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THE LITTLE BATTLE OF THE BIGHORN
Virginia Kraft
October 11, 1965
Few if any hunters ever have been butted to death by a bighorn sheep. Despite this seemingly encouraging fact, the bighorn is generally considered the most challenging trophy in North America. This is less because of what it is than of where it goes—up cliff, down canyon, sometimes almost in air. Even on a well-organized trip the bighorn is hard to get. Given a drunken guide, a mountain full of snappish rattlesnakes and some fairly tender feet—well, such an adventure can become pretty hairy, as this diary of a week in Idaho's Primitive Area painfully reveals.
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October 11, 1965

The Little Battle Of The Bighorn

Few if any hunters ever have been butted to death by a bighorn sheep. Despite this seemingly encouraging fact, the bighorn is generally considered the most challenging trophy in North America. This is less because of what it is than of where it goes—up cliff, down canyon, sometimes almost in air. Even on a well-organized trip the bighorn is hard to get. Given a drunken guide, a mountain full of snappish rattlesnakes and some fairly tender feet—well, such an adventure can become pretty hairy, as this diary of a week in Idaho's Primitive Area painfully reveals.

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I told him about a bunch of sheep we had seen crossing the back ridge just as we approached camp. In the fading light we had not been able to tell their sex. Nonchalantly Curley told us they had been there the whole afternoon.

"All rams, too," he added. "Too bad you missed them." I counted to 10, but it was an effort to remain a lady.

At least the new camp is great. There is a stream not 15 yards away, berries and stunted peach trees grow nearby, trees provide a windbreak and we even have a genuine log lean-to. A hermit, who once lived on the river below, built it as his summer retreat.

The others came in shortly after I did, looking happier than they have all week. They had seen more than 50 elk and apparently ran into the same bunch of sheep we saw. They looked the sheep over for almost an hour before deciding their horns were illegal.

Bill spotted the half-empty liquor bottles first and said, "What did the helicopter do, bring open bottles?" Curley was already asleep by then.

THURSDAY. Nobody told me how that old hermit died, but it was probably getting back to winter quarters. Our dawn trip down to the river was Pearl White all the way. Twice we were on ledges that literally disintegrated under our feet. Half a dozen times we started slides that came close to taking us and the mountain with them. Just when we thought the worst was over the ground turned into a perpendicular wall as slick as a sleet-covered street in January. We were rock-rimmed. There was no way back up, and it looked like the only way down was by parachute.

Curley dug through his backpack and came up with an assortment of nylon and hemp rope that, like him, showed signs of wear. He knotted them together and anchored one end to an insecure-looking crag. To his credit, he did not ask us to test it by going first.

When finally Curley reached footing below I pulled the rope back up and lowered the packs and rifles. Then it was my turn. I said a prayer, took a deep breath and pressed my feet against the wall, as Curley had done, to brake my descent. Slowly I slid down the rope, closing my eyes each time I came to one of those ragged knots.

Lyle and the teen-ager Gerry were waiting for us at the river. They want us to drop them off in another hunting area on our way out. The run from here downriver is about three hours. From there it is another 60 miles by truck to the town of Salmon (pop. 2,648), where we will pick up Bud and a plane to take us back to civilization.

Still Thursday, 10:30 A.M. Hallelujah! I have a ram! I am sitting here, grinning like an idiot and pinching myself to make sure it is true.

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