Originally Posted by Dakota Red 1
You have been scoring on some long shots out there. Good shooting!
We would be interested to read about some of your hunts posted here or in the Hunting Forum. Welcome to TFF!
O.K. you want a hunt story, you got a(very long
) sheep story. enjoy.
June 16th, 2006 was a day just about like any other day. I called my bank account and found out that money had been drawn from my account in an amount consistent with the cost of big-game tags. I called my dad with the exciting information. But, of course, I did not know which tags I had drawn. I asked Dad to go online and check it out. When Dad checked huntnevada.com, he discovered that I had indeed drawn two big-game tags – buck antelope and desert bighorn. I had hit the big game lottery – the hunt of a lifetime!
My name is Daniel Loftis. When I was born I came into the world with a birth defect called spina bifida. This condition is caused by improper development of the spinal cord and failure of skin and bone to close over the spinal column. Most nerves connected to the spinal column below the defect are usually affected. As a result, I am paralyzed from the waist down and have to use a wheelchair. But I do not believe in being an invalid. Instead, I have been encouraged to find different ways to adapt to my circumstances and do whatever I need to do. My favorite sports are hunting, fishing, and snow skiing. So when my Dad, Dale Loftis, told me that I had drawn a desert bighorn tag I was so excited that I couldn’t sleep well for days. I knew that someway, somehow, we would complete this hunt. I did not know if I would get a bighorn, but I believed that the hunt would be a success just by being there. I was trying to be realistic. I knew that the odds were stacked against a person in a wheelchair getting within rifle range of the sheep that live where eagles fly.
I did, however, have reason to be optimistic because I have a considerable history of success in big game hunting. When I was 11 years old I applied for a buck mule deer tag, and, incredibly, the first year, I drew a tag. When deer season opened, I had just turned 12. With dad as my guide and transporter, I was successful in taking a spike buck the first hour of hunting. Dad said that I would think deer hunting was too easy. Over the next ten years I harvested six mule deer bucks, three antelope, one Spanish goat, and a variety of small game. Each year Dad would assist me in harvesting the game and, somehow, the following year I would draw another tag. Dad was my guide, transporter, tracker, field dresser, and personal attendant all rolled into one.
In April, 2006, Dad and I, along with my brother-in-law, Joe, applied for a variety of big-game tags. Dad and I had amassed a total of about 67 big-game points between the two of us over the past ten years. Dad knew that the odds were beginning to favor a rare tag of some kind. Only this year, the computer would spit out more tags than one family would ever expect. As mentioned earlier, I drew the tag of a lifetime – desert bighorn. But I also drew a rifle buck antelope tag. Dad and Joe drew mule deer buck tags.
When these four tags were drawn in 2006, no one doubted that the deer or antelope tags would be filled. But dad had never hunted sheep before and was not familiar with the Muddy Mountains north of Las Vegas, so dad would not be a very useful guide this time. No one guessed that by Thanksgiving, all four tags would be filled.
Dad has had two notable failures in helping me harvest big game. In 2004, I drew a bull elk tag in area Six, north of Wildhorse Reservoir. Dad had scouted that area for a couple of years and thought that we could be successful without a professional guide. Dad was wrong. We never even saw an elk. Two days before opening of season, two feet of snow fell in the high ridges. Even the Hummer H1 had trouble plowing through the snow. The elk holed up in heavy thickets and never came out. The second failure came in 2005, when I drew a muzzle loader mule deer buck tag. I got a shot, but that one got away. Dad ran out of time and had to go back to work. Hunt over.
So when the bighorn tag arrived, Dad was certain that we needed a professional guide. I contacted Nevada Guide Service and asked them if they had ever guided a hunter in a wheelchair. As it turns out, almost no one in Nevada except Dad has had that kind of experience. But, after some research, Mark Bohach from Nevada Guide Service called me back and said they would be willing to take on the challenge. Jim Puryear, owner of Nevada Guide Service, was very brave to accept such a challenge. Dad encouraged Jim and Mark by agreeing to take care of my medical and personal needs as well as provide information on my abilities and limitations. Several options were discussed about how to transport me in the high country. We discussed horses, backpacking, quad runner, and 4 wheel drive trucks. As it turns out, we used all of these methods to harvest the ram.
