June 13, 2016 was the day my 2016 hunting season changed from chasing big bulls with my bow to planning a hunt that I had been dreaming of for years. That day my dad, Pete Enrooth Jr., sent me a text message showing that he had drawn a Montana Rocky Mountain bighorn ram sheep tag. This wasn’t just any sheep tag either—it was a Missouri River Breaks bighorn sheep tag. Anybody that knows anything about bighorn sheep hunting will tell you that this area is arguably one of the best in the world when it comes to producing trophy rams. I still remember sitting at my desk at work and thinking, “I get to hunt bighorn sheep with my dad,” over and over. I honestly couldn’t wrap my mind around it. As a family, we have hunted all over the United States, in foreign countries, and even drawn some of the most coveted big game tags in Montana, including a SuperTag. Yet, somehow, none of it compared to the opportunity that was now before us.
Anytime someone in our family draws a trophy tag we always begin by putting together a solid game plan. We looked at landowner maps, spoke with the local biologists, called as many people as we could find who have hunted the unit before and began studying how to field judge a trophy ram. Other than the terrain, field judging a trophy ram was by far the most difficult part of our hunt. Once my dad and I had a decent plan in place we decided to take an early scouting trip in August. We soon found out that road access in this unit is nonexistent unless you have landowner permission or were going on a guided trip. However, we played the cards we were dealt and figured out that we could spot several parts of our unit from across the river, which had road access.
During our first morning scouting we found several roads that looked like they would get us close to where we wanted to start spotting. Luckily, we could drive right to the tops of several ridges and spot back across the river. My dad and I simply picked a ridge to start from, parked, pulled out spotting scopes and started glassing. I was so tuned in trying to find my first sheep on the other side of the river in the unit we could hunt in, I didn’t even notice the dozen bighorn sheep 200 yards to the right of me until one of them kicked a rock loose and I heard them. That weekend we spotted several decent looking rams and discovered a very important aspect about our unit. To access most of the public land, we were going to need a jet boat.
After a few weeks of looking for a decent used boat, my dad finally bought one. My father and I had decided from the beginning we were going all in on this hunt and we did just that. With the boat in hand we started planning our next scouting trip only to find out that you can only run a jet boat downstream with no wake and only on certain days of the week. Every time we began to think we were getting ahead of the game, we ended up finding out we were two steps behind. However, being behind never stopped us, it may have slowed us down at times, but never has it stopped us. After figuring out which days and where we could use our boat, my father and I packed up our gear and headed out for another scouting trip. We put the boat in the water, loaded and secured our gear, and fired up our motor—only this time the motor didn’t start. My father had tested the boat several times prior to that day and every time it easily started up and ran great. Sitting there, my heart sank again. We could not catch a break and the season hadn’t even actually started yet. Once we figured out the motor had flooded, we let it sit for several minutes and tried starting it again. The motor fired up and we were finally traveling down river.
To put things in perspective, this was my first time in a jet boat on a river. I was ecstatic, elated, stoked, or whatever other similar word comes to mind. I just couldn’t believe I was on the river, in our own jet boat, and scouting for bighorn sheep with my dad. Unfortunately, my euphoric state didn’t last. We ended up running into a muddy bank, which, in turn, plugged the water line on the motor. So, there we were, stranded because our motor had no way to cool off if we ran it. Again, one step forward and two steps back. I couldn’t believe it. Nothing was going right. This was supposed to be the hunting trip of a lifetime and we couldn’t even get down the river to try and find a huntable ram. Luckily, the weather that weekend ended up being extremely hot and so it wasn’t a completely wasted trip because the sheep weren’t moving. Regardless, now we had to deal with a clogged water line in our motor a week before the season began.
Four days before the season opened, my dad was able to find a mechanic that looked at our boat and thankfully was able to repair it. He also showed us how to clean it out if it plugged up again. With a fully functioning boat and camp trailer in tow, we headed back out for opening day. Based on our prior scouting trips, we decided there were a couple of basins off the river that we would pull over at the bottom of and walk into. After hiking for about an hour before daylight, we finally made it to the top, sat down, and started spotting. Right away we spotted a big mature ram on the other side of the basin. We packed up our gear and started working our way around to try and get a closer look at him. By the time we reached where the ram was, we couldn’t locate him again. We weren’t too disgruntled though; while working our way across the ridge we had spotted two more mature rams.
Once we relocated the other rams we had spotted, my dad readied his bow and nocked an arrow. We slowly began working our way over the ridge, carefully scanning the area in front of us for any sign of where the two rams had gone. Once we crested the ridge top, my dad instantly sat down and motioned for me to do the same. To our right, on the other side of the small canyon in front of us, were two mature rams. The rams were out of bow range, but we decided to sit down and take a good look at them. While the biggest ram would have possibly scored in the mid 170s, we decided he just wasn’t the ram we were after. Even though my dad decided it wasn’t the ram he wanted, I was pumped. In front me was a dark chocolate, beautiful, mature ram. It was the first real mature ram we had seen and it was remarkable. After watching the rams work their way across the ridge, we packed up our gear and decided we would continue working our way across the top of the ridge.
After walking no more than 60 yards down the ridge, we bumped two more mature rams. I instantly unhooked by dad’s bow off his pack and handed it to him. My dad swiftly drew his bow back and I quickly ranged the bigger of the two rams and began evaluating him as fast I as could. We determined it was still not the ram we were looking for, but my heart was racing again and I knew right then that this was going to be one of the most memorable hunts I had ever been on. That weekend we didn’t spot any other rams that we wanted to pursue, but we didn’t care. We had gotten within bow range of a mature ram and, based on the bad luck we had been having, that was a win in our book.
