Search for a Back-Country Bighorn

Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness in central Idaho

n 1988, my friend Larry Human and I drew bighorn sheep tags for the 2.2-million-acre Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness in central Idaho. Thirty miles and 12 days into the hunt, Larry crept into the midst of eight rams and dropped a full-curl, 111/2-year-old brute. Larry offered me his .270 to take another big ram he'd seen in the bunch. I declined, wanting to take a ram with my bow or not at all. It turned out to be the latter.

In 1995, I got a second chance. Packing 35 miles deep into the same wilderness with my llamas, I hunted for 16 days. Although I counted 27 ewes, lambs and immature rams, I never saw a legal ram.

In 2000, my friend Wayne Crownover and I drew sheep tags and hired a bush pilot to fly us and a 14-foot raft to a back-country airstrip. We floated the Middle Fork of the Salmon River and then backpacked into the surrounding crags glassing for bighorns. In 13 days, we saw three legal rams, two in the 170 class. With rifles we might have filled our tags; because we were bowhunting, we didn't.

You can draw two conclusions from the above. One, the odds for drawing sheep tags in Idaho are good. Two, there are reasons the odds are good. In central Idaho, sheep numbers are low; the country is heavily timbered, making sheep hard to spot; the season runs from September 1 to October 13, well before the rut; and the terrain is very intimidating. If you're asking, "Why bother?" then don't go. This is not an adventure for the uncommitted. As for me, I'm counting the days until I draw another tag.

The application period runs April 1 to 30. A nonresident sheep tag, permit and application will cost you $1,514.50. Residents pay a total of $176. Odds of drawing a tag vary from 1 in 2 to 1 in 10.

Contact: Idaho Department of Fish and Game (800-635-7820; www2.state.id.us/ fishgame).
-D. Schuh