Seven Anguishing Hours


The author with his desert bighorn ram measuring 181.
The author with his desert bighorn ram measuring 181.

This story starts on January 29, 2011 at SCI’s Annual Convention.  It was the last night of the convention, spirits were high, and there was a fair amount of reminiscing going on, as well as discussions and planning for hunts that had been purchased during the convention. My wife Rachel and I were seated at the Convention Chairman’s table, with Bruce and Catrona Eavenson, in addition to his other guests.  It was near the end of the evening auction and item #21 was next up on the sale.  The hunt was donated by Rancho la Esperanza in Mexico and it was for a Desert Bighorn Sheep.

While admittedly I’m not a sheep hunter, having only wanted one — a Marco Polo that I took with Kaan Karakaya of Shikar Safaris some years earlier, I wasn’t really interested in this auction item. After two previously failed Dall sheep hunts in the Yukon, I had written off any further sheep hunts.

Then as conversation would have it, someone at the table mentioned that they had taken a huge mule deer at Rancho la Esperanza during the past hunting season and had noticed some remarkable desert bighorn rams while they were at the ranch.  I told my wife that I was only going to make one bid and we would see what happened. Well, two bids later I had the pleasure of meeting Enrique Tapia, the owner/manager of the ranch and we were making plans for my desert bighorn hunt in December 2011.

Rancho la Esperanza lodge is located in Mexico’s Sonoran Desert, nestled in 125 acres of pecan trees and bordered by a fragrant citrus grove.  It sits adjacent to the Bacoachi River. The ranch is truly one of Mexico’s most luxurious hunting facilities offering first class accommodations, gourmet-style food, billiards and horseback riding, in addition to some of the finest hunting you will find in Mexico.

Rancho la Esperanza was named after Enrique’s great grandmother, Esperanza de Tapia, by his great grandfather, Enrique Tapia Fourcade, when he and his brothers purchased the initial parcel of land consisting of over 150,000 acres in the early 1940s. Rancho la Enrique and his father, Enrique Tapia Camou, currently own Esperanza.  Originally a working cattle ranch, the property is now home to as estimated 800 mule deer, 200 desert bighorn sheep, 150 Coues deer and numerous javelina.  It has been carefully managed to achieve a sustainable wildlife population, great genetics and noteworthy trophy quality.

The ranch has a number of mountainous areas where bighorns find shelter and food within the numerous ironwood, palo verde and mesquite trees and desert flora. We saw numerous mule deer many that score in the 200 range. We did see several very nice rams. Even from a distance they stood proudly near the mountaintops.  Later, it was decided that we would start the morning on a mountain called Chapala, the highest peak on the ranch, where they had seen a very nice ram a few days prior when one of their hunters took a mule deer that scored 220.

As we approached the mountain, Rodolfo spotted two nice rams, one of which we decided would be the “one of interest.” In a densely wooded area near the top of the mountain we could just make out the form of a big ram through the branches.  As we watched, the ram moved into a small opening where we had a much better view. I couldn’t take my eyes away from my binoculars until I heard those magic words: “That’s the monster we want.” Later we spotted him again at about 345 yards. I ever so slowly squeezed the trigger.

My heart was racing faster than my neighbor Danica Patrick drives her racecar. In twenty years of hunting I have never taken a shot that I didn’t think would be a quick finishing shot. But as Murphy’s Law would have it, just as I squeezed the trigger the ram turned ever so slightly. In the split second after the shot I heard that familiar sound of impact. Then I heard: “You hit him on the shoulder.” We moved up, down, around, up and up again, over to the next group of mountains, repeating the same process. Then it was back to Chapala to search that area again. A number of prayers and a couple of hours later, our ram finally showed himself and gave me another opportunity at about 390 yards. I squeezed the trigger of my Gunwerks 7mm and whispered a final “Lord let this one count.”  Then I heard those comforting words: “He’s down.” This incredible desert bighorn scored 181. After a celebratory and outstanding dinner we began discussing a plan for the rest of the hunt.

Michael’s mule deer measured at 193 with a 34″ spread and was featured in the 2013 Racks calendar.

The following day we decided to drive around in the ‘high truck” and look at mule deer. While we saw many, I was looking for one of those exceptionally wide and massive bucks that had eluded me on my previous trips to Mexico. Two days later we saw a buck that fit that description perfectly, a huge and impressively wide monster. We decided to stake out an area that had a watering pool nearby, hoping we might get a glimpse of this buck later in the afternoon. Around four o’clock we started seeing mule deer moving through the trees and brush, but not the buck we wanted.

As the sun set with only about fifteen more minutes of shooting light, Rodolfo nudged me and pointed off to the right about 270 yards away.  There was no mistaking it that this was the buck we wanted. Getting him in the Nightforce crosshairs was a very quick process. As he moved into an open area, my trusty Gunwerks rifle came to life again. I saw the buck collapse immediately. He scored 193 with a 34-inch spread.

However, memories from this hunt didn’t stop there. Several months later I received a call from my taxidermist in Scottsdale, Jim Hartsock – Southwest Wildlife (who is one of the best taxidermists I have worked with over the past 20 years). He informed me that he had a request from a friend to highlight my mule deer in a calendar called “Racks” for 2013. I was thrilled and said “sure.”

In September I was on a central barren ground caribou hunt with one of my dearest friends, Dr. Phil Ripepi, and when I called home my wife told me that the finished calendar had arrived and my mule deer was featured for July. When my wife asked if I had ever seen this calendar before, I indicated that I hadn’t, but was anxious to see “July.”  She then told me that all of the months featured very attractive ladies dressed in scanty clothing displaying the various trophies. After seeing the calendar, my compliments to the publisher for a job well done. With this expanded memory and the calendar in my files, I have a hunt experience to remember for the rest of my hunting days.– Michael Wilmet

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