Randy Johnson is one of the true gentleman sheep hunters in the West today. He is a rare combination of successful sheep guide and accomplished sheep hunter. Randy has personally taken the Grand Slam of Wild Sheep and is well on his way to a second–not an easy task considering how much time he spends as a guide helping other hunters pursue the same goal. Randy is a deserving inductee into the Full Curl Hall of Fame, and is very active in many sportsman’s groups, taking on and working to solve tough issues throughout the West.
Many people know Randy for his discovery of, and subsequent 10-year quest to hunt the famous “Buck of Justice” back in the 1990s. Although he never took the buck, he did end up with 3 sets of his sheds and a legendary tale of persistence after one of the most iconic deer in the last 50 years.
As tough and knowledgeable as they come, Randy is as nice of a guy as you could ever come across in the mountains.
Name: Randy Johnson
Age: 64 and still going strong!
Company: High Desert Wild Sheep Guides
Areas Hunted: Utah, Wyoming, Colorado, Mexico, British Columbia, New Mexico, Arizona, Northwest Territories
Animals/Species Guided: Sheep, elk, buffalo, mountain goat
Years Guiding/Outfitting: Nearly 30 years
Hometown: Marysvale, Utah
Vias or Verde?: BOTH – depending on terrain. I also like the solid colors.
Favorite piece of KUIU clothing and/or gear: I like all of KUIU’s clothing and gear. However, the Super Down jackets, Icon Pro backpack, Alpine Pant and Mountain Star 2-Man Tent are special.
What’s your philosophy on gear? What made you choose KUIU?
The hunting gear that I choose must be functional, comfortable, durable and relatively lightweight. It must be capable of performing at the highest level possible when I’m out on the mountain facing extreme weather conditions. I chose KUIU because Jason and his team utilize the latest, cutting edge technology in their clothing fabrics, backpacks and accessories. Their philosophy on ultralight hunting gear was exactly what I have been looking for. I appreciate the fact the KUIU team are hunters themselves and they are not afraid to ask guides such as myself for our opinion. They are also very personable.
How did you get into hunting and guiding? Give us a little about your background.
I grew up in a small, rural area, and developed a passionate love for wild places and mountain hunting at an early age as my grandfather and dad were outstanding hunters. I’ve hunted since I was old enough to shoot a gun. I got into guiding sheep hunters in particular because people knew that I had spent years exploring and hunting in southern Utah’s desert country and hunters began asking me to guide them into some very inhospitable and isolated sheep country.
Besides being a passionate hunter I worked hard to put myself through college and was a successful collegiate baseball player, high school coach, teacher, educational administrator and superintendent in Utah for 40 years. I’m also a published author of the fictional novel, “The Front,” and have written countless articles on hunting, backpacking, getting into “sheep shape,” etc. I’ve devoted years of my life to successfully guiding hunters in taking trophy rams and other big game animals. My knowledge of the sheep hunting terrain in southern Utah is legendary as well as my passion for chasing giant desert mule deer bucks such as the famous Buck of Justice!
I’m a hardcore backpack hunter and I understand what it means to make difficult personal and family sacrifices to pursue personal hunting dreams. I completed my personal Full Curl™ of North American sheep in 2001 and am half way to my second slam. I’m “diehard” passionate and dedicated to hunting and have always worked tirelessly to not only ensure the success of my hunting clients but in promoting our hunting heritage!
What is the key to taking a good field photo and what is your advice for a hunter to properly document their hunt?
Clean up the animal as best you can and take pictures from various angles to not only honor that trophy where it was taken but capture the terrain, sky, hunter, etc. Don’t get in a hurry when taking your pictures.
Proper documentation of the hunt can be done through you personally writing about your hunt/experience in a journal. Take time to submit stories to various magazines. Get your animal officially scored if it is should be noted in a record book.
Would you rather hunt for yourself or guide a hunter?
