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When Bighorns Broke Colorado’s State Record—Twice

By PJ DelHomme 

Colorado hadn’t seen a state-record ram in more than two decades, and the state has never seen a 200-point ram enter the records. But then, the state saw two number-one rams in two weeks. 

Left, a live photo of the ram whose skull was found in February 2018. Right, resident hunter Kevin Neil with his 200-point B&C ram taken in 2022.  

In 2022, Kevin Neil spent 21 days in the backcountry and killed a ram scoring 200 points. It was the state record for roughly two weeks. Then a pick-up from Fremont County was entered and edged out Neil’s ram by four points. These are their stories. 

The Backcountry Brute 

Photos courtesy of Kevin Neil.

When Kevin Neil applied for a bighorn tag in his home state of Colorado in March 2022, he decided to mix things up. After years of putting in for one particular unit, he took his 12 points and tried his luck somewhere new. He talked to a hunting buddy who had mentioned a ghost-like, full-curl ram that would vanish once the season began. He applied to hunt that unit and drew. He had wanted to hunt bighorns since he was 13 years old. At 36, he was finally going. 

He hit the trail for a few days of scouting in August. The trip turned up ewes and lambs. The next trip to a different spot turned up the same thing. Weeks went by. He identified new potential scouting locations and spoke with other hunters. Once opening day arrived, Neil and a buddy were already deep into the backcountry glassing plenty of ewes and lambs. It was still early in the season, but he was getting anxious. Neil hadn’t seen a mature ram. He did spot one band of rams, but the largest had only a ¾-curl. Neil passed. 

Colorado's bighorn country is big. Spotting a ram here is almost as tough as finding the sheep hunter in the this photo. 

After 17 days of sleeping on the ground and hiking 150 miles, Neil finally saw a band of three mature rams roughly five miles away. They broke camp and hiked around a mountain for 11 miles to try and get a better look. The sun's angle in the late afternoon didn’t help their glassing efforts, but after a long hike the next morning, Neil couldn’t believe what he was finally seeing. 

One ram stood out, and he hatched a plan. After stalking through some dark timber, Neil finally got a shot. He aimed with his .300 Win Mag, squeezed the trigger—and missed clean. “At that moment, my heart dropped out of my chest and shattered on the mountainside,” he wrote in his story in the upcoming Summer 2023 issue of Fair Chase. The ram vanished, and they spent the ensuing days glued to their glass. 

On a Friday, Neil, a couple of buddies, and his cousin were out the door early. The crew returned to where they had last seen the rams, which wasn’t far from Neil’s heartbreaking miss. 

The cliffs were slick with ice. Each step up the mountain was a roll of the dice. Once he spotted the three rams, Neil hunkered down to wait for the big boy to walk through a narrow shooting lane. When it stopped, Neil fired. He didn’t miss. 

Neil, left, with his Colorado ram scoring 200 points taken in Hinsdale County. Click here to view the score chart for Neil's ram. 

Neil knew it was a good ram, but he didn’t realize just how good it was. He called his wife to tell her the news. In the background, Neil could hear his kids yelling for joy. After waiting 60 days for the ram's horns to dry, Neil got it officially measured and it scored 200 points. 

Colorado law states that Neil has to wait six years before he can draw another bighorn tag, but that might be next to impossible. The demand for a ram tag in Colorado far exceeds the supply. Then again, Neil didn’t think he would draw with just 12 points.

The New Colorado State Record Ram—The Pick-up 

In February 2018, hunting guide Cassey Evans was guiding a client on a varmint hunt in Fremont County, Colorado. After his client shot at a bobcat, they both went to look for blood. As they were working a grid, Evans came to an arroyo and stopped in his tracks. Sitting before him was a massive bighorn skull. The ram had been dead likely for two or three years. 

