Oregon FNAWS
Hunt Stories - Richard Meek
Richard Meek 1
By Howard V. Wurdinger Jr
Everyone has heard of once in a lifetime. "THAT WAS THE SHOT OF A LIFETIME" or "THAT IS A BUCK OF A LIFETIME" There are many situations where someone may use this saying, but twice in a lifetime? I will have to back up nineteen years to explain why I would use such a line. I was at work one day when Richard Meek, a customer of mine and a fellow hunter, stuck his head in the door and said to me with a big smile that he drew a California big horn sheep tag for the Steens Mountains, here in Oregon. I told him that was great, and half jokingly said that if he needed a camp cook that I would love to go with him. He just laughed and said sure before he left with his big grin.
First of all, if you knew Rich you would know he is a great camp cook and in camp, the kitchen is all his. Second of all I knew nothing of sheep hunting. Well, to my surprise, a couple of days later he asked if I would like to go scouting with him! I jumped at the chance. Skipping ahead I went on the hunt also and Richard got his ram on the second to the last day of the hunt. This hunt opened up a door to a different kind of hunting from the usual deer, elk, and hound hunting I had grown to love. The next spring I found myself in Alaska working for Master Guide Ray McNutt. I worked and hunted for him for ten years and learned everything I could from him and the other guides working for him. Rich and I had made a bond on that sheep hunt and had stayed in touch a few times each year. So I was not surprised when he gave me a call this past June, but I could tell by his voice that he was wearing that same smile he had when he popped in to my shop nineteen years earlier. He asked me to guess what he drew for a big game tag for that fall. You guessed it; he drew a Rocky Mountain goat tag, the only tag in Oregon besides bighorn sheep that is a once in a lifetime tag! So now you know why I use the phrase, "TWICE IN A LIFETIME"!
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He asked me to go with him and I was proud of the offer. Since Rich drew one of only ten tags issued for goat in Oregon his phone call started a summer long study of goats and the area that we would be hunting. Two days before the hunt I drove the seven hours to where Rich lives in eastern Oregon. The next day we drove the two hours to the area were we would begin his hunt. Opening day found us with the help of three other friends, Adam Stein, Dan Moncrief, and Ladd Roberts hunting up the face of a large mountain after a billy that they had spotted from the valley below. It was a hard climb and we made it almost to the top but the billy was too far away and we had to give it up a little before dark. Unfortunately, Adam, Dan and Ladd had to be back to work on Monday. So the next day, Sunday, Rich and I spent the day readying the horse packs to pack a camp deeper in to the mountains for the next leg of the hunt. We were under way early Monday morning and only had a short trip to the trail head. With the horses loaded up we took off and made it to a camping site with just enough time left to set up a camp before dark. We decided we would take it slow the next morning getting out of camp. We would make sure that the horses were well cared for and that camp was put in good order before we headed out to hunt. We left camp about 9:30 in the morning and planned to just hunt up the creek we were camped on and get a feel for how things looked in this big, high mountain basin. We took it slow and did a lot of glassing. There were about sixteen or eighteen nannies and kids on the hill side to the north of, and above camp.
Further up the creek there was another nanny and kid so there was a lot to keep our binoculars and spotting scope busy. The weather was fine with no wind and we just kept moving slowly up the valley. The valley slowly narrowed and eventually turned into just a creek bottom well above the tree line. Our camp was at the 7,500 foot level so it did not take long to be in a world of nothing but rock, perfect habitat for the Rocky Mountain goat. As we gained elevation and distance from camp, we turned a corner in the creek at the toe of a solid rock ridge. As we made this corner we could see a saddle in the ridge line about a half of a mile ahead of us and it looked like it would be the end of our basin. We headed for it and it was a tough climb because of the steepness and the size of the loose rock that we had to traverse. As we neared the saddle we could see that it opened up to a hanging basin beyond with more real estate to hunt. We were getting tired but we moved slowly, and took our time.
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It was about this time that I started to see some sign of goat trails in the rock and a couple of dug out goat beds. This helped both of our spirits and kept us going with growing hope that we were not climbing in vain. It was only about another four or five hundred yards that I spotted a goat bedded on a ridge to our right and up the creek about three hundred and fifty yards away. With a quick look through my spotting scope I could see that it was facing away from us so I motioned to Rich to climb the few yards which separated us. At this time I could not see if it was a nanny or a billy. In Oregon, a hunter may harvest either sex of Rocky Mountain goat, but I knew that Rich would rather go without a goat then shoot a nanny. Later, Rich would tell me that after that long hard climb on the first day of the hunt, that he had his doubts about getting a goat and would be happy with just about any billy, but he did not consider taking a nanny. This is a testament to Rich’s moral fiber related to our natural resources and the goat herd which is so painstakingly managed by our goat biologists, in northeast Oregon.
