Lifelong dream fulfilled
Worland resident achieves hunting grand slam
November 28, 2019
WORLAND - A dream that began nearly 50 years ago came to completion this fall in Devil Canyon near Lovell. Jeff Schweighart of Worland completed his dream of harvesting four North American wild sheep, the grand slam of wild sheep.
The dream of hunting and harvesting a wild sheep began nearly 50 years ago for Schweighart.
He recalled, "Mother had approved me watching a murder mystery that was based upon a hunter in California stalking some desert bighorn sheep. His stalk was good with the rams unaware of his presence and upon getting ready for the shot, the rams looked his way, spooked and fled. The hunter had turned and saw the shining of optic glass reflecting from the sun from another man who was hunting him."
Schweighart said, "My thoughts drifted from the movie to once I get old enough I might have to try for one of them and wondering what it may cost?"
As he grew up he said he had interactions with hunters in the hunting arena and heard of the grand slam of sheep, "without having a true definition of what it entailed and how expansive it spanned from Mexico to Alaska for the species of wild sheep on our continent." He said the grand slam was mentioned in 1949, with an official start in 1956.
By present standards, the two prominent clubs or foundations are run by the Wild Sheep Foundation through a FNAWS award, which is the Four North American Wild Sheep and the other is the Grand Slam Ovis Club with the Grand Slam awards.
According to the Wild Sheep Foundation, the FNAWS award recognizes those members who have harvested the four North American Wild Sheep. Completion of a FNAWS is one of the most sought after accomplishments for North American sheep hunters and a FNAWS is highly respected throughout the hunting community.
The four North American sheep are:
2. Stone's Sheep (or Fannin)
3. Rocky Mountain Bighorn (or California Bighorn)
4. Desert Bighorn
To qualify for a FNAWS a member must have legally and ethically harvested all four sheep in a free range environment. Each sheep harvested must be recorded with WSF using the WSF Hunt Report Form.
Grand Slam Club/Ovis is a 501(C)(3) organization of hunter/conservationists dedicated to improving and perpetuating wild sheep and goat populations worldwide, as well as North American big game.
The purposes and objectives of Grand Slam Club/Ovis are to: "Continue to be the established documentation and records-keeping organization for legally-taken Grand Slams of North American Wild Sheep®, Ovis World Slams® of wild sheep of the world, Capra World Slams® of wild goats of the world and the Super Ten®, Super 25™ and Super Slam of North American Big Game®."
THE HUNT BEGINS
The hunt for the grand slam officially began in 1984 for Schweighart when he had his first attempt at a Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep in northwest Wyoming, near Needle Creek and Boulder Basin area.
He said the hunt was mostly by foot with some horse packing.
"Prior to setting camp I had my first encounter with a wolf, as it came over the horizon I got excited it was a ewe sheep, it turned out to be the canine." He added that he was surprised with the amount of antelope numbers observed above timber line.
On day 9 of the archery hunt, he spotted a small band of rams at 8:30 a.m., the stalk took until 4:35 p.m. His first attempt was with aluminum shaft arrows that fly fast but he said the wind drifted the arrow left of its target. The archery hunt lasted 10 days and a loss of 18 pounds body weight. The entire bighorn sheep hunting trip entailed 46 days total hunting and no harvest by the season end.
Around 2005 he said he placed a half deposit on a stone sheep hunt and paid the remaining balance for his first hunt attempt in 2009.
"We were rained, fogged out 11 of the 16 days of that hunt, with only sighting four immature rams for that season," he said.
Schweighart added, "A return hunt in 2010 came with some doubt but one does not get one on the couch so we made another go of it and glad we did. The second night of that hunt was a far shot, yet I felt good about it, but darkness and steep terrain, made for recovery attempt the next morning. The ram had only made it out of sight and did not suffer was the first good find. The second was when plugging and measuring the ram, it was one of the largest harvested in 10 years for the Cassiar Mountains of British Columbia.
He added that the sheep earned the bronze award of being the third largest in that program year for 2010 with the Wild Sheep Foundation awards.
