Oregon FNAWS
Hunt Stories - Tim Lawton
Tim Lawton 1
I'd rather be lucky than good
By Tim Lawton
I'm sitting in a cold wind up in Montana watching the muleybucks go by and writing you this story on the back of a paper plate. I haven't got a tag, not lucky enough to draw, just spotting and packing for old Steve to return a favor he did for me on a big horn sheep hunt a few days back in Oregon.
No, I don't color myself lucky for simply drawing that rare Oregon tag even though such a thing is quite a feat for me. I can't even win at one dollar scratch tickets. Actually my good fortune started much earlier in the year when my wife refused to stop bidding on a Christensen Arms Rifle at a wildlife benefit auction. I thought what a great little gun for my puny frame to pack in the woods. The Christensen carbon fiber laminated barrel & titanium muzzle break would let me develop the ultimate light weight flat shooter. So I chambered it in .338 Remington Ultra Magnum. Okay, a little overkill for a sheep, but how could I have known at that date I'd ever hunt a big horn. It shoots good, doesn't kick bad at all and things just get better from here.
Steve and I were arguing about which states and tags to put in for this year when I figured out that we had been really messing up in the past. You see, for many years we were putting in for non resident deer but not the sheep which cost an extra five dollars. We probably have the Oregon state record for the most number of bonus points for deer and Steve surmised that we had not a chance in the world at a sheep tag drawing with our poor luck. Steve figured that by the time he drew he would probably be dead, but seeing as how I might have longer to live I decided to go for it, even though it cost me two weeks allowance.
About July my archery hunting buddy Roland from California gave me a call to plan an over the counter hunt. He asked me what draws I had as I was opening the mail. Wyoming? No. Montana? Nope. Nevada? Not this year. Idaho? Not yet. Now, I know that you have heard this very same story in about a hundred articles, but I tell you it's the truth. I read off on the phone to Roland buck deer-unsuccessful, elk-unsuccessful, big horn sheep-successful. And just like everybody else before me I had to read it about 4 times over to make sure that there was no "un" in front of the "s".
What do I do next? I don't know anything about sheep. So I call up Vic Coggins of the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife. What a stroke of luck this was as he told me of some great guys in F.N.A.W.S.. So I call up Chuck Middleton in South Idaho. He has hunted sheep hard, and says they are hard to hunt. Chuck said you only got one chance this lifetime, so don't mess around, get a guide. I considered it, but a guide would mean that I would have to eat only rice for the next 6 years instead of rice and beans. I really like beans. As scared as he made me feel, I decided not to go with an outfitter. This may not have been the best choice as I only get to hunt about 14 weeks a year, and may be considered an amateur by some standards. I am counting on some more luck to carry me through this.
Next, I called Larry Jacobs the Oregon President of F.N.A.W.S.. Things are looking up. What a great guy Larry is. He put me in touch with all of the land owners whose property I would need to cross to get on the public lands. Larry even offered to skip a day of his mule deer pack trip to show me around. It seems like I barely dropped the phone to take him up on his generosity and drove all night, just to run low on gas in Enterprise Oregon. I had to spend the night camped in front of some gas pumps because Oregon is full service only and won't take your credit card without an attendant present. Not so good. Morning comes way late the next day and I'm off to a place I've never been to meet a guy I've never met. I probably won't arrive on time, I thought. Drove all this way just to miss him. But I slept under lucky stars, got no speeding tickets, didn't get lost and found him just where he said he would be. Ahh, great luck!
Larry introduced me to some very rugged and steep country. Rocky cliffs and narrow ledges are on both sides of some very large canyons. Some of the draws contained strips of timber, but for the most part, the vegetation was brush and grasses. This is the most magnificent piece of geology that you can imagine. It looks like a slightly smaller version of the Grand Canyon. Such tremendous beauty is all around; this hunt is going to be great fun.
We saw a few sheep, nothing too big but Larry says this really isn't a unit known for particularly large big horns. It was hard for me to tell just what size they were, they looked like a dot way up on the mountain. I didn't care, a "Dink" would do, but at least now I know there are a few around and lost a little of my fear. Next I called Tim, King, Jack, Scott and Gabe the landowners at the bottom of the canyon. Luck is looking good, they all said yes, go on in lock the gates and stay on the road.
O.K. I got a tag, got a gun, got permission, a little courage and all I need now is some help. Well, you can already bet that Steve is in, but he wears trifocals. So I call my buddy, Jim. Not so much for his keen skills as a hunter even though he is the only man I know who has archery killed a monster bull elk after first piercing its main beam with an arrow. No, Jim's quite a good hunter, but I could really count myself lucky if I can just convince Cyrus, his 13 year old son to skip school and spot for me. If I crazy glue his eyelids to a spotting scope for only a week or so I'm sure he will locate a good one. Now it's time to ply some bribes. An invaluable learning experience for Cyrus spending a week around a camp fire with 3 bonafide geniuses and some great Dutch oven cooking. with dessert. I think the genius part did it. Cyrus is in.
Okay, I'm feeling lucky (as I've said many times) and perhaps a little bit cocky with an ability to shoot way far. My past limited experience with sheep in the Missouri River Breaks and Cabinet Wilderness area of Montana put them on the stupid end of the animal scale. Perfect! I always made fun of the writers telling me about an all day stalk and having someone hold their belt as they lean out over a cliff to shoot. I have had no problems in the past getting close enough for a picture of big horns.
We're off to the hunt. Hoping that the Fish and Game Field Office is open so that Pat Mathews can teach us what a big horn looks like and how they might differ from the animals I'm used to chasing. It's a miracle! These guys are always busy but Pat is in. He teaches us a little about scoring, there's a lot to it. Now I'm completely confused and wondering if it is too late to hire a guide.
