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The 650 club: when your goals are high, and you actually draw the tag, you call on your friends.

What's next?

It's a question that quickly preoccupies any bowhunter who has been fortunate enough to complete the archery Super Slam--the taking of all 29 species Of North American big game. I am blessed to be one of those bowhunters, and since most of us are goal-setters, I needed another goal to concentrate on. My answer to the question was to focus on becoming a member of the 650 Club.

What is the 650 Club? First, let's clear up the meaning of the Grand Slam. There are four species of North American sheep--Dall, Stone, Rocky Mountain bighorn, and Desert bighorn. Taking all four is called the Grand Slam of sheep. As bowhunters, we recognize the Pope and Young Club as our official record-keeping organization, and we use their scoring system for sheep horns. To become a member of the 650 Club, the cumulative score of your four rams must equal or exceed 650 inches of horn.

I was fortunate to have killed some large rams during my quest for the Super Slam, hut those rams did not quite add up to 650 inches. I did some research, and my information suggested I should focus on hunting for a Rocky Mountain bighorn. I would need to arrow a ram that scored 174 2/8 or larger.

The next task was to draw a lag. I was turned on to the practice of applying for tags in other states at a young age by people a lot smarter than me. Many states at that time were just starting to offer preference points and nonresident tags with preference points. To obtain preference points, you can purchase them during the application period or you can apply, but you must buy a nonrefundable hunting license in order to retain a preference point should you fail to draw the tag. In Montana, you pay for preference points, and in Arizona you pay $165 for a nonresident license. I started applying in Colorado, and was lucky enough to get in on the ground floor in Arizona and many other states.

Somehow along the way, I missed applying in Arizona one year. So I was one point shy of maximum points, but my odds were still pretty good that I would draw a tag one day. I also had maximum points in Montana, and both those states offered large Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep. Since I held a lot of points in Arizona and Montana, that's where I would concentrate my application efforts for a bighorn tag.

Heeding the advice of my good friends Dyrk Eddie in Montana and Matt Liljenquist in Arizona, I continued to apply, and four years later, with 26 points, I drew a bighorn tag in Arizona. I called Matt with'the good news, and he was almost as ecstatic as I was. He knew what I was trying to achieve and he was up for it, so I booked my hunt with Double H Outfitters and Matt would be my guide.

I began to share my good fortune with my friends and was pleasantly surprised to have two buds, Ned Greer from Iowa and Dirk Edgeington from Wyoming, offer to accompany me on my hunt. Dirk had already been on two of my previous sheep hunts. I was extremely excited to try to accomplish this personal goal with three great friends. I have always characterized my hunting adventures as my journey through life, and as I've gotten older, I've realized through God that the biggest perk of this journey is all the friends I have made along the way.

Dirk showed up at the Phoenix airport on December 7, overnighted there, and rented an SUV so he could pick Ned and I up at the airport the next morning. We had a three-hour drive to Safford to hook up with Matt at the local Walmart. He already had camp set up, so I bought a deer license and we picked up some last-minute supplies, had dinner, and then headed out to camp. Matt had hired his friend John Adams as our camp cook, and he proved to be a good guy to have in camp.

Prior to our arrival, Matt had spent a couple of days scouting and had spotted one ram that probably was in the high 160s to low 170s, which put him shy of my personal minimum of 174-plus. We would keep that ram in our back pocket, however, in case we didn't have any luck spotting larger rams.

We were up early the next morning, and as one might expect, I didn't sleep well. I was really pumped up about chasing big rams with my bow. We headed out in two trucks and (hen split up--Matt and I going one way, Dirk and Ned another. The first day was slow. We spotted some sheep and deer, but none worthy of a stalk.

The second day, Matt and I took off on a four-wheeler. We saw a lot more sheep and some good rams, but again, nothing that fit our goals.

The third day was Ned's last day, so he hunted in the morning with us and then Dirk took him back to camp so he could pack and catch his flight back home to Iowa. I was hoping I would kill my ram while Ned was still there, but I knew the odds of that were slim.

Under the tag that I drew, the season ran through December 31. Matt planned to guide me for the whole season, but because I wanted him to spend Christmas with his wife and two young daughters, I booked a flight home on December 23. In the worst case, I would come back to hunt for the last four or five days of the 'season.

