Successful hunt is eight years in the making for Glenwood Marine | AspenTimes.com

Successful hunt is eight years in the making for Glenwood Marine

John Gardner
Glenwood Springs correspondent
Aspen, CO Colorado

Contributed photoGlenwood Springs resident Chelsea Gray with the ram she bagged after trying eight years for a bighorn sheep tag from the Colorado Division of Wildlife.

GLENWOOD SPRINGS – Chelsea Gray returned home to Glenwood Springs, in April, after a seven month deployment to Iraq, to a nice surprise.

She sat on the front deck, having a conversation with her father, Van Gray, when her uncle, Van’s brother, Ryan Gray, told her that there was an envelope from the Colorado Division of Wildlife with her name on it.

“Whatever,” she said. “I’ll look at it later.”

Having been a hunter since a young age, Chelsea, 32, knew that it was probably a hunting tag. Most likely an elk or deer tag. She didn’t expect what arrived in the mail.

Having missed all of the previous hunting season during her deployment, not to mention a fishing trip to Alaska the year before, Chelsea was excited for the upcoming hunting season.

When she opened the envelope she discovered that instead of hunting elk or deer, she would be one of only two hunting for Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep in game management unit S59, north of Eagle.

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“I opened it and I was speechless,” she said. “I actually got tears in my eyes because I was so surprised.”

Hunters have to acquire a certain amount of preference points before they can apply for certain game tags like bighorn sheep. And the Division of Wildlife limits the number of tags with certain species as well, making it more difficult to acquire the high-interest game tag.

“I only applied for eight years,” she said. “That’s really good.”

Chelsea knows people personally who have been applying for the greater part of two decades to hunt big horn sheep, with no luck. So, for her to get one upon her return home from Iraq, was a nice gift.

“To get home and get the tag in the mail was a nice surprise,” she said.

The dream hunt was on.

Chelsea, her father and uncle started calling the usual suspects of hunting partners knowledgeable in the terrain of the area and the nature of the sheep.

“It was an all around great hunt,” she said.

They packed into camp two days before the season’s opening day on Sept. 8, to set up camp. On Sept. 6, Chelsea and her father went out with good friend Doyle Hebing to scout the area.

“And sure enough, these five little fannies come into view,” Chelsea said.

They spotted five rams on a ridge about seven miles from camp. They hiked to the ridge to see how long it would take to reach.

Monday morning they returned and spotted the five rams again on the same ridge.

Tuesday morning came early.

Chelsea awoke at 3:30 a.m. on the opening day of the season and hiked the seven miles to get into position before her prey arrived with the morning sun.

“We just set up at this boulder,” she said.

It was cold, quiet, and calm. The perfect setting. A dream hunt.

Chelsea and her father spotted one ram bedded down about 700 yards away – too far to shoot, but close enough to spark excitement. “They were doing what we wanted them to do,” she said.

Chelsea and Van waited as the five rams started down the steep mountainside, making their way closer to where their position.

“We just sat and watched them for a while,” Chelsea said. “They’re really neat to watch.”

She already knew which one she wanted. She had noticed that they were all about the same size, but one had a little bit more length in its left horn.

“I had my eyes kind of set on him,” she said. “And they just kept inching closer.”

She set up with her .300 Win Mag rifle and took aim. Her sheep was about 212 yards out. She was ready, comfortable, and in one second, eight years of waiting passed with a bang as she squeezed the trigger.

“I was able to watch him through the scope,” she said. “He just ran about 10 yards, and then did the little stagger. I said, ‘OK. good. It was a good shot.”

She spent the rest of the day dressing the animal and packing it out. Chelsea carried her trophy herself, eager to experience every bit of the memorable hunt.

“Everything fell in line,” she said. “And it just tuned out so well.”

Chelsea told herself that she didn’t have to get the biggest, or the best ram out there. She just wanted to get the best one that she could.

But, the 10-year-old ram also gave her bragging rights in her family.

Both Van and Ryan have bagged rams before, as well, Chelsea said. But, she noted: “Mine is bigger than both of theirs.”

Not a bad homecoming for a Marine.

jgardner@postindependent.com

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