Hunting with Heroes - Bighorn Sheep Hunt
I was honored to recently be a part of an amazing hunt for Nona Nissen, an incredible person who has served our country. With the help of Hunting with Heroes Wyoming, Nona was able to have the hunt of a lifetime! The Azyre team loves having opportunities to give back and we were excited to make sure Nona was outfitted head to toe in Azyre gear. We are so thankful for her service to our country and we are grateful we have the opportunity to recognize her! Here is her story.
It was hot, dry, and dusty. The sun was baking us like a limestone oven on the Dugan Bench above Devils Canyon. We were glassing for a ram that had been seen five days earlier on the top ledge of the canyon. There, about 1,200 yards down a drainage to the north of the canyon, were six rams spotted by Chris Fare and his eight-year-old son Liam.
We settled in to watch. One ram looked pretty good. Nona Nissen and Kyle Wendtland put together a stalk, but time was short, and the rams moved off to the northeast of the drainage as the light faded.
In the spring of 2020, Nissen received a Wyoming bighorn sheep permit donated by Wendtland. Nissen is a retired Lieutenant Colonel of the Wyoming Army National Guard’s 1041st Engineering Company.
Nissen had never hunted before. But she and the rest of her 155 Company members had been hunted daily in Iraq as they moved supplies Oct. 2006-Aug. 2007 from Tikrit, Iraq, to soldiers in Mosul, Kirkuk, Al Basrah, Baghdad, and other places during Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Nissen returned to the states with a Veterans Administration-certified disability and thus qualified for the Hunting with Heroes permit transfer.
The sheep permit was for hunt Area 12. This area is one of Wyoming’s top trophy sheep units following extensive work to supplement the herd through transplants facilitated by the Wyoming Game and Fish and the Wyoming Wild Sheep Foundation.
Area 12 is located in the northwestern Bighorn Mountains north and east of Lovell, Wyoming. The area takes maximum preference points to draw and represents a 25-year application commitment. Wendtland wanted this tag to go to a Wyoming veteran and female hunter as both his wife and daughter are avid hunters.
The hunt logistics were put together over the course of the summer by Wendtland and former Wyoming Guard officers Matt Huckfeldt of Cheyenne and Scott Fink of Lovell. The hunting also included Lynn Stewart of Dubois, Chris and Liam Fare of Gillette, and Mike Fink of Lovell.
The hunt quickly took on a Wyoming theme (Wyoming folks just pull together and make things happen) as Nissen had never hunted big game and had no gear for such an endeavor.
Wendtland transferred his tag to Nissen with the assistance of Hunting with Heroes. Weatherby Inc. of Sheridan donated a 6.5mm Creedmoor Camila rifle, Teel Gun Works of Wheatland transferred the rifle (FFL), Leupold added a VX3i 4 to 14 scope, rings and bases, and a pair of BX Alpine field glasses, Cari Goss, owner of Azyre Gear fitted Nissen with a Vision Baselayer top, Believe Packable down jacket, Inspire Cashmere beanie, Inspire BFF neck tube and Achieve hiking pants. Black Hills Energy and Marc Ostrem of Gillette piled in with five boxes of ammunition and a rifle sling, T and T Guns and Ammo of Gillette mounted the scope and volunteered their gun range, Mike McGrady of Cheyenne added a Mystery Ranch daypack, Lynn Stewart donated the taxidermy, and 14 of Nona’s Guard colleagues and friends kicked in the trespass fee to access the hunt area.
By the end of June, Nona’s core team was assembled, gear was in place, and it was time to plan final details for a September first departure.
The Fares again spotted the rams close to where they had faded out of sight Saturday evening. This time, however, a ram that had been spotted five days earlier was in the group. His distinct color earned him the nickname “Wyoming chocolate.”
Stewart and Nissen put together a stalk , but again the rams slipped out of the drainage unseen. Team Nissen 0, Rams 2.
The team spread out, searched the drainage from several vantage points and eventually relocated the rams. With all team members contributing, an approach was decided on and the plan put in motion.
At 234 yards Nona set up for a shot. Then she waited.
The rams were bunched, feeding, and did not want to separate, especially one radio-collared ram that had been with the lead ram earlier in the week.
The team waited and waited some more. Nissen was certain three days passed as they waited 15 minutes for the rams to separate. Nissen’s 6.5 barked and one clean shot sealed the deal. High fives, hugs, a “yes, that’s how it’s done” were uttered, and Nissen had her Wyoming chocolate ram.
This hunt showcases how awesome this state and its people are. One of Wyoming’s true heroes is now a bonafied sheep hunter, too. Wyoming women are tough, strong leaders, mothers, and darned good hunters. And Nissen is hooked. She and her new hunting friends are already looking forward to her next big game adventure.