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Treasure In The Orocopias

 By Cliff St. Martin

 
Cliff St. Martin has been a professional hunting guide for over 30 years, mostly in the southwest portion of the US, and a regular Claroxan user since 2006.

 

The historic Orocopia Mountains stretch across southern California, dominating the landscape of the Colorado Desert. Bounded by illustrious Joshua Tree National Park, the Chocolate Mountains and the Mecca Hills, the Orocopias traditionally offer hunters choice opportunities to vanquish bighorns. A couple months back, one of my hunters experienced a taste of glory.

 

We were looking for a needle in a haystack, so I brought along six savvy guides to help survey the area. To birddog a ram, a bumpy ride on the four wheeler followed by a sweltering four mile hike is required to trek far enough into the wilderness. For sufficient sustainable energy on our desert mosey, we packed fresh salmon jerky and various other meal bars.

 

For the scouting phase, we selected a secluded peak overlooking a vast ravine, suspecting a ram or two may scurry into the open. Swift visual reaction time and an eagle eye are imperative to mark these beautiful yet elusive creatures. We mounted the spotting scopes and 15-power Swarovski binoculars on the tripods and got to work.

 

On the fifth day, we broke through—a majestic set of horns and that distinct white backside were visible about a mile and half away. We trailed the ram for a couple of days until our hunter was scheduled to join.

 

On a breezy, crisp January afternoon, Michael arrived to base camp, accompanied by his trusty rifle, the .30-06 Winchester Model 70. After a glimpse at a photo of the target, his eyes lit up and he shouted, “Let’s go wrangle us a ram!”

 

The next morning, before sunrise, our team set out into the desolate Orocopia wilderness. The wind had kicked up, so we had to pick our spots. The wind was calm at the resting ram’s position. At our vantage point, the gusts were heavy. Patience was required. We killed time sharing stories of past conquests. It was obvious Michael was eager to follow in the footsteps of his father and grandfather— both had bagged bighorns in this very desert.

 

Finally, after three hours, the ram stood up. We needed the ram broadside for a clear shot at the vital areas—the lungs, located behind the shoulders, are the ideal target. To avoid spooking the animal, the margin for error on the first attempt is always microscopic. From our position about 200 yards away, Michael calmly locked in on the target. He took a deep breath, exhaled, and then squeezed the trigger. The fi rst shot, a direct hit, spun the ram around. It was staggering, staggering…I yelled out, “Hit him again!” The beast was teetering near what we called “The Abyss,” a deep canyon. We were in danger of losing our opportunity!

 

Michael quickly discharged the rifle. Boom! The ram was down, about five feet from the edge. High-fives all around! “Whoooo-ey,” Michael yelled, fist pumping. We hiked down to the spot and immediately realized this could be one of the biggest rams ever taken down in the state of California. (The measurement turned out to be 177 3/8 inches!)

 

We snapped photos, skinned and quartered the bighorn, and then packed the sheep meat into game bags. On the hike back to our vehicles, Michael excitedly talked about showing off the size of the bighorn to his father. The head mount would go in his den, next to his previous captures.

 

Michael also listed his family’s recipes that had been passed down—from sheep chili and stew to barbecued sheep chops. And, his favorite, the herby sheep burgers: mixing onions, herbs, and celery in with the meat and then finishing the patties off with his grandmother’s special BBQ sauce. My mouth was watering! Back at camp, we filleted the tenderloins of the sheep—a post-conquest tradition for more than 30 years—and had ourselves a fantastic feast.

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