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Taos Pueblo Sheep Hunt

by Brendan Burns, Schnee’s Powder Horn Outfitters Pro Staff

I’ll give you a little background on this hunt.  The Taos Pueblo Indian Reservation is located in Northern New Mexico.  Each year the tribe auctions off two Bighorn ram permits at the FNAWS banquet.   These tags are a top revenue producer for the Taos pueblo’s well-run game and fish department, and helps fund some of their wildlife management endeavors.   Over the years this hunt has produced many top end Boone and Crockett bighorns including the state record (198) in 2005.  With a reputation for great age class and score this is the best sheep hunt in New Mexico.

I was invited to go along in this hunt by the Taos Pueblo Warchief and his staff, Outfitter Jon Barker, and head guide Willie Hettinger.  The lucky winner of the tag at the Wild Sheep show was hunter Greg Strait.

I knew the hunt was going to be a difficult one (most sheep hunts are), but two hours into the mountains it was clear this was going to be harder than I expected.    I was prepared for deep snow, cold temps, and long days of glassing. What I wasn’t expecting was the amount of timber where we were looking for rams.  I have never grid searched so much timber in all of my life.  Over the course of seven days I only saw sheep one time in what would be considered typical sheep habitat. The rest were in heavy cover.

Can you see a ram in this photo?  Me either!

Can you see a ram in this photo? Me either!

The elevation where we were hunting was from 8,700 to 12,000 feet, and most days we were getting 2 to 6 inches of snow.  Our tent camp was at about 9,000 feet, five miles up a large drainage.   Snow depth varied from 6 inches to 8 feet.  Virtually the whole hunt we were either in crampons or snowshoes.

Willie Hettinger thinking about putting on snowshoes.  Just about deep enough

Willie Hettinger thinking about putting on snowshoes. Just about deep enough!

 

Early morning snowshoeing

Early morning snowshoeing

Standard gear for the hunt- Crampons, Schnee's Sheephunter boots, Sitka Optifade gear, and Mystery Ranch Pack.

Standard gear for the hunt- Crampons, Schnee's Sheephunter boots, Sitka Optifade gear, and Mystery Ranch Pack.

Standard gear for the hunt- Crampons, Schnee’s Sheephunter boots, Sitka Optifade gear, and Mystery Ranch Pack.

The target ram on this hunt Jon and Willie had a long history with.   Nicknamed “Chip” four years ago after they watched him bust out a large piece of his left horn, Jon and Willie had pursued him unsuccessfully with four separate hunters.  If he was still alive, they both estimated him to now be 11 1/2 years old, and score in the 188-190 range, which could make him quite possibly the largest ram alive in New Mexico (NM has not produced a ram scoring over 185 since 2005).

Over the first couple of days we were able to locate 23 different rams ranging up to the high 170 class.

A few of the other rams we found through the spotting scope:

b4

b5

b6

After burning our corneas out for three days looking at snow and timber we caught a break and I got a glimpse of a big ram going over a ridge at 11k feet.  The next morning Willie hiked up to a vantage point and positively identified “Chip”. The hunt was on.

Several days spent in this position

Several days spent in this position

b9

"Chip" through the scope

"Chip" through the scope

"Chip" through the scope

I will spare you the blow-by-blow details of the hunt, but it culminated three days later at over 10k feet, with Greg making a fantastic 455-yard cross canyon shot on “Chip”.  He turned out to be all that we expected, scoring 188 3/8 inches at 11 1/2 years old.  His third quarter measurements are 11 inches.  He will be in the top ten rams ever killed in New Mexico.

Hunter Greg Straight & Outfitter Jon Barker with “Chip”

Hunter Greg Straight & Outfitter Jon Barker with “Chip”

Brendan, Willie, Greg.

Brendan, Greg, Willie

 

Hard not to smile with a massive old ram and great scenery. It doesn't get any better than this.

Hard not to smile with a massive old ram and great scenery. It doesn't get any better than this.

 

Taos Pueblo Warchief and staff with hunter Greg Straight

Taos Pueblo Warchief and staff with hunter Greg Straight

 Now for a little on the gear we used.  I wore one set of Sitka Optifade for the entire seven days in the mountains (90% pant, core shirt, core underwear, vest, stormfront jacket, gloves, beanie, etc).  I had planned on getting out to the trailhead at least once for a fresh set of clothes, but it didn’t work out that way.  Aside from some fresh socks that I packed in, I hunted and slept in the same clothes for 7 days strait.  No problem.  Everything kept me dry and warm the whole time.  I am continually amazed at how fast Sitka Gear apparel dries out.

Pack cover or jacket… no water or wind is getting through.

Pack cover or jacket… no water or wind is getting through.

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