Extreme Pursuit: Bowhunting Desert Bighorn Sheep

A husband and wife duo overcome the daunting Mexico mountains and score on the desert bighorn ram of a lifetime.
Extreme Pursuit: Bowhunting Desert Bighorn Sheep

It seems that the most-traveled, most-accomplished bowhunters aren’t those you see on outdoor TV. On the contrary; they rarely get the spotlight, and when they do, they’re entirely down to earth. Ken and Anna Vorisek (below) of Fairbanks, Alaska, are two such bowhunters.

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The husband and wife team have completed their Grand Slams of wild sheep, as well as their North American Archery Super Slams — harvesting all 29 species of North American big game animals. In fact, Anna was the first female bowhunter to accomplish these lofty goals.

But, the Voriseks’ achievements are left unsaid unless you ask them to tell you what they’ve gone and done. Together, this humble duo continually travels the globe to pursue their bowhunting passions, and they do it very successfully.

Sharing the Lifestyle

Ken and Anna hunt exclusively with archery equipment, and they always hunt together. “It works good for us,” Ken said. “We genuinely enjoy each other’s company, and we love it out in the mountains. You can see it in someone’s face when they’re meant to be there, and I constantly see it in Anna’s face.

desert bighorn“We go on many remote adventures together. We do a lot of bowhunting, but we also love to hike, camp and simply be outdoors. During our adventures, we’ve occasionally encountered miserable conditions, but even in the face of adversity, we always seem to look at each other and think that there’s no place we’d rather be.

“Of course, Anna and I have our differences. Things don’t go smoothly 100 percent of the time, but overall, I feel extremely fortunate to be married to someone who enjoys the mountains and is capable of going up into them with me. We share many interests. I think about that quite often, and I feel so blessed.”

Anna considers Ken and herself a team. “We recently spoke at the Bowhunters of Wyoming convention. When the organization asked me to speak, I said I’d be glad to do it, but they must understand that Ken and I are a team, and that he’d be accompanying me. I don’t think they quite understood what that meant. Well, we did our presentation, and afterwards, numerous folks came forward and said that we inspired them and so on, but the comments that stood out most came from folks who were so glad to see a couple up there. They said that our affection for each other and bowhunting really came through.

“As a girl, I spent as much time outdoors as I could, but marrying Ken introduced me to me. That might sound confusing, but Ken helped me to realize my true potential, and that I could achieve the dreams and goals I’d always pondered as a young girl.”

Pulling the Rabbit Out of the Hat

While attending the life-member breakfast at the Wild Sheep Foundation’s annual convention, Ken Vorisek won the hunt of a lifetime — a desert bighorn sheep hunt at the La Palmosa Wildlife Preserve in Mexico. All life members are entered into the drawing, but the winner must be in attendance. Six other names fell through the cracks before Ken became the lucky recipient of the hunt. Anna said, “Ken screamed like a little girl when his name was drawn.”

The 100,000-acre La Palmosa, located in the Chihuahuan Desert of northern Coahuila, sprawls across 156 square miles of desert, mesa, foothills and mountain habitat. Elevations range from 4,200 to 8,600 feet. The preserve teems with free-ranging wildlife.

“It’s like an oasis,” Ken said. “It’s pretty exclusive, and a phenomenal place to hunt desert bighorn sheep. Rams killed at La Palmosa green score an average of 178 inches, and La Palmosa restricts shooting rams scoring less than 170 inches. The Boone & Crockett minimum is 168, so that gives you an idea how impressive some of these rams are. Basically, I knew that if I killed a ram, he’d make Boone & Crockett.”

desert bighorn

Heaven on Earth for the desert bighorn hunter, the La Palmosa Wildlife Preserve adheres to a strict management policy. Hunters are not allowed to harvest rams scoring under 170 inches.

Currently, hunters take approximately 15 rams per year on the La Palmosa. “The Mexican government allows them to take up to 25 rams from the area,” Anna explained. “However, the wildlife managers take a very conservative approach because they want the rams to mature and reach their potential. This allows hunters to experience a high-quality hunt.”

Preparing for the Adventure

Of all the species they’ve pursued, the Voriseks consider wild sheep the most special. “Every sheep-hunting experience can be pretty phenomenal,” Ken said. “As far as the physical demands, some sheep hunts are more grueling than others. For example, it took me five difficult hunts to kill a Stone’s sheep.

“This Mexico hunt was far from easy, but it was less demanding than some of my past sheep hunts. However, one added challenge was that I had surgery a few months before the hunt. The doc said I had to lay pretty low and avoid strenuous activities for a month following the surgery. That left me with only 1 month to prepare for the big hunt.

