Oregon Bighorn Sheep Hunt
When I checked online to see what tags I had, or hadn't, drawn for this year, I was shocked to see a picture of a Bighorn Sheep, along with an Elk, meaning that I was successful for both!
I am lucky, in that I live very close to where I was to go hunting, and that I had been on several hunts with other people in this area, and that I hunt deer in this area, and that I grew up hunting this area, and that my sister and her husband own and operate a cattle ranch and run their cattle in this area, and are the premier go-to people for sheep hunters for this area. They are no longer guides, but will offer info to just about anyone who asks about it. I am very lucky. They both drew their tags, in 91, and 93.
When I called my sister Cindy, to talk to her about this, she had already heard that I had drawn a tag, news travels fast around here. The first thing that she told me, was that she had talked to her neighbors that also had cattle in this area, and they told her about seeing 50 Rams in a certain canyon. My first thought was that they meant 50 sheep. Cindy assured me that they had said 50 Rams! The excitement was mounting rapidly now.
Through a series of events, including work, and taking my son to a National track meet in North Carolina, I was not able to scout like I would have liked, but I was not too concerned, I do know the area very well and had a little insider information available. I did contact the local Biologist with the Oregon department of fish and wildlife. After talking with him, I was assured that I had plenty of info to go on.
Without much deliberation, we, my wife Kathy and I, decided that the best campsite would be in my sister's orchard, on the lawn and in the shade. In this part of eastern Oregon, there is very little water, and even less shade. This turned out to be a very good decision, as the temperature was in excess of 100 degrees on opening day.
Opening day brought us to the mountains where the 50 Rams had been seen. I had a good group helping me out that day, including my best hunting buddy Bill, my friend and pilot Jeff, his friend Eric, Eric's son Cameron who was practice hunting, as he had a tag for an adjacent unit for the second season, my sister Cindy, and my wife Kathy. Bill would drop us off and then drive around the mountain to pick us up, if we went off of that side, Cindy would ride her horse, and spot some canyons to the north of where we were expecting the sheep to be, and the rest of us would hike straight up the mountain to a rendezvous spot with Cindy. After an elevation gain of about 1500 feet, we were on the top of the ridge that we had wanted to be on. We met with Cindy and she told us that she had seen no sheep in her spotting stops, and that the country that we were getting into was too rough for her horse, so she would return home to put her horse away, and return to spot from lower country and contact me by radio or cell phone, if she spotted anything. The rest of us set up our spotting scopes, looked over the canyon before us, had lunch, and rested up. When we had not seen anything, we decided to move to the south to the next canyon. This would involve another elevation gain of several hundred feet.
Jeff was the first to get set up where he could see into the next canyon. I didn't even get to look through my binoculars, when Jeff is on the radio asking if I saw the Rams. I couldn't see them, so I moved to where Jeff was and immediately saw what he was looking at. There were two young Rams feeding about 600 yards below us. After getting excited about finally seeing sheep, these were the first live sheep that Cameron had ever seen, we started looking around for the rest of the "50" Rams. It didn't take long to start seeing more sheep, but they all seemed to be in the next canyon to the south, another mile or so away. With the temperature as high as it was, the heat waves were too much to see very well in the spotting scopes, but we did determine that what we were seeing was mostly ewes and lambs. After a little while we spotted four more rams on the ridge just past where we had seen the original two Rams, these held a little more promise. As I said, the heat waves were terrible by this time, and it was hard to judge how big they might be. After not seeing any more sheep that we knew were Rams, I decided to take a closer look as these four. We decided that Kathy, Jeff, and I would go to a spot that looked to be a couple hundred yards from the Rams, and Eric, and Cameron would stay put and keep tabs on what was happening with the scope, and let us know on the radio, if there were any changes.
The three of us hadn't gone a hundred yards, out of sight from the Rams, when Eric called on the radio to tell me that the Rams were on the move. We stopped, and went back to watch and see what was happening. The Rams were on the move to the north, where we had just come from. After watching them for a while, we were sure that they had not moved on account of us. A new plan was put into effect, Eric and Cameron would go back north on the ridge that we had come up on, and the rest of us would try to follow and eventually cut off the four Rams. The plan was working, until I got a little too quick without looking and the Rams came back into view while we were moving across a hillside. They weren't spooked, but they were sure watching what we were doing, so the three of us just sat on the hillside waiting. After a while, they moved off down the ridge they were on, and out of sight into the main canyon that we had glassed so carefully when we first got to the top of the mountain earlier. Eric and Cameron were keeping an eye on them while we started moving again. When they started coming up out of the canyon on the other side, we had figured out that there was water in the bottom. I decided to push to see if I could get closer by getting out of sight behind the ridge that they had followed and hurrying down to get close. As they started coming out, I was talking to Eric, and it became apparent that we were seeing different Rams. The four that we had been following were going on to the north up the far side of the canyon, while there were six more that had been in the bottom the entire time.
