This story started back in the winter of 1994 on an elk hunt in north central Oregon. My partners and I had been hunting elk in Colorado for many years with little success and I had mentioned the year previously that I had a friend in Oregon who had invited me to come hunt elk with him and if they were willing I would ask him if it would be ok for the other three of our party to come and join him in a Oregon hunt. Everything worked out alright and we made the trip to Oregon in 94. My friend, and our hunting guide, Blair Deshong, had mentioned sometime during the hunt, that he had been putting in for the draw for the annual California Big Horn Sheep (CBHS) hunt for many years, in the past, and that nine years had gone by since he had put in. He commented to me, on this subject, on every hunt we made after that, and he sure would like to make that draw. My comment to him was that, "you can't catch fish if you don't put your line in the water", meaning he needed to put in for the draw in order to have a chance.
The state of Oregon hands out a very limited number ( 17 ) of sheep tags each year and only to resident hunters. The "Steens" hunting area, that we would hunt in , only recieved four. All tags come from a draw and the winners are computor drawn from the total number of applicants. Keep in mind that Oregon is a big state with only a certain portion conducive to sheep habitat. There are only a few areas where California Big Horn Sheep can be found. Even though the state issues this number of tags, only about half, or less, are actually filled by successful hunts.To get a tag is a once in a lifetime event. Once a person has been lucky enough to draw one of those tags, they are not eligable any more to participate. They are blocked in the computor or however they do it. However, the Fish and Wildlife Deptartment (FWD) has an auction for one CBHS tag each year with the proceeds going toward the CBHS preservation fund. The auctions highest bid in 2004 was $67000.00 and for 2005 it went to $87000.00. The last three years successful bidder was a nonresident (California) and believed to be the same person. This particular tag is available to anybody, anywhere and the successfull bidder has the option to hunt in any unit in the state.
In July of 1999, I received a call from Blair. After some small talk, he stated, "you'll never guess what I got in the mail today". Without to much thought it came to me about the sheep draw and that he wouldn't call me so suddenly unless it were of that nature. "You got a sheep tag", I responded. "Yes sir". "I can't believe it". "I did". After telling me all about the process of the submitting for the draw and the preliminary forgoings of the event, he said he didn't even get the notice firsthand, about being the winner, out of many thousands of applicants. His son, Darrin, had made the hotline call, to the FWD, the day the winners were announced because Blair was in Portland competing in a Bowling tournament. It is told that Darin was so excited that he made the call several times just to make sure he was hearing correctly. He tried to reach dad, by way of several sources, and after most of the day had going by got an answer. Of course by this time the family back home had concocked a right nifty way of presenting the message. Darin asked him if he could borrow his vido camera, that he had a special event to tape. Of course now the bait is out and time for the hook to be set. "What do you need to tape that is so important that you had to call me in the middle of this tournament? Why, to capture you taking that California Big Horn Sheep. Well ! I can imagine his jaw dropping to the floor and that left eye turning to the 11:00 o,clock position, without him even moving his head. His favorite expression in the whole world is, "you got to be @$#%^%& me ! And that is what he said, I gar-in-tee. Without even being there, I have been around him enough to know.
"You ought to come out and go with me, he said". My immediate response was that I could not come on this hunt because of my work load and besides we were to come out for the elk hunt in the October- November season. The CBHS season started, in 1999, on monday Sept, 13th and lasted for that week. This would mean I would have to make two trips, to Oregon, from Berkeley Spriings, West Virginia, in the same year, just a couple months apart. That is an almost impossibility for me, both physically and financially. A couple days later, while operating a 953 Cat loader, on a project for my company, Truax Custom Enterprises, Inc., (TCE) I was thinking on the sheep situation and suddenly realized that for this to be a once in a lifetime event for Blair, it would surely be a once in a lifetime event for me, were I to go. That evening I mentioned this to my wife, Marion, and she responded immediately, "why don't you go"! Well ! If you would know anything about me and the outdoor adventure aspect that inspires me, you don't have throw a bone to "Ole Shep" but once before it is pounced upon. I was on the Web. the same hour getting a plane ticket from "Cheap Tickets".
Blair, and His lovely wife, Joann, met me at the airport, in "Bosie Idaho", on Sept. the 9th, to take me to their home in "Hines, Oregon", which is just next to the town of "Burns". About a four to five hour trip. We landed at Blairs home in time to share a few stories before turning in for the night. By that time another of his buddies, and a hunting companion on elk hunts, Hal Hevenson, arrived to spend the night also. Next morning, friday the 10th, we had breakfast down the street where Darrin met us and we began putting ideas together, or rather Blair began telling us his plans. Four wheelers had to be readied, supplies had to be acquired and everything assembeled back at Blairs home where the hunt was to originate. We spent the rest of that day making ready because saturaday we would travel to the mountian and the unit where the actual hunt would take place.
