“I think that shot went right down your ram’s throat!” John Porter said “Great shot buddy”…” what are the odds of that?”
Dick Padgett lives in Casper Wyoming, only a few hours away from where we were hunting that day. Like most of John’s clients, he had been putting in for a Wyoming Big Horn Sheep license for over 20 years, and he didn’t want to leave anything to chance on a tag he probably could not draw again for another 20 years. Dick was no greenhorn; he had hunted in this Absaroka Mountain range for ages and knew its challenges well enough. Therefore, when he finally drew his tag, he called John Porter with Morning Creek Outfitters to make sure he would seal the deal.
John Porter, along with his sister Robin Rick and her son Matthew Rick, are excellent guides with over 50 years of High Country Mountain experience. I have been blessed to be able to work with them and spend at least 100 days a year on Horseback up in the mountains, from the Alaska Range down through the Rockys. I can tell you from personal involvement that when the Grizzly Bears come into camp, you want the Porter family on your side. John’s quick decision making and fast action pistol draw are more than welcome in the Rocky Mountain tent camps we use. I have also observed that the Grizzlies in Alaska (where they are legally hunted) are less aggressive and seem to have much better manners around humans in camp than the bears around Yellowstone, but that is another story for another time…
It was October and Elk season was in full swing. John likes to take an Area 1 Sheep hunter this time of year because he has lots of eyes looking for Elk and Deer which proves to be valuable for his Sheep hunters. As John likes to say “Preseason scouting is one thing, but real time scouting is always more valuable.” We had been taking big bulls on a regular basis the prior couple of weeks, when Dick came into camp. Dick is a mountain man, good with horses and rifles, and always quick with a joke or encouraging word. He is an easy man to get along with and I feel blessed to call him my friend.
John has camp sites all over the mountains that we use for spike camps as well as a log cabin that we use as a base camp for some hunts. The log cabin was built by John’s father in the 70’s out of native timber and we stayed there for this hunt. After coffee and breakfast we saddled up John’s horses, loaded them in to the trailer, and made our way up to the trailhead. We had gone a few miles when we were making our way up a particularly steep, icy hillside when the truck and trailer (loaded with all the horses) in front of us, being operated by John’s nephew Matt Rick, lost traction and began to slide backwards down the hill toward us! The road was very narrow with the downhill side dropping off more than 100 feet. John never missed a beat, realizing that this situation was dangerous to the horses as well as all of us involved, he grabbed a lower gear as he gently placed his front bumper against the rear of the horse trailer sliding down hill to us. Matt maneuvered the trailer back toward the hill side and the rig finally stopped sliding when the trailer made contact with the uphill side of the mountain.
Dick said “Good job John. That was quick thinking.” John looked at me and asked if I got that on film? We still laugh to this day when John tells people my response of “No, I had my hand on the door handle; someone had to live to tell the story!” There’s never a dull moment when you are hunting Big Game in the High Country. We all helped chain up the truck tires and then continued on our adventure.
The saddles were completely covered in snow within a few minutes after we unloaded the horses and tightened up all the cinches. We all mounted up and followed John in a single file line as we headed up the mountain keeping our heads down, trying to keep the snowflakes out of our eyes. John and his sister Robin own some of the very best mountain horses. Any of their fine mounts will take you up to the summit and back down again in excellent hunting fashion. They use mostly Tennessee Walkers, which have the ability to put their heads down and calmly climb through the two foot deep snow we are in that morning with steady comfort. Also, because the breed is “gaited” they can, on good ground, use their amazingly smooth , fast walk that allows John to cover more than twice as much ground in a day than your average horse. In the dark of the morning when your eyes can make out very little detail on the mountain, all you must do is sit squarely in the saddle and let them take care of you.
After a few uphill miles, we climbed just out of the timberline, where you can see lots of country. Matt split off to take his two elk hunters over on another point to glass. The weather was letting up and we could begin to see the dull glow of the sun shining just over the horizon, through the storm. “Come on Sunshine” Dick said in a low voice. John said “Hey Latt, what about a fire to warm up?” That sounded like a good idea to me. This is a time when you better have fire starter in your pack. Wet, snow covered dead wood is not easy to light. As I was gathering wood, John spotted a herd of elk moving on the same ridge his guide Matt was riding to. We hear the report of the rifle just as I was starting to light the wood. Dick asks “Can we go see what they shot?” John replies “It’s your hunt, if you want to.” That is always the best kind of person to hunt with, a client that is enjoying the experience and the fellowship of the adventure. Dick was a real hunter that wanted to share in the involvement with others and be a part of their kill, their story. John said “Latt, skip the fire, we’ll go help them clean up and pack their elk. As cold as it is, we’ll build a fire over there to warm our hands up.”
Fifteen minutes later we are on a ridge looking down at orange hats below in the timber. We tied up our horses and slid our way down through the 2-3 feet of snow drift to look at a nice six point bull that has rolled to a stop under some downed timber. Matt told us the story of the 680 yard perfect vitals shot placement that ended with the classic stumbling downhill slide that ended up here. The hunter was all smiles and tickled to death, happy as could be with his trophy. We took pictures and video then everyone pitched in to help quarter and pack up the meat on the horses.
