Hunter's dream starts in the Black Mountains

Desert bighorn sheep are one of the most sought after big-game animals not only in Arizona but in North America as well.

Sportsmen from all around the country and even the world apply year after year for the limited number of tags issued by state game and fish agencies in the West.

Arizona is one of these states that offer hunting for both the desert bighorn sheep and the Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep. Mohave County is home to one of the largest populations of desert sheep in Arizona.

In 2009, the Arizona Game and Fish Department issued 21 sheep tags in eight game management units within the borders of Mohave County.

Tucson resident Paul Taylor was a sportsman who had faithfully applied for a sheep tag in Northern Arizona for 32 years.

Finally last year, his dream of taking an old, long-horned ram started to come together when he learned he had drawn one of the six tags in game management Unit 15D, which is located between Highway 68 on the north and Interstate 40 on the south.

Taylor had beaten some incredible odds, as 899 sportsmen had applied for the six tags.

Unit 15D holds the largest population of sheep in Mohave County, and though he would have a month to pursue his dream, Taylor knew going in that it wasn't going to be an easy task.

Sheep hunting is tough mentally and physically.

The Black Mountains where the sheep live are rugged and foreboding. Normally, it requires a lot of hiking and glassing to find and take an old ram. And as Taylor would find out, the steepness of these mountains can cause even the most skilled marksman to have difficulties when the moment of truth arrives.

I became part of Taylor's dream when he called and asked if I was available to assist on his hunt. I quickly accepted, as hunting desert sheep in this unit is my passion.

Paul and I aren't the only ones who have a passion for these monarchs of the mountains. Each year, a number of my friends and family go out to help on these once-in-a-lifetime hunts.

Ryan Chan and his father, Jay, were an integral part of our hunt team. The Chans did a lot of pre-season scouting while I was away on deer hunts. The Chans found some good rams in the unit, and Ryan was able to take some excellent photos of rams that deserved a second look.

Opening day found our team assembled and ready to take on the difficult task that I knew was in front of us. In the field would be Taylor and myself, along with his friend Darrin who was going to videotape the first week of the hunt, and my friends Marc Swartzkopf and Chris Dow. Later in the hunt, we would be joined by the Chans and local resident Mike Cobb.

Opening day didn't disappoint us. We saw a lot of sheep including a couple of rams that most hunters would have taken in a heartbeat.

But this is a once-in-a-lifetime hunt, so when the trigger is pulled, you're done forever. There are no do-overs on sheep hunts. Make a mistake and take the wrong ram and you'll have to live with it the rest of your life.

I was determined there would be no mistakes on this hunt, so we passed on these two good rams and the hunt continued.

Day after day we hiked into some of the most rugged and remote areas of the Blacks in search of an old ram. We saw sheep every day, and a number of nice rams.

Rams we had passed on earlier in the hunt were being taken by other hunters who were not quite as selective as we were. But Taylor wanted to take a special ram, one that had some age on him, one with long, flaring horns. This trait is what separates the Nelsoni subspecies from the other desert subspecies we have in Southern Arizona, the Mexicana.

Before the hunt would end, Mother Nature and other hunters we shared the field with caused our hunt to take many twists and turns.

But you'll have to wait until next week to read how Taylor's quest for a desert ram ended in the Black Mountains.