Written by Conor Harrison, Lone Star Outdoor News
Round Rock bowhunter Alan McGraw is on a quest to harvest all 28 North American species with his bow.
He’s halfway there, but one of the toughest animals to hunt just got check off his list when he took a 9-year-old desert bighorn ram at Elephant Mountain Wildlife Management Area on March 3.
McGraw, the current mayor of Round Rock, purchased the hunt last year at the Texas Wildlife Association — one of 13 tags in the state. Ten of those tags go to private landowners, two are drawn for the Texas Big Game Hunts through Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, and one tag is auctioned.
“I’m a huge bowhunter — I just love doing it,” McGraw said. “I started sheep hunting last year and this was my second sheep hunt. I was unsuccessful on a Dall sheep hunt in the Northwest Territories last year. I was originally going to go hunt a desert bighorn in Mexico, but when this came up and I got a chance to hunt a sheep in Texas, I took it.”
Before the hunt, McGraw practiced with his bow out to 80 or 90 yards, often utilizing a friend’s backyard.
“I have a friend with a canyon in his backyard,” McGraw said. “We live in the Hill Country, so I was shooting in real-life topography and not just flat ground. I was shooting out to 90 yards, which makes a 40-yard shot look like much less. The only thing I wasn’t prepared for was the wind — we couldn’t duplicate that.”
Once at Elephant Mountain, McGraw, along with his wife, Kathy, met his team of guides for the hunt, which included TPWD’s Froylan Hernandez, head guide Dewey Stockbridge, Cody McIntyre and Mark Garrett.
“The first day, we were within bow range of 12 rams,” McGraw said. “There were two shooters in the bunch, but they stayed at the back of the group and didn’t offer a shot. That first day was tough. We literally hiked the soles off of Kathy’s boots. It was very rugged country. We started at the top of the mountain, stalked the rams midmountain and then walked down to camp in the dark.”
The next day, the group found two rams together and one was a shooter.
“They weren’t moving, so we decided to come back the next morning and try and hunt them,” he said. “The next day, we had a snow and ice storm blow in and the mountain was fogged in. It was actually clear and sunny up top, but we couldn’t see the middle of the mountain to hunt.”
The third day the hunters found the same two rams near the top, and decided to plan a stalk.
“We got within 50 yards of the rams, but we never could see them,” McGraw said. “After the hunt, the spotters watching down below told us we had been very close to the rams, but we never saw them.”
That afternoon, the hunters found another group of rams that contained the sheep McGraw would eventually kill.
“Three hundred yards was as close as we could get, so we called it quits that afternoon knowing there were two groups of rams, each with a shooter.”
The fourth morning proved to be the lucky day, even though the clouds had blown out and a howling wind greeted the hunters.
“We found my ram and another ram bedded near the top,” McGraw said. “We stalked from the top down and got to a ridge. The sheep were 54 yards below us but we did not have a shot. My guide and I belly-crawled a few more yards and got to a point where I could shoot from my knees.”
The only issue now was the hunters had been spotted, and the ram was looking at them.
“He knew we were there but in the wind, I’m not sure he knew what we were,” McGraw said. “He finally looked away downhill and gave me a chance to come to full draw and raise up. Because of the wind, I put my 50-yard pin center mass and released the arrow. It was so windy, I wasn’t sure if I had hit the ram.”
The sheep immediately disappeared over a small ridge, and hunter and guide scrambled to get a better look.
“We ran over to the ridge and didn’t see any sheep,” he said. “We radioed down below and asked where he went. They radioed back and said his feet just stopped kicking 30 yards below us. We looked down and saw a blood trail — he was right there.”
McGraw said he got emotional as they approached the big ram.
“I was wiping tears from my eyes,” he said. “It was such a tough hunt, such an amazing animal, such an amazing place, and to have my wife there with me — all the stars aligned to make it work.”
The ram green scored 172 7/8 inches and is only the fourth bighorn sheep to ever be harvested with a bow in Texas.
McGraw was quick to give credit to the team effort on his hunt.
“You begin to realize all of the work, all of the effort of so many people to restore the desert bighorn sheep to Texas and they all need to be congratulated,” he said. “I don’t want people thinking this was all me on this hunt. It was a total team effort that I would never have been able to accomplish by myself.
“I could not have done it without them.”