We drove the vehicles with the four and six wheelers up the mountian trail as far as was feasable to pull trailers. We unloaded them, packed on all the supplies and headed on up. What a caravan we had. Up, around, over, through, accross and sometimes under whatever obsticle was in the path that led to the the place where camp was to be made. It was a very exciting maybe 10 mile journey on a very nice day. Tents and cooking facilities were set in place that evening and supplies for a weeks stay were put to store. The next day, sunday the 12th of September was another beautiful mild day where we told stories, true by the way, huuuu-ha, messed around camp and met for the first time our guide, Greg Alum, who had come up by himself to join with us at the camp. Now, we had followed his directions, to this site, never having been on this mountian before in our lives. To our wonderment and great supprise it was a great relief to hear him say that this was the very place he had chosen for a camp site. However he was a couple hours late because he got lost coming up and circled the camp several times before stumbling upon us. We had a big laugh about this because he works for The Bureau Land Management (BLM) which this area is part and parcel of his working domain. In fact, part of his job is the capture and reestablishment of wild horses into other parts of the state, and some are delivered to other states as well. While we were doing stuff around camp on sunday a herd of wild horses were driven past our camp, by helicopter, to a holding pen in a flat on the other side of the mountain.
Monday morning, first day of the season, was a busy time of being sure we had everything , and much more also I'm sure, for the days hunt. We were off just about the time the light was breaking over the horizon with our guide leading the way. Only one gun was in the group of the five of us and Blair had it slung over his shoulder, along with back pack. Darrin was the Video guy. Me and Hal were along to help and enjoy the new excitement of a CBHS hunt. We knew just about where the sheep would be because the before season scouting had ranged them to be staying in a certain area and keeping to a certain pattern. So the guide had a particular stocking program in mind that would put us into a circular path around to the north coming upon the area of interest concealed by the forest. From that vantage point we could glass the area before entering their stomping grounds and try to avoid spooking them off the mountain before getting set for a kill.
Darrin was the first to see them coming up the far side of the slope accross the canyon. From then on it was a high tension experience to make a plan and expidite it as flawlessly as possible. Once they had disappeared from our site, it was down off the bench, we were on, and trying to get ahead and above them. Darrin with the camera and blair with the gun went on ahead leaving the rest of us behind waiting. Blair ducked into a wash that went straight up the mountain, followed it until it came out on an outcrop of rocks that made a bench that leveled out above where he thought the sheep would be. He crept along it a little ways where he thought would be just about right to take a look-see. Peering over the rocks very slowly, he couldn't believe what he was seeing, for just below him was the whole herd. Five rams and some ewes. Now pick the one that is best for the shot, was all that was on his mind now.
Where the rest of us were waiting, time was standing still. We were guessing what may be happening out there, wondering what we were missing. While waiting, I decided to drop off down to a small bush growin on the side of the hill that would conceal me from the sheep. I would very slowly, picking my way along the rocks, trying to avoid knocking loose any stones that would make a noise. The terrain was very steep, maybe 60 degree slope. When standing straight one could reach out and touch the ground with their hand. I raised up very slowly, to look through the bush, not knowing whether or not any sheep would be in my view. As a view became available the first thing I saw was those sheep looking straight in my direction. That big ram, another younger ran with smaller horns but they were wider and almost a full curl and three other rams and some ewes. From my location they were straight across from me, at the same elevation, and out about three hundred yards. "Oh my', I thought. This is not good. I got to get out of here fast. I very slowly pulled back out of sight and waited a few mimutes before returning to the others. I was telling them about what I had seen when we heard the shot. I looked at my watch and it was just nine O:clock on the first day of the season
A big cloud of dust going straight down the mountain was the first thing we saw. When Blair shot him, he fell straight down but it was to steep and he began rolling. He finally came to rest when his horns caught a bunch of grass and a snag. Let me tell you right now. That ram had hardly stopped before we were upon him from all directions.
I never realized that the CBHS were so big. I always thought them to be just a little bigger then regular sheep. This ram was the size of a small Herford bull. Now comes the work part of any hunt. When the knives come out and cutting it up in parts small enough to tote. Toting this rascal was going to be no picnic for it was a straight up that mountain for one half mile, at least, before it leveled off some. I took one step up by grabbing hold of anything that might afford a hold to pull on and likely as not I would slide back more then I gained. Made it more like three miles to the top, the way things went. Someone said about half way up. Are we having fun yet? Blairs response was, "no @#$%". I was the last one in camp with my load and I don't mind saying, I was plum tuckered. Blair and I are of the same age and I can tell you that we both are over sixty. Blair won't complain ever about the ware and tare on his body. All he will say is that them thar hills are getting a little bit steeper and higher every year.
We made it back to the camp site about 2:00 O:clock, as I recall. Rested, had some food and something to drink before getting supper going. We stayed the night and after breakfast the next morning , tore down camp, packed the four and six wheelers with that weeks worth of unused rations and headed off toward the waiting vehicles. When we got to the vehicles we took some time to fellowship and take some pictures of ourselves. The first pic is the hood ornament on a dodge ram pickup- Pic 1-The second pic is, left to right, Hal, Darrin, Blair. and myself, Dale Truax, and the trophy. Pic 2 -The third is Blair with his trophy Pic 3
It was dark when we finally got back on blacktop road, heading toward Hines and blairs home. Our guide did not return with us but departed to his own home. We reminisced some before getting showers and retireing for the night. The next day we took the head and cape to the FWD to be checked in, which was only a couple of blocks away from Blairs home. The officer, of the day, measured and scored the horns at a green score of 171 and five eights. He then drilled and inserted a pin into the horns with a number stamped onto the pin's head. This would be the serial number that this head would carry forever.
I'll have to say that this was indeed a once in a lifetime experience for me and, that I appreciate the invitation from Blair Deshong that made it all possible. The guys that I hunted with were of the upmost caliber and I can't say enough about the comradrodity we shared.
Dale Truax, Berkeley Springs, Wv.