Hunt of a Lifetime by Kathy
Years ago, I observed the boulder strewn area around the castle shaped rocks. First, when I accompanied my husband, Joe, to the mountain for spiritual quests. I took short walks and admired the beauty surrounding me and felt drawn to go to castle rock. I made a vow that I would someday return to visit that area of the mountain.
It was the fall of 2016 that I wrote my name on two bighorn sheep tickets. Near the end of the drawing after the special elk permits were named and the moose permits named, the bighorn sheep tag was saved for last as only one name would be called. My ticket was pulled from a coffee can full of tickets.... Kathy Kipp. I whooped out loud in disbelief and excitement. I was told the bighorn sheep hunt was one of the toughest hunts there are.
I prepared by going out on elk hunts with my daughter, Kristen, granddaughter Aspen and grandson, Leo; walking up steep hillsides. In October 2016, Joe and I started scouting the mountain front. We spent many days glassing, walking, tracking, and horseback riding through the roughest terrain on the reservation. I was allowed two helpers. Our son-in-law, Dymond Running Crane assisted Joe and I on most of our trips. I felt confident in my guide, Joe Kipp, as he had already legally killed a bighorn in 2008 and then in 2010 he and son, Max Kipp had each got a bighorn sheep. These heavy bighorn sheep heads sit in our living room today. I hoped to eventually join the family of bighorn sheep hunters.
I felt we were very close to all of his creation as unusual events happened. On one mountain I was sitting in a boulder/snow blind glassing and getting very chilled. Temperatures were -15 F with wind chill of -30 F. I was expecting Dymond and Joe to return to the blind. Snow was blowing in my face making it impossible to look through binoculars, so I covered up with a small tarp. I heard an eerie sound unlike anything I'd heard before. I stayed still listening for it again. I took a roast beef sandwich out of the pack and started eating. Under the tarp, I heard loud steps getting closer. I thought, those guys are going to tease me when they get here. As soon as I had that thought, the steps stopped. I waited about thirty seconds, then uncovered and looked out from the blind. No one was there.
On another mountain, the eagle showed me where a ewe was standing on the very top of the mountain. The ewe scanned the mountain bowl below her with her eight power eyes, then her gaze settled on us in our failed attempt to camouflage ourselves in some small pines. The ewe looked back, forward, back again and turned trotting into the pines. We waited for more bighorns to materialize, but it never happened.
One evening a call came that a large ram was on a certain mountain. We made several trips looking for the elusive ram. All we found were some snow blown tracks. Our horses were sharp shod, but still it was rough going. On part of the way down the mountainside I walked beside my pony, holding onto his mane while my feet slid as if I was skiing. The weather brought more snow and cold and wind. We changed our focus to another mountain – the one I vowed I would return to someday. Joe and I made three trips to this mountain.
On the third trip, late in the afternoon as light was getting dim, I stumbled and almost fell off a narrow ridge. Joe asked if I was ready to throw in the towel. I said no, let's go home and try again another day. On the fourth journey to this same mountain, Joe fed the cows at 5:00 am before we headed out. Our other son-in-law, Calvin Lime, was asked to help as a mule. He was glad to go. When we got to some waist deep snow, Joe and Calvin broke trail while I stayed back to get ready. First thing I did was a ritual of prayer and offerings. I visualized finding medicine for our people in the form of special meat or plant medicines. I shared food then began to suit up for the trek up to the mountain. I took the bare minimum which consisted of: a rifle, bullets, binoculars, walking sticks, an extra pair of gloves and a small handful of almonds. I caught up to Joe and Calvin. Joe told me to pick a trail up the steep area where snow was shallower. The temperature was around -10 F with wind gusts of 20 mph. Natosi was shining on us and it was cold enough where a person didn't want to rest for very long as the cold would creep in through our layers of clothes. I was anxious to keep moving even though I was breathless. I stepped behind scrub pines every so often and glassed my surroundings. Joe and Calvin caught up to me to tell me about tracks spotted below the castle rock. When they wanted to rest; I wanted to go. It was as if I was driven to propel forward. Sometimes I would see a snow blown track that didn't look too fresh, but motivated me. After we reached the second to the last ridge before castle rock, Joe and Calvin decided to inspect the tracks a little to the north. I was determined to walk up around the large boulders of Castle Rock. Joe told me I'll wave at you to come down, so look back once in a while. I had to literally crawl up some of the snowfields. My breathing was fast as I gulped for air.
Once I got past the first snowbank and was walking on rocks, I could see the sun glinting off of fresh looking tracks. I scrambled up on hands and knees to where I could see the indentation of split hooves of a bighorn sheep. He was heavier than me I judged by how far he sank in the snow. I stood up and walked off the snow into the sheep's living room of boulder walls. I walked around almost on tiptoes looking this way and that. I saw Joe and Calvin down below. I didn't notice him waving at me. I felt a pull to my left and aha! It was a lacy, snowy track and another one. My heart was thumping like a drum in my chest. I thought he could be here behind a boulder. I lost the tracks, but continued walking west. I stopped to take deep breaths and like a dream, the ram was standing on a platform of a rock on the mountainside one hundred yards up from me. I thought “I'm seeing things,” because earlier in the day I was seeing a rock shaped like a bighorn. I pulled off my mitts, dropped to the ground and avoided eye contact. I jerked off my scope cover and tried to put a bullet in the chamber. The bullet wouldn't slide due to the freezing air. I had to take my left finger to pry it up into the chamber. While looking down my rifle scope I worked to control my breathing and aimed for his middle chest. I was lucky, The bighorn was standing there looking at me drawing circles on his side. I squeezed the trigger. The bighorn staggered, then tumbled off the platform rock, rolling over and over and over as I nearly cried hoping the one shot killed him so he wouldn't suffer. When I got to the bighorn, I approached carefully thinking he might get up. His eyes did not even glaze over. And on his side was a natural swirl of hair. Some of his horn was broken off in the fall down the mountains.
I gave thanks to Creator. Joe and Calvin arrived on the scene and the butchering began. Joe and Calvin filled their packs and I carried other things that couldn't fit in the packs. One of the things I carried was the blood for the blood berry soup I would make. It was now dark, so we put on our headlamps. Walking with heavy loads made for slow progress as we had to rest frequently. Joe spied the Morning Star glowing alongside the mountain. It was a beautiful sight to see that no picture could do justice. He said a prayer and then the physically grueling trek off the mountain began. We trudged along, thankful for the grandmother moon to light our way. About three fourths of the way down, I became nauseous with low blood sugar, as it had been a strenuous day and the last time I had eaten was hours ago. At one point I kneeled in the snow gathering some strength to finish the hike. I ate snow which gave me enough energy to go on. It was late by the time we got to the pickup at the road. A border patrolman was waiting to see what we were doing. He shined his flashlight in Calvin's face blinding him and questioned us. We explained that we had been hunting. The border patrolman wanted to see the bighorn, then he left.
We loaded everything and drove home. We brought the meat, hide, and head into the garage. Even though we were exhausted it took another hour to eat a sandwich and drink a hot cup of tea, warm up and relax enough to go to bed. From October to January, Joe and I planned hunts and thought about bighorns. I have much respect for the bighorn as the environment they live in is a rough one for humans. The bighorn is very well adapted to survive in the rocks and the cold. I learned more over the months beside hunting bighorn sheep. I developed an appreciation for the vertical terrain. The challenge was to keep going when the going got rough knowing that one missed step could result in injury or even death.
To sum it all up: it was the hunt of a lifetime of a dream to be where these incredible animals thrive. I felt humbled and in awe to walk where the bighorn walk.