If you ask anyone who knows about the possibilities of drawing a desert bighorn sheep tag in Mohave County, most will tell you the odds are slim to none.
But for Kingman resident Kevin Burgess, drawing a coveted sheep tag in a unit that had just one tag in it means he beat some incredible odds when he was notified that he had been selected to hunt sheep in Unit 15C South.
Burgess has been applying for a sheep tag since he was in high school over 30 years ago.
This sheep unit is tough to hunt. What Burgess didn’t know at the time is that it was one of the hardest hit units in Region 3 with a pneumonia outbreak that practically wiped out the older rams and lambs in most units along the Colorado River.
The unit’s northern boundary is Cottonwood Road while the southern boundary is Highway 68. The Colorado River is the western boundary.
Because of the pneumonia issue that has decimated the bighorn sheep herds in the units along the Colorado River in the Black Mountains, the Arizona Game & Fish Department in Region 3 conducted two sheep surveys in Unit 15C South in 2016.
In March, they surveyed six class 2 rams (3-5 years old), 35 ewes and one lamb and one yearling ram.
Another aerial survey was conducted in October. During that time, a total of only 15 sheep were found. They included one class 1 ram, 4 class 2 rams, and one class 4 ram along with 9 ewes.
Burgess was concerned when he learned about the drop in sheep.
“I had not done a lot of homework before I applied for that tag,” Burgess said. “Had I known about the numbers on the surveys, I might have applied for a different unit.”
As it was, Burgess had applied for Unit 15D, which had six tags, as his first choice, and 15C South, with just one tag, as his second.
With a tag in hand and knowing the lack of sheep in his unit, his plan was to go out and do a lot of scouting.
But he quickly found out that running his tire businesses in Kingman, Golden Valley and Bullhead City, and volunteering to help coach the varsity basketball team at Lee Williams High School, the time just got away.
The next thing Burgess knew, it was time for the season to open. But again, business and personal obligations were still getting in the way of him being able to hunt.
Burgess decided that since the season was a month long, he would just hunt whenever he could and maybe some on the weekends.
Burgess wouldn’t be alone on his quest for his once-in-a-lifetime ram; he had some help from friends Kenny Upton, Tony Campbell, Kenny Robison and Bob Baird. One of Kevin’s brothers, Kelly, also came out to help.
Hunting for sheep requires high-powered binoculars and spotting scopes, and even with those, Burgess and his team didn’t see a lot of sheep.
One thing they did see was a lot of burros. “We saw 217 burros during our time in the field,” he said.
“Sometimes we had a tough time finding sheep,” Burgess said. “Some days we didn’t any sheep and some days we saw 6-8 sheep,” he said.
But it wasn’t all gloom and doom.
Over the five full days and six partial days he hunted, the group found a total of 48 sheep, which included 27 rams. Burgess estimates that he and his friends spotted four rams that he thought would score over 160 inches, and others that ranged from the 140s to the mid-150s.
A couple of larger rams that he tried for were able to slip away.
Then it happened.
Baird spotted a ram and they determined it was a shooter.
But before Burgess could get to it, Upton spotted a much larger group of sheep with a better ram.
It was time to make it happen. Taking the wind into consideration, Burgess made a long looping stalk and was able to get within 100 yards of the group.
He was concealed behind a large boulder and had a perfect rest for his rifle.
Burgess was able to pick out the largest ram in the scope of his 300 Ultra Mag rifle and he squeezed the trigger.
The ram dropped and his quest for a desert bighorn sheep that had taken over 30 years to get a tag for was over. Burgess beat some huge odds in drawing the tag, and had been fortunate to find a mature ram that had not been affected by the pneumonia outbreak.