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Tendoys: In Their Eyes

BIG GAME / 8.9.2016

You've seen the film. Now see what it was like. From failed boots to failed stalks to regrettably little training, these are the photos and stories from the hunters and makers of Tendoys. Watch the full film here.

From Tony Larsen, primary hunter:

Opening day brought moisture and dense fog. Not wanting to bump anything by blindly wandering up the face, we crawled into our rain gear and headed into the sagebrush above camp, hoping to catch something as soon as the weather lifted. Elk, deer, and sheep sign was abundant, but we weren't seeing any live animals.

We all had tags, and Dustin Diefenderfer was the first to glass sheep. Three ewes and a ram were feeding up the far side of a bowl about 2,000 yards away. Our hope for multiple sheep was confirmed, and the excitement grew.

As we made our way to the first boulder field, everyone was anticipating either sheep or another hunter around every corner. The biologist said there would be 311 hunters in a relatively small area, all chasing a very small number of sheep. Approaching the site, we pulled binoculars and swept the rocks. Nothing except for the two white patches I'd mistaken the day before for sheep. Disappointed again, Dustin and I turned to leave. Joel Wilson, who was running the camera, grabbed me by the back of the shirt and hissed "Right there!" We froze, turned back with our optics and, 200 yards across the drainage, one of those "white rocks" transitioned into a real live ram!

Awestruck, and with my mouth hanging open, I gaped as Dustin turned to me and mouthed "Do you want this ram?"  He motioned for me to nock an arrow.

From Tony Larsen, primary hunter:

The other half of our group bumped into a hunter from Colorado, who offered to buy dinner, saying he had information. Apparently, two hunters had witnessed a group field dressing a sheep. Details were sketchy, he said, but a group of guys had been successful. With huge grins, we dropped the tailgate and unveiled our prize. At that moment, it didn't matter who had tripped the trigger or filled the tag. The excitement and enthusiasm was equally shared among a tight-knit group of friends who anymore rarely get time to share adventures together. And the camera crew? Well, Ben Potter and Joel are more than that now. They worked just as hard as we did, if not harder, to capture the entirety on film. Avid outdoorsmen and bow hunters, they live for the same moments we do.

From Ben Potter, director:

The opportunity to capture an over-the-counter sheep hunt was phenomenal. I grew up mostly around waterfowl, and I've never fully understood the work and pain guys go through, all for one stalk and moment of intensity. I was looking forward to learning more about what makes these dudes tick.

The Montana weather was less than gracious. In what seemed like a small number of days, we experienced snow, fog, wind, rain, and everything in between. My gear was incredibly versatile, and I can’t imagine being more comfortable on the job at 10,000 feet. My boots, on the other hand, completely failed. Walking on sponges was not fun, especially traversing miles of slate with insufficient ankle support. (Hey Sitka Tribe: Out of curiosity, what boots do you wear and why?)

I discovered that I got just as nervous watching the stalk as the hunters did moving in on the ram. This intensity is what all that effort is for. My heart sank as the ram spotted the guys on the initial stalk. The sheep busted and ran across the rock face for a few hundred yards. Then one ram lied down. Looking at this scenario from afar, it seemed impossible for my group to recover the stalk. They disappeared behind the tree line, and about 20 minutes later, as I was filming the bedded ram, I saw them creep through the top left corner of my frame. My heart started pumping 10 times faster. I couldn’t believe it was on. This hunt went from overcrowded with other hunters, to miserable feet, to a spotted ram, to a failed stalk, to a 50-yard attempt on a broadside ram. I don’t think we could have asked for more.

From Joel Wilson, director of photography:

This was the hunt where I learned the true meaning of "sheep shape." Those animals live in some pretty nasty and steep terrain. My next sheep hunt is going to include a lot more conditioning.

Keeping on the heels of Tony and Dustin was heart-pounding.

Dustin Diefenderfer, hunter:

Sheep tags are one in a million in Montana, so it was pretty surreal to look around and see three lifelong friends, all with sheep tags in our pockets.

Tony Larsen, hunter:

We definitely came in too hot on the first stalk. It was a rookie mistake, and we bumped the ram at 50 yards. We couldn’t believe he stopped, allowing us to back out and start another approach. The second approach was awesome, I could see the ram’s curls through the pine trees the whole time.

You know what they say: In bowhunting, you can go from zero to hero in an instant.

From Lyle Hebel, hunter and trip organizer:

This was by far one of the most unique hunts I have ever been on. Lots of elements at play: limited animals, tough terrain, and tons of pressure from other hunters. I spent some time scouting the area, reading maps, and looking at Google Earth before the season started. If I could go back, I would put more boot trips in before the season started.

FWP estimated there were 30-40 sheep in the unit. That’s not a lot for the size of the country. Drawing a bighorn sheep tag in Montana is pretty much like winning the lottery, so this hunt was truly unique in that it gave anyone the opportunity to get out there and hunt them. It makes it all the more special that our hunt contributed to the FWP's determined efforts to establish a healthy population of bighorn sheep in the Tendoys.

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