Much of the territory we would be hunting is considered wilderness area and federal land. Driving off designated roads is not allowed. So hunting from a stationary vehicle was considered the least likely shooting platform for success in taking a desert bighorn. My favorite rifle rest is to shoot from the rear window sill of a four-door, 4 wheel drive vehicle. Shooting from a stationary vehicle is legal for a hunter who is wheelchair bound. Because I am right handed I have to shoot from the left passenger window behind the driver. I use a Browning .308 caliber semi-auto so I do not have to cycle the action between shots. Since my balance is poor, chambering another round by hand requires a lot of time and effort. With a semi-auto I can stay on target and fire follow-up shots quickly. This ability turned out to be very critical on this hunt.
In our early conferences with the guides, we figured that I would be transported to the end of dirt roads in a 4 wheel drive truck and then be packed into the hills from there in a backpack or in a special saddle on horseback. Never in our wildest dreams did we think I could ever get a shot from a truck.
From the day I found out about my tag I started counting down the days to the opening of season. In southern Nevada, bighorn season opened on November 11 and continued through December 10. After some negotiating with the guides, we settled on the dates of November 27 through December 6 for a ten day hunt. We thought we would likely need the entire ten days and still maybe never get a shot. Several times every week I would announce to Dad how many days were left before the hunt and then say “I'm so excited!”
Dad and I had started saving money before this hunting season because for years I have had a dream of going to South Africa on a big-game safari. When the bighorn tag arrived there was just enough money in the bank account to give the outfitters the $2,000 down payment on the hunt. Both Dad and I would then have to really save up money to finish paying for the hunt. Africa would just have to wait. But I considered the sheep hunt as a chance of a lifetime. Just as exciting as going to Africa!
Because paralysis of lower limbs causes poor circulation, keeping me warm is a major priority while hunting. Camping in a motor home with a heater is the most efficient way to insure warmth at night. So Dad and I borrowed a motor home to use during the hunt. The decision was made to stay in the RV park at Echo Bay toward the northern end of Lake Meade about fifty miles north of Las Vegas, NV. The campground is just on the eastern side of the Muddy Mountains so travel time to the hunt area was limited to an hour or less.
As it turned out, the weather was fantastic, dropping to the high 40's at night and almost 70 during the day. Most days we wore camo t-shirts during the afternoon. The wind was light or calm with sunshine every day. Fortunately we changed the dates of our hunt. About two months before the beginning of the hunt, our guide called and offered to move our hunt ten days earlier to the week of Thanksgiving. Dad was able to get that week off at work so the dates were now set to November 18 through November 27. What a blessing that was. If we had stayed with our original dates we would have encountered a major snow storm in Southern Nevada with very cold temps and winds up to 70mph. The sheep would also have likely moved to different locations. In Nevada, severe storms are very common any time after the first week in October. So having great weather during our hunt was not a guarantee. We were extremely fortunate and blessed! We had planned on having Thanksgiving dinner in camp, hoping to be thankful for a successful harvest of a bighorn ram. Little did we know, we would be spending Thanksgiving back home with family.
During the indoctrination session held by the Nevada Department of Wildlife, I was educated about the scoring system to identify mature rams. I decided that I wanted to set a goal of a ram that would score 150 points. But I would be happy with a ram in the 140 class. Besides, I like the looks of the long “lamb tips.”
November 17 finally arrived. This was the date we had set to drive the motor home to southern Nevada from Reno. Dad did not get off work until 1:00PM so we did not leave town until 2:30PM. Stops were made in Hawthorne and Tonopah for food and refreshments. After the long and tiring journey, Dad pulled the motor home into the campground at Echo Bay at 11:30PM. Dad was exhausted and our hunt was scheduled to start the next morning at sunrise.
During the week of November 10th we had received a call from Larry Johnson of Nevada Bighorns Unlimited. Larry had graciously agreed to provide the pack horses for the hunt. One horse was to be used to pack out the game and the second was to be used for me to ride. It is important to note that I had not been on horseback since I was six years old. And I had never been on a trail ride on a horse. So I was a little apprehensive. But Larry had a plan. The Reno Rodeo Association donated the used of a special saddle that was built to accommodate paralyzed riders. Larry had this saddle at his house and invited us to join him and his partner, Mel Belding, on a Saturday to try out the fit of the saddle. The saddle has a high cantle that extends up to just below the shoulder blades of the rider. Chest straps extend up and over the shoulders of the rider and cross at the chest and fasten on either side of the saddle with Velcro closures. The stirrups could be shortened to accommodate my small stature and provide enough support for my feet in order to keep good circulation in my legs. The gel cushion from my wheelchair was placed under me to prevent pressure sores.
