Jodi Ross glowingly calls the hunt a “once in a lifetime adventure” rendered even more amazing by the presence of 11-year-old son Chandler.
“It was very special because it’s not often a mom has a chance to go on a big game hunt with her son,” she said. “But it was a huge challenge for both of us.”
The hunt, which was for the elusive Arizona Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep, actually began last spring when the single mother of two was one of only two persons to receive a tag in Arizona hunt unit 12-A-B near the North Rim of the Grand Canyon.
Only 89 of the prized tags were awarded throughout the state, many in Southern Arizona for desert bighorns. It was not until 1984 that Arizona began offering Rocky Mountain tags to go along with the desert bighorn sheep permits, which were first offered in 1953.
Prior to that, the animals were totally protected in the state.
Biologists eventually discovered that limited hunting of bighorn might be the only way to save the animals, but some hunters wait a lifetime to draw a tag never to be chosen.
“I was very, very lucky,” she said. “That’s why I’m calling it ‘once in a lifetime’ — some never have the opportunity I had.”
What resulted in Ross’ adventure was the tagging of a Rocky Mountain bighorn ram that scored about 166 on the Boone and Crockett scale.
Rams are scored in Boone and Crockett by several key measurements including length of horn, circumference of bases and greatest spread.
The dimensions of Ross’ ram meant it was a full-grown male that probably weighed about 200 pounds.
The hunt begins
The tale of the hunt, which took place Dec. 2 to Dec. 5, began to unfold in the fall when Ross and several friends, who volunteered to go along as guides, spotters, advisers and camp cooks, traveled north to pre-scout the rugged, desolate area.
Mike DeWees, Pete Hold, Danny Prock, Bryan Ross and Tanner Rawls all volunteered and were along on the scouting trips and hunt.
Jodi Ross prepped for the hunt by enrolling in an Arizona Bighorn Sheep Society-hosted seminar in which she dutifully studied the wild animals, learning about their behavior, feeding habits and choice of habitats.
With the preliminary scouting and studying completed by early December, the hunting party arrived in the unit the day before the season opened to set up a “Sheep Camp.” It featured a pair of four-walled tents, cold weather sleeping bags, plenty of grub and every necessity a seasoned outfitter could want for.
“The trip was well planned out,” Ross said.
On opening day, the group fanned out to glass mountain ridges, ledges and grassy basins.
Spotters eventually located two rams, but advised Ross not to shoot.
“At first they looked a little small, so we wanted to wait,” said Hold, a lifetime hunter who tagged a ram in 1999.
Preliminary estimates were that the rams, would score in Boone and Crockett about 145 to 150.
A couple of days later in the hunt, the spotters again glassed the rams and eventually decided that one of the animals was probably larger and more mature than originally thought.
Knowing that, the volunteers advised Ross to take a shot at the next good opportunity.
“I was really nervous, it took me a lot of time to settle down,” said Ross.
When the perfect chance presented itself, Ross gathered herself long enough to trigger one shot from her .300 magnum rifle at a distance of 300 yards.
The shot was dead center, dropping the animal almost in his tracks.
“It was a tough shot, almost straight down, but she was right on,” said Hold. “She’s a very good hunter.”
Because the downed animal was in such a remote, hard to reach location, the hunting party had to hike to the site, quarter the ram and carry it out of the canyon on their backs.
“The whole hunt was a group effort,” Ross said. “I’m so lucky that I had so many people available, that could take time off their jobs, to go along to help.”
Upon the hunting party’s return to the sheep camp, plenty of time remained in the day for camaraderie, good tales and celebrating around the campfire.
“It was cold up there, but it was an excellent hunt and everyone had a really good time,” said Hold. “It’s one of those hunts, you’ll never forget and I think it was really good that Jodi had her son with her.”
About 11 a.m. the following morning, the party set out to return to the Rim Country, narrowly avoiding a disaster that could have ruined the entire outdoor adventure.
That afternoon a huge weather front passed over Arizona, dropping more than two feet of snow in the upper elevations and stranding hunters around the northern part of the state.
Some hunters had to be rescued by Coconino County Sheriff’s Department snowmobiles after being stranded for days and running out of provisions.
“We got out of there just in the nick of time,” Hold said.
Ross’ hunting success didn’t surprise those who have known her for years including her co-workers at Anderson Dental Group where she is a hygienist.
Friends know her in the office as the determined young girl, no stranger to the outdoors, who grew up near Kearny hunting javelina and small game alongside her father.
With her hunting expertise she has also bagged a bull elk and mule deer.
While downing a ram was a thrill for Ross, it was the entire hunting experience that excited her.
“It’s about enjoying yourself, being with friends and family and having a really good time,” she said. “It couldn’t have been more fun for both Chandler and myself.”
The hunting success has also sparked an interest in Ross’ 10-year-old daughter Karson, who will soon be old enough to tag along, possibly on an upcoming pronghorn hunt.
“I can’t wait to go, I’m excited,” said Karson, anxiously tugging on her mother’s sleeve. “When can we go?”