He was guided by John Schapanski with Cassiar Stone Outfitters where we found two rams over full curl and harvested on day 2. He harvested an 11.5-year-old ram that measured 41 6/8 inches for one curl and had a Boone & Crocket score 166 6/8. In scoring Boone & Crocket considers curl measurements, difference between the two curls, circumference of the base and circumferences of first, second and third quarters of the horn.
The B&C record is 196 6/8 taken in Muskwa River, B.C. in 1936.
Schweighart said 2011 took him to the Ruby Range of the Yukon, in first harvesting a black wolf that had been chasing a mature mountain caribou bull.
"From the point I shot the wolf, we had seen a sow grizzly with two cubs, three immature rams, the caribou and a wolf. It was just neat to witness in such an expansive terrain, many species so close together," Schweighart said.
As for the ram hunt, "Over a week's time we had passed up 11 full curl Dall rams that were too young by estimates of the growth rings we had estimated or too tight of curl by field judging and what we were looking for to harvest and take home."
Finally on day nine he was able to harvest a 10.5-year-old ram that measured 37 6/8 inches and scored in the 154 class. He was guided by Tell Dowd and Mervyn's Yukon Outfitting. The record is 189 6/8 taken in the Wrangell Mountains in Alaska in 1961.
In 2017, Schweighart finally drew a desert sheep tag in Nevada after maximum points of 25 years waiting, 27 total years in being faithful to that state lottery draw. He noted that in July there was a 28,000-acre wildfire in the area he was fortunate to draw in.
"A couple of days in December hunting toward end of the season, resulted in harvest of an old broken up warrior with broomed tips and broken chips from fighting," Schweighart said. He was guided by Sean Shae with The Headmaster in the Clan Alpine Mountains of Churchill County, Nevada. He said, "We watched nearly 45 rams grazing the first night. The next day I did miss one we thought would go 172 class, then on day 3 we harvested an old warrior 8.5-year-old ram, 33 6/8 and scored 166 5/8 B&C. The B&C record is 205 1/8 taken in 1940 in Lower California, Mexico
He added, "The desert is one of the coldest places I have been, I hear about wet cold and dry cold but in the end, cold is just cold. It was typically 9 degrees F in the morning with a staunch wind, I layered up till midday then, lay off, until dusk and layer back up."
It seems somehow fitting that the hunt for the wild sheep grand slam began and ended with hunting the Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep in Wyoming for this Wyoming native.
The successful hunt took a long time in coming, 35 years from the first draw, plus an ATV crash and some surgeries along the way.
Schweighart said, "With three of four for the Grand Slam/FNAWS it was a waiting game with various states on the draw odds for a Rocky Mountain bighorn and this attempt of opportunity was first in 2018 and Wyoming again.
In mid June 2018, with private permission secured Schweighart and a friend, Curt Miller, headed up for a prescouting trip.
"It was short lived with an ATV crash and my buddy letting me piggyback on his unit 14 miles out to ride one of three ambulance services for me that day. My first experience of being life-flighted to Billings. Following surgery for corrections, recovery was forecasted past the end of the season so he requested and was granted by the Wyoming Game and Fish a carryover license was for a 2019 attempt.
This year's hunt "went a lot better," Schweighart said, and it was back to Devil Canyon in Big Horn County. "After 27 days hunting and storm front pushing rams into lower more accessible areas, we got on one that surpassed what we had guessed his size live or on the hoof.
"Everyone has heard of the ground shrinkage stories, this one was a pleasant surprise in being about 10 inches better (we had guessed him 170 class, he is a 180 class ram) than we estimated. The blessing was even better as the Grand Slam/FNAWS for me was finally acquired, right here at home." The curl measured 27 inches. The final Boone & Crocket score following the 60-day drying period was 179 5/8 with the SCI score (includes all measurements and no deductions) at 181.
The B&C world record is 216 3/8 for a sheep in Lake County, Montana, in 2016.