“To prepare, Anna and I hiked in the mountains of Arizona as much as we could the month prior to the hunt. Also, my last bow rig was about 5 years old, so I bought a new bow for this hunt and got it tuned and dialed. While making arrangements with La Palmosa, I learned that I’d be the first bowhunter to hunt with them. Inevitably, that created pressure to represent bowhunting and the Wild Sheep Foundation in a positive manner. Many folks are impacted by the results of these hunts. I knew I had to make a good shot if the opportunity came.”

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Desert Bighorn: The Hunt Begins

Even though the Voriseks encountered one to two shooter rams daily, they found that La Palmosa is a somewhat difficult place to bowhunt. “The rams were very spooky,” Anna shared. “They were difficult to approach in the fairly open rimrock country.”

Ken agreed: “Not only was the terrain open, but an entourage of people go along on the hunt. The group can consist of the outfitter, a guide, spotters and an interpreter. It’s difficult to stalk an animal when you’re alone, so just imagine trying to get close to spooky rams with six people of various skill levels. It’s simply not conducive to bowhunting.”

Because he was La Palmosa’s first bowhunter, Ken had to exercise patience while the guides learned the differences between rifle hunting and bowhunting. “There was a definite learning curve,” Ken noted. “The guides understood after several unsuccessful stalks that it just doesn’t work for that many people to stalk within bow range.”

As the hunt went on, Ken warded off negative thoughts. “A hunt like this has lots of highs and lows. Some days, I was feeling good about everything, but on the fifth day after a couple of blown stalks, the guide and I became a bit discouraged. And it became evident that several folks were thinking this just wasn’t going to pan out with a bow. It was pretty frustrating, and the fun factor was slipping away.”

desert bighorn

Hope Rekindled

During the sixth day of hunting, Ken was blessed with the opportunity to stalk a giant 180-plus-inch ram. “We’d gotten within 30 yards of that big sheep,” Ken recalled, “which is well within my effective bow range. Unfortunately, he was behind some brush. He eventually turned and ran directly away, and I never got a crack at him. It had been a long, challenging stalk that took all afternoon. I would have loved to take that ram, but it was exciting just to have gotten that close to such an animal.”

On the seventh day of the desert bighorn sheep hunt, the group spotted a large ram bedded mid-range up the mountain at the base of some cliffs. “Anna and the others stayed behind and watched from a distance,” Ken said. “The guide and I changed our gear a little bit, too. Chaps protect against cactus, but they’re noisy, so we shed those. We also swapped mountain boots for hiking boots with softer outsoles. Beyond that, our stalk was more thought out, and more attention was placed on the wind.

“Winds are always fickle and swirling in that type of terrain. The ram was bedded about a mile away, so we began our stalk a mile downwind of him, climbing up the mountain until we were at a higher elevation than the ram. We then traversed the side of the mountain to a spot a couple hundred yards directly above the bedded ram.

“Cautiously, we crept down the ridge until we reached the cliff’s edge. I spotted the ram directly below me as he laid in his bed about 40 yards away. I started shaking badly; it was a nerve-racking moment. I drew my bow, aimed and shot while the ram was still bedded. I shot just over his back, and the arrow cracked into the rocks. On a shot angle that steep, there’s little margin for error. Anyway, the ram jumped up and ran about 10 yards, then stopped. I quickly nocked another arrow and took a second shot. That arrow hit him well, and he ran about 75 yards, stood in place for a few seconds and then toppled over.

“Anna and the others who’d been accompanying us for the first several days of the hunt were positioned in the valley below us. They were watching through binoculars, so when they saw the sheep fall over, they knew I’d gotten him. I could hear them hooting and hollering from nearly a mile away!”

desert bighorn

Ken was La Palmosa’s first bowhunter, and found the task of running carbon through a skittish, mature ram, to be one of the most difficult tasks of his bowhunting career.

Anna couldn’t help but notice the reactions of those around her during Ken’s stalk and shot. “I was watching Ken and the guide make the stalk through my optics, but I’d periodically glance at the others, and their binoculars were basically glued to their eyes. They were all so anxious to see how a successful bowhunt unfolds. Then, just before Ken reached bow range, they all became very tense. I couldn’t exactly understand what they were saying since they were speaking in Spanish, but they were clearly liking what they were seeing.”

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The massive crew that accompanied Ken and Anna made spot-and-stalk bowhunting difficult, but proved to be beneficial when it was time to cut and haul meat.

The crew joined up with Ken and his guide to skin and butcher the magnificent ram, then pack the meat down the mountain. “This successful sheep hunt was the culmination of 7 days of very hard work and effort,” Ken concluded. “However, the rewards of such a hunt are off the charts.”

desert bighorn

Part of La Palmosa’s management policy, each ram is scored and aged. Harvest reports are then created, which are used to show trends and ensure no more than 15 mature rams are taken.

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