Story and photos by: Brian Tallerico
One set of clothes, a box of feed store ammo and a trip of a lifetime…
I just returned from my first hunting trip of the year, and as I write this, I still don’t have any idea where my luggage is. The American airline who shall remain “nameless,” decided that my bag of gear, which also held my ammunition, would be one of the few intentionally left behind in Phoenix when thirty of us hunters departed for Hermosillo, Sonora, Mexico on January 11th. One of my hunting partners reassured me this was a common occurrence when flying to Hermosillo and that my gear should arrive at the ranch in a day or two. Apparently, no-one relayed that information to the airline.
Fortunately, I wore my hunting boots on the plane as well as a pair of solid print lightweight Valhalla pants - my go to travel britches. Unfortunately, the new Kryptek Sonora line in Obskura Transitional and all my other Kryptek hunting and lifestyle clothes were tucked safely away in my roller duffel lost somewhere in luggage land.
This was primarily a sheep hunt for Desert Bighorn and I’m no stranger to wearing the same socks and shirt for days on end while chasing rams in the mountains. Lucky for me, one of my hunting partners had a set of the new Obskura tops and lent me his Sonora hooded shirt. For the time being, I was in good shape and ready to get the hunt started.
The mornings and evenings in the Sonoran desert were chilly as expected, with temps in the 40s early in the week. Kryptek’s Sonora hooded shirt was a perfect layer over my t-shirt and the hood combined with a thin neck gaiter and ball cap kept my head, neck and face warm. My travel jacket is an insulated puffy in Kryptek Typhon so while I didn’t match, I was plenty comfortable as we headed out to hunt in the pre-dawn darkness.
Missing clothes on a hunt is one thing, but not having the ammunition designed for your rifle and turret is entirely another. As one would expect in Mexico, there isn’t a top tier hunting store on the corner where you can pick up Nosler Custom 140 grain Accubond in 7 mm Rem Mag. When the outfitter heard of my plight, he promptly produced a half empty box of what I call “feed store ammo,” appropriate for shooting deer out of a tree stand, not sheep at extended range. Having no other option, I shot a few rounds of the feed store ammo and decided it would be okay for deer out to about 150 yards. I hoped my bag would arrive soon so I wouldn’t have to worry. It did not. So I worried.
On the second day, we glassed for sheep all morning and into the afternoon. We found some good rams but they were tucked into some unreachable cliff areas. In the late afternoon on our way back to the camp, Carmelo, the head guide, spotted a javelina and encouraged me to shoot. I think Carmelo was licking his lips, so I obliged, and the feed store ammo did its job on my first Sonoran critter.
The following morning, we traveled to the other side of the mountain range and found more sheep but again, couldn’t get close enough. Heading back to camp, we spotted a classic Desert Mule Deer - dark, wide and heavy - and we immediately knew he was a buck I had to take. After a few seconds of cat and mouse, I had an opening and took my second animal of the trip. He turned out to be a very old buck at eight years old and 30 inches wide, but regressing with stunted back forks. Far from disappointed, I grinned non -stop while we took dozens of photos and celebrated with a cold cerveza in the fading desert light
After the mule deer, I was back after sheep and for the next three days we glassed dozens of ewes and lambs. The rams were much harder to find but we did glass up a few including a couple of shooters.
The cool morning air doesn’t last long in the desert. It doesn’t take long for the air temperatures to rise once the sun is up, and by 10 o’clock each morning it was nearly 80 degrees. This is where the hooded shirt earned its keep. The breathable material kept me cool, even in direct sun, and the sleeves kept my arms from burning to a crisp. While glassing, the loose-fitting hood kept the sun out of my face and eyes whether using binoculars or a spotting scope. Few articles of clothing can help keep you warm as a layering piece and a couple hours later, protect you from the scorching sun. The shirt also remained odor free despite the fact I wore it for nine days straight!
On day five, we found a ram worthy of a climb and were only able to get within 500 yards or so before we ran out of cover. From our position, we watched the larger ram butt heads with his younger buddy and feed for an hour or so. Normally, with my rifle and matched ammunition, 500 yards would be a manageable shot, however given the “feed store” ammo in my rifle, it wasn’t meant to be, and we watched as the ram and his buddy walked out of sight.
Again, we returned to camp without a sheep, but this time I was more frustrated with the ammo more than anything; missing a trophy desert bighorn is no laughing matter. We returned to camp around midday and after a quick debriefing, the outfitter got up and went into the gun room, returning with a full box of high grade ammunition in 7 mag! Though the bullets were 162 grain instead of 140, they were of much higher quality and better BC. This I could work with! I fired a few rounds at 100 and 300 yards and immediately felt more confident in my set up, even if the custom turret wouldn’t match up to these rounds. I could hold on hair out to 400. We were in business.