With Ned off to the airport, we kept searching for rams, and later in the day we spotted 10 sheep. There were three rams, with two possible shooters--one older ram, and one younger one with lamb tips. They were a long ways off, and it was hard to tell which of the two was the better ram. We put the two rams to bed that evening, and decided we would get closer in the morning and see if one of them would go 174 or better.

It took us quite a while to find the sheep the next day. Dirk and Matt are both experts at glassing for animals, but it was still close to 11 a.m. before we located the rams. We slipped around on the backside of them, and set up for an intercepting ambush. If they would have continued in our direction, I might have got a shot. But they didn't cooperate, and instead went back in the direction they had come from. We didn't spook them, so we decided to return the next morning.

When we woke up on Tuesday, I was anxious to make a stalk, but there was a sense coming over me that the sheep might be starting to feel our presence. If we pressured them too much, they might decide to relocate to a different area.

Dirk spotted the sheep early, and they were lower than we had ever seen them. We had decided the older, broomed ram was the better-scoring ram of the two. Matt and I went around behind the sheep, and then snuck up above them on a bench where we could see them bedded down below us.

It was around 9:30 a.m., and I hung back on the bench as Matt crept forward to pinpoint the big ram and the other nine sheep. They were almost straight below us, possibly 50 yards, but the angle compensation on my rangefinder indicated the shot was approximately 25 yards.

We sat there for close to an hour before the rams decided to move over a bit. Matt was watching the older ram, and he instructed me to draw once the ram was coming toward a shooting lane. I drew, stood up, and leaned over the edge. A bush was in my arrow's path, so I moved forward a little more and shot, hitting the ram's back at a quartering angle. I had another shot opportunity and took it, hitting the ram again.

Both arrows were obviously fatal, but the ram walked a short distance and bedded down in full view. We sat still until the ram expired, and then Matt headed back to the truck to hook up with Dirk and bring back the knives, game bags, and backpacks.

I sat there alone with my ram, taking it all in. By the grace of God, I had successfully taken a magnificent animal with my bow. The quality time I spent with the beautiful ram, before Dirk and Matt returned, was quite gratifying.

When the guys showed up, the picture-taking session began. Once lots of photos were safely captured, we began the task of caping out my ram for a life-sized mount. The three of us caped, de-boned, and loaded our bounty into our backpacks, with the ram's beautiful horns strapped to my back. It was a long hike, but it always amazes me how much easier it is--both physically and mentally--when you're carrying a huge, bow-killed ram on your back.

We got back to camp around 6 p.m., and decided to break camp and head back to Matt's house in Phoenix. It had been a lot of fun to hunt with two guys who are experienced hunters, guides, and great friends. Matt was still in disbelief over our good fortune when we got to his house at 1 a.m. and hit the sack.

Dirk flew out the next day, but I spent some time with Matt before heading home on December 23, just in time for Christmas. And what a joyous Christmas it was!

I'm a very blessed man to have such great friends, and to have achieved some awesome hunting goals. My Arizona ram ended up scoring 174 2/8, which was the exact score I needed to put me over the 650-inch mark. On January 28, at the Grand Slam Club Convention in Las Vegas, I received my 650 Club Award, which was presented to me by Tom Miranda and Dennis Campbell. I am proud to say I am only the fifth bowhunter in the world to achieve this award.

The author lives in Wisconsin. He was the 14th bowhunter to achieve the archery Super Slam.

AUTHOR'S NOTE: I took my ram with a Mathews Halon bow, Easton A/C/C arrows, Nockturnal lighted nocks, Muzzy Trocar HB broadheads, TightSpot Quiver, IQ Bowsight, Schaffer rest, Tru-Fire release, and clothing from KUIU.

Caption: I was blessed to have my good I friends Matt Liljenquist (left) and Dirk Edgeington (center) with me when I killed this Arizona bighorn. My ram scored just enough to put me into the 650 Club.

Caption: Matt (left) did some early scouting before my arrival and located a few rams that, while good, were just shy of the goal I had set for myself. Here Dirk is glassing some pretty rugged terrain in search of a ram worthy of a stalk.

Caption: Dirk's hand signals put Matt and me in position above the group of sheep that included two good rams and several ewes.

Caption: Packing my ram's horns made the trek back to camp considerably more bearable.

Caption: Here Tom Miranda presents me with the 650 Club award.
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Author:Martin, Gary
Publication:Bowhunter
Geographic Code:1U8AZ
Date:Oct 1, 2017
Words:1908
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