Island of Santa Cruz
Island of Santa Cruz is located North of Santa Catalina and East of Santa Rosa
in the Channel Islands off the coast of California.
Santa Cruz Island is the
largest of California's Channel Islands. Until
recently, Santa Cruz was a privately owned Island. Upon the owner's death,
he passed the island to three of his heirs. In turn, one heir donated a
portion to a State of California conservancy, another donated a portion to the
Federal Government and the third retained private ownership.
The island's eastern tip
comprises 10 percent - about 6,500 acres - of the land. The remaining 90
percent of the island is owned by the Nature Conservancy. The National Park
Service, which administers the Channel Islands National Park, is 75 percent
owner of the eastern tip. Twenty-five percent is owned by a private citizen.
This is the portion of the island we hunt.
In the late 1800's sheep were brought to the island for ranching. Abandoning the domestic sheep operation the herds ran wild, During the intervening century the sheep evolved through natural selection into a distinct breed found nowhere else on earth. Over the years, whaling vessels passing along the coast would send hunting teams ashore to harvest protein for the vessel. On the island, a two hundred year old adobe bunkhouse served as our shelter and a fresh water well provided drinking water.
The hunt is unique as no more than ten hunters are air dropped on to the island with only a backpack, bedroll, bow and eight arrows for a four day stay. I enjoyed many hunts on the island. The combination of very limited cover and 200 years of being pursued makes the sheep a very challenging hunt with bow and arrow. This particular hunt was bitter-sweet, as it was to be the last sheep hunt on the island and the last hunt for one of our hunters.
I was hunting with Dan Fillipi and the "three Steves", Steve Brink, a long time friend, his mother's friend Steve, and Steve Filippi, Dan's dad and another good friend.
The typical hunt began with a short air flight from the mainland to a dirt strip on an open field on the top of the island. On this particular trip, the rain had washed out the air strip, so we jumped on a whale watching boat for a two hour boat ride. As the boat arrived at the shore's breakline, we loaded our backpacks and bows in trash bags and swam ashore.
Chasing the sheep across the island is more art than skill and in reality, a combination of stamina, stealth, obstinance and dumb luck. The hunt is designed to introduce an insufficient number of hunters on the island to work the herds into manageable shooting lanes. With this in mind, if the sheep spot the hunter, they run six miles to the other end of the island and the hunt begin all over again.
Among the handful of Island Rules, is a requirement to check in at camp within 30 minutes following sunset. Failure to do so results in a radio request for first light helicopter search and rescue and the co-incidental $1,000 rescue fee.
On the first night, Steve Brink did not return to camp. After waiting well beyond the cutoff, a local search was commenced. Steve was found a half mile from camp, crawling along a trail badly injured with a severe ACL tear in his knee. After carrying Steve back to camp, his hunt was over.
On the second day, I would lose my footing and fall 50 feet down a loose rock ravine. Bruised, but not beaten, I continued to hunt. Upon my return, I would learn the fall resulted in a broken clavicle and subsequent shoulder reconstruction surgery.
Traversing the hillside, I worked toward the ridge in pursuit of a large ram.
Crossing over the ridge, the stalk on the ram paid off, as the ram was taken at 30 yards. After field dressing the ram, I threw it over my shoulders and packed it two miles back to camp.
Arriving in camp, Steve Fillippi advised me that my head, neck and back was covered with about 100 ticks. I spent the next hour pulling ticks out of my hair, off my skin and out of my clothing. In addition, for the next two weeks I would jump every time I thought felt anything move.
As we prepared to leave the island, helicopters full of Federal Marshal's prepared to raid of the island. After months of failed effort to negotiate the remaining owner out of his control of the island, the Government decided to arrest the owner and the operator of the island for "disturbing Indian relics". There was a small display case in the adobe bunkhouse with a handful of small pieces of pottery and such collected over the years from on the beach, The leverage apparently worked as The Federal Government, under the Clinton Administration, managed to seize the island from its private owner and declared it a Federal Park.
The hunting concession was terminated and the Island's herd of sheep was killed. The justification for killing the sheep was "the sheep threaten the native foliage". After 200 years, anything the sheep had not eaten was not going to be eaten... It was a sad day for the island.
So, after four days, the scorecard looked like this: 10 Hunters took 9 sheep; the Island took one hunter's knee and one shoulder; the Marshal's took one island operator and one owner; the Federal Sharp Shooters took about 2,000 sheep.
Shortly after this trip, Steve Fillipi (fourth from right) passed away. He was an accomplished hunter, a gentlemen, a sportsman and most important a good friend.
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