The next day is the opener and Cyrus finds me a little group of rams out at about 1700 yards. I'm going up for a better look. I plan the perfect stalk to get within about 200 yards of them, take 3 steps in their direction and they are running. Running away. And not stopping either. Maybe not so stupid after all, the sheep I mean.
Okay, time to change my tactics. Cyrus spots them. I run away before the sheep do, circle up a box canyon and climb, claw, scale to the top blowing chips all the way. Probably should have tried to get in shape before the hunt. Every day I do this with a fresh buddy. I think Crystal Strobel, the field sheep biologist, probably was watching me through her spotting scope and laughing. What a nut I must have seemed to her.
Later, Crystal educated me quite a bit regarding sheep behavior and habitat. I tried to get her to reveal the favorite location of Mr. Big, but she wouldn't do it. She could have saved us all a lot of time and trouble. Each trip up the cliff revealed animals I wasn't prepared to shoot. At this point I still wouldn't have known a "high score" ram if it bit me. Do I want a long skinny horn with sharp tips or an old beat up fat horn or busted up and broomed off or heavy bases, wide and curly.. They are all so different. I can't make up my mind!! So let's go back to camp and contemplate it. This is hard work even for a genius, and I don't mean the climb.
Whelp, its days later, we're up to about ram #40 and I'm so, so confused. The one thing that I have learned during this hunt is that the black ram here is fairly rare. Most I've seen are very light in color. Some cultures consider a black sheep to be very lucky. I need all of the black sheep I can get. Cyrus spots a black one way up on top. "Jim, lets go up and get him." I say. An hour later we're in position looking at four of his cousins. All big but Jim and I can't see Mr. Black. It starts raining so we decide to move up and put the "way-sneaky" on Mr. Black. Three-quarters of the way there, I hear gravel stir and motion Jim behind me to freeze. Again I hear gravel and turn to see Jim pointing straight up with a sheepish look on his face. About 12 feet above me on the next cliff ledge is Mr. Black looking down and he's gone in a flash. Not good again. "Shoot the left-overs" says Jim, "they're plenty big". True enough, one is really big, a full curl ram with lamb tips and heavy bases. But Jim doesn't know me that well. There are hunting days left, food in the grub box and now it's personal. I imagine Crystal is laughing, Mr. Black is laughing and I think I heard Steve laugh too.
Maybe some poor choices have been made these past many days playing catch and release sheep hunting. Some pretty darn nice animals can consider themselves very, very lucky. If only they knew the cross hairs changed from ram to ram as my education and sheep prowess progressed. But now I'm wondering if I might just be pressing my luck too far and may be going home empty handed. I'm seeing fewer sheep and this isn't good at all.
Along comes Duke, the retired local cowboy. "I heard there's a green horn out here with poor optics trying to get a sheep. Is that you?" I said "yep", I suppose I'm the only guy left who hasn't filled his tag. Duke asks, "Can I help?" Is a frog's butt water tight? I think to myself. Absolutely! Duke turned out to be a sheep maestro. Lucky again! The next day we again spot Mr. Black and its Steve's turn to climb with me. It's a particularly hard stalk and Mr. Black has sentry look-outs posted around him with eyes facing all directions. We climb and nearly get busted. We climb some more and almost expose ourselves. Finally, I lay down with my feet hanging out over space at the cliff edge and I am in position at 310 yards to shoot. But I can't make up my mind. I have the same problem. There is a bigger tan ram, a new candidate bedded five feet to the left of Mr. Black. Eeny meeny miney... No, no that's not going to work. Big/Black/Big/Black/Big. The cross hairs are shifting from left to right trying to size up the situation. Steve is now moving to my right for a better view. If I don't hurry up and make a choice I can just imagine how this is all going to go very badly for me BANG! One hit through both shoulders and some how he gets up, BANG! The second shot gets the heart and Mr. Black falls backwards off of the cliff. Stop! I think as he slides and bounces. Off of cliff #2 he falls and my spirits sink. I'm thinking, it's all over and he's getting busted to pieces. Now he's sliding down a rock shoot towards the next cliff I'm saying STOP! And he finally does.
He may be the little one but he is in good shape, a black beauty and I am feeling pretty darn lucky. Now the work starts. But I have Steve and luckily Steve has a pack frame. I figure if I prop Steve up, I can get all the boned out meat in his pack and point him down hill. I've got the head and the hide, I am a genius after all.
Tim Lawton 2
I sure am glad that we have such good people in the Fish and Game to provide these quality hunts. We are all lucky that people like Larry, Chuck and others in F.N.A.W.S. donate their time for wildlife and habitat. I owe a big thank you to all of the landowners who probably saved me about seven miles of walking each day and what kind of hunt would it be without the company of such good friends.
Its payback time now. I hope we can get old Steve a wall buck before he gets so old his teeth fall out. Should this happen, Steve'l be eating oatmeal and have no use for Muley meat.
Thinking back, the success of my sheep hunt can be attributed to three essential factors. Not being too cheap to put out that extra $5.00 for the rare draw, not letting work get in the way of hunting, and I'D RATHER BE LUCKY THAN GOOD.
Tim, Jim, Steve and Cyrus all live in North Idaho spending far too much time and all of their extra money pursuing game. Tim says he likes being in the wilderness so much he runs out of people to go with and is always looking for new friends and new states to hunt in. Tim is a 10 year volunteer with the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation and is focused on wildlife conservation and habitat preservation. Maybe we can convince him to join F.N.A.W.S. too.
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