I didn't have to wait too long to decide that they were a lot bigger that those that we had followed. After looking at them with my spotting scope, I decided to try a shot at one of the big ones. I put my pack on some rocks to rest on, laid my old trusty model 70 30-06 across the pack and got ready to shoot. When Kathy and Jeff told me that they were ready to video what was happening, I took the shot at a Ram that was broomed on the left side and looked to be the biggest of the bunch. Dust flew, and away they went, up the ridge, the one that I had shot at in the lead, with the others following so close that I didn't dare try another shot. About the time that we had decided that I had missed completely, the Rams started veering back down into the canyon, and the big Ram started to limp and stumble. At that time I was thinking that I had scored a hit and he would fall at any time, wrong. When they reached the bottom of the canyon, several hundred yards below us, I decided to try to cut them off down the ridge from us. I took a drink from my water bottle, that was the last water that we had, and took off down the ridge. Jeff would bring my pack, and catch up with me.
I caught up with the Rams as they were starting to go up toward the canyon where we had followed the others from. The big guy was still in the lead, still seemed to be limping, but it was not stopping him. I couldn't get a good rest to shoot from, but when I had an opportunity to take a shot without danger of hitting another Ram, I took it, in fact I shot several more times, finally giving up and watching him go over the ridge. I made a mental note of where he had gone over by a big boulder, so I could get there and try to track him.
By this time the lack of water was taking it's toll. When Jeff caught up, he told me that Kathy was out of water and heading down to where Bill was waiting with the pickup. Eric and Cameron were still on top of the mountain, also out of water. I left Jeff to try to guide Eric and Cameron to the spot where I had last seen the Ram, as they could come down that ridge without climbing, and I went to the pickup for water. I had plans of getting water, then going back up to where I thought the Ram would have gone, but before I got to the pickup, I talked to Kathy and realized that she was in potential trouble due to lack of water. I walked to the pickup and drank my fill, then stumbled back up the canyon to take water to Kathy, thankfully she was OK. Meanwhile there was some confusion with Cameron and Eric, about just where to come down to where the sheep had been seen last. Finally, they were able to meet up with Jeff and come down the rest of the way with flashlights. I took water as far as I could make it up to meet them. Once again, thankfully everyone was OK.
The next day, Jeff, Eric, and Cameron were not able to come back, so the plan was made to bring Cindy's horses and see if I could find tracks, or blood, or both. After unloading, and riding back up the mountain to where I had last seen the Ram, I got off of the horse and started tracking on foot, while Cindy took my horse and went to the creek for water. I found the Ram's tracks, but could find no blood, and after tracking him for several hours, lost the tracks in the tall grass, and brush. By this time, I was convinced that if I did hit him, it wasn't as bad as I had thought the day before. Kathy and Bill had ridden four wheelers up the road in the next canyon, and met up with us where Cindy watered the horses, then Bill and I took the four wheelers up the road to spot, while Cindy and Kathy rode back to the pickups. We saw no sheep at all that day.
On Monday, Cindy, Bill, Kathy, and I went to another mountain to scout. We found some sign and had a great time visiting, and seeing some new country, but saw no sheep that day.
Tuesday took the four of us to another area that we were confidant there would be sheep. It is a big rim where I took Jeff's son to get his Ram two years earlier. Cindy has taken several hunters there over the years, and in fact there is a memorial monument for a guy who had killed a Ram there several years earlier. When he passed away, his family put the monument on top of the highest part of the rim. First, we drove to the bottom of the rim, and spotted for several hours without seeing anything. Cindy finally said that we should go to the top of the mountain to see if they were up there. After driving for a couple of hours to get on top, we immediately found a couple of sickle horn rams, just lying out in the open. While Cindy, Kathy, and I walked to get a different angle on those little rams, to see if there were big ones somewhere, Bill spotted a decent Ram back behind us. We went to where we could see him, and put Cindy's Swarovski spotting scope on him. After looking for a while, I thought I would try to get closer, when I started moving, he got nervous and got up to leave. This gave us a better look at him, we decided that he wasn't the one. I caught up with him in the next canyon, where he had picked up a smaller Ram. We also found some ewes and lambs, but no big Rams.