The next evening found an absolute hammer of a ram and put him to bed in hopes of finding him down low the next morning in a killable spot. It didn’t take long to find him and a couple of his buddies at daybreak already on the move up the mountain, feeding as they went. My guide Carmelo and I grabbed some waters and burritos, slung our packs and began the ascent with the wind in our face. The rams were probably 1500 yards away
Now I know chasing sheep from below is a bit unorthodox, but this mountain was very different than any other I’ve hunted. Only 2,500-3,000 feet high but incredibly steep and rugged, these mountains have an amazing amount of cover despite their desert location. Here, these sheep thrive because of the feed, the cover and relative lack of predators. The amount of Palo Verde, Fierro, Santo, Ocotillo, Mesquite, cactus and Torote (which turns the rams’ horns red) can make the going quite tough but still possible. One can ease along in the shadows and cut the distance, provided the crumbly rocks and slides don’t give away your position.
As we stalked the rams, we had the wind in our favor, the rising sun at our backs and pretty easy going for a while. But every time we climbed a small vantage point, the rams had moved even further up the mountain. Soon, we would run out of the helpful cover and it would be game over as the sheep would inevitably spot us. It seemed Carmelo was about to give up and return to the bottom when suddenly he pointed uphill and there, staring at us from 200 yards away were two good rams! He tried to point out the larger of the two standing to the left of an organ pipe cactus. There was no rest in sight and the shooting sticks were strapped to his backpack on the ground behind us. The rams swapped ends and began walking out of our lives. As the lead ram stepped into an opening, I settled the crosshairs on the base of his neck and squeezed a shot off-hand. “No!” Carmelo barked - meaning a miss - but I disagreed. I felt good about the shot and told him so, but grew anxious as my stomach turned. We watched two more rams run over the ridge and up the next one. There had been at least three.
The terrain was even more rough as we climbed toward where we last saw the ram. As we approached the ridge to glass through the bottom, we almost stepped on him! He hadn’t gone but a couple steps! My sick feeling disappeared, replaced by pure elation. I knelt down and touched his massive burnt orange horns and marveled at his Roman nose and worn teeth. I asked Carmelo, “Cuanto anos? Ocho? Nueve?” He replied, “No, no…mas…once - doce.” With a grin, he proceeded to count the annuli of my ram’s horns, confirming this mountain monarch at 12 years old! I was stunned. Although he wasn’t the biggest ram in the group, we found he was likely the oldest and an absolute perfect specimen to take. I couldn’t have been happier or more blessed to have taken him. I spent a few minutes in awe with this magnificent animal as Carmelo radioed his son Miguel and soon, he and my friend Caleb joined us for the celebration and a great photo shoot. We skinned and quartered the ram, took the backstraps, loins and ribs, and started down the mountain. I carried his cape and horns and the heft felt good. It was warm and my face burned. I smiled the whole way down.
Wild sheep have incredible vision so there is no fooling those 10x eyes. I strongly believe the Obskura Transitional pattern, based upon the tried and true military Tiger Stripe pattern, helped me get a shot at that ram. This pattern uses medium value colors based off the tones found in 70% of the terrain of the Earth’s surface. Additionally, these colors have a tendency to make use of reflected ambient light for maximum blending effect. As we eased through the rocks and brush, these pattern traits kept me as well hidden as possible given the circumstances, and the result was a 200-yard opportunity at the Desert Bighorn of a lifetime.
With four days left in the trip and my ram in the salt, I now had time to chase a Coues Deer. One morning, we found a great buck with split brow tines and with another off hand shot, I had my first of these beautiful little whitetails. Suddenly I realized, I had taken a Sonoran Slam!
We had tenderloin for appetizers that night and backstraps for breakfast and dinner the next night.
The fun wasn’t over yet as the ranch owner asked if I’d be interested in taking an old cull buck they’ve been wanting to get out of their herd for a while. He was only a 2x3 with eye guards and although tall, he was not very wide so nobody was interested.
It didn’t take much convincing when we found him the next day and in my excitement, I missed a shot at him, forgetting to hold low with the hotter loads. Redemption came later that afternoon when we located the buck again and I finished the deal with a snapshot in the brush. So much for bipods and trigger sticks. This awesome old mulie was narrow but super tall with beer can size bases and big gnarly brow tines! Plans for a triple pedestal deer mount started going through my mind as we took the photos and headed back to the camp.
It is unusual for everything to go as planned during a hunting trip or adventure, especially international ones, but this was one for the ages, complete with lost luggage (still missing), ammo issues and finally a delayed and canceled return flight to Phoenix due to a huge rainstorm. When so many things are beyond your control, all you can do is roll with it, adapt and overcome. If you can do that, then just maybe with a little bit of luck, you’ll have an absolute trip of a lifetime.
B. D. Tallerico: Kryptek Pro Staff and Team Physician