But I was still apprehensive about this new equipment and being high off the ground on the back of a moving animal. The horse, named Two Bears, turned out to be remarkable. He was calm, obedient, and as cooperative as an old draft horse. Some people find this quite unexpected for an Arabian. After a bit of work getting me strapped into the saddle, we traversed a high ridge behind Larry's house with Larry leading the horse and side walkers to stabilize me. Mel took the uphill side and Dad took the lower side as walkers. Dad very quickly lost footing by walking below the trail because the hillside was so steep. But I was strapped securely and only occasionally leaned to the side. When that happened, I would call out “Stop!” and the saddle and rider would be readjusted. We discovered that the girth strap had to be pulled tight but not so tight that the horse was hindered in breathing while climbing the steep grades. We also discovered that I could help stabilize myself if there were handles attached low on the saddle down by my thighs for me to hold onto. I could then maintain my body upright in the saddle. After about a half mile we had traversed back down the steep ridge and arrived back at the barn. The trail ride was a success. After a discussion of adjustments to the equipment, we said our goodbyes to our new friends. During the drive back home, I was so electrified that I could not contain my enthusiasm. All I could say was, “I am so excited!”. We now had a sure way to get me up into the high country where the elusive bighorns roamed.
In addition to the special saddle, we were planning to use a backpack as transport if the horses were left behind. When I was twelve years old, Dad had modified a backpack to include a seat and straps to support my feet. When the backpack was built I only weighed about 70 pounds. Now, I weigh a little over 120 pounds. The backpack proved to be a very tight fit and very top heavy. It would work but was not very stable for steep terrain or long distances. The backpack would also require a strong hiker to carry the 130 lb load. Our guide thought they had packers who were up to the task. No one guessed that Dad, at age 56, would be the one to backpack me up and down the hills.
Part II Sheep Camp
Fortunately for Dad, we did not have to get ready to hunt before daylight as we do when deer hunting because, unlike deer, sheep do not bed down soon after sunrise. When Jim arrived at 8AM, Dad and I had been awake for about an hour. Dad had slept in after the long drive from Reno. Wheelchair users can do a lot of the same things as everyone else, it just takes more time. Getting dressed, eating breakfast, and organizing gear usually takes more than an hour. This morning had dawned bright and beautiful with anticipation in the air.
Jim Puryear of Nevada Guide Service helped Dad load my wheelchair and gear into the 4 wheel drive diesel truck. As usual, I sat in the back seat behind the driver. I had a pair of 8x binoculars, gloves, and snacks in the seat-back pouch in front of me. My BAR .308 was resting between my knees with the scope protected by soft clothing. The chamber and the magazine were unloaded in accordance with Lake Meade National Recreation Area regulations. Dad jumped into the front passenger seat. At 8:20AM we pulled out of the park headed for the Muddy Mountains. After months of waiting, I was finally hunting.
This part of Nevada sports some of the most beautiful rock formations in North America and includes the Valley of Fire. We were treated to spectacular views as we glassed the jagged peaks of the Muddy Range. On the previous day our guides had spotted some sheep in the rugged terrain above where we were now parked. The skyline looked to be about two miles away. Sure enough, the guides found them again and put a spotting scope on them for me to watch. Dad and I discovered that our 8x binoculars were useless. Even with 40x spotting scopes, the sheep were hard to find. But I did get my first view of the quarry. The sheep were miles away up near the skyline with no roads and no way up into that forbidding cliff world. We decided to look elsewhere.
The previous week, Jim and Mark had guided another client on a sheep hunt in the mountains just one mountain range to the west of our hunt. So they had already set up camp a couple miles west of the highway in Echo Wash. This morning, Jim decided to drive us ten miles or so up the dirt road that ran through the wash. We stopped at their guide camp for a few minutes and then continued several miles up the wash through sand and mud. Rolling hills seemed to frame the skyline in every direction with larger hills looming in the background. We stopped to glass the hills whenever we rounded another bend.