When we got back to the ranch that evening, Cindy's husband, Rod, told us that a neighbor, who had some antelope hunters staying with him, said that they had spotted a big Ram all alone. He gave a general location, so that's where Kathy, Bill, and I went on Wednesday.
Cindy couldn't go with me on Wednesday, so we went looking for the big lone Ram without her. The wind was just howling all day on Wednesday, so I really didn't want to go charging into an area and blow the lone Ram out, so I spotted from close to the pickup. We didn't see any sheep that day, but we saw several antelope, and I got to within 30 yards of a forked horn buck.
I had decided that I wanted to go back into the area of the "50" Rams. On Thursday morning, Cindy, Kathy, and I unloaded Cindy and Rod's four wheelers and headed up the mountain. Bill took my pickup with his four wheeler, and went around the other side of the mountain again. By now, the weather had changed from the 100's to about 40 degrees when we got to the end of the road for the four wheelers. The three of us got our packs on, full of lunch, and plenty of water. I didn't even bother to take my spotting scope, because compared to Cindy's scope, mine was like not having one. Besides, it saved that much weight in my pack.
We took our time getting up to the top of the mountain, it was so cold, that we didn't want to overheat then freeze when we stopped walking. When I was almost to the pass where we were going to cross over the mountain, I came face to face with some deer. I didn't want to spook them over the pass to scare any Rams that might be close, so I waited. Cindy and Kathy caught up, and waited with me. Kathy got some great pictures of the deer, it appeared to be a doe, twins, and last years fawn that hadn't left his mom yet, a spike. Finally the deer tired of us and moved away from us, and down the hill on the side we had come up.
When we went through the pass, and to the other side of the mountain, the country started looking like sheep country. There were vertical cliffs, rock slides, broken rims, and generally rough country. It was pick and choose to find a trail through to where we wanted to go. I stopped to look through my binoculars every little ways, hoping that I wouldn't spook anything out right in front of us. The wind was blowing up from the other side of the mountain, pretty much in our face. After we got through the worst of the rim rocks, we decided that it was time to set up the spotting scope. While Cindy and Kathy were getting the scope put on the tripod, I spotted seven Rams bedded down on a hillside, way below us.
We checked them out for a while, and thought that there might have been one that was deserving of another look. While Cindy was looking them over a little better, I kept glassing, and to my amazement, found a very big herd of sheep bedded down on a hillside even farther down the mountain. They were about two miles below us. I told Cindy where they were, and that I thought that I had found the family herd. She focused her Swarovski on them and shouted "they are all Rams". There were twenty three Rams in that group, and with the seven that we had been looking at, though it only added up to thirty, all of a sudden the "50" Rams in one canyon that Cindy had been told about, seemed very possible. A look at the time, it was 10:50.
Looking at the big group, we determined that there were probably a couple of shooters in the group, so we only had to come up with a plan. The wind was steady from below, so for now anyway, that wouldn't be an issue. We worked our way to the north and down the canyon toward the ridge that ultimately, was behind the Rams. When we got to where we could be out of sight, we adjusted the plan, all the while keeping an eye on the seven rams up the hill, and looking for anything else that might spook out. We decided that Cindy should stay where she could keep an eye on the Rams, and let us know on the radio if anything changed while Kathy and I were out of sight. I had picked out a landmark of two big boulders that I thought would be about two hundred yards from the Rams.
Everything was working the way it was planned so far. Just as I crawled up to the rock that I should be able to see them from, they decided to leave. When I could see, Cindy came over the radio to say that they were leaving. I ended up being four hundred yards from them, but it didn't matter, because they were moving. I just sat there and watched them to see what they were going to do, but soon it became clear that they weren't going anywhere, they were just getting a drink and feeding.
