On Tuesday, Aug. 30, 13-year-old Cami Cunningham became the youngest female and the second youngest hunter ever to complete the North Americ
On Tuesday, Aug. 30, 13-year-old Cami Cunningham became the youngest female and the second youngest hunter ever to complete the North American Sheep Grand Slam. The young lady from Dripping Springs, Texas, joins the 66-year-old Grand Slam Club/Ovis after successfully harvesting four different North American sheep species—the desert bighorn, the Dall, the Rocky Mountain bighorn, and the Stone.
For many serious sheep hunters, completing a grand slam (which only a few thousand hunters have officially completed) at such a young age borders on absurdity. But for the Cunningham family, it’s a tradition for kids to go on their first Dall sheep hunt in Alaska when they’re 10 years old. That ritual started with Cami’s grandfather Barry and father Russell. Cami’s 10-year-old sister Stormy kept the tradition going this year when she harvested her first Dall sheep on Aug. 11.
Hunting is an integral part of the siblings’ lives. Russell had his daughters shooting guns on their ranch when they were just 5 years old, and they each started hunting locally at age 9. Cami kicked off her Grand Slam campaign in West Texas, where she tagged a 171-inch desert bighorn ram just before her 10th birthday. Later that year she had a successful Dall sheep hunt in Alaska, where she also tagged a caribou and killed a grizzly bear that ran into camp with a 712-yard shot.
The next sheep on the Cunningham’s grand slam list was the Rocky Mountain bighorn. Russell and Cami traveled to Montana to fill the tag on a hunt with Brendan Burns of KUIU. For Cami to legally hunt sheep in Montana before turning 12, she would have to do so on a chunk of tribal land where age restrictions didn’t apply. She ended up harvesting a ram that had become a pneumonia risk for domestic sheep that grazed nearby.
COVID-19 created some logistical challenges, since the family would have to travel to British Columbia to notch the Stone sheep tag and complete Cami’s slam. They first made an attempt in 2021 when Cami was 12, but vaccine requirements and other complications forced them to go later in the year and they came home from that hunt empty-handed. They made it back to B.C. this year, however, and Cami completed her slam on the 10th day of their trip with a 500-yard uphill shot on a stud ram.
“As soon as he dropped, I just started bawling,” Cami tells Outdoor Life. “We were so excited. The weight had been lifted off our shoulders, it was so relieving.”
The Cost of a Slam
Cami’s journey was marked by long shots, long hikes, long days, and long horns. Cami carried a 7 LRM from Gunwerks for all four hunts. Now her sister Stormy and her .270 Short Mag are chasing sheep as well. Stormy’s first Alaskan sheep hunt demanded 46 miles of hiking in less than a week and culminated with a 167-inch, perfectly symmetrical ram.
“I worked really hard for my sheep,” she says, adding that sheep fajitas are her new favorite food.
Russell recalls some people balking at his father Barry’s decision to take him on a Dall sheep hunt in Alaska when he was only 10 years old, but he stands by his father’s logic and is determined to give his girls the same experiences.
“I had a premonition when I was 9 or 10 that I was going to have two daughters. And so it’s always been that I would take my daughters to Alaska to hunt Dall sheep,” Russell tells Outdoor Life. “Since they were born, I’ve been trying to teach them to be strong women. My wife and I have spent this time allowing the girls to be tough, allowing them to be strong.”
He also noted that he spent 15 years training to become an oral and maxillofacial surgeon so that he could maintain the lifestyle of a traveling big-game hunter for himself and his daughters. His wife, Carly, also runs her own orthodontic practice in town. It’s their professional success that’s allowed their daughters to chase grand slams. Sheep hunting for non-residents is prohibitively expensive for most American hunters. The tags, travel, gear, and outfitter expenses required to complete a grand slam cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. For example, non-enrolled tribal sheep permits often auction for upwards of $100,000 alone.
“I thought about that hunt weekly, monthly, my entire life. As I flew out on that Piper Cub, I made a commitment to myself to be able to take my kids to have that similar experience,” Russell says. “Every time that things were getting tough, I looked back on that hunt, knowing that if I persevered and just kept after it, it was going to turn out well.”
When the girls aren’t hunting, they’re team roping, performing music together, training their goats for 4H competitions, and cheerleading. Carly also joins them on hunts and supports the girls in their pursuits. Both sisters plan on taking their own 10-year-old kids hunting for Dall sheep in Alaska when the time comes.
“We’re just trying to motivate and inspire youth, especially young women, that it’s okay to go hunting with dad, it’s okay to go hunting with mom,” Russell says. “When that moment comes that we’re no longer there for them, they’ll be tough enough to handle whatever comes their way.”