Evans called the local game warden. He told Evans to mark the location and take some photos. He got the okay to take it back to Tom Menhennett, owner of Atmore Outfitters, who Evans was working for at the time. Menhennett got a handful of replicas made, and the skull can’t be sold, so it’s going to sit right in his office, Menhennett says. The ram almost certainly died of old age at 12 years old, he adds. 

Colorado's new state record bighorn likely died of old age after 12 years of roaming the hills of Fremont County, Colorado. The deadhead was hidden from the world for a couple of years until it was picked up legally by a local hunting guide. View the official score chart for new state recortd. Photos courtesy of Tom Menhennett

To be clear, not every animal in the Boone and Crockett records was taken by a hunter—like this 204-point bighorn. Some animals in the records succumb to old age, vehicle collisions, predators, disease, and poachers. When entries are found, they are listed as “picked up” in the Boone and Crockett records to distinguish them from hunter-taken entries. Some of those head, horns, and antlers happen to be world’s records. Read more about B&C’s policy on picked-up trophies here

Colorado Bighorn Hunting and Conservation 

Hunting bighorns in Colorado is a tightly regulated affair, and hunters can wait a lifetime to draw a tag. The good news is that the population is growing, which means there are more opportunities to hunt them. According to Huntin’ Fool, Colorado’s sheep population saw an eight percent population increase from 2019-2021. In 2021, the state managers allocated 307 bighorn permits. In 2022, that number went up by 24 permits. 

Today, bighorn populations in Colorado number roughly 7,000 animals in 72 herds. Most hunting units are managed for rams in the 6- to 8-year-old range, and it’s tough to get a Colorado ram in the record book. According to Big Game Records LIVE, 64 bighorns were entered into the Boone and Crockett records in the past 20 years. The minimum entry score for an Awards Period is 175 points, while All-time entries must be at least 180 points. 

Bighorn sheep, snug in bags, dangle below a helicopter used by Colorado Parks and Wildlife to transport them to remote Beaver Creek Canyon near Victor where they will help rebuild a struggling herd. Photos courtesy of Colorado Parks and Wildlife / Bill Vogrin

Like other bighorn sheep herds across the West, Colorado’s bighorns have benefitted from successful sheep conservation efforts. In the early 1900s, only a handful of native bighorns survived. Loss of habitat, disease and unregulated hunting decimated the once-thriving herds. Beginning in the 1940s, officials from Colorado Parks and Wildlife conducted sheep transplants to supplement and restore sheep herds in suitable habitat. To date, biologists have conducted more than 100 bighorn transplants around the state. Because hunters foot the bill for these restoration efforts, anyone visiting the mountains of the Centennial State has a chance to view bighorns in all their magnificent glory. 


The Importance of Records in Big Game Management

When you enter your trophy into the Boone and Crockett system, you aren’t just honoring the animal and its habitat. You are participating in a data collection system that started in the 1920s and was refined by Club members in 1950. Today, there are nearly 60,000 trophy records. By establishing a records database more than 70 years ago, the Boone and Crockett Club established a scientific baseline from which researchers can use to study wildlife management. If you’re still  on the fence about entering your trophy, we encourage you to read Why Should I Bother to Enter My Trophy. To the best of our ability, we ensure that the trophies entered into the records were taken in accordance with the tenets of fair chase ethics. Despite what some may think, the Boone and Crockett records are not about a name or a score in a book—because in the end, there’s so much more to the score.


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Great Rams IV

Chronicles of Sheep Hunting and Legendary Sheep Hunters

By Robert M. Anderson

Boone and Crockett is excited to offer the fourth installment of Bob Anderson’s Great Rams series. With nearly 500 images—vintage and contemporary field photos from decades of sheep hunting, plus a special photo essay of rams in the wild—and twelve captivating chapters, Great Rams IV will keep readers enthralled every time they turn the page!

  • Limited to 1,250 copies
  • Numbered and signed by author Robert Anderson
  • Hardcover with dust jacket

Regular Price: $150

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-Theodore Roosevelt