Some things are difficult to put into words. This hunt is one of those things. It was so incredible that I'm not sure there are words to describe my experience on Carmen Island. I was there bow hunting Desert Bighorn Sheep from April 14 thru April 24, 2017. The beauty, the great people, the food, the history and of course the best Desert Sheep Hunting in the world are just some of the awesome qualities that Carmen Island possesses.
Isla del Carmen is an island of 37,000 acres, located in the Gulf of California, in Loreto Municipality of easter Baja California Sur state, Mexico. The island is protected within Loreto Bay National Park.
This great adventure began when a friend of mine, Frank Noska introduced me to Sergio Jimenez of Mexico Hunts at the FNAWS Convention in Reno, Nevada. The date was January of 2014. Frank had already been to Carmen along with several of our other acquaintances and friends. Everyone spoke with extreme praise about the hunting and hospitality and stated this is the place to go for a Desert Bighorn Sheep. After speaking to Sergio, I decided to book my hunt of a lifetime for April 2017.
The wait was 3 years and 3 months. It seemed like an eternity, but actually, the time came much faster than anticipated. I purchased two new bows so I could have one as a backup. I added a little FOC to my arrows for additional penetration and better tracking in the often windy conditions on the Island. I also purchased special Tiburon clothing from Kuiu to help keep me cool and aid in protection from the hot 90-degree temperatures. A new Kuiu backpack for the rugged daily hikes through the rocky and mountainous terrain was also added to my gear.
Now that I had some of the best equipment available it would be up to me to make the perfect shot. That meant practice, practice and more practice. I shot my new Mathews Halon 32 purchased from Brian Langston at West Houston Archery almost every day for three months before my hunt at distances of 20, 30, 40, 50 and 60 yards. Rick Erdman, who works at West Houston Archery helped set up my bow and fine tune it until we had it shooting perfectly. I was not satisfied with my shooting until every shot from each distance was in the kill zone with tight arrow groups in the heart.
I had recently made a new friend, Joshua Treadway, that I invited over to my office at Quality Fur Dressing to measure several of my animals for entering into the P&Y and B&C record book. During his visit, we began talking about my upcoming trip to Carmen Island. Josh was kind enough to help me improve my skills to more accurately score a sheep on the hoof. He also mentioned that I should video my hunt. Since that sounded like a good idea, I asked him to join me and be the videographer. Josh agreed, and everything was set for my adventure to begin on April 13, 2017.
My Trip to Carmen Begins
When the time arrived we left Houston and flew to Los Angeles where we had dinner, spent the night, then flew to Loreto, Mexico the next morning. After landing at the Loreto airport, we cleared through Mexican Customs and grabbed our luggage which luckily arrived in good condition. Then we were greeted by Gaspar Bautista in the lobby. Gaspar is the master guide on the island and has been guiding Desert Sheep hunters there for over 13 years. Our luggage was then loaded in the truck, and we drove a short 30 minutes to the Mexico Hunts boat which took us to our final destination of Carmen for eight days of fabulous hunting. As we navigated our way through the islands, the scenery became more stunning by the minute. One of the spectacular sites was a school of porpoises numbering several hundred.
Upon arrival to Carmen Island, a friendly staff of people greeted us as they carried my bow case and luggage to our rooms. Then began the process of inspecting our equipment for damage that might have occurred during our travels, organizing our hunting gear, charging cameras and shooting my bow. With a slight adjustment to my bow sights due to climate change, I was ready for the morning hunt. My Muzzy Phantom broadheads and Gold tip arrows were flying perfectly out to a distance of 60 yards. Now the sun was beginning to set over the rugged mountains as we prepared for dinner. The food was like everything else I experienced on the island. It was superb! The Mexican cuisine is one of my favorites and believe me when I say nobody cooks it better than Maria and Omar. They were the cooks for the duration of my visit here. After a delicious dinner of sea bass, vegetables, Spanish rice and dessert it was time to get a shower and go to bed. Our alarms were set for a 5:30 AM wake up, with breakfast at 6:00.
The next morning sun was beginning to rise, so after eating breakfast and grabbing our gear, we quickly boarded the boat which would take us to begin my first day of hunting for Desert Sheep.
Along on the hunt with me were Joshua Treadway and my two guides Gaspar Bautista and Artemio Abundis. We were dropped off on the beach and immediately started climbing a very steep mountain. Luckily I had my bow strapped to my backpack, so I had both hands free for climbing. I quickly discovered my guides were in excellent sheep shape and extremely good in the mountains. As we reached the top and found some flat ground, I also realized these guys could spot sheep like nobody I had ever seen before. They are simply the best. I know checking the relatively flat ground on top for sheep sounds a little strange, but Gaspar really knows the habits of these sheep which change from month to month. In April (springtime) the plants are sprouting new growth and foliage. This just happens to be the favorite food for these sheep during this time of year, and these plants grow on the flats, not on the mountain peaks. Not only has Gaspar guided on Carmen for years but he also spent his internship on the island while going to college. Therefore he knows every square inch of this island, where the sheep hang out, and their habits. I couldn't have been in better hands!
After walking for only a short hour, I was able to lay eyes on my first South Baja (Weemsi) desert ram. They are a very majestic and beautiful animal with a fairly small body and only weighing about 160 pounds. A large part of the weight is in their horns. This ram was too small and not what we were looking for, so we kept moving in the direction of our lookout spot. After sitting and glassing for a few hours, we had seen several small rams and ewes. At about 1 PM we began hiking to a new location overlooking a watering hole. Along the way, we spotted a couple very good rams, but they were too young to harvest. Once arriving at the new location, we saw several ewes and one ram. As the sun began to set Gaspar called it a day since the hike out to the beach would take about an hour and then a 30-minute boat ride to the lodge. I will say that having a nice hot shower, a great meal and a soft bed to sleep in after a long hot day of hunting sure helps a body recover for the next day of hunting in the hot, rocky, thorn-covered mountains of Mexico.
On day two we headed north to look at a different location. Again, after an hour of climbing through the rocky and mountainous terrain, we reached the top which overlooked a huge open area very conducive for glassing. Immediately after topping out we located three rams, but none of these had what it takes to be a shooter on Carmen Island. This is a special place where the animals are in abundance, grow to maturity and are very large before harvesting. Therefore Gaspar is very selective about the rams he lets his hunters take.
Abundis went one direction to scout, and we went another. Shortly after splitting up a good ram was spotted. This would be my first attempt at stalking a Desert Sheep. As we headed toward the ram’s location, we checked the wind direction and brush in the bottom of the draw, so we didn't make a mistake and stumble right on top of him. We carefully moved one step at a time as quietly as possible, and finally, there he was, laying down and facing us. We were in a bad spot and couldn't move. After sitting uncomfortably with legs cramping and in an awkward position for what seemed like an eternity, we decided to try and back out without being seen. Unfortunately, the sheep saw movement, jumped to his feet and took off up the mountain. So with that failed attempt and the temperatures quickly rising, we decided to find a spot to glass and eat lunch. With no rams in sight, we returned to the lodge to escape the hot afternoon and later that day took the truck to a glassing area for the evening hunt. One good ram was spotted, but he was in a bad location, which made for a difficult if not impossible stalk, so we returned to the lodge and called it a day.
The next morning on day three of my hunt we decided to take the boat south again to an area where an acquaintance of mine, Blake Patton had almost had a shot at 20 yards on a very good ram. The ram was behind a bush and didn't give him a clear shot, so he did the right thing and declined. Blake had hunted the week before me and had great success later in his hunt while taking an awesome eleven-year-old ram measuring approximately 162. Hopefully, we could locate the ram Blake didn't get a shot at or even a different ram that was equally as good.
