By Richard Kroger, Worland, Wyo.
The three-hour stalk on a full-curl ram was ending as I watched from nearly a mile away. Adam, his uncle Bart and his cousin Blaine were picking their way horizontally along the steep mountain slope as the out-of-sight ram slowly grazed away from them.
For my son Brett (Adam’s dad), this drama on the mountainside began months before as he viewed Wyoming’s big-game lottery results. After 18 years of applying, Brett knew his chance of drawing a permit was almost certain.
Further examination of the results revealed that 12-year-old Adam had drawn a permit on his first try, just as Dad and uncle Bart had more than 30 years ago. Brett’s joy about Adam’s success waned because only one month earlier, doctors diagnosed Adam with “slipped capital femoral epiphyses,” and Adam underwent emergency surgery to insert a screw through the end of each femur into the ball of his hip joints to stop any further slippage in the growth plates.
After six weeks in a wheelchair and on crutches, Adam’s hockey-tough muscles dwindled. In June, Brett considered applying for a medical deferment on Adam’s permit, but decided to leave the decision to Adam after explaining how strenuous Brett’s sheep hunt in 1982 was when he was 16 years old. Adam committed himself to carrying heavy packs up and down the hills and mountains around their home in Jackson, Wyo., so he and Dad could hunt bighorn sheep together. My conditioning helped my 73-year-old legs also make it to our mountain camp.
After a starlit breakfast, Brett and friend Bob went up the mountainside behind camp while the rest of us took another route up the steep slope through the trees. When we came out of the trees, we could see Brett and Bob signaling that they had something spotted.
A stalk was rapidly planned. Adam, Bart and Blaine made a mile-long circular stalk back down into the trees before scaling the slope to a slight ridge that appeared to put them within range of the bedded ram. Brett and Bob went to the other side of a major ridge before climbing to a saddle on top of the mountain where the ram might run to if spooked. I stayed in place to signal the others if the ram moved.
Brett and Bob reached the saddle before Adam and crew came out of the trees and started up the “two steps forward, one back” talus slope. The ram, grazing away from the shooting ridge, wasn’t in sight when Adam reached it. As they began trailing the ram, it spooked and made a run for the saddle where Brett made a quick decision to shoot or let it escape into an adjacent rugged basin. Adam, I was later told, was not a happy camper when Dad shot his trophy ram.
After eating lunch and resting around camp for a couple hours, the boy with the screws in his hips was anxious.
“Aren’t we going out hunting again?” Adam asked.
As my sons and grandsons left camp, I climbed back up the mountainside behind camp to take pictures of the morning’s hunt terrain. As I exited the trees, I spotted Adam and crew walking single file over a stream and knew they were on a stalk.
I hustled back down to camp and got Bob. We hiked a mile down the valley trail where I saw the others disappear and soon spotted their quarry. As the alert ram watched in the direction of the approaching hunters, they finally stopped and Adam took aim over a pack.
“He’s hit!” Bob hollered, long before we heard the bark of Adam’s .270 Win. Later, we learned Adam was the youngest hunter to ever take a mature ram in Wyoming history.
Bob and I anxiously awaited the return of the triumphant hunters. About 10 p.m. I saw four headlamps lighting their way on the far hillside. Adam was now a happy camper with a 7-year-old ram every bit as impressive as his dad’s 8-year-old sheep.
Bart and Brett related the heated discussion about the distant ram, and whether to go after him with approaching nightfall or wait.
“I’d shoot him,” said Blaine, a boy of few words.
“Let’s go now,” agreed Adam.
“What are we going to do? Sit around camp wondering if he will be there in the morning?” added Blaine, clinching the argument.
Youthful eagerness resulted in a perfect 18-hour day in the high country.
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