Both! It gives me tremendous satisfaction to help guide a hunter to a trophy ram or animal. It’s the same kind of “adrenaline rush” that I used to get when competing in athletics. I love the feeling when I can help another hunter to achieve their lifelong dreams that the sweat and toil of personal goals were made of. With that said I still find incredible joy in finding time once in a while to get out on the mountain myself to hunt myself in testing my stamina, knowledge and abilities against those of a trophy big game animal on its home turf.
You have a very cool E-mail list and E-mail hunting update that you do. How did that come about and what do you enjoy about doing it?
Years ago when email came out I had various hunters and friends who ask me to share my hunting experiences and knowledge with them. At that time I began adding the names and email addresses of friends to what I referred to as “My Personal Hunter’s List Serve.” On my List Serve I shared pictures and stories of not only my hunts and adventures but also from those that my friends had experienced who chose to share and send their stories personally to me. I did not just choose to post pictures of the biggest animals but I thoroughly enjoyed recognizing young hunters, etc, no matter what caliber of animal they had harvested. I also began posting personal gear reviews and sharing information on things such as physical conditioning, promoting different hunting events, application deadlines and my own adventures. I also, at times, would post my personal philosophy and thoughts on various aspects of hunting as well as the promotion of our Hunting Heritage.
It should be noted that if someone shares a personal picture or story with me but doesn’t want me to post it to my Hunter’s List Serve then I always respect and honor that request. I will not breech a persons trust in me. I never post a picture or story someone has sent to me without the approval of the hunter or person involved.
Countless times, I’ve been contacted by hunters around our country and around the globe who I didn’t even know who ask to be added to my Hunter’s List Serve. I now have hundreds of names on my group list and I don’t know how many forward or share what I post with others. There have been specific instances when I have removed names from my Hunter’s List Serve because of individuals who were either unethical, dishonest or were using me for information such as where I was hunting, etc, without any integrity or intent of being a true friend. I’ve learned some tough lessons in this regard over the years but I still enjoy providing this service to our hunting community. It is my way of “paying back” everything that hunting has given to me over the years. As a general rule I believe that most individuals on my list enjoy my posts.
You have taken a Grand Slam of Sheep. It’s hard to pick but what was your favorite sheep hunt?
It is difficult to pick but my favorite personal sheep hunt was when I took my Stone ram. We backpack hunted in the Stikine Mountains of British Columbia for 9 days in some very difficult terrain before we even spotted a ram. The guides didn’t think we could get to the ram before dark but I made the call to bust our butts up through some ledges and around a lake to get there. It was really cold and the wind was blowing extremely hard. To complicate matters the ram had us nailed down on an open ridge and we couldn’t get any closer than 700 yards. The guide couldn’t believe it when I made the shot. What a memorable moment and trophy.
What’s the most challenging hunt you’ve been part of—both guiding or for yourself?
Wow, that’s a difficult question since there have been so many of them over the years. I do remember a desert sheep hunt on Utah’s Escalante Unit. This unit may be perhaps the most isolated and physically rugged unit/terrain in North America. I had an ex-college football player/hunter from Virginia. On this hunt he had a rifle that had a new scope on it and my hunter kept missing solid shots at rams with his gun. The hunt was extremely hot and we stayed in there backpacking for 14 days before the “sheep gods” smiled down upon us and he connected with a great trophy ram that was fighting with another hammer ram. Their horns were literally hooked together when he shot his trophy. That’s the only time in all my years of sheep hunting that I’ve seen two rams’ horns locked together where they couldn’t get undone. When the dead ram fell down he pulled the live ram down with him and after thrashing around they disconnected. We were also out of food at that time and miles from my truck. What a hunt. This particular hunter and I are still very good friends to this day and he and I both completed our personal slams in the same year.
What areas have you guided in? What game is your favorite to guide for? Do you have a least favorite?
I’ve guided primarily in Utah, mostly for desert and rocky mountain sheep. I have also guided mountain goat, buffalo and elk hunters but sheep is my favorite because of the physical and mental challenges they represent. I have also guided for desert sheep in Sonora and have helped guide hunts with guiding friends in Arizona, Colorado and New Mexico.
What’s the most rewarding aspect of guiding a hunter?
