Desert Ram Diary

Big Bighorn Tops Family’s Stay at Coahuila Ranch

By Madeline Demaske

After 10 years of living in a family of sheep hunting nuts, my sister finally agreed to travel to the Chihuahuan desert to chase Mexican desert bighorn sheep with me.

I had spent countless hours begging her to join me on the side of a mountain pursuing some of the most incredible creatures. The idea of spending a couple weeks in a tent with no shower had not appealed to her. She had dedicated a big part of her life to sheep conservation. It would not be long before sheep hunting would inundate her life, too.

Just a few days before our departure, I found out that I had passed the Colorado bar exam and would soon fulfil my dream of becoming an attorney. Little did I know, I would eventually work for Safari Club International as their litigation associate. Now, every day I pursue my passion of fighting for hunters’ rights, promoting science-based wildlife management and sustainable use conservation in court.

When we landed in Mexico, we took a 45-minute helicopter flight to the La Palmosa Ranch in Coahuila. We flew over the desert where the cactus intermingled with crop lands and butted up to the red mountains.

When the pilot told us we were close to camp, we were astounded to see a handful of beautiful red buildings surrounded by the vast desert. They looked so out of place there in the desert. Almost like they belonged on the pages of Architecture Digest. It’s safe to say that these accommodations were nothing like any of those from past sheep hunts. Liz was blown away. She told me that if she had known all sheep hunting was like this, she would have joined me a long time ago.

The helicopter flight from the airport to La Palmosa Ranch in Coahuila was breath-taking. It’s a 156-square-mile property of spectacular desert, mesa and mountains as high as 8,600 feet.

The season didn’t open until the next day, so we explored the lodge for the afternoon while we waited for my dad and Emilio to arrive. That night we settled in for a nice coffee while we looked at pictures of rams and planned for the next day’s adventure.

After a good night’s rest in what was the most comfortable bed I have ever slept in on a sheep hunt, we woke early to square away the last of our gear and have breakfast, homemade huevos rancheros with “not” spicy green chili.

Once the jeeps were loaded up, we headed towards the area where they had last seen a big ram. On the way we saw elk, deer and antelope interspersed between cacti. We also spotted a handful of ewes, lambs and smaller rams, but no big rams. As we glassed mountains dotted through the desert, it made me think, “How does an animal survive down here?” There isn’t a lot of water or vegetation. I guess that adds to the appreciation of these animals.

Periodically we would stop to glass a mountain. The guide would explain that they had seen the big ram there before, but he wasn’t there now. I wasn’t in a rush. I was soaking up the warm morning sun and the beautiful surroundings. But I would be lying if I didn’t admit I was getting excited to see the ram that they said was so special.

We’d been glassing for a couple hours when we stopped the jeeps, climbed out, and sat in the shade to glass. Very quietly one of the guides grabbed his spotting scope and started to glass a spot on the nearby mountain. He called over the next guide and finally to the leader, Emilio, who pointed up the mountain. My eyes lit up and a smile creeped across my face. I started to shake with excitement to see the ram that everybody has been talking about. My dad walked over to where the spotting scope was set up and took a look. After a couple minutes, he sat back on his heels and said, “Oof! He’s big.”

I got excited, and my hands started to shake. I knelt down and looked through the spotting scope. He was one of the most beautiful, majestic old rams I’d ever seen.

I had to keep myself calm as we got close enough to take a shot. We climbed up and over the top before popping out on the ridgeline 368 yards from the ram. My heart began to race as I laid down to set up for my shot. He was bedded and didn’t know we were there, so I had all the time in the world.

Twenty minutes after we had settled in to wait for the ram to stand, he got up, stretched and began to quarter away. I quietly asked if my guide was ready. He was. I leveled my gun, checked my distance, and took a couple deep breaths to calm my nerves. My shot echoed across the mountainside, and he was gone. I reloaded and couldn’t find him again in my scope. So, I sat back on my heels and began to glass. It didn’t take long to notice his horns glistening in the cactus. He was down.

