While most Texas hunters are firmly focused on deer hunting from October through December, the Findley family of Flint was thinking sheep.
So when mom, Michelle, won a drawing for desert bighorn sheep at the Foundation for North America Sheep convention in Las Vegas last January, it seemed only natural that the honors would go to the Findley’s youngest son, 11-year-old Cole.
The hunt was on the 60-square-mile Carmen Island, a private island located in the Gulf of Mexico. While a paradise-like location, the hunt was taxing, starting with an hour wait for a rifle to clear Mexican customs and then a boat ride from Loreto, Mexico to the island.
The boat, along with walking, is a common mode of transportation for hunt; and starting the morning they arrived those methods were used to reach the southern tip of the island.
Although an island, the terrain was difficult. The southern portion of the island required steep climbs over loose rocky footing, and with the hunt being a spot and stalk that meant a lot of climbing and sliding.
The first morning started with a climb up one plateau where the party stopped to glass for sheep. It was hot, but the island vegetation was green following a late season hurricane. The stop produced the first view of a ram on the hunt.
“We saw one nice ram on our hike up, but it was not exactly what we were looking for,” recalled the young hunter.
The target was a mature ram with a full horn curl, about 9 years old or older. It was the only sheep spotted, so the guides decided to call it a short day and regroup the next morning.
“The next day was a neat day. It was my dad’s birthday,” Cole Findley said of the experience of a special hunt with his dad on that day.
“We had a long climb and saw one big ram, but it was too young to shoot. We saw another, but it was way too far to shoot, retrieve, and get home by dark,” the hunter said.
Day 3 the hunt moved to the north end of the island, but was otherwise like the others. A day of climbing and spotting, but while it didn’t produce a ram, it did result in a prospect. A mature ram was glassed, but while old enough it didn’t have the mass typically targeted.
“We went to another spot and hiked a long way and sat a long time. We looked at a hill and saw a big ram eating grass. The guide asked me if I wanted him and I said ‘Yes,’” Findley said.
They spotted several other rams and ewes, but the old ram, which kept crossing the crest of the mountain and then coming back into view, was still the best of the lot. Any attempt to get closer, however, would have to wait another day as daylight was getting short.
An approach at the ram the next morning wouldn’t be easy. The party had to maneuver rough water on the trip. It was rough enough that Findley got seasick.
Back on land, however, things started going right and the young hunter began to feel better. The morning started by glassing the high country, and there was no sign of the ram. The guides suspected it was on the opposite side, giving the group a chance to make the stalk unsuspected.
“Our climb back up the mountain to get the sheep was very difficult. The mountain was far away and we had to go through thick brush. Then we went through a dried-up creek bed. There were lots of ups and downs and we were slipping on rocks. I thought I was going to get hurt because I was slipping so much. We had to take a harder path so that the sheep wouldn’t see us,” Findley said.
Initially they saw nothing but young rams and ewes lingering about 200 yards away. Then the old ram appeared for just a second. Resting his rifle on a bipod, Findley got in position for a shot, but before he could pull the trigger the ram disappeared over the top again. It was the beginning of a long wait.
“We had to sit on piles of sharp rocks for four hours waiting for him to come back. Then he suddenly came running back over,” Findley said.
With the gun in position and his dad lying at his side offering support, the youngster heeded the advice of the guide to make sure the ram was broadside and his head and horns were clear of its body.
“I aimed the gun but it took him a while to get broadside. I shot once, perfect in the shoulder,” the hunter said.
At least he thought it was perfect.
“He ran up a hill like nothing had happened. He stopped and looked around and I could see my bullet hole through my scope. I shot him again in the chest. He ran some more and finally fell down,” said Findley, who immediately became the youngest hunter to have ever taken a ram on the island.