Around noon that first day we stopped to glass the range of hills to our left. “#^*%$” Jim yelled. “We've got a big ram laying down.” Spotting scopes came out, tripods and heavy binoculars. We all got a look at our first 150 class ram in a group of ten sheep about 1 mile away. Dad pulled out my wheelchair and set me in the sand of the dry wash in the shade of a willow. Dad gave me a spotting scope to watch the ram while Jim left to go back to guide camp and get the horses and packers. About forty minutes later Jim returned with Larry and Mel who were leading the horses. Mark arrived a few minutes later while Larry was loading me and the gear on horseback. Dad carried the empty backpack and my rifle. Mark carried the video camera and tripod along with a spotting scope. Larry and Mel led the horses. We followed a natural wash that led along the base of the hills out of sight of the sheep. We had planned to walk as quietly as we could up the wash and then hike diagonally across the lower ridge behind a hill. We then would top out on the last ridge a few hundred yards from the sheep. We stayed out of sight below the crest of the ridge while Mark crept up to the edge. He could not see the sheep and motioned us on up. We stopped at the top to rest the horses and I was placed on the ground, giving me a chance to relax while Mark climbed another higher ridge to find the sheep. As we sat and talked, Dad casually glassed the ridge again. There they were! They were in plain sight and the entire group of sheep could see us. They must have walked out from a low ravine and all ten of them were watching us from about 700 yards away. Now there was no way to approach them without spooking them. We only had two hours of daylight left so we wisely decided to hike back to the trucks and not chase the sheep. They calmly grazed their way up and over the next ridge. Dark came and we had seen about 20 sheep that day. To me, the hunt had already been a success. We had stalked a 150 class ram on horseback!
The second day dawned bright and clear. The guides decided to take us up to Callville Wash and drive several miles in the truck west along the dirt road running through the wash. We glassed the slopes next to the wash until about 10AM. By 11AM Jim had us back to the guide camp, having seen nothing all morning. However, Mark had located a group of about twenty-eight sheep on the west side of the mountain range about twenty miles away. We loaded up and headed west eventually arriving at the mountain range. We began to use spotting scopes to scan the ridges about a mile away. Mark had reported that there were three mature rams in the group, but by the time we got there, they had disappeared. The ridges were inaccessible from our side of the range. We watched for several hours and they never appeared. We decided that the sheep must have walked over the ridge and were grazing on the backside where we could not see them. We drove about two miles past the end of the mountain range and took a gravel road around the backside of the range. Mark decided to take the quad-runner up an old mining road as far as the road went, hike to the top of the lower ridges, and then glass for the sheep from there. Almost immediately he jumped the sheep which went back up and over the top of the ridge to the cliffs on the other side where we had been searching earlier that day. But now the day was almost over so Mark stayed to watch the sheep till dark. The rest of us went back to camp. We would get plenty of sleep tonight since we were arriving back in camp early. We wanted to be up before daylight the next morning to set up a stalk on the sheep.
Jim picked us up at the Echo Bay campground before sunup the next day. We drove the twenty miles back to the ridge from the night before. Again, the sheep had vanished. While we were trying to decide whether to mount a stalk on horseback from the backside of the ridge, one of the guides spotted a lone ram toward the southern end of the ridge. As we watched for the next hour, we got to know this ram very well. We called him the “chocolate ram” because of his rich dark brown color. He had bright yellowish horns and would score close to 150 points. The guides began to work out a way to get me close to the base of the ridge as the ram worked his way down toward the valley floor. Mark moved about a half mile to the south and in less than an hour notified us that the ram was now standing in the brush on the valley floor. That ram stood and watched us for a half hour and then began to work his way to the south along the base of the ridge. As soon as he moved out of sight, we made our move. Jim started the truck and transported us along a jeep trail. About a half mile past were the ram had disappeared we attempted to intercept his path so I could get a shot at under 300 yards. We stopped the truck below the crest of a low ridge. Dad pulled me out of the truck and carried me the twenty yards to the top of the ridge. He laid me on my stomach overlooking the depression where the ram might come out. After thirty minutes, the guide on the radio informed us that the ram was moving higher on the ridge. We had to move quickly. We needed to move 450 yards up the ridge to cover the next higher ravine. However, the road ended where the truck was parked, and the horses were miles away. There was only one option – to backpack me up the ridge. So Dad sat down in front of me and I wrapped my arms around his neck, piggyback style. Jim helped pull Dad to his feet and Dad wrapped his arms around my legs and set off up the ridge at a fast pace. Dad had piggybacked me before and knew that he had to move quickly before fatigue took over. At 200 yards up the hill, Dad stopped to rest a moment, then finished the rest of the trek. Amazingly, Dad still had strength left when the shooting spot was reached. I was set up with a rifle rest made of rocks covered by my wheelchair seat pad that Jim carried up the hill along with my rifle. I was again on my stomach, so I was in a very stable shooting position.
