Oregon FNAWS
Hunt Stories - Cheryl Sonnabend
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My Once in a Life Time Hunt
by Cheryl Sonnabend
My hunt started the day after I found out I got a sheep tag. For two and a half months, I studied and read everything I could about hunting sheep, patterns, groups, etc. One thing that really stood out was the part about rams staying in bachelor groups until rut season which would typically start in mid-October. I thought great, I will have a choice and a chance.
I had talked to Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife. We talked about two different groups that are fairly large groups on the west side of the Deschutes River. They were called the Beaver Tail group and Lockit Canyon group.
I started going down the access road below Sherars Bridge watching the bachelor groups on the west side of the Deschutes River. It was great watching about 30 different rams and following them and watching their routines for about a month and a half. My plan was forming, raft the Deschutes in the early morning and go after one particular ram that was believed to rate in the high 160's. The rating system meant nothing to me; I picked out a ram that I would be happy to look at for many years to come.
After watching these rams I decided not to limit myself to just this group, I wanted to check out the Lockit Canyon Group. My friend Rich Thurman (the other tag holder) was going to be in that area. I didn't think I could get a chance at those because it was only accessible by boat or through private land.
The land owners Bill and Brian Hammel were more than happy to show me around. Brian has been a guide for years and has tons of stories. He had been going through chemotherapy and it made him quite ill so we waited until he felt better. About a month before the hunt we were able to get together and look at some rams. WOW there they were! There was plenty to go around and I didn't have to raft the Deschutes. We picked out three awesome shooters out of about 34 different rams. Much bigger than the one I had spotted in the Beaver Tail group.
So now I have another option. Thinking of my hunting partners, the Lockit Canyon hunt might be the best deal plus I have a guide that can help me find a ram. I chose for my hunting group two other women that have been awesome friends and enjoy hunting, Nancy Little, and Nancy Reed.
I went out three more times on the Hammel Ranch trying to figure out which ram that I wanted. They all started to look the same after months of looking. I also kept track of the Beaver Tail group. The group wasn't doing what they were supposed to do according to the book! They were starting to separate and spread out over country they hadn't been seen in before. The ewes were taking over some of the ram's playground. They were no longer in groups of six and seven, but in pairs and singles. I had a hard time finding "my boy" again.
The day before the hunt I thought I had come up with a plan. Brian had been sick from his treatments so he wasn't going to be available. We were going to go across the river to the Beaver Tail group. I ran back down and discovered my ram had moved several miles upland with his buddy and two ewes. Not an option to go on private land in that area.
I had to have an emergency meeting. We were going to go through Hammel's property. No Brian, just the girls. So early morning, we three women sat on top of the world looking down. As the sun came up we spotted three or four maybe five young rams below us at about 650 yards. We waited a while to see if we could see the rest of the group. Nancy Reed thought she saw another ram but wasn't sure.
We discussed our options and decided we would try our sneaking skills if nothing else. If there is a nice one, I would shoot and lay him down in his spot. That was a big mistake to think that way. We only took the minimal stuff with us, a couple pints of water, a knife, and extra cartridges. Everything else, tarps, bags, extra knives, water, pack board, food, was all left behind.
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We put on our pink camo scarves and started our planned sneak. We crept down a drainage out of site of the rams. It was so steep we were holding onto the grass to keep from rolling down the hill. Even though it was only about 800 yards to go we were already feeling our feet, it was getting hot and took many breaks getting to the point of no return.
As we started to do the belly crawl to where we thought they were we spotted a couple nice ones. There they were, six young rams and one LARGE one laying down facing away from us. I didn't know about this one. I had to wait; I studied him; I needed to wait to see him stand up; I couldn't decide if he was the one. We crept into position about 150 yards away just in case. The little rams spotted us but they weren't leaving. I tried to dig out a little nest in the hillside. I thought I had a pretty good position and holding place and then we waited and watch for about 45 minutes. Nancy Little was on video, Nancy Reed was the spotter and on the range finder.
So after much looking I decided he was a nice looking ram and I could look at him forever. At the moment I decided I would take him I felt a pang of disappointment because now I was committed and soon the hunt that I had worked so hard for may be over.
I waited for him to get up and he did. He turned to the left and he must have seen us! He immediately then turned to the right to flee and I pulled the trigger. Thump, I heard it hit but he did not immediately fall over, he just stood there facing away. He eventually laid down and that's when the horror set in. What I thought was my well aimed shot had accidentally gone too low. He might get away from me, run off and die somewhere.
He was a bit further away maybe two hundred yards. I waited for what seemed like hours for him to stand and turn so I could put him out. He finally did get up but didn't give me a shot. He kept getting further away to lay down. Now we were a mile from where I shot him and we were out of water and our gear was too far away to just trot up to retrieve. It was getting close to noon and it was at least 100 degrees out.
After running side hills for a couple miles, he was finally put down approximately 440 yards from the river. At last, I was so glad to finally put him down but at the same time, super sad that the hunt was over and the real work then began.
The wonderful thing about where he finally went down was that it was just above Rich Thurman's (other tag holder) camp on the river. Rich and his two buddies Steve Pribyl, and Dave Hankins heard us shooting and watched the whole thing. After the sheep was put down they came up and help us skin him, brought us water, meat bags, and helped pack him off the rock cliff to their camp by the river.
We cleaned him and made him secure for the evening and had to think about starting our trek back up the hill to the vehicle. We started just about 5:00 p.m. and got to the top just about dusk.
As we were climbing we were discussing bringing the horses down to cart him out. Realizing that it would be leading the horses down the steep hillside and walking the horses back up, it wasn't sounding fun no matter how much I thought about it. My feet were on FIRE!
We ended up setting up a rafting trip for the next day to get him out. It was fun times again. I was able to really think about the whole adventure and what an accomplishment it really was and how lucky and blessed I was to have such good friends to share this once in a lifetime hunt.
Cheryl Sonnabend
Eastside SFP Coordinator
Barlow Ranger District
fax: 541-467-2271
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