt Carbon Element, the same trusted bow I’d used at this same moment a year ago. Remembering I had no 70 yd pin, I sighted my 60 pin below his body, began to move the sight slowly up, fully drawn, anticipating the release tap. As soon as my 60 pin passed the ram’s chest, I tapped the release, sending the arrow on it’s perfect path.
Mr Chipped Horn and his younger mate bolted onto the trail, heading back into the timber. I didn’t see the flight of my arrow, but there were no trees around or next to the big ram, and I had distinctly heard the “crack” as my arrow slammed into his body, I did not see my arrow sailing away from my bow. I knew I had hit him, but with a very risky long shot like that, I knew I could have hit him in his massive horn, a front leg or even his face. Johnny had witnessed the entire sequence of the shot. He caught up to me, stating that he had seen the arrow sticking out of the ram’s right side. I had felt no emotion until Johnny uttered those words. We then saw the younger ram running away on the other side of the thick patch of standing timber. We could find no trace of my ram.
We waited a full thirty minutes, agonizing as each second slid by in slow motion. As we moved toward the big ram’s retreat tracks, the same heart wrenching scene from last year jumped into my mind, playing the tragedy out one last time.
Snow falling steadily now, as we approached the spot where he had stood as I released my arrow. At our feet, only a few hairs and a small smattering of blood droplets spread across the soft snow. As we moved forward, following his tracks, the locks of bloody hair amongst his tracks increased, soon to be lost in the increasing snowfall. Hurry now… find him before the snow erases his escape route. We stayed on his trail, leading us into a thick stand of heavy timber, finding more and more of his hair in his tracks… very little blood at this point… was he mortally wounded?
Continuing on his tracks, traversing the steep terrain… a good sign… he drops strait down the trail, hopefully weakening… playing out his last moments.
And…. In an instant….. there he was… lying on his side in the fresh snow… I could tell that his journey had come to its end. I bounded the final yards to him, like an exuberant child, celebrating, yelling up into the cascading snowfall. I touched his massive, chipped horn, shouting and yelling like a crazed man. Struggling to wrap my mind around what had just happened, I sat at the ram’s side, engulfed in the mystic, spiritual moment. A blanket of calm surrounded me… at peace with the world, over whelmed… the sense of grace everywhere. It dawned on me at this moment that I had just achieved something far greater than my arrogant, pretentious previous goal of a grand slam in one calendar year. This moment dwarfed that memory; this effort…. This challenge… my own will and the will of this magnificent ram intertwined… our mutual perseverance the far greater gift. In this hunt, I learned something, felt something that transcended words, eclipsed every prior emotion.
I had hunted my first Mule Deer at the age of six with my dad in Sonora, Mexico. Since then, I’ve been hunting all of my life. I dedicated this ram to my youngest daughter, Antonia. I had previously dedicated my Desert Big Horn to Juliana, my oldest daughter, my Dall to my daughter Sol and the Stone Sheep to my wife Gaby.
With this Big Horn Sheep, Mr. Chipped Horn Ram, I had finally accomplished my first Grand Slam. Fittingly, I dedicated my Grand Slam to my father, Antonio Gutierrez Cortina (1946-1999). He was one of the most accomplished fair chase hunters in all of Mexico. I miss him now, more than ever. And in this very moment, I wish he could have lived this incredible hunt at my side. He taught me all that I know about the essence of hunting, fair chase and the reverence for all of nature. He taught me of the obligation that we, as hunters, must champion: the cause of respecting and conserving our natural world, for all of the generations that will follow.