But the best laid plans were no match for the wary Chocolate Ram. We later learned from Mark that the ram had turned straight up and went over the top of the ridge. I was not in the least disappointed. We had made two stalks on rams and I was still charged. Dad decided to try out the backpack to get me back to the truck. Dad complained that the pack hurt. He said that piggyback is much more comfortable and stable. With me in the backpack, the whole rig is top heavy and dangerous. But it worked, and we soon arrived back at the truck. By this time we had burned up most of the morning.
About noon we headed to the north side of the ridges behind us. After about fifteen miles on the highway, we cut off on the dirt road headed up a wash toward Longwell Ridge. One of the side roads wound around and over the top of a low knoll where we stopped to rest. Dad got out and stretched his sore muscles but took Jim's 10x binoculars with him. Dad's habit by now was to glass the surroundings hills wherever they stopped. Dad put the glasses to his eyes and literally yelled “RAM!” There, perfectly focused and centered in the field of view, was a beautiful ram. Of course, the guide wanted to know where. When Dad moved the binoculars to orient himself to the ridge the ram was gone. We looked for several minutes and nothing. Dad was beginning to believe that his mind was playing tricks, that the ram was only imagined. And to make it worse, Dad was not sure which point the ram had been standing on. Then, finally, a ewe and lamb hopped into view. Then two more ewes, but no ram. Dad took a tripod and set up the binoculars to watch the sheep from about 1000 yards away, being careful to keep terrain between him and the sheep. Finally, the guide quietly said “We've got a ram.” I was able to find the ram in my 12x rifle scope and watched him for a few minutes. We estimated that he would score between 135 and 140 points. Then the guide excitedly announced that he thought the road went to the top of the next ridge. That would put us within a few hundred yards of the sheep. Dad ran back to the truck, grabbed my rifle and crammed four rounds in the magazine. He shoved the rifle into my hands and said, “Cycle the action when we stop.” The truck was already moving when Dad dove into the front seat. While we rode the 600 yards or so to the top of the next ridge, I lowered my power window, put on my hearing protection, and poked the barrel out the window. At the top of the ridge, Jim turned the truck sideways, put it in park, and killed the diesel engine all in one motion.
I chambered a round but I could not locate the sheep. They were in plain sight at about 325 yards but I have a vision problem that creates depth perception difficulties. Picking out distant, camouflaged objects from a similar background is nearly impossible. But if you give me an identifiable landmark, I can find anything in my scope very quickly. Since Dad has hunted with me for ten years, he was familiar with the problem. Dad bailed out of the front passenger seat and into the backseat beside me. Quickly Dad found a prominent ridge just to the right of the sheep. As soon as he pointed out the ridge, I said, “I found him!” “You sure you see the ram?” Jim asked. “I think so,” was my reply. “Don't think so,” Jim cautioned. Just then the ram moved his head sideways and I said excitedly, “Yes, I see him!” “Squeeze off the shot,” Jim said. “He's broadside.” Later, Dad said it seemed like they waited an eternity the next ten seconds while I settled down, took careful aim, and squeezed the trigger. The .308 roared and the ram stumbled but did not go down. “Fire again!” Dad called out. Quickly I found the ram and fired. Low. A miss. Now Jim knew what was wrong. The distance was further than he thought. Jim called out, “Daniel, aim for the top of the horns,” because the ram was quartering away by now. Just before the ram disappeared over the hill, I fired. Both Dad and Jim yelled out, “A hit!” almost at the same time. They had heard the familiar sound of the bullet striking the game. They figured the ram was down, but he had disappeared just over the ridge. Dad and Jim got out to hike up and look over the ridge. While they walked away, I sat shaking in the truck. I saw another set of ewes and lambs to my left and tried to find them in my binoculars. My hands were shaking so badly from buck fever that I could not even watch them.
At the top of the ridge, Dad and Jim found the blood trail and the ram was lying at the bottom of the next ravine. Later, I was seated on the horse and we took the trail up and down several ridges to the ram and then loaded the ram on the packhorse. Now it was time for pictures. This was only the third day and the hunt was over. We would be back home in Reno by Thanksgiving.
The ram did not quite break 140 points that I had set as a goal but it was a world class record as far as I was concerned. The guides later told me that I had made history. According to their research, I am the only hunter in a wheelchair to ever take a desert bighorn in Nevada and perhaps in the whole world! This truly was the hunt of a lifetime.