Published January 04, 2013, 07:45 AM

Completing a second grand slam

Guide Roy Lerg and I are moving slowly up a dry wash, when suddenly he says, “Rams! Up to the left! Get ready to shoot!”

By: Bernie Kuntz, The Jamestown Sun

(Last of two parts)

Guide Roy Lerg and I are moving slowly up a dry wash, when suddenly he says, “Rams! Up to the left! Get ready to shoot!”

There are five rams standing 300 yards up the lava mountain and reading the labels on our underwear. I rest my .270 on Roy’s pack and wait. The largest ram is behind another ram so I can’t shoot. With all my spinal/joint problems my legs hurt, the right one goes numb … and we wait some more. After a couple minutes the rams move, and I have a shot at 300 yards. I fire and miss!

“You shot high!”

The rams scatter, I see the largest one stop so shoot again. Another miss! Roy calls the shot left by a couple inches. I am devastated! In 10 previous sheep hunts, I have missed a couple shots, but clobbered the ram with the second shot. I think my shooting ability has gone the way of my legs — downward. The rams climb the mountain unscathed.

We return to the pickup, and Roy follows a two-track road to a hill about three-quarters of a mile from the mountain. The rams have moved to the very top of the mountain and have lain down. Roy sets up a big Austrian-made Swarvoski spotting scope, rigs a camera to it and takes some pictures!

We sit there all morning and into early afternoon. “The only thing that will make you feel better is to kill that ram,” Roy says.

Yes, indeed. I still cannot believe it. I have owned this rifle for 40 years, killed seven rams with it and a number of deer, shot it on the range and it was spot-on. I suspect “operator error.”

Five hours later we see the rams come off the top of the mountain and feed downward on the steep slope. Roy starts the pickup, drives to the wash separating us from the mountain, and we depart on foot.

Earlier, we discussed whether with all my back and joint problems, I could make it up a certain hill that is part of the shoulder of this mountain. I said that I could. We begin climbing, and it feels like someone is poking me in the right knee and hip with a 10-penny nail. My lower back is tied in knots, but I have my walking staff and I have determination.

We proceed slowly upward, me gasping for breath — an out-of-shape “has-been” sheep hunter. But I will do this … I must do this … I think of Marine boot camp and of humping an 85-pound pack in the jungles of Vietnam with Marine Recon … I think of my last bighorn hunt in Wyoming, out of water on the shoulder of Franc’s Peak and almost delirious from thirst … I will do this. Half an hour later I look down and see that we are far above the hill I said I could climb!

A dozen years ago it would have been an easy stalk but today it is all I can endure. We are almost halfway up the mountain when Roy asks, “Do you have shooting sticks?” I shake my head, no. “Can you crawl?” Again, negative. “Can you shoot kneeling?” I point to a lava outcrop about three-feet high, throw the pack on it, drop my unlined leather gloves onto the sharp lava stones, and kneel on them. I am ready to shoot.

Three rams are watching us from 200 yards or more above, but none of them looks like the oldest ram.

“You tell me which one,” I say.

“Listen!” Roy whispers. And then I see the last two rams pop out of a draw. I am blocking Roy’s vision so I see them first. “I think that’s him,” I say.

“Shoot!”

Boom! The ram drops at 125 yards, hit through the shoulders by the 130-grain Nosler Partition. It seems to take a long time for me to hobble over to the ram, and I am ecstatic to see he is very old — 10 years to be exact. Then it is Roy’s turn to be excited when he learns that this completes my second Grand Slam of North American wild sheep — the four species — Rocky Mountain bighorn, desert bighorn, Dall and Stone. I thought I had told him but maybe I forgot.

After pictures, I offer to help field dress the ram, but Roy says, “The hunt is over. We don’t want any accidents. I want you to pick your way off this mountain and back to the pickup before it gets dark — just follow one of the fingers back to the bottom.”

I shoulder the old .270 Sako and using the walking staff for stability, follow a ridge that leads toward the bottom. I think about 10 previous sheep hunts over a 36-year period — my first Grand Slam on wild sheep at age 31, and now my second Slam at age 63. According to the Grand Slam Club, I am the 278th person to complete the Grand Slam — the taking of all four major species of North American wild sheep. About 1,740 hunters have done it thus far, but fewer than 100 have taken more than one Grand Slam. Mostly are rich guys, unlike myself.

I ease across a slide and into a wash and eventually I reach the bottom and see Roy’s pickup 125 yards away. I drink a bottle of water, wash down a pain pill with the lone beer I asked Laurie to include in the cooler. (I should have requested six!)

It is almost dark at 5 p.m. when I see Roy drop into the dry wash, carrying a couple white kitchen bags containing the meat. I exit the pickup and welcome him back.

“I had to leave the cape and horns up there, but can get them tomorrow?” he says.

“Oh, bull!”

We both laugh, a sheep hunt with a fine ending, and both of us basking in the glow of it.

Next week: Epilogue

Bernie Kuntz, a Jamestown native, has been an Outdoors columnist for the Sun since 1974

Tags: