Watch "The Duke" sheep hunt unfold and read the story below:
The Idaho Wild Sheep Foundation (WSF) annually produces one of the largest fundraising banquets in the nation on behalf of the Wild Sheep Foundation, lending a hand to conservation efforts that support sheep sustainability on a state and national level.
During the 2019 banquet, Doug Sayer was the lucky bidder fortunate enough to purchase the Idaho State Governor’s bighorn sheep tag.
“I was really excited to do that because of what it does for conservation and the programs here in Idaho,” says Sayer.
Kryptek Co-founder and CEO Butch Whiting accompanied the group to fill their 2019 Idaho State Governor's bighorn sheep tag, purchased by Doug Sayer and drawn by Travis Jessop.
Sayer however, would not be the only one to harvest a sheep during the hunt.
“What’s most unique about this hunt is we had the Idaho Governor’s tag and the guy that drew the tag on the same hunt together,” said Butch Whiting, close friend of Sayer’s and long-time supporter of the ID WSF.
Travis Jessop, an out-of-state resident from Reno, Nevada was at home when he found out he’d drawn the Dahl sheep hunt for the Northwest Territory. Flooded with disbelief and a wave of emotions, Jessop recalls having to read the email from Idaho Fish and Game several times before it set in that his draw had been successful.
“Travis is a non-resident. The odds are ridiculously low for that to happen, to draw this tag. I myself have applied for it for the last 20-some years and have never drawn it,” says Dan Blankenship of Sheep Meadow Outfitters, the company who would take the two men on what would become a sheep hunt for the record books.
“Special. I knew it was really special,” says a teary-eyed Jessop. “I knew it was going to be the opportunity of a lifetime.”
Travis Jessop (left) and Doug Sayer (right) shared in the unique opportunity to fill their tags simultaneously. Pictured here with their successful, record-breaking harvests.
Dan and his team began scouting mid-winter and in early spring found a couple of massive rams, one which they called ‘The Duke’ after John Wayne. “He was a ram that when he walked in, everybody just stayed out of his way,” said Dan of the aptly named Duke sheep.
Sheep hunting is a challenge all its own says Sayer. “It’s one thing to see a sheep, it’s another to actually get on them and actually hunt them, especially in this Hells Canyon country, it’s tough.”
Hells Canyon is one of the deepest canyons in the US, filled with terrain that ranges from high timber to the Snake River thousands of feet below. “Hells Canyon,” says Dan, “is a great opportunity, if you’re a sheep nut, to have a chance at a world class ram.”
Doug Sayer sits atop a ridge line in Hells Canyon scouting for his once in a lifetime ram wearing Kryptek Altitude.
“The first few days of this hunt were unusual from what you’d expect for a sheep hunt,” Whiting recalls. “This ram had moved from the high country about 7 or 8 miles down into the lower elevations of Hells Canyon.”
“It’s taxing, especially when it’s really warm and you’re sitting in the sun without any shade,” said Sayer. “We sat around for three days waiting for an opportunity. All you do is get more anxious and more anxious."
Sheep hunting in Hells Canyon is far from easy. The group encountered scorching temperatures and a long wait before the herd came into range.
After days of waiting in less than ideal conditions and temperatures, the group put themselves in a position where they hoped to be successful, watching as the sheep moved toward water.
“We got into position, watched them come, and they came straight at us. They kept getting closer and closer, and that’s when the nerves start to set in,” said Doug of the moments leading up to his once in a lifetime chance at a record-breaking ram.
“We had one shot. It was about 450, and then they were going to go out of sight.
Everything goes in slow motion, and then at hyper-speed.”
Doug Sayer looks through the scope of his rifle, preparing to take his shot.
Despite gun malfunctions, near misses and scorching heat, both tags were filled in true John Wayne style. “I knew it was going to be a gun fight,” says Sayer, surrounded by a group full of all smiles as they headed toward what they knew would be a sheep for the books.
“It was such a humbling time to see such a magnificent ram, such a quality ram from such a great unit in the State of Idaho. It was one of those awestruck moments when you were actually able to put your hands on the ram,” said Whiting.
“Every sheep hunter, just a couple times in their life, are going to get to see something really special,” says Sayer. “When you see a ram like that, a sheep like that, it moves you and you understand you’re participating in something really special.
I was really humbled. We’ve invested in conservation specifically in Idaho for couple of decades and so that’s really important to us. I was really excited for the state and everybody that’s worked so hard on all of our sheep projects, all the volunteers, especially the ID WSF and the national WSF.”
Doug Sayer, pictured here with "The Duke," the largest ram taken in Idaho in 2019.
The Duke is a trophy, a feather in the cap of the State of Idaho, Fish and Game Biologists, and everyone who supports WSF, a true testament to the conservation efforts enacted by the group each year in an effort to protect sheep across the nation.
Although only two got to pull the trigger, Jessop says of the hunt, “It was a team effort. It took everybody. There was a great group of guys here and it took every one of them to make this happen. The ram was incredible, it was beautiful, it was huge.
A ram like that, you’re going to remember that for the rest of your life.”
A sheep hunt of this magnitude was a group effort, all who accompanied Jessop and Sayer are pictured here with "The Duke."
A special thanks to the Idaho Department of Fish and Game for continuing to preserve, protect and perpetuate bighorn sheep in Idaho. Their management efforts and partnership with the Idaho Wild Sheep Foundation strengthen the health and sustainability of bighorn sheep in Idaho.