Watching them overcome difficult obstacles as well as mental/physical challenges to be successful in achieving goals that they have worked extremely hard and sacrificed so much for. I have always preferred and gotten the most satisfaction out of guiding hunters who truly appreciated the incredible opportunity they had of hunting a trophy animal out on the mountain and appreciated the overall, encompassing experience just as much as the kill.
What’s the most unconventional piece of gear that most people would be surprised to find in your pack?
Cotton balls that I use to stick in the nose of an animal that has a lot of blood and other fluids draining out of its nasal cavity so that we can take pictures. I also use the cotton balls coated with petroleum jelly to use as fire starter. Another unconventional piece of gear is a small surgeon’s medical stapler for stapling severe cuts or wounds and to staple the mouth of an animal shut for pictures.
There are a lot of opinions on what makes a good guide. What makes a good client? On that note, what makes a terrible client?
A good guide will work their butt off to ensure the success of a client, are extremely knowledgeable in regards to not only the animal they are hunting but they must also know the country they are in like the back of their hand. Good guides are passionate, personable, ethical, honest and make clients feel like they are part of their family. They are totally committed, dedicated and give 150% at all times.
A terrible client knows it all, is not prepared physically and is not willing to go where you need to take them to harvest their animal. They are lazy, and don’t know much about the animal they are hunting. They only care about “killing” and not the encompassing overall experience. They also don’t care if the animal they harvest is taken through dishonest or unethical means. They are someone you just don’t enjoy being around.
What is the best advice you can give to a client before they come on a hunt with you?
If you want to enjoy your sheep hunt and be successful then get into the best “physical condition” that you possibly can!!! That means hiking with a heavy pack on in steep, unconventional terrain for months before your scheduled hunt. Working out solely in the gym just won’t get it done when it comes to preparing for a backpack hunt.
I also tell clients to get away from the conventional gun range and go shoot your rifle safely somewhere at targets set up to simulate steep angles and varying distances, both up and down!
What optics do you use? Straight or angled?
Swarovski 15×56 HD’s on a tripod. Swarovski 30×65 STS, straight spotting scope. However, I’m now considering using an angled spotting scope because they are easier to digiscope with.
How do you stay in shape and what are your thoughts on physical fitness for hunting?
I stay in shape by spending a great deal of my time hiking and backpacking in the mountains. I’m always planning scouting and backpacking trips. I don’t spend much time running anymore but when I do I run “hill intervals.” During the summer months I also have a steep mountain bike course mapped out near my home that really gives me an incredible workout. I don’t lift weights that much anymore but when I do I work in a lot of dead lifts and lunges. Another workout I try and fit into my schedule is Yoga that involves a lot of stretching.
When you aren’t guiding, what’s your favorite animal to hunt for yourself?
Sheep and mule deer! I just love the physical and mental challenges that most sheep hunts present. I also enjoy chasing giant desert mule deer, one of the toughest trophies in North America to find and harvest.
What’s your favorite wild game to eat and how do you prepare it?
Venison. Wisk up an egg and dip tenderloin or steaks into it. I roll the steaks in flour, salt, pepper and other seasonings then fry them in butter! That’s how my grandpa and parents raised me!
What’s the best advice you can give new guides looking to get in the business? What do you know now that you wish someone would have told you when you first started?
Be a human vacuum cleaner – gather as much knowledge as you possibly can from those who are most respected in the business. Get out there and learn. Don’t act like you know it all. Ask a lot of questions and don’t be afraid to work. Never forget that a guide/outfitter didn’t reach the apex of the hunting business without a few failures along the way. Most importantly, build your reputation on being a man or woman whose word is your bond. Never substitute your integrity or honesty for success!
I wish someone would have told me when I first started hunting/guiding to not place my trust in many people who may say they are your friends but in reality they only wanted to learn my secrets or gain knowledge as to how and where I was taking trophy animals. Quite often, however, they abused that trust and friendship for their own gain and fame! I’ve learned that sadly, in the guiding/outfitting business there are those who will say and do anything to be successful and in my opinion that hurts all of us as hunters, guides, outfitters and our Hunting Heritage overall.