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    Going Public

    Once in a Lifetime Ram

    Randy (left) and Ben Stetzer spend a special moment with a dandy bighorn.
    Randy (left) and Ben Stetzer spend a special moment with a dandy bighorn.
    Randy Stetzer had always dreamed of a once-in-a-lifetime bighorn tag and felt like he won the lottery when he drew the East Deschutes, Biggs Unit license in Oregon. The summer was spent scouting the area and getting into “sheep shape.” November rolled around, and it was time for the hunt. A solid team was assembled: Randy’s son Ben, friends Rick Harris, Ian Fergusson and Pete Donahower.

    The crew spent the weekend scanning the hillsides to identify a mature ram, as the hunt started Monday. The last afternoon of scouting paid off when they glassed the hillside and spotted a couple of rams. The bigger, darker ram had horns that came fully around and below the jawline then flared out at the tips. It was the “one,” no question.

    It didn’t take long to find the sheep when morning broke. The hunters reworked some logistics, finalized the plan and headed out. Ben, Pete, Rick and Randy would climb the ridgeline while Ian stayed low and worked as extra eyes.

    The team started its ascent up the ridgeline and hiked until they could cross over to investigate the rocks where the ram was feeding. They couldn’t find the ram, but when they were almost to the top, some hand signals from below allowed the team to finally spot the ram just below the far ridge, and it was moving closer. It was time to climb across the steep, jagged rocks to close the distance.

    As Randy and Ben got close to where they’d seen the ram, they started to peer over rocks. Then Ben noticed that Rick and Pete were frantically trying to get their attention. Both were pointing below Randy and Ben.

    Randy and Ben slowly moved out on a pinnacle for a look. Two rams below spotted them and bolted to the right. Randy and Ben scrambled to the next ridgeline, and just as they edged up to view the next fold, they found the rams standing broadside and very close. The crosshair was placed and the trigger pulled. Randy knew the sight picture was solid and his aim was true. But both animals took off down the mountain without any indication one was hit. The younger ram cut across below, but not the big one.

    The shot was 44 yards, and after covering the short distance they found blood. One hundred sixty yards down the mountain, at the base of a cliff, they found the old ram.

    Randy and his hunting buddies had scouted all summer, finding some great rams but nothing that had symmetrical horns and good points like the one he shot. The ram taken was initially spotted the night before the season opened, then stalked the following morning. The ram green scored 148 7⁄8 inches.

    According to Randy, “Along with harvesting this animal, the whole event of scouting, camaraderie and experience will forever be a highlight of my life. My only regret is not being able to do it again.”

    Honey Hole Buck

    Aaron Neeley with his fine muzzleloader buck.
    Aaron Neeley with his fine muzzleloader buck.
    The Cache unit in Utah is like most public land; a difficult unit to hunt with a low buck-to-doe ratio, significant hunting pressure and low trophy potential. Aaron Neeley considers the Cache his home unit, where his prior experience can be a big advantage. In past years, Aaron discovered a small, high-alpine basin that is overlooked by most hunters and not visible from other locations. The basin also requires a steep 2-mile hike through thick vegetation.

    As a result, the secluded spot sees almost no hunting pressure and generally holds a bachelor group of mule deer bucks every year. Since 2015, Aaron and his brother Ryan have taken a 4x4 buck every year within a 300-yard radius. They call this alpine basin “The Honey Hole.”  Since 2015, the Utah brothers continue to scout preseason and keep a trail camera located at their secret spot year-round.

    It was late September, and at first light Ryan glassed a big muley the brothers have watched in previous years. Due to early snowfall, the frozen ground was very noisy and it took Aaron a lot longer than normal to get in close to where they had last seen the deer. When the muzzleloader hunter got there, the deer were no longer in sight. The thought came to Aaron that he had been too noisy on the way in and may have blown the deer out of the area and into the next drainage. Instead of giving up, he decided to post up under a cliff ledge and watch the small basin. About an hour went by with no activity. Aaron decided to relocate to change his line of sight, and as he stood up to move, he immediately saw three bucks feeding in the basin approximately 200 yards away.

    The big buck stood prominently in front of the other two deer. Aaron quickly dropped to the ground and hid behind some brush where he was able to crawl and cut an additional 45 yards off the distance. The deer had no idea the hunter was there. Once Aaron found a spot he was comfortable shooting from, he raised his head above the brush to survey the area and plan his shot. The bucks had moved behind some timber and were hardly visible. The hunter used the opportunity to raise his muzzleloader onto shooting sticks just above the brush.

    Aaron had time to range the opening next to the timber at 155 yards, where he anticipated the deer would move. Watching through his riflescope, Aaron observed the three deer slowly move out of the timber and into the opening. As soon as the biggest buck turned broadside, the hunter carefully squeezed the trigger. By the time the smoked cleared, the buck had already fallen.

    “We had seen this deer on the trail camera for two years leading up to the encounter the day of the hunt. Preseason preparation, prior experience, and knowing when to be aggressive and when not to be aggressive is what led to success,” Aaron said. The hunter couldn’t believe what had transpired. After being convinced he had been too aggressive on the way in, he got another chance and was able to capitalize.

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    Contact Brad Fenson at: SuccessfulOnPublic@gmail.com

    Wolfe Publishing Group