The Ancient Art of Hunting Desert Bighorn

While the methods have changed, hunting desert bighorn is a tradition that stretches back over 10,000 years.

bajaDesertBigHorn1Tensions between the U.S. and Iran put an unexpected halt to my planned hunt for Karmen sheep, Shiraz mouflon and Persian Desert ibex. This hunt was to have been an integral part of my quest to harvest 40 different wild sheep, but with international tensions high, the Persian expedition would have to wait. 

While on vacation in Hawaii, I received an email offering a Baja California hunt for desert bighorn by the community of Ejido Alfredo V. Bonfil, the catch – I had to be there in 3 weeks.

Spring break was on so all the flights were completely booked. The only option was to fly to Los Cabos at the very tip of the peninsula, and meant a 10 1/2 hour ride to camp.

My translator, Oscar Casteneda, met me at the airport and got me through customs along with my OVIS model .300 Weatherby. Soon the two of us, along with Jesus Vega, the president of the Ejido, were on our way north. Jesus is an excellent driver who takes the position that speed limits are merely guidelines and not mandatory. We made camp just before midnight.

Hunting sheep is a longtime tradition in the Baja. In fact it goes back at least 10,800 years. The town of San Francisco del Sierra, two hours north of our main camp, is home to several cave paintings that go back that far and are part of the UNESCO World Heritage sites.

Ancient cave painting
Ancient cave painting

This site is named Cueva del Raton and was discovered in1890 by Leon Diguet, a Frenchman. The main painting is of a man confronting a black puma while both a venado bura (mule deer) and aborrego cimarron (big horn sheep) stand off to the side of the puma.

The Ejido covers over a million acres and is community owned. It is part of the Vizcaino Biosphere Reserve, which is 6.4 million acres of bone-dry desert located smack in the middle of the peninsula. I have a longtime and intimate familiarity with Murphy’s Law, so I should have guessed what would happen next…heavy rain accompanied by thick fog and strong winds greeted me when I awoke on the first day of my “desert” hunt.

It was day two before our caravan finally left camp. With nine people and fourteen animals this was not a typical sheep hunting spike camp. Even though our hunting party was a bit on the large size, everyone knew his role and things went smoothly.

On day three we faced a repeat of the first day. Rain, fog and strong winds arrived overnight and my goose down sleeping bag and some bajadesertbighorncampof my clothes got a little soggy. Fortunately by mid-afternoon the bright sun broke through the clouds, and I was able to hang the wet stuff out to dry. The next day the weather was perfect. We had camped on Aguajito Mountain and as we gained altitude, I could see the Mar de Cortes(Sea of Cortez) to the east. The two days of rain had done its job and it seemed like the entire desert had exploded in Technicolor with red, blue, yellow and purple blossoms everywhere. It was great to be alive!

We stopped and began glassing and soon, we spotted a good ram sleeping about a mile away. Poncho, Alfredo and I started our stalk while the other members of our group stayed behind watching the sheep and ready to signal us if it moved.

Two hours later, my rangefinder told me that we had closed to 296 yards. There was one problem, however. The ram was below us at about a 45-degree angle and was still lying down. What concerned me was that his head was turned and his left horn was across his chest. To shoot at his heart at that distance without hitting the horn would be the equivalent of threading a needle at six feet. We waited.

Our patience was soon rewarded as the ram suddenly stood up and quickly reversed direction. Something had grabbed his attention. I was worried that he had spotted the guys behind us and that he was Bajadesertbighornmulegetting ready to beat a hasty exit so I quickly squeezed the trigger. At the shot he took off running for all of 40 yards before he piled up and tumbled down the mountainside.

When we got to the ram I saw that Murphy was once again at work. The fall had taken over an inch off the tip of the left horn and a little less off the right. After photographs and skinning, we had the long climb out. By the time Oscar and I reached our mules, I was beat That night, as tired as I was, I was too excited to sleep. The next day we made it back to main camp where we learned that Jesus had sent to the nearest town, Santa Rosalita, for a supply of beer while the four cooks in camp prepared a gourmet meal of shrimp and fish. Fiesta time was at hand! –Ed Yates

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