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Twelve Years in the Taking

By Peter R. Schoonmaker

Shawn Greathouse
Shawn's bighorn sports nearly 16-inch bases and tallies 178 4⁄8 by B&C's yardstick, more than enough for the club's awards book. Photo Courtesy of: Shawn Greathouse

A Bigtime Colorado Bighorn is Worth the Woes

Shawn Greathouse sat at the Colorado Bow Association's 1993 annual dinner. During the course of the awards banquet came the presentations for the "Colorado Big 8" that includes elk, pronghorn, mule deer, whitetails, mountain goat, mountain lion, black bear and bighorn sheep. The impressive Rocky Mountain bighorns caught the young hunter's eye and imagination. He knew tags for them were limited and hard to get, but the 20-year-old figured he had plenty of time to wait.

Thus, the application process for a permit began. Five years later, Shawn drew a sheep permit for an early-season hunt. But no matter how much he scouted before the hunt, no matter how thoroughly he glassed the mountains, and no matter how hard he hunted for the entire month of sheep season, the rams never came down out of the high elevations that were national park lands.
Nevertheless, Shawn applied the following year for another bighorn permit.

Only this time, he did more research and located a less popular, archery-only area that yielded only two sheep tags per year. A good friend who had succeeded at taking the Colorado Big 8 with a bow recommended the Apishapa State Wildlife Area.

He was elated when the 2005 Colorado bighorn sheep permit arrived in the mail. 

On Dec. 4, Shawn and a good friend arrived at the relatively flat high country plateau of the Apishapa that featured one big canyon and rolling hills sprinkled with cedar trees and cactus. An arctic blast that was gripping the middle of the country with sub-zero temperatures would soon arrive.

Shawn Greathouse
With overnight temperatures plummeting to 20 below zero, Shawn had to leave the downed ram in a steep canyon overnight. Smartly, he kept predators away by placing a battery-powered radio beside the precious trophy until his return the following day. Photo Courtesy of: Shawn Greathouse

The lay of the land proved very challenging for locating sheep.  After two days and many miles, they finally spotted a band of 25 with three good rams.

They decided to return the next morning. Sheep are early risers, and glassing at dawn often pays off as sheep feed for the first few hours of daylight before bedding down to chew their cud.

But a wind-driven blizzard on the leading edge of the arctic air delayed their plans.

Dec. 7 dawned clear and very cold with temperatures well below zero. To further dampen the hunters' enthusiasm, the sheep were gone! It took an anxious hour of glassing to relocate the band of bighorns. Driven to a more protected cover during the blizzard, the ewes and rams were easy to spot against the snow-clad terrain.

Every step in the frigid snow produced a loud crunch. Shawn's first thought was, "There's no way we're going to kill a sheep today."

It was still early in the morning, though, so there was plenty of time for stalking. Shawn played the wind and used the terrain to cover his movements as he closed in on the sheep. His friend would be the flag man, using two different colored Tupperware container tops to indicate to Shawn his position in relation to the sheep on the mountain slope.

The strategy worked. As Shawn eased up to a knoll, he could see the curls of ram horns as they fed 50 yards away. But then, suddenly, the wind that was in his favor abruptly changed - sending the whole band of sheep another 100 yards up the mountain. They all stopped and looked intently with their amber-yellow, 8-power eyes for the source of the smell.

The camo-clad hunter lay motionless for a frigid half-hour before he was able to belly-crawl off the knoll and into the shadow of a tree.

Shawn was glad to be moving again. For more than an hour, he circled the canyon and returned to his hunting buddy. He was amazed that his flag man had been able to stay put in such cold temperatures. When he asked his buddy if he had seen the sheep - since the animals had moved off in that direction - he was surprised that the man had not.

Shawn decided to have a look over the cliff 75 yards above them. Easing up to the rim, he peered over to see all the sheep directly below him. He sat back, took off his jacket and tried to fight the adrenaline rush. A range-finder indicated the closest ram would be a steep 57-yard downhill shot.

Read More Stories From RACK MagazineThis was where Shawn's years of 3-D shooting helped. The most common error in steep uphill and downhill situations is shooting too high. This is because an arrow's arc of trajectory is greatly reduced, or flatter, as the downward effect of gravity diminishes with increased shooting angles. Thus, Shawn used his 40-yard pin to deliver an arrow through the big ram's lungs.

The bighorn ran off 60 yards with its comrades before lying down and taking its last breath.

Now late in the day, the temperature was sinking to 20 below zero. There was no getting the ram out that night.

Shawn drove 60 miles to buy a portable radio and returned to leave it playing beside the ram overnight - to keep predators at bay. The next day, they packed it out to the truck.

-- Reprinted from the August 2007 issue of Buckmasters RACK Magazine

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