Deschutes Canyon Bighorn

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1 Deschutes Canyon Bighorn The Hunt of a Lifetime! By Randy Stetzer Anxiously awaiting the results of our 2014 Big Game draw, my son Ben had been checking the ODFW site hourly for days. Then on June 19th while at work, my phone lit up. Ben s fingers couldn t text fast enough!!! Dropping into the Deschutes River Canyon below Shearer s Falls, you enter Heaven on Earth. So much to see and do, the country is big and daunting. Sheep were reintroduced to the canyon in 1992 by a dedicated core from Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife (ODFW) and Oregon Foundation for North American Wild Sheep (Oregon FNAWS). They inhabit the lower 50 miles of river canyon with a growing population estimated at 500 plus animals. Our first mission was learning about the Sheep, how to spot them, habits, habitats and to experience the country. On one of the first trips over, my son and I learned quickly what we were up against. A four mile hike in the heat of July put both of us on our knees. Sheep shape we were awakened to the true meaning. My wife Dana and I spent many weekends camped in the canyon scouting and studying Sheep. All working towards my goal, a hunt of a Lifetime.

2 The hunt was finally upon us. A solid team was assembled, Ian, Rick, Pete, and Ben. We set camp while being watched by the big eyes of Sheep above us. Unusually warm for November, with a grey and sometimes wet sky, the level of excitement was high We spent Saturday & Sunday scanning the hillsides working to identify a shooter. The actual hunt started Monday. Not seeing many Rams, we decided to explore a couple of bigger side canyons to see what we found, still not much. More ground to cover, rework entry and exit points. Pull all that was learned over the summer and formulate a plan. The last afternoon of scouting we split into two groups to cover more territory, a solid plan that paid off. The last hillside on the way back to camp. We had seen Sheep on this hill all summer so gave it one more glass before dark.

3 I had been asked since drawing the tag what kind of Ram I was going to shoot. My answer was I ll know it when I see it. I had decided early that I was not shooting for score, numbers on paper. It was about the challenge of something new, the chase, the experience and adventure. I wanted a Ram that looked stately, with symmetrical horns, and character. Something I could look at the rest of my life and re-live this incredible opportunity. We glassed the hillside and spotted a couple of Rams, but not the one, then another Ram came into view. Clearly he was bigger, darker, and had a majestic air compared to the others. He was the one, no question. We watched him until dark, essentially putting him to bed. Morning broke, it was time to put all of last night s anxious planning into action. But first we had to relocate him. I also wanted to get everyone s opinion, was he The One to them as well? It didn t take long as he was not far from where we watched him in last night s fading light. It was steep country with no easy approach; the climb into position was going to take time and effort. We reworked some logistics, finalized the plan and headed out. Ben, Pete, Rick and I would climb the ridgeline, while Ian stayed low and worked as our eyes. His sacrifice, then tenacity later added greatly to the day s success. We started our ascent up the ridgeline right of center. Two thirds of the way up "the crossover" is where we changed direction and headed left, straight across into the rocks. Camp was at the mouth of the side canyon on the far right. The team works upwards, careful to stay off the skyline. A stealthy approach is best.

4 We would peek over every so often trying to put a current location on our Ram. He s got to be in there somewhere! Almost to the top, we finally spot him again. Just below the far ridge and moving our direction. Nowhere near the spot we had seen him at first light. It was time to head across into the Palisades. You become aware just how small you are in big country; one wrong step can lead to disaster. A solid purpose and clear mind are essential.

5 We make a stop as I feel this might be a good vantage point to wait on the Ram. But I just couldn t see enough ground, my excitement level was too high to sit and wait. So Ben and I pressed on while Pete and Rick sat for a break. We wanted to peek over the next ridgeline into a bigger fold. As we got there and started to peer over, Ben looked back and noticed Rick and Pete were frantically trying to get our attention. Sheep Below! Ben and I slowly moved out on a pinnacle for a look. Two Rams, mine and a younger one were below us. Just as we looked over the edge they spotted us and bolted to the right. We both scrambled to the next ridgeline as I felt they would make a move to get above us. Just as I was edging up to view the next fold they were standing even with me, broadside and very close. I quickly scanned both animals and identified my shooter. The crosshairs were placed and the trigger pulled. I knew the sight picture was solid and my aim true. But both animals took off down the mountain without any indication one was hit. I stepped forward, cycling another round into the chamber and readied myself for another shot should he break into view. The younger Ram cut across below but not the other, a good sign. Ben walked over to where they had been standing and wanted a re-play as he was behind me when the shot was taken. He could not believe they were that close, the shot was 44 yards. Taking a couple of steps down hill he started looking for a blood trail. Excitedly saying, I ve got blood, holy crap, lots of blood. I knew then my shot was solid and we were going to find this guy close by. First touch! I couldn t believe it happened, something I had played over and over all summer. The events could not have been scripted any better.

6 Rick Harris Pete Donahower To share this experience with my son Ben and great friends is truly a lifetime memory! Ian Fergusson The work begins, notice the steepness. We were very lucky as he laid down and expired on the only flat spot on the mountain. But flat spot was relative as it was barely the size of a small table. Lots of experienced hands made for quick work. A solid Sheep Crew is a true asset. We caped the Ram for the taxidermist and then proceeded to harvest every ounce of meat from this magnificent animal. Far too valuable to allow any waste.

7 Another reality hits, getting off the mountain safely. Steep, treacherous footing and the added weight to everyone's pack bring a certain trepidation to the hunt. Our chosen route was straight down. This is where Ian's heroics played big. He had made the climb straight up the mountain after the shot, no small feat. By him doing this we knew the route down, extremely valuable intel. Each step was carefully measured and tested before committing one s entire weight. Scree was especially dangerous, but the sights on the way down were not to be missed. Notice the spire in the center of the first picture. That s it we re crossing under in the second picture The road, finally. I felt personally responsible and could not relax until all of us had made it off the mountain safely. No broken legs, sprained ankles, strained backs, or smashed shins. The elation and relief of finally hitting flat ground was intense. We had left the trucks at 7:15 am, pulled the trigger at 10:00, and returned to the trucks at 4:10 pm. A full and exceptionally rewarding day!

8 Camp fire, big stories, reliving the hunt, but best of all, great friends. Pete honored our hunt by cooking the heart, a tradition in many camps but especially meaningful in ours. Gaining strength and stamina from an amazing animal. An Awesome Sheep Crew, without them this hunt would have been impossible.! For me this hunt was about so many things. Many I had dreamed about, even more I had not considered in the beginning. Such an amazing experience is truly hard to capture in words and I struggle to tell it with all the emotion I was feeling throughout. Thank You Oregon FNAWS and ODFW! Truly Once in a Lifetime!

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