Hunting > Big Game

A Broken Leg Won’t Stop Me!

After 30 years of applying for and not drawing a bighorn sheep tag, 2008—the year I would turn 66—was my lucky year.

Sheep hunting is not exactly what a 66-year-old body excels at doing, but I was prepared to give it my all. When the season opened on September 1, I drove the trail leading through my hunt area and glassed for sheep from every vantage point possible. Two rams were on a steep mountainside across the canyon. Despite heavy hunting pressure, nobody else seemed to notice them.

I quickly returned to camp to tell my friend, “Big Jim,” about the rams. Jim was a year older than I and had also drawn a tag, after 27 years of trying. We devised a plan to take both rams and left to try to make it happen.

Jim and I hiked to the edge of the canyon across from the sheep, hoping they would come down within range. After two days of watching them, we decided to cross the canyon to get closer. As luck would have it, they winded us and blew out over the top. We never saw them again.

After the first 12 days of the season, the hunting pressure slowed a bit, so Big Jim and I decided to take my horse and pack a camp into a valley that would give us access to several basins and canyons. We saw several shooter rams, but none were in a location where we could pack them out without great difficulty.

On the third morning, Big Jim was up and it was getting light. He said there was a band of sheep on the mountainside directly behind our camp with a ram that was big enough for him. I watched as he stalked 210 yards and made a one-shot kill on a beautiful ram with a seven-eighths curl. It was a trophy in anyone’s book.

That evening, I rode my ATV back up the canyon to glass for sheep, and due to carelessness on my part, I was thrown from the vehicle and injured my leg. I knew the hunt was over for the next few days, but I was hoping it was just a bad sprain. It turned out I’d broken the tibia plateau on my right leg and the doctor said it would be six weeks before I would be back on my feet. Not good. I had less than five weeks left to hunt.

After a long and frustrating four weeks, I could stand it no longer and, despite the fact I was still on crutches, my wife and I drove to the small town near my hunt area. My plans were simply to drive the trails and hope the weather had driven some sheep down from the high country. I found two nice rams in a high basin, but I knew I could never get to them.

Friday morning as I was unloading my ATV, a gentleman came by and I asked him to help me. I explained my situation to him and evidently he felt sorry for me, so he told me where he had seen some rams several days before. I drove back to town and my wife drove me to the drainage the gentleman had indicated. We never saw any sheep, but some people said they’d seen rams in the area four days earlier.

The next day found me driving the trails, glassing every square foot of the area, but I saw only ewes and lambs. I felt I had to get up on the bench above the trail to find rams, but that didn’t seem possible, until—call it luck or divine intervention—I found a trail that led onto the bench about a quarter mile from the main trail. My crutches didn’t work on the offroad terrain, so I put them on my ATV, grabbed my walking stick and rifle and headed up the trail. It was slow going, but, before long, the trail was less steep.

Suddenly, I spotted a half-curl ram about 250 yards away. In front of him was a bigger animal that was feeding on some tall brush. When he lifted his head, I knew he was the one for me. It seemed so surreal. After trying for 30 years to draw a sheep tag, I was trying to steady my crosshairs on a mature ram. I had to force myself to pull the trigger. The 140-grain Nosler Ballistic Tip from my .280 did its job, and I limped up to my trophy. I forgot my knife and camera, so I tagged it and limped back down to my ATV to find someone—anyone—to help. What I found was the Mattson family. Many thanks to Casey and Elijah, who helped me cape, quarter and pack out my ram.

I called my son and told him I got my ram. “How awesome, Dad!” he said, “By the way, what time did you get it?”

“About 9:15, this morning.”

“You know, Dad, we knew you were out there hunting by yourself and we were praying for you the whole time.”

What more can I say, except “Thank you, Lord!” 

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