First of all, I hope you all had a Merry Christmas! We sure did at the Martin household, finishing up the year with two great sheep hunting adventures.
Our first hunt was in Game Management Unit 15B West. It is a big unit, and in the past has produced some of the largest rams in Mohave County.
But in the past 10 years, the unit's sheep population has taken a big dip, and the quality of the rams has really dropped. Drought and predators are suspected as being the reason for the decline.
But for two Arizona sportsmen who beat some tremendous odds in drawing the tags this year in the unit, it would be a once-in-a-lifetime hunt.
I was going with Frank Suriano, a 75-year-old sportsman from Scottsdale who was in the best shape for a man his age that I've ever hunted with.
Assisting on the hunt would be long time friends Gene Chambers (who is 77) and my friend Jay Chan.
We started the hunt about a week after the month-long season had opened.
I thought that maybe the other hunter in the unit, Bret Moran, would be done, but I learned that Bret was a very committed bowhunter and that he hadn't had much luck.
The first few days of our hunt didn't produce many sightings. The largest ram we did see was wearing a radio collar. Suriano and I agreed that no matter how big or old he was, we were not going to take him and here is why.
It costs the department a lot of money to capture and put a radio collar on a sheep, and the data these sheep provide is important to the management of the herd. Though collared sheep are legal to take, we decided not to.
The third day we got a break. A small ram band of four rams actually crossed a wash in front of Chambers and Saki Kogianes, who had came up to help glass.
There were three mature rams in the group. The best had an ear tag with the number 9 on it. This wide flaring ram looked to be over six years old but he seemed to have small bases.
Another had ear tag 64.This ram seemed as old as Number 9, but he didn't carry the mass in his horns. Remember, this is an once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, so you need to be certain before the trigger is pulled or an arrow is released!
The third ram in the group was probably a year or two older, but he had broomed off his horns so short, as to make it easy for us to decide to pass on him.
After about 30 minutes I told Suriano that we were going to pass on Number 9, that we had a lot more of the unit to look in and I hoped to find an older and hopefully larger ram.
But then Mother Nature stepped in. It started to rain, sleet and even snow on the highest peaks in the unit, and the wind - a curse to sheep hunters who depend on being able to glass long distances for sheep, started blowing from 20-30 mph.
For three long days we didn't see even one sheep!
It is often said that sheep hunting is a young man's game, but here on a cold windswept ridge sat three dedicated sportsmen who ages totaled 214 years!
Finally the weather cleared and the sheep started to show up. Chan was now on board with us and so was another friend of mine from Las Vegas, Kensen Lee, who came up for a day to help glass.
I decided to split up our team and to try and find the ram band that Number 9 was leading. Our searching through the unit had not produced another ram as good as he was, and we decided that Number 9 would be a good ram to take, if we could relocate him.
About noon, Lee and I found the ram band. Now there were seven rams in it, with 9 still leading.
We spooked them when we walked over a ridge, but they ran less than 400 yards and bedded down in a canyon.
Now Lee and I had a 3½-hour wait until Chan and Suriano made it over to the rams. They were several miles away and the hike was going to be a tough one. We waited on a cold, windswept ridge before Chan and Suriano finally got into position.
However, things didn't go quite as planned. They were only 75 yards away from the ram band and getting ready to shoot when old Number 9 spotted a little movement, and off they ran!
They ran for over a mile, but Lady Luck and some great binoculars resulted in me being able to relocate them again.
It was late afternoon and now Chan and Suriano had another stalk that was over a mile.
Despite being exhausted, things came together right before dark when Chan spotted the rams feeding on the side of a deep draw.
Chan got Suriano to within 100 yards of the rams, but Suriano's shot was too far back and the ram turned and ran down the hill. He stopped at 112 yards and the low light and nerves got the best of Frank as he missed on his second shot.
The ram ran a short distance over a ridge and bedded down but fortunately Chan quickly found him.
Suriano's last shot was on the money and his hunt of a lifetime was over.
Turns out Number 9 was a great choice for Suriano to take.
At the Region III office of the Arizona Game & Fish Department, Number 9 was aged at 7 years old and scored an impressive 153-1/8 points.
G&F records indicate that this is the third-largest ram taken in this unit in the last seven years, so he truly was a great trophy!