After we came together in an uncomfortable pile of rock, Rich spotted another goat. It was next to the first one we first spotted. Without a good view of the first goat, I was sure that the second one was a billy. We contemplated our options and decided that the best course of action was none at all, and to stay put. As uncomfortable as we were in that pile of rock at least it was good weather. It could have been much worse! Soon the goat that I could not see very well got up and laid down in a position where I could see both. One was a nanny, and one a billy. Since we didn’t have a good shot at this time, and they were about eighty yards beyond the range Rich felt comfortable shooting, we just had to wait. Waiting is exactly what we did, for about two and a half hours.
The billy got up to feed twice in this span of time but the nanny did not get up until the second time the billy got up. At this time the billy had moved out of sight and away from us. I told Rich now was our time to move, for him to stay right behind me and if I was going too fast, to tell me to slow up to a mutually comfortable pace. It would do no good to get up on the billy if the shooter was not with me. As we advanced, we kept an eye peeled where we had last seen them and where we might expect to see them next. We had gone up the creek a long ways and I thought to myself that if they did not go far, we could have an opportunity for an eighty, or hundred yard off-hand shot. It would not be the best situation because in one or two jumps they could be out of sight and not seen again until they were well out of range.
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When we finally got to a point in the basin where we could almost see all of it, I spotted them about two hundred and fifty yards up in the creek bottom. I moved a step or two to a rock, and threw my pack down on it for Rich to use as a shooting rest. I had found the billy in my spotting scope and told Rich which one he was, while Rich was getting in shooting position. It was about this time Rich said that he was not sure whether his shot would clear the ridge directly in front of us. I picked up my pack and scope and moved us to another rock about twenty yards to our left, and put my pack down again. When we spotted them again, they both were broadside, looking at us, and presenting a good target. Rich was getting down for the shot and mentioned that he needed more elevation on the rifle rest. I jumped over his prone legs and grabbed another rock to stick under my pack. It must have been just the right rock because as I was jumping back over his legs to get on the spotting scope Rich squeezed off a shot. I wasn’t ready for such a quick shot and it really caught me off guard.
Nevertheless, I was looking through my scope when he shot and I was able to see that the goat was hit and he had his front leg up and was trying hard to keep his balance. It was just a moment later that I could see that he was hit hard and was going down. It was a beautiful shot through both front shoulders. It sure is nice to hunt with someone who knows a shot when it is presented, and makes it, regardless of how much it caught me off guard! We were grateful that it was a terrific spot for a goat and we would not have to risk life and limb to get to him. Even though it was a long and steep climb to reach an elevation of 9228 feet, it was not one of the horror stories we have heard about trying to retrieve a fallen goat, in a place that may be dangerous just to approach. Well it’s hard to tell you the relief we felt. Rich is truly fortunate to have such a great trophy. He was a beautiful billy, about five and a half years old and measured nine and a half inches long.
Even with the day getting late it was hard to get started with the job of skinning, taking care of the meat, and the cape. The weather was great and we took our time to take a bunch of photos and just enjoy the moment. Afterward, we spread half of the meat out on a large granite rock to cool in a meat bag for the night.
Then we loaded the other half of the meat into my pack and the life size goat cape onto the top of my pack. With just a half hour of daylight left we agreed to try to climb down and out of most of the loose rock before dark. We made that goal, but it was still a long way to camp and it was two and a half hours after dark before we arrived at our camp. The horses were as hungry as we were but were found to be fine and as glad to see us as we were to see them. I fed them and then hung the goat meat while Rich fixed us one of the best tasting beef steaks I think I have ever had. We slept well knowing we accomplished a hunt that many people will never have the opportunity for, in this lifetime. The next morning I retrieved the second half of the meat while Rich worked around camp with the horses and the kitchen. I was able to care for the cape that afternoon under a clear blue sky in total happiness looking forward to being able to share our experience with our friends and family.
It was the second "once in a life time" hunt that I got to hunt on with the same man.
2010 Hunter: John R. "Rich" Meek, Oregon Hunt # 960 A-1, Hurricane Creek
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