FINAL THOUGHTS ON THE HUNTS
Schweighart said three of his four rams will make the Boone and Crockett awards program "but it was the actual journey and beautiful places they inhabit, various colors of hide on the sheep, grizzly bears, wolves and wolverines we witnessed and images I can reflect upon. Some of these majestic features across the continent, were extreme remote, one of the farthest camps was where the horses were trailed in 110 miles annually and we accessed by an old mine landing site, it had four-foot rock features to bounce down upon for your landing and takeoff. Some of it can be retold in pictures and stories."
Completion of the harvesting of the fourth wild sheep qualified Schweighart for the Four North American Wild Sheep Award. The Wild Sheep Foundation will present the FNAWS awards at a convention in Reno, Nevada, Jan. 16-19. In addition to attending the FNAWS awards, Schweighart will also attend the Grand Slam Ovis Club awards in Las Vegas, Jan. 29-Feb. 1.
Schweighart offers some advice for anyone who may have the same dream he had.
"Anyone considering the FNAWS or Grand Slam of wild sheep is going the have to have a long term, strategic plan or be well off enough to purchase some of these licenses for the opportunity to hunt. There are so many states with the point system to supposedly reward those loyal or dedicated in trying to acquire licenses in the lower 48 or enter as many raffles as you can or give it a try on a reservation."
He said up north you can purchase a license in Canada, with some of them filled out and awaiting a chance in future years.
He said some say the best glass one could afford is a necessity, which can equate in saving several years to purchase some of the higher end optics.
He said some of his buddies take two pair of binoculars and let their guide borrow them during the hunt.
"If you can not locate or see them, there is not a chance to stalk and try to harvest them," he said,
Schweighart added that some rams are observed a mile or better away to try and judge or size a ram up. Some you may watch many days for a try in a better area to access or they must come off private property or a park.
Most of the Canadian hunts included stock of draft horse breed and typically have three horses per person for camp equipment, game retrieved on return trip departure.
"If one trades horses out daily, most are eager to work better and I feel they look forward to it," Schweighart said, adding that there were a few horse wrecks, some stuck in swamp bogs and some coming up temporary lame or losing a shoe at times. Trading the horses gives them time to mend well.
"There is always a lot of history to take in, the way others deal with predator problems, weed control, disease management, conservation in habitat, wintering are a few things that are of interest, he said.
When hunting, Schweighart recommends trying to harvest a ram at 9 years old or more, ultimately one that may be at their prime but probably not make another winter in selection of trying to take a ram.
Studies show after year 9 their life expectancy drastically drops, there are some that live longer, he noted.
"It takes special genetics and health for some to make Boone & Crocket requirements. You must pass many good ones to get a better one, so it is a chance of being selective and not knowing when or where one may find the next potential ram that you are looking for," he said.
And, of course, you need a supporting cast, he said, "I cannot forget that this whole plan did not come without sacrifice, it would have not been possible without the help of many others. My wife took several weekends prior to the hunt in preparing food in individual tins, same with many of the guides that helped me from their wives and mommas.
"The trips come with more highs than lows, it is nice to have encouragement along the way and a second opinion on size of ram, can one safely get close enough for ethical shot and successful recovery of a downed ram. One can definitely go up what you cannot come down."
Schweighart added, "One buddy brought repelling rope for a sizable ram I had seen in the nastiest of canyon ledges, but I could not see myself playing Spider-Man on the side of a cliff, but we had tools and back up just in case.
"There are a couple guys that I really owe a lot of pay back to make good to them for helping and assisting me in many ways."
While he has completed the North American wild sheep grand slam, there is still plenty of sheep hunting left. Schweighart said if the opportunity and timing are right he would like to hunt the Fannin ram in Canada, the California ram in Oregon, Idaho or Nevada; and a different subspecies of the desert sheep. He got the Nelson's or Nelsoni in 2017, however, south of Interstate 10 the desert sheep are classified as Mexicali and often have red-stained horns from rubbing horns on cactus and vegetation, he said.