John E. Stephan Sheep Hunt Experience
After nearly a four year wait it is finally here. My youngest son Parker and I are checked in at San Antonio Int’l airport waiting to board our flight. We are headed to Hermosillo, Sonora to hunt with Rogelio Lizarraga of Rancho El Bamury. Flying on American, check in was a breeze and with TSA Pre Check we were at the gate in short time. Scheduling worked out that Parker is on Spring Break this week so he could join me. It’s always a blessing to hunt with your kids and I am so happy we will share this adventure together. This hunt is for my third specie of North American Wild Sheep, so I am slowly chipping away at the Slam. The weather should be nice ranging from the high 40’s to low 80’s. I checked and re-checked the list as I packed yesterday, and we have all the essential gear. I recently upgraded the optics on my Christensen 300 RUM to the Swarovski ds 5-25 with the built in ranging and auto reticle. It is an amazing piece of hardware to say the least. I have been practicing a bit and last week was shooting 400-500+ yards in a 5-10 mph wind. I used the wind drift hash mark and hit the target every time! We connect in Phoenix and are scheduled to arrive Hermosillo at 1:11. I got an email from Rogelio’s daughter Maria that she will meet us at the airport then have a 4-hour drive to the ranch. Expectations are running high and I am ready to get started Monday morning. Preparation and anticipation of the hunt can be almost as fun as the adventure itself. I am sure this trip will have its share of twists and turns as every expedition usually does. The flights were all on time and we arrived Hermosillo at 11:20. Our bags were waiting for us after passport control and the Customs officials met me at a table with my paperwork. It took less than 10 minutes to clear my gun and we were met by Rogelio’s daughter Maria and a gentleman named Enrique that was our driver. After we exchanged greetings, we were on our way North to the ranch. A light rain was falling in Hermosillo and Maria said it rained off and on all the way from Pitiquito, the town nearest the ranch. The plan is to drive a couple of hours then stop for lunch.
We stopped in Santa Anna, a descent sized town about halfway to the ranch.
A nice lunch followed by an hour and forty-five-minute drive put us at the ranch. A traditional Mexican ranch house of adobe and block construction. Parker and I settled in our room then headed outside for a look around. The yard was adorned with countless shed antlers from some outstanding desert mule deer. There were also several nice Coues deer sheds and a couple of pick up skulls that would push the limit for Boone & Crockett. About an hour after sunset Rogelio and the guides showed up from their day scouting. After we exchanged greetings Rogelio began to tell us about the day. They saw over 30 ewes and last year’s lambs along with several rams. Three of which were legal rams but one exceptionally large ram. By his emotions, I could tell he was extremely impressed with this ram. When they left the rams just before dark they were feeding calmly. The forecast is for a clear, sunny day so he wants to be at the mountain early. The plan is for two guides to go ahead before first light to locate the rams. We will go an hour later as I need to check zero on my rifle before heading up the mountain. After a traditional Mexican meal of homemade tamales, rice and salad we turned in early as tomorrow will be a big day. I told Parker as we were going to sleep that we were way ahead of the game knowing the general location of the rams. On all my other sheep hunts we spent days just locating the rams. Then we had to devise a plan to hunt them. First thing tomorrow, we will be hunting those rams.
I was up at 5:22, I heard the guides truck leave the camp. Parker was up shortly thereafter, and we enjoyed a traditional Mexican breakfast of eggs, potatoes, refried beans and fresh tortillas. I watched the day come to life as the sun rose behind the mountains we would hunt today. The guides put up a target so I could check the zero on my rifle. The first shot was 3 inches high, the second, a half in from the first. I adjusted the Swarovski and it shot right on at 100 yards and we were off on the hunt.
We arrived at the place where the guides were set up and they showed me the smaller of the three rams in the spotting scope. They were up the mountain about a mile and a half away and the big ram was bedded out of sight.
Rogelio discussed his strategy with the other guides and a plan was made for our ascent. Two guides stayed below with the spotting scopes and radio so they could inform us about the rams movement. We loaded our packs and started up the mountain. Parker carried our personal gear, Rogelio, Luis, Miguel along with Lupe who was our cameraman all had a pack. The climbing was challenging as nearly all the vegetation had thorns or needles so heavy leather gloves were a must. The ground was mostly decomposed rock and some shale, so it was slippery at times.
