Jan
24

All about Trophy Hunts

Last weekend, homey Bill Boyum and I spent some profitable hours touring the Yakima Training Center.  We went to track down some troublemaking elk that could not stay off private cropland out in Badger Pocket.  We settled, however, for accomplishing a pretty thorough study of the depth, density and tenacity of the fog which had settled over Paradise for a week and more.  Somewhere in there, we settled several of the major issues facing hunters today.

On our drive  back through the Canyon to Paradise, Bill spoke of an older friend who—after many years of applying—had drawn one of those precious Yakima Canyon bighorn ram tags.  The guy hunted long and hard, and finally took a legal, but not huge, California bighorn ram.  At that point, and for some time on, his son harassed him for not taking one of the monsters in that herd of sheep—a ”trophy.”

The whole conversation left me mulling over two experiences in my hunting life: my Quilomene deer tag and the day Bert Widhalm told me about a “trophy hunt.”

Back in ’01, after years of applying, I finally accumulated enough preference points to draw a permit for the late “any buck” season in the Quilomene.  In the eyes of various homeboys around the valley, I had a ticket for a true “Trophy Buck Mule Deer Hunt.”

In the minds of many, the legendary bucks of the Quilomene are among the biggest muleys in the state.  Time after time, it was, “Betcha want one of those big busters, huh?”  “So, have you done your scouting?  There are some monsters out there..”  “You’re not going to settle for some little buck are you?  You’re not just meat hunting are you?”

Over the 30 years I lived in Colorado, before returning home to Paradise, I managed several really big muleys.  I certainly would not have minded making a couple hundred pounds of fine venison again, but I wanted the permit for the peace of the hunt.  With limited numbers of licenses, and the number of deer in that wonderful sage and bitterbrush country, I figured I could really be alone with my hunt—and with the place.

Long gone now, Bert Widhalm was an old-time Colorado game warden.  With little or no college, he worked his way up to win the Saguache District in the San Juan Valley on guts, ability and smarts.  He was one of those wardens whose stare was legendary—not unlike Bill Essman.  Bert could ask me a question while staring right through me.  I’d have a sudden urge to confess sins I hadn’t even committed.

Bert took flack for not being a “biologist,” but no one knew bighorn sheep better.  His Saguache herd was one of the healthiest in the West.  Hundreds of sheep had been trapped and transplanted to start new or augment herds in good habitat in several states.  They were his sheep.

One hot afternoon in the mid-1980s, over a malt beverage crisp from a tooth-chilling spring, I asked him what made a “trophy” bighorn.

“Well,” he said, “I always figured a trophy was a big old ram…  One year in the ‘70s, this kid—maybe 32 or 33—drew a tag for my herd.  He was tough.  He scouted and scouted.  He took the whole season off work and hunted hard.  I knew I’d finally see one of my big old rams up close…  Anyhow, he never found the one he wanted.

“A couple years later, the ‘kid’ drew another tag for a once-in-a-lifetime sheep.  This time, I knew the kid would find the oldest, biggest, craftiest ram in my mountains.  He kept me updated.  He hunted most every day of the season.  At the very end of the season, he brought his ram in to me for the required exam and measurement.

“I was flabbergasted,” Bert said.  “It was a barely legal half-curl ram.  …And that damned kid just smiled at me.  ‘I know what you think,’ he told me, ‘but you gotta get this, you crusty old bast…  I found rams no one has ever seen.  I hunted my tail off.  I passed on shots I didn’t like.  I have been rained on and blown around and cold and hot and you name it.  Then, I saw this ram bedded on a high, rocky, wind-swept ridge.  I crawled to point-blank range.  Through the scope, I could see the wind whipping the hair on the back of his neck.  When I squeezed the trigger, he just laid his head down.  Now you think what you want, Bert, but this is the trophy of my lifetime.  I’ve had a trophy HUNT!”

With that Quilomene deer tag, I hunted my solitary fanny off.  Sunrise, sunset and mid-day, I wore the sage and the bitterbrush, and tasted the desert air of fall.  Sun at my back (or close), patiently working into the wind, I gently poked and prodded remote draws and breaks across the upper Quilomene.  I looked over a hundred does and fawns, and passed on immature bucks.  Not once did I find another hunter in my path.  At most, I heard two sets of shots in one day.

With a little coaching, I finally found a young buck willing to give itself to my sustenance and good health.  Only then did I place a finger on the trigger of my rifle.  I often thought about what Bert might have said.  Somehow, I knew he’d get it; I had experienced one of the best trophy hunts of my life.

Written by Jim Huckabay. Posted in Uncategorized

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Comments (1)

  • Anne Doerr
    March 26, 2015 at 5:41 pm |

    THANK you so much for the article. Bert was my Dad. This captures who is was!!! He loved those sheep. I read this on the anniversary of his death this year, hard to believe he has been gone 14 years…This is an awesome tribute to him. THANKS so much.. Anne

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