Story and photos by: Nevada Grassi
Originally published in Eastman’s Hunting Journal
The buzz of the chopper blades pounded the air and took me back to lands and deserts far away where I served, and a deep feeling of gratitude washed over me.
Canyons, mountain lakes, and rivers flew beneath us as time seemed to stop. My guide, Shawn Bennet, and I could feel the anticipation building in the air as we crested the ridge to drop into the canyon we planned to call home for the next 10 days.
Banking to the right and down, we came to see the abundance of water in the area. Rivers, waterfalls, and snow patches scattered throughout the land. As we reached the head of the canyon, it split into two bowls; we touched down in the back of the left bowl and the setup began. A light drizzle and sounds of water flowing rang upon the air as we assembled our tents and discussed a plan over some hot cocoa and food. I sat staring down the canyon to the range in the distance as the stars in the night sky shined their light upon us. We settled in for a long rest, not that I rested at all, I woke 10 times, jittery with anticipation.
We awoke with time to spare, only for 12 hours to lapse before we could leave. Hanging tight, we sipped cocoa and spoke of the days to come. I packed and repacked my bags three or four times, counted ammo and checked everything again several more times. Once able to get going, we set out with high hopes full of excitement
We made our way into the main valley and gained some elevation up the side ridge to look in the bowl where the sheep had been the day before. Unfortunately, we saw no sheep so we set to glassing over the huge expanse of north country. Shortly and over two miles down the valley, we saw of our first sheep, a band of rams.
This was our first glimpse of the ram would nick name “Vegas.” Just as we found him in the spotting scope, he tipped his head back and flashed his long tipped out curls tauntingly like a Vegas show. The wind was blowing directly toward the rams and we had no choice but stay hidden and watch them from afar.
Even though it was day one, we knew Vegas was a special ram and we decided we needed to make a play on him. It took us two and half hours and a steep climb to get where the rams were. Just as we arrived at a high perch above them, the rain set upon us and we crouched beneath a cliff ledge to keep dry.
When the weather broke, we topped out and began to look for the rams once more. Shawn peeked over the rise first and quickly backed off. Two small rams had pinned us and we couldn’t move without busting the whole band. The sheep sat high in the jagged peaks, 1000 feet above the river bottom, watching us like hawks. All we could do was back out and slink off the mountain a little heartbroken. A few hours later, we were back at camp tired and hungry. Thus ended day one.
Day two through five brought grueling climbs, lots of glassing and some big north country storms, but no rams. On day six however, everything changed! As I lay in my bag that morning, Shawn was already up and about. From my tent I heard Shawn say, “Hey, get up, the sheep are right there.”
A slight pull on the tent zipper and the door fell open to a magnificent sight, Vegas and his band were feeding just a half mile across the valley. We got dressed quickly, grabbed our bags and gear and shucked into the brush along the river. Just ahead, the river was rushing through a tight gap and as I jumped, I slipped, and my knee struck the sharp edge of a rock. I crashed on the opposite side of the river with a crunch. My knee began to swell but the pain would have to wait. The sheep were right there.
We began to hopscotch up the valley across the creek and between patches of alder. At the last cover between us and the rams, the sun broke free of the clouds and recharged us a bit as we waited on the rams to move. We had closed the gap to 700 yards but the rams began to move and gained distance on us, slipping in and out of view as they headed towards the back of the canyon.
It was time to move faster, even with a swollen knee. The quickened pace to the top was brutal but the thought of Vegas and his long horns drove us on. As we got to the top of the ridge, lungs burning as if on fire, we shed our packs. The rams weren’t in sight, so Shawn carefully peered over the ledge as I caught my breath and regained my bearings. I had just dropped my pack and was sorting out my weapon when I heard Shawn whisper he had found Vegas.
It was perfect. We were directly above the rams on the ridge. It was “Go Time.” We got to the edge and had to get the rifle elevated. Shawn stood his pack on end and I placed my weapon at a steep downward angle. Shawn ranged Vegas at 150 yards and my crosshairs settled dead center on his spine between his shoulders. A prayer, a breath and a squeeze, my bullet was on its way.
The round hit Vegas directly between the shoulders and he fell immediately, rolling maybe 15 yards. Shawn let out a celebratory yell and a flood of emotions came over me. Holy moly, we had just taken the ram of a lifetime.
The walk to him was filled with excitement and then it happened, as my hands finally grasped those horns, tears were shed and we celebrated with gratitude in our hearts.
About the Author
Nevada Grassie is a veteran and an artist whose work centers around carving wild game skulls. He views his talents as gifts from God and credits them with changing his life. To view his work, visit Legacy by Nevada Grassie on Facebook.
Facing adversity is and has been a daily struggle for me. After a Traumatic Brain Injury and working through the recovery process when first out of the military, I struggled with my speech, seizures and depression. This struggle went deep and got dark, to the point where the only solution I could see was the pistol in my hand. There was one thing that kept me from that end, a promise made to Ron Raboud of Wounded Warrior Outdoors (WWO) to finish a Bison skull carving, or 'warrior piece' as I call it, for the Wild Sheep Foundation to auction. So I set myself to finishing the project.
Sitting in the Sheep Show convention hall that night and watching my carving auction off for more than $100,000.00, I realized God had a purpose for me with work that would help other Veterans through their dark times. I’ve been blessed with a talent only God can give and blessed to have some amazing people in my life. My family, Edith and the kids, my WWO family, my family at Kryptek, Svalinn, the Lancasters, the amazing Wild Sheep Foundation, so many more, and especially my Father in Heaven who has blessed me more than I deserve. I’m grateful and honored.