It took us about an hour to reach the edge and about 20’ from reaching the top the radio chattered. The rams were up feeding so we stayed below the horizon not to be skylighted. After a few minutes Rogelio and Luis peered over the edge and only the youngest rams were up feeding. Rogelio whispered down to me “462 yards”. I had told him last night I am comfortable to 500 but really do not want to shoot past 500 yards. He said no problem, our hunters normally shoot 250-300 meters.
As the day moved on, the young ram bedded, and I made my way up to the top to look through the spotting scope. I still have not seen the big ram but located the young ram so had an idea of the general vicinity. I found a good spot to shoot from and set up the 300 RUM, chambered a round and zeroed in on the ram. It was 468 yards to the sheep, and we waited.
As he continued, I reset the range a couple of times and he was 492 yards. He never gave me a shot and bedded once again exactly right of a saguaro cactus at 496 yards. I settled down and watched periodically through the scope I could see his ear flick from time to time and he would occasionally move his head a little. Once again what seemed like an eternity was only a few minutes and Luis spoke again. I was quickly onto the rifle and saw the big ram feeding. I hit the range button on the scope, and he was 496. I then slipped off the safety and waited for him to turn and give me a shot.
He took a few steps and was free from the brush and cactus and I could clearly see his shoulder and announced, “I am going to shoot”. I settled in and stared the trigger squeeze. The RUM barked and jumped up as I was only on the pistol grip lightly. I heard the report of the hit and the guides started whooping and hollering, the ram was down. He died about 9 feet from where he was shot, and we could see him through the spotting scope below a large ocotillo bush. I immediately said a prayer of thanksgiving to God for this incredible blessing then hugged my son. Parker congratulated me on the shot, the longest of my 45year hunting career.
Having the right equipment is a must for any hunt but is truly imperative on a specialty hunt such as this. The new Swarovski ds 5-25 paid for itself today on this hunt, it is the finest riflescope I have ever owned.
After handshakes and congrats we devised a plan and started our ascent to recover the ram. It took about an hour and a half as he had died 20 yards below the top of the mountain. When I finally reached him, I was in awe of the massiveness of his horns. An old ram, heavily broomed and 13 years of age – the perfect sheep to take off the mountain. His old Roman nose was bumped and scarred from years of fighting and a big chunk of horn missing from his left side, the result of a battle years ago. His body was still in particularly good condition, but he was missing some front teeth and what he had left were loose.
We spent the better part of an hour taking pictures and eating a couple of burritos before we started the descent. The trip down was slow and slippery and it took us about an hour and twenty minutes to reach the trucks. I sat down, got the tweezers from my swiss army knife and had Parker pluck the cactus thorns from my calves. We relaxed and had a celebratory Tecate while waiting for the others to arrive. They all slowly trickled in with Luis taking up the rear as his pack was full of meat and the hide & horns. It was nearly 6 o’clock and we headed for camp.
As we arrived, Maria met us outside and congratulated me on my trophy. She offered me a drink and I asked for tequila for me and the men. We made a toast the to the grand old ram and then sat down to a nice dinner.
I closed the night by the fire, smoking a cigar and reliving the day with Parker. It is truly a blessing to be able to hunt around the world in pursuit of such magnificent game. But, to have my son with me on such a momentous hunt made the excursion all that more special. The Desert Bighorn was number 3 for my Grand Slam and I am down to the Rocky Mountain Bighorn. I will never forget this great but short sheep hunt in Sonora, it was the best.
I want to give special thanks to my outfitter Rogelio Lizarraga for his honesty and integrity along with the work organizing the hunt. His daughter Maria went far beyond expectations always communicating with me and keeping me informed during the 3 ½ years the hunt was booked. Rogelio’s son Ricardo was one of the guides who stayed below spotting the sheep for us as we hunted, and Mrs. Lizarraga prepared all our meals which were outstanding.
Finally, to the team of guides Luis, Miguel, Martine and the cameraman Lupe who all did their part to make this expedition a success.
Rogelio and the team at Rancho el Bamury are the best.
The ram made number 19 on my quest for the North American 29, onward to the next hunt!