Madeline Demaske leveled her gun, checked the distance and took a couple deep breaths to calm her nerves. “My shot echoed across the mountainside, and he was gone,” she wrote. The desert bighorn scored 191 3/8 SC

The flood of emotions hit me, and I burst into tears. There are a lot of emotions that come with harvesting an animal. As you are walking up to their final resting place, you get to appreciate the landscape that they called home, and you can appreciate what they’ve survived. This ram was no exception. As we scrambled through the rocks and the cactus to get to him, I was feeling so many emotions.

As I knelt down by my ram, I said a prayer, thanking the good Lord for allowing me such an opportunity to harvest such a beautiful creature in such a beautiful place. Acknowledging the fact that taking any animal’s life is not an easy task but celebrating in the fact that we would be able to eat the meat from this harvest, and celebrate the desert bighorn sheep conservation efforts that La Palmosa has done.

It had been a cattle ranch until they decided to convert it back to its original use and reintroduce sheep.

Without hunting, they would not have been able to pay for these reintroduction efforts. It’s now 156 square miles of spectacular desert, mesa and mountains as high as 8,600 feet in elevation.

Sitting next to my ram, I soaked in every second of it and appreciated the moment. It wasn’t long before my dad came up the mountain and joined me in celebration. It’s always a special moment when you get to share the mountain with your dad, who is also your best friend. It took several hours to properly take care of the meat, the hide and the horns. We enjoyed tamales and burritos while we worked. Eventually packs were loaded and we were headed down. Per tradition, I packed my horns down as a simple way to honor the ram. When we got back to the trucks, I excitedly told my dad I could not wait to show Liz.

The jeep was not even parked yet when Liz came running out of the lodge. She was so excited. Her smile was ear to ear. As I got out, we hugged. Tears filled my eyes once again. It was one of those moments that I will never forget. In 10 years of sheep hunting, I never got to go back to camp to hug my sister. We hoisted my pack out of the truck, and my sister was finally able to see the ram everyone was talking about.

We pulled it out of the pack and scurried into some shade. We sipped a cold drink, and I shared the story, down to the details about eating homemade tamales on the side of the mountain. I filled my sister and my mom in on every little detail, and the smile on their faces brought that extra bit of excitement.

Now it was my dad’s turn. But first, it was time for a massage. Now I know that this is a random thing to add to the story, but it’s important. My sister and I went to La Palmosa’s beautiful spa to enjoy a massage. When you enter the spa, they have a beautiful turquoise plastered wall with three sheep dead heads that are covered in traditional beading. They are incredible. Each one includes different artwork, one with a scorpion and another with a cactus flower. A local tribe uses traditional beading methods and symbolism to create true pieces of art. I told my sister, “One day I want to have a beaded ram” and didn’t think more of it.

Not all the Demaske family — Jeff, Jann, Madeline and Liz — are hunters, but they all found what interested them at La Palmosa Ranch.

After returning home, I held onto the photos from this trip while I waited for the taxidermist to complete the mount. The photos were the perfect memento to remind me of the trip with my family.

A year later, we are at a hunting convention. I had just wrapped up a meeting and my sister asked to meet up. She wanted to show me something. She led the way, and we walked right up to the La Palmosa Ranch booth. Sitting on the table was a replica of my ram covered in the traditional beading. Vibrant blues, greens and reds formed a cactus flower, a sun and a scorpion. I was in shock! My sister had coordinated this whole surprise with my taxidermist and the wonderful people at La Palmosa.

The beaded replica proudly sits as the centerpiece of my dining room table. It is a wonderful reminder of the first sheep hunt my sister came on. People often laugh when they walk into my home and see a skull on my table, but it opens up the conversation about the hunt and my time with my family.

It’s a daily reminder about how much better a hunt is when you have your family alongside you.

Attorney Madeline Demaske is SCI’s litigation associate and staff liaison to SCI’s Legal Task Force.

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