SHERIDAN — Up high, in the craggy peaks of the Sunlight Basin northwest of Cody, there is a creek that tumbles over rocks and boulders in the crisp Wyoming air. At more than 11,000 feet high, that creek is not seen by many eyes, save eagles, Big Horn sheep and other critters who dwell far above the towns below.
But in September, that nameless creek received a name: One Woman Creek.
One Woman Creek was named in honor of a hunter from Dayton who was likely the first woman to hike that terrain, let alone hunt there, successfully taking a Big Horn sheep, which is one of the most prestigious and difficult tags to draw in Wyoming.
The ram was also given a name after being brought off the mountain. Hunter Amber Miles named him Jack Pine, and this is the story of her great hunt, her grand adventure.
Miles is a patient account representative in the billing department at Sheridan Memorial Hospital. She is slight of frame, but that shouldn’t fool anyone about her strength and skill as a hunter.
Miles went on her first hunt before she was born, carried by her mother Yodi Miles — who, herself, drew a Big Horn sheep tag and a mountain goat tag in the same year three years ago and successfully hunted both.
Amber Miles grew up in a family of hunters, a family of three girls all taught to hunt by their father, John Miles, a welder/mechanic at Spring Creek Mine.
“They all hunt. I taught them to hunt in case they ever needed meat on their tables when they got married,” John Miles said.
Family hunting trips happened every year around Halloween. The family cozied up in a camper decorated with pumpkin lights and enjoyed Halloween treats after each day on the hunt.
For Amber Miles, being a hunter meant she would never be less than.
“During school, I wanted to show the boys I could do everything they did, too,” Amber Miles said. “Being a girl isn’t going to slow me down from doing it.”
Amber Miles and her sisters and mom and dad hunted together all through their school years and into their adult years, as well.
“Two years ago, all three girls got their elk,” John Miles said pridefully.
Amber Miles has been putting in for a Big Horn sheep tag for 17 years. In the winter of 2013, she put in for a tag as she had every year before since she was a teenager. On the day of the draw in May, she checked the Game and Fish website fully expecting to see “Unsuccessful” as she had for so many years.
But that morning was different, and Amber Miles soon found herself buying a bigger backpack for the week-long hunt she had waited 17 years to complete. She and her father participated in the Big Horn Mountain Trail Run to get in shape. John Miles would finally be able to check an item off his bucket list: sheep hunting with one of his daughters.
On Sept. 7, John Miles, Amber Miles and her boyfriend, Bryan Smith, joined hunting guide and friend Pat Baumann, known as “Rooster,” in Cody. They drove into Sunlight Basin and prepped for the journey.
Rooster placed their packs so they faced east, west, north, south. He cleansed each hunter with sage and prayed for blessings on the hunt and on the hunters.
“It was very special and very emotional,” Amber Miles said. “When he talked about the spotted eagle, a hawk flew over us and screeched. Then it started to rain, cleansing everything.”
The group hiked more than seven miles into their first camp, completing the journey by the light of headlamps. Amber Miles doesn’t remember the last two miles that were hiked in because she hiked them in complete exhaustion placing one foot in front of the other until she was told she could stop. She jumped at every noise in the dark because she had been told that grizzly bears like to flip rocks over to search for bugs to eat.
“For the next two days, I was in God’s country,” Amber Miles said. “We were at 11,000 feet and the mountains touched the heavens.”
For two days, the group “glassed” the crags and hills with binoculars, searching until their eyes crossed for that dream ram.
He was not to be found.
On the third day, the group hiked back out and decided to try another spot that had been saved for second for a reason: It was a brutally steep trek straight into country where grizzly bears and fierce storms are king.
Days five, six and seven started the same with a breakfast of oatmeal and hot coffee and a scramble up a mountain above camp to find those sheep who hide so well amongst the rocks and cliffs.
By day seven, Amber Miles was fighting discouragement as the week’s days were running out and it was nearly time to go home — with our without her sheep. But then, Smith spotted sheep. Even in the binoculars, they were 1/8-inch dots on the mountainside across the canyon.
The group quickly picked landmarks by which to navigate and started the trek. The men took turns packing Amber Miles’ pack so she could save her energy for the kill.
Amber Miles peeked over the cliff’s edge above the sheep and picked her ram — the biggest ram. Rooster coached her through the shot. She calmed her breathing and squeezed the trigger from 365 yards away.
Dust exploded above the three rams’ heads and they took off.
Amber Miles chambered her second shot and waited. The rams ran straight toward her as she placed the cross hairs of her scope on the ram’s right shoulder.
After hiking more than 40 mountain miles carrying a 40-pound pack for seven days, she joined the elite group of hunters known as sheep hunters.
But the adventure wasn’t over.
Amber Miles made her kill after 4 p.m. By the time the ram was prepped, it was too late to hike back to camp.
The group made a fire, placed sheep meet on pine skewers and feasted on Amber Miles’ hunt beneath the stars falling like rain around their camp.
There were no tents, no sleeping bags, and real rain did fall all night long.
The next morning, the group packed 50 pounds of sheep meat, 40 pounds of head and horns and 20 pounds of sheep cape into their packs and began the treacherous, slippery hike down the mountain in rain that filled their packs and soaked their clothes.
But, with grit and determination, they made it.
With grit and determination, Amber Miles became the first woman to kill a Big Horn sheep along “One Woman Creek” up high in those craggy peaks seen by eagles, rams and now a petite, but skilled, lady hunter.
“The sheep hunt was a challenge, and now I’m looking for my next challenge,” Amber Miles said, hinting at buffalo — with a bow and arrow.