Archery Shop Owner Tags Desert Bighorn Sheep

Archery shop owner John Schaffer knows that drawing a coveted tag for desert bighorn sheep is very difficult, but it might be the easiest part of actually killing a ram with a bow.

Archery Shop Owner Tags Desert Bighorn Sheep

In the town of Burnsville, Minnesota, about a half-hour drive south of Minneapolis, there is an iconic archery shop called Schaffer Performance Archery ( Owner John Schaffer opened the doors to his business in 1997. Schaffer lives and breathes archery. He owns a pro shop, has his own line of bowsights and arrow rests, and is a diehard bowhunter.

In addition to running a successful archery business for 25 years, he has slowly but surely worked his way toward an archery Super Slam — killing all 29 big game animals in North America with a bow. Killing all 29 animals with a bow wasn’t a childhood dream like you might suspect.

John Schaffer ties in a peep sight for a customer at his archery shop in Burnsville, Minnesota.
John Schaffer ties in a peep sight for a customer at his archery shop in Burnsville, Minnesota.

“Over the course of my adult life, I have hunted all over North America,” Schaffer said. “Many of my hunting trips were low-budget trips that I did on my own. Slowly, over the course of many years, I started to kill a wide variety of different species. Killing the Super Slam was never on my radar until a guide I was hunting with inquired about how many big game animals were left on my list until I harvested all 29 animals with a bow. As I started to tally up the numbers, I realized that killing all 29 animals was within reach.”

In preparation for his many big game hunts throughout North America, John Schaffer regularly hikes and lifts weights in his home state of Minnesota.
In preparation for his many big game hunts throughout North America, John Schaffer regularly hikes and lifts weights in his home state of Minnesota.

The Elusive Sheep

What keeps many bowhunters from ever even coming close to killing all 29 animals with their bow — regardless of their skill or dedication — is money. Over the last several decades, the cost of killing many of the animals has skyrocketed. Of all the animals on the list, the wild sheep are some of the most expensive animals to hunt.

“Elk, bear and a variety of other animals on the list can be killed relatively inexpensively,” Schaffer said. “Sheep, on the other hand, can be very expensive to hunt because the tags are very limited. A couple of the sheep on the list like the desert bighorn and the Rocky Mountain bighorn stand in the way of many hunters completing the Slam because a hunter has to spend a lot of money on a tag, or they have to draw a tag.”

Drawing a sheep tag in the United States is nearly impossible. Only a small number of states have sheep populations large enough to hunt, and thousands of people put in for those tags each year. In addition to drawing or buying a sheep tag, filling the tag is extremely difficult with a bow. Bowhunting any animal requires hard work, grit and a little bit of luck. Successfully harvesting a sheep with a bow requires an above average amount of all three. Luck was on John Schaffer’s side in more ways than one in 2021.

“For many years, I have been putting in for a desert bighorn sheep tag,” Schaffer said. “I have a tag drawing service called Huntin’ Fool do all the research and apply for the tags for me. They do all the work, and the truth is, I don’t pay much attention to the process. Like many hunters, I don’t get online the day the tag results are out; I just apply and hope that one day I will draw the tag. Last year, I got a call from Huntin’ Fool and they asked me if I had checked the Nevada draw results, and I told them I hadn’t. They asked me if I was sitting down, then told me I had drawn a Nevada desert bighorn sheep tag!”

With a coveted tag in his possession, the next step for Schaffer was finding a guide. “I don’t typically hire a guide when bowhunting in the United States, so I asked a few friends who have sheep hunted and they pointed me in the right direction. I hired two young guides, Sage Mori and Dalton Frank (below). They didn’t have a lot of experience hunting sheep in the area I was hunting in Nevada, and they mostly took gun hunters, but they were hard working and ended up being two of the best guides I have ever hunted with.”

John Schaffer (center) celebrates his desert bighorn sheep success with his two young guides.
John Schaffer (center) celebrates his desert bighorn sheep success with his two young guides.

A Bowhunter Has to be a Little Crazy

The hunt took place in September 2021. The odds of drawing this sheep tag were extremely small, but the odds of killing a ram with a bow in this unit were even smaller.

“I was the only bowhunter in this unit,” Schaffer said. “Everyone else was hunting with a gun, which made this hunt really challenging because we were hunting a relatively small area. One gun hunter killed a ram relatively early on in the hunting season, and in some ways that was a good thing because it meant there was one less hunter on the mountain, but it made the sheep a little spooky.

“We kept running into hunters, and each time someone saw me with a bow, they would comment that I was kind of crazy. After a few days of tough hunting, I began to question whether or not they were right. About that same time, the guides and I began to discuss whether or not I should go home and come back again later in the season after all the rifle hunters had finished up. It was a tough decision to make. With each passing day, the sheep became more and more elusive, and the hunting got more difficult. The risk was if the area received a lot of snow later in the season, the hunting would be over. I made the decision to stay and hunt.”


Cat and Mouse

Sometimes in life, you have to make your own luck. That’s what happened on the sixth day of the hunt. Schaffer kept hunting hard and pushing forward and eventually luck rolled his way.