It was now 10:30 AM and the snow had stopped, with the sun radiating some much appreciated warmth on our faces. John asked Dick if he was ready to go Sheep hunting again and Dick replied “Sure, but I am having fun, it’s all hunting!” We mounted up and followed John about an hour over to one of his favorite glassing spots. The sky was clear now with excellent visibility and from that point we could see several miles. We built a fire just off the ridge, down in the timber out of the wind. After about the second week, John doesn’t even want to look at a sandwich for lunch. I remember John joking with Dick about burning the bottom of the pizza as he heated up slices over the fire with a stick. We took turns glassing with the spotting scope, up on the point 50 yards away, as we alternated staying warm by the fire. John spotted a group of 10 rams on the next ridge 1700 yards away. Dick liked the looks of 3 of the rams in the group so we started working on our plan of attack. John ranged the rams and several points between us and them. He did the calculations and figured that if we could get to this particular point we would be somewhere between 400-600 yards away, with the wind mostly in our face, definitely within range for a shot.
After 30 minutes of side hill riding, we tied up and slipped out to our point. Most of the rams were still up feeding but the biggest was bedded we ranged them at 710 yards. There was another point about 100 yards closer, so we stalked our way there to set up for a shot. John ranged the rams at 595 yards. The shooting position is the first part of the process and arguable the most important for setting up for a good shot and dictates where every other position will be for the Spotting Scope/Camera placement. If you can’t hold good enough then you should not shoot. Dick was lying down prone with the rifle rested on the pack, the best shooting position there is. I set up the camera behind Dick, 3 feet above the rifle and 2 feet to the right, in order to catch the vapor trail of the bullets flight. John set up his spotting scope in the same location just under and in front of me so he could sort out the rams, call the range and more importantly the wind hold, as well as catch the vapor trail. Dick dialed the Huskemaw scope to 600 yards. Light snow began to fall and John was reading an 11 O’clock wind blowing towards us, that he called the value 1 MOA from left to right. Dick held 1 Huskemaw Hash mark in his scope, and settled his reticle on the oldest, most mature ram that was lying broad side facing left, as he began his pre-fire checklist of breathing and dry firing. John asked Dick to hold right on the point of the shoulder and asked me if I was good, are you rolling? I said yes the camera was good. Dick said his was ready and dry fired once more. He then worked the bolt of the Best of the West 7MM Mag and stripped a 168 grain VLD bullet out of the magazine into the chamber. As Dick was starting to squeeze the trigger, John said “The wind is switching right coming from 1 O’clock”, just as the shot broke. His bullet missed the ram just in front of his shoulder and right under his chin. Dick worked the bolt and put in another round.The ram jumped up turned and faced us.
What happened next was something that I had never seen or even heard of and if we didn’t have all of this on film I would be reluctant to even share, for fear of disbelief. John said “That was a good shot, you just barely missed because of my wind call. Hold 1 Minute from right to left and as soon as he turns broadside…”, John couldn’t finish his sentence before the rifle cracked again. The ram ran uphill 15 yards as he painted the hillside and John said “I think that shot went right down your ram’s throat! Great shot buddy”…” what are the odds of that”? We all congratulated Dick as we picked up our gear and walked back to the horses.
As we were riding over to the ram we all discussed how the shot went down. We had anticipated Dick waiting for the ram to turn broadside again, but since Dick shoots a lot and he felt comfortable with the shot he fired at the ram facing him head on. John said he observed debris from the impact of the bullet and was concerned that he might have hit the ram in the nose, hopefully not damaging the cape. We tied up the horses and walked 75 yards down to the body of the ram to inspect this great trophy.
There was not a single bullet hole in the skin. We caped out Dick’s ram for a full body mount and inspected every inch of hide. When Dick pulled the trigger the ram had his head down with his mouth open. The bullet went over his teeth and under his tongue and never touched a lip. The teeth were perfectly intact, although the trauma created by the bullet fractured the jaw among other things. With the angle of the ram’s head, the bullet went literally down his throat and into the vitals creating hydrostatic shock, with the concussion devastating the lungs. Most people would never have found the bullet hole, but John has to know where it entered, where it exited, what kind of wound channel or what the bullet looks like. That is just how he is, he spends more time dissecting animals than most and I have been blessed to learn much from this man.
That was the single best shot I have ever been blessed to witness, proving that if you run around in the hills long enough you will see some wild things. Any day in the Mountains spent Hunting is a Good day, with this day ranked up as one of the best.
Dick has since purchased several Huskemaw Scopes and as I write this he is in Alaska Hunting Dall Sheep in one of John Porter’s old camps now operated by Jim Kedrowski in the Brooks Range. We all wish him luck and are sure he will take another fine trophy with another great shot, but it won’t be his best shot ever… WHAT ARE THE ODDS OF THAT?