That next weekend was opening day of the rifle season. We had planned early on to hunt that whole week depending on the weather. On opening day, we hit on the river early, silently floating downstream while spotting the sun crested ridges and shadowy draws for any sign of a ram. I finally spotted two mature looking rams before they disappeared over the back side of a ridge. We pulled over, geared up, and started walking up the bottom of the draw. We continually spotted the sides of the draw as we walked up the bottom, but we were unable to find any sign of the rams I had spotted from the river. Once we finally reached the top of the ridge, my father spotted a group of ten rams slowly working their way across the back side of the ridge we had walked up. The wind was blowing extremely hard on top of the ridge, but it was blowing in the right direction and it allowed us to sneak within 75 yards of the group of rams. After about 45 minutes of judging each ram we decided there wasn’t a ram my dad wanted to harvest and we slowly began working our way back down the ridge.
On the way down to the river, I spotted four more rams running across the ridge in front of us. After quickly looking at them, we spotted one big mature ram that stood out. We hurriedly worked our way down the draw to get with shooting distance of the ram. My father and I went back and forth on how big the ram actually was. After about 20 minutes of looking the ram over, my father decided it was not the ram he wanted and we continued to head back out to our boat. As we began walking out again, we spotted another group of hunters who had also spotted the ram. Before we were able to speak with them, we heard a gunshot ring out and echo through the canyon. We had nothing else going on that day and so we caught up to the hunters and asked if we could tag along and look at the ram up close.
September had come and gone and my father and I had yet to find the trophy ram we were looking for. We continually heard stories about multiple 200” rams that were harvested in our unit and we just couldn’t figure out where these supposedly 200” rams were. We had yet to see a mid 180s class ram, let alone a 200” ram. Finally, after months of research and scouting, my dad located a mid 190s class ram that had been living in a large basin several hundred yards off the river. However, on that weekend I was unable to hunt with my dad and, instead, my mother graciously said she would accompany him. After locating the ram, my dad decided to wait until the next morning to hike back into the basin to try and get a shot. As my dad was approaching the basin he was going to hunt he spotted four people on the bank waiving him down.
As my dad drew closer to the bank he could see that it was a group of guys that were in serious need of help. After talking with them for a minute they told my dad they had gone in hunting the night before, but, due to the weather, they were unable to walk back out the way they went in. They then decided to walk down to the river in hopes that someone in a boat would drive by and could give them a ride back up to their camp. My dad instantly agreed to give them a ride. He’s the type of person that would never leave someone stranded even if it meant giving up a day of hunting. As they continued to talk, the four guys informed my dad that this was their first trip out and on their second day hunting they were lucky enough to spot a couple of nice rams and harvested one of them. My dad’s heart sank. He hadn’t noticed it yet, but they had killed the mid 190s ram we had been trying to find for months and they did it on their second day hunting.
We just couldn’t seem to catch a break. Every week, we would get a new email or a text message with a picture of someone killing a great ram and it was starting to wear on us. So, my father, my aunt, Debbie Lewis, and I decided it was time to get to work and we took off on a 12-day hunt. All three of us headed out to camp in the middle of the week and we continued to float and scout the river looking for any sign that the rut would bring in some new rams. That Friday we spotted a couple of bigger groups of rams that we had not seen earlier in the year and decided we needed to take a closer look at them. With help from one of our good friends that arrived later that week, Matthew White, we put together a plan. My father and Matthew would try and get a closer look at one of the groups of rams, and I would look for the other group. My father and Matthew were able to get within shooting distance of the group they were looking for and found one of the largest rams we had seen so far. Yet, after evaluating the ram, my father decided he did not want to shoot it because it was heavily broomed off on one side and had a long lamb tip on the other. He figured if he let the ram go there was a chance the it would broom off both sides and one day become a world class ram.
The following day my father, my aunt and I continued to look for the second group of rams we had spotted. Sometime around noon I spotted the group of rams about a mile from where I had previously seen them. I was so excited when I spotted them I yelled, “There they are!” only to be chastised by both my father and my aunt for being so loud. However, the rams didn’t move. They continued to sit in the warm sun and didn’t seem to care that there was a boat traveling down the river. As we approached the rams, we made a couple of slow passes up and down the river, trying to determine how we should make our approach. We finally decided that the only way we were going to sneak up on this group of rams was to walk up the drainage on the other side of the ridge they were on and climb up the back of it.
My father and I slowly began working out way up the dried creek bed and around the backside of the mountain while my aunt waited for us the boat. Once we were around the back we were able to determine where the rams were approximately located and started working out a way to the top of the ridge. The side we were walking up was covered in grass along with scattered sagebrush and extremely step. One wrong step and we would have slid straight to the bottom, which was a good 1,000’ below us. By being cautious and taking our time we safely made our way to the top of the ridge. We found a flat spot and quietly took off our packs and made a quick plan on how we wanted to crest the ridge top. With my dad being the shooter we decided he needed to go first. He didn’t walk 50 yards and quickly turned around and motioned for me to get down. He spoke quietly and said that the rams were only 75 yards in front of us.
I ducked low and made my way to where my dad was sitting. We moved into position to get a shot and as we did the group of rams stood up. It was easy to determine which ram we needed to take a closer look at as he was substantially larger than any of his brothers. The rams then lined out and the largest ram stood in the back, looking at us. At that moment, the world stood still and everything came into razor sharp focus. I began to field judge the ram and told my dad that I believed he had at least 16” bases, 36” plus horns and carried his weight all the way through to the bottom. It was the ram we had been looking for.
This story and hunt is dedicated to the memory of my grandfather, Pete Enrooth, Sr. The man who started it all. We miss you everyday, Timer.