Just before pulling on shore to be dropped off for the day, Gaspar stopped the boat and began glassing down low on the mountain. He spotted a lone ram. The wind was right, so we decided to try and make a stalk on him. We dropped Josh and Abundis off on the beach to watch and video the action. Gaspar and I slowly ascended the mountain to get in position for a shot and moved to within 35 yards of the ram. He was behind a cactus-feeding and had no idea we were there. Unfortunately for me, he was facing away from us, so we began climbing a steep rock face as carefully as possible. All of a sudden when we got to the top and peered around a bush the sheep was standing broadside and looking in our direction. Obviously, he had heard us making noise when climbing through the rocks. I tried to range the ram but couldn't get a reading because I had a bush in the way. Gaspar had the same problem but thought he was able to get the correct yardage. I drew my bow, aimed carefully and shot.
The arrow smashed into the rocks below the ram as he took off side-hilling across the mountain. We stood up in amazement and ranged the spot where the sheep had been standing, only to find out we were eight yards short on the distance. We collected our backpacks, picked up my arrow with a broken broadhead and met Josh along the trail to look for another ram.
We climbed to the mountaintop and began glassing again, quickly locating three more rams. Two were young, and one was exactly what we had been searching for. He was in the same area as the one Blake had seen the week before. We planned out a strategy together and took off toward the sheep, walking through several drainages and climbing rock faces. The weather was hot, and we moved as quickly and quietly as possible so we didn't spook him. As we neared the edge of the draw, we kept looking but couldn't locate the ram. Finally, we heard a noise on another bluff as Josh spotted one of the smaller rams beside us.
We determined the ram I was after must be across the next draw and below us. As quietly as possible, we took off in that direction scouring every bush trying to find him. Then suddenly there he was. He had walked up the draw to the top and was standing there looking at us from only 30 yards away. We were busted! The ram took off running down to the drainage below but changed directions and came past us as he ran back up the canyon wall. All three of us ran up the hill as I positioned myself for a shot. Gaspar called to the ram trying to make him stop. Josh kept the video camera rolling as I took a deep breath and frantically drew my bow while asking what the range was. Gaspar and Josh called out ranges as I zeroed in on the sheep and let my arrow fly. The shot was 49 yards.
As my arrow flew across the canyon, we all waited with anticipation, wondering if I made a good shot. Finally, my arrow found its mark. We instantly saw blood as the ram took off up the rocky face and out of sight. We were all so excited, high-fiving each other and rejoicing that our hard efforts had finally paid off. Once again we backtracked to retrieve our backpacks and make a plan of how to recover my ram. As I headed across the canyon to recover my trophy Desert Bighorn Sheep, I slowly began to realize what had just happened. I was totally speechless as we moved through the brush looking with great anticipation. There he was, laying there, waiting for me to find him, looking more awesome than I ever could have imagined. He was the absolute perfect Desert Bighorn Sheep for me, and he was mine! If I could make a replica of the type of ram I wanted, this is exactly what he would look like. With the release of one arrow, my dream came true at 10:30 AM on this day, April 17, 2017.
We spent the remainder of the day taking pictures, skinning and packing my sheep back to the shore. Later that afternoon the Mexico Hunts boat arrived and took us back to the lodge. Now it was time to relax and enjoy more of what the island had to offer. So the next morning we slept in then went snorkeling for conch and clams most of the day.
The Grand Finale
My final day on the island, Maria and Omar really put on a show. They prepared ceviche for lunch with the conch we caught the day before. The day was full of relaxation, packing for the return trip home, measuring my sheep horns and preparing for our last dinner together on Carmen Island. This dinner consisted of wine, conch and clam appetizers which we caught the day before and an entree of marinated desert sheep backstrap. What a magnificent trip from beginning to end.
My sincere thanks to my brother Bob Sweisthal, my friends Frank Noska, Joshua Treadway, Rick Eardman, and all the people at Mexico Hunts that made this dream a reality: Sergio, Veronica, Gaspar, Abundis, Maria, and Omar.