All of the Rams had moved into the tall sagebrush in the bottom of the canyon, along with some cattle that seemed more bothered by our presence than the rams were. After watching the Rams for a long time, with the cattle watching me, I decided that I needed to try something. I left Kathy where we were and I started the sneak. I worked my way down into the bottom, in and out of the tall brush and willows, all the time hoping that the cows didn't foul me up, but they must have decided that I wasn't a real big threat, because they didn't spook any more. The Rams were feeding slowly down the canyon, through the brush and willows. I kept moving slowly and as quietly as I could, trying to get close enough to pick out the big one and get a shot. The cows ended up being my ally, because when I made a noise, the rams would look up, look at the cows and go back to what they were doing. After what seemed like days, I was getting close, but couldn't see good enough to decide on anything. I got into some sagebrush that was about eight feet tall, and in the middle of it was a rock just right for a seat, so I sat. There were six Rams on the hillside to my left, and the others were out of sight down the canyon. The six decided to bed down at two hundred twenty yards from me and watch me sit in the brush. The canyon made a hairpin turn right below me, and I was hoping that the others would join them, so I could get in on top of them to get a better look. Finally, the six decided to get up and join their friends. I sat there looking for a little while, and decided that it was time to make my move to catch up with them. As soon as I stood up, I realized that they were not going down the canyon, they were coming right to me! There were several of the Rams standing on a rock at about thirty yards, and several more were even closer to me, coming toward me. As I was trying to figure out where the bigger ones were, I caught movement to my left, and when I looked, there was one of the bigger Rams looking at me from across the creek, at about twenty five FEET. I had no choice but to sit motionless until they moved to where they couldn't see me. When they did, I got up and moved up the canyon to where things opened up, The Rams still hadn't been spooked by me. I got to where I could see across the creek and waited, nothing happened. I risked another move and crossed the creek to move up the hillside to a small rim rock, I still couldn't see the Rams but I knew that they were all within a few yards of me, so I sat down and got a rest over the rocks. At about that time some Rams started coming out on the other side of the creek so I could see them. The first one seemed to be the one that Cindy and I had thought was one of the big ones from way up the mountain, he had a noticeably broomed left horn. I waited until most, if not all of those Rams came into view and made the decision to shoot. I knew that this Ram was not the Boone and Crockett Ram that I had been hoping for, but I also knew that this was the Ram that I wanted to look at for the rest of my life. After all that had happened in the past week, and especially in the last few hours, I was not going to pass up this opportunity, this was indeed the once in a lifetime opportunity that had been granted to me, and it was time.
The Ram was walking up the other hillside, and when he turned broadside, I squeezed the trigger, when he didn't fall immediately, I quickly put two more rounds into him. The hunt was over, I heard the telltale scream from Cindy from a mile up the canyon, followed by another scream from Kathy from five hundred yards up the canyon, then it was my turn to give that scream that only someone who hunts with us would recognize.
The hunt was over, but the work was not, I had no idea how close you could get to us from down the canyon, but that would work itself out in time. By now Kathy was here for hugs and pictures, it was then that she told me that she didn't get the shot on video. When I asked what happened, she said "I was watching those Rams that were right beside you." She was pointing to where I had been, and there were eleven Rams within two hundred yards, watching us. I had shot the Ram at one hundred yards. After watching the video, I realized that those Rams had been within twenty yards of me when I was getting ready to shoot. They hung around for the entire time we were taking pictures, and caping and dressing MY Ram.
Cindy had gone into the next canyon to meet up with Bill and show him where he needed to be to pick us up.
I decided that I was going to take my Ram out whole, most will think I am crazy, and some will think I am lying, but that is what I did. I was not able to drag him and pack the head, so Kathy volunteered to pack the head and cape. She headed on down the canyon, promising to come back with water after she got to Bill and Cindy. I figured out what to do, I would carry my pack and gun for a hundred yards or so, stash it and go back for the Ram. I would hoist the Ram up onto my shoulders and pack him about a hundred yards past my gear, then repeat. After several times of doing this with lots of rest breaks, here comes Kathy and Cindy to help. I still had to pack the Ram, but with their help, loading him on my shoulders was a lot easier. When I finally reached Bill and his four wheeler, it was almost completely dark. I checked my GPS and it was 1.1 miles to where I had shot the Ram. When I finished cleaning him at the ranch, and got him into the cooler, it was 1:30 am.
I took him into the ODFW on Sunday to get him measured and pinned, he scored 143 7/8. His left horn is 5 1/2" shorter than his right, and he was 6 1/2 years old.