“We kept looking for sheep even though things weren’t looking good, and on day six, we found a really nice looking ram kind of in a secluded area with a few subordinate rams, ewes and lambs. He was hanging out in an avalanche slide. We decided we would watch him all day and wait for him to make a move and then go after him.”

When sheep hunting, the hunter is often playing a game of cat and mouse with the ram. That was the case here. Schaffer and his guides laid around on the rim of a mountain watching the ram in the bottom of the mountain for hours on end. At one point, the group of sheep started to feed up the mountain toward Schaffer.

“We were hoping that the sheep would feed our way, but eventually the wind started to swirl,” Schaffer explained. “The group spooked and headed back to the bottom. We spent several hours watching them and making a plan in an effort to determine how I could get within bow range.” 


The Final Push

About an hour before sunset, the sheep were on the move again. Schaffer decided that he needed to be aggressive

“Cutting the distance to the ram was going to be tough because they were relatively in the open, but I felt like it was now or never. I told my guide, ‘Let’s go!’ We went over the rim and down the avalanche slide toward the ram,” Schaffer said with a laugh. “It was a big guessing game. We weren’t sure where they were going to pop out, but we got behind this small rock ledge and worked our way in the direction they were heading. The rock ledge wasn’t very big, and the place they were in was very open, so this was very risky. However, the plan worked! 

"When I got to the end of the ledge where it dropped off and peeked over the edge, there was the ram, and he was looking up in our direction. He was on to us. I dropped out of view, got ready to shoot, and asked my guide to range him with the rangefinder. He told me 66 yards. I aimed, shot, and ended up taking out the bottom of the ram’s heart. The entire process from the time I saw him until I shot was only a few seconds. The shot was at an extreme downward angle, but I made the shot and killed the ram. He ended up being the oldest and best ram we had seen on the hunt!”


Practice and Preparation

The legendary Team USA Olympic hockey coach, Herb Brooks, once said, “Great moments are born from great opportunity, and that’s what you have here tonight, boys. That’s what you’ve earned here tonight.”

The day John Schaffer drew the desert bighorn sheep tag, he was given a great opportunity. From that moment on, he did what was needed to earn the ram. “I take my prep work very seriously,” Schaffer said. “I lift weights, I hike with a 35-pound backpack on my back several times a week, and I shoot arrows at long distances.”

Being an archery pro shop owner, Schaffer knows what he needs to do to be ready for an extreme adventure like a sheep hunt. “I practice shooting at 100 yards and I shoot downhill. I shoot daily, and I shoot in all weather. Many hunters practice only on the sunny days. I practice on the windy and rainy days, as well, because those are often the conditions I am hunting in. I practice with broadheads, and on extreme hunts like this one, I go with a fixed-blade broadhead. I use an extreme helical vane and my arrows are typically around 450 grains, regardless of what animal I’m hunting.”

Schaffer is an engineer by trade, a pro shop owner and a meticulous bowhunter who is detail-oriented. A skill set like this makes him a great bowhunter. He is only a few animals away from completing his Super Slam. Thirty years ago, he never dreamed he would complete it. Today, he encourages every bowhunter to go on dream hunts.

“Some of my favorite memories as a bowhunter were low-budget hunts I did on my own years ago,” Schaffer said. “Many bowhunters believe you have to be wealthy to go on an elk hunt, a bear hunt, or an antelope hunt. The truth is, there are many amazing and affordable DIY hunting trips bowhunters can go on right here in America.”

John Schaffer has traveled all over North America in search of big game animals. When possible, he prefers DIY trips to keep overall costs down.
John Schaffer has traveled all over North America in search of big game animals. When possible, he prefers DIY trips to keep overall costs down.

Sidebar: Winning the Hunting Lottery

Most bowhunters would tell you that killing big bucks and bulls across North America is out of reach for the average bowhunter, but that’s simply not true. The easiest way for bowhunters to chase their hunting dreams is to put in for draw hunts.

Much like winning the lottery and becoming a multi-millionaire, drawing a coveted sheep or elk tag requires a lot of luck. What it also requires is discipline — something you can control. You can’t win the lottery unless you buy lottery tickets, and you can’t draw a great sheep or other big game tag unless you apply.

Some of the most successful bowhunters on the planet are average Joe’s who put in for tags in trophy units across America every year. In most cases, the odds of drawing a great sheep, elk or deer tag in some of the most sought after units are very small, but every year a few hunters get lucky, and you could be one of the lucky ones if you keep putting in for the tags.

“The odds of me drawing the Nevada desert bighorn sheep tag was a fraction of 1 percent, but I still drew it,” said John Schaffer. “To buy that tag would have been well over $100,000!”

Putting in for tags on low-draw units that hold large animals is the least-expensive way to kill a trophy animal. Most states charge a fee to put in for a draw hunt, and it can get expensive. You can keep the overall costs down by applying for only a few hunts each year. Knowing when application deadlines are and knowing which units hold the largest animals are the keys to success.

If you don’t want to do the research, the most affordable option is to hire a tag drawing service such as Huntin’ Fool to do the research for you. Learn more about them by visiting


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