As much as the blog immediately below this one is the story of how Phil Lundahl hunted, killed and then muscled his mule deer buck out of a Washington wilderness area by himself last September, this story is about the team effort a Western Oregon family put in to get one of their own into a trophy bighorn ram this month.
One of those gents is Troy Rodakowski, our Junction City-based scribe whose Hart Mtn. pronghorn hunt appeared in this space at this time last year.
The family’s ridiculously good luck at drawing quality permits continued this year when his uncle Dick Falk pulled a sheep tag.
To put the odds of doing that in perspective, consider the fact that there are almost as many super-coveted Hart Mtn antelope tags as there are bighorn permits — for the entire state.
But maybe the grass seed farmer from the south end of the Willamette Valley grows four-leaf clovers on the side or something.
“Tough for him to scout,” Troy points out, “so my cousin and I were happy to do it for him.”
Their trips took them to Southeast Oregon last month, and Troy saw enough that he didn’t want to be too specific about the actual hunt unit in hopes of keeping down the number of applicants vying for a future tag against him.
As other Oregon families enjoyed a final summer getaway in the Cascades over Labor Day weekend, Rodakowski and Dick and Troy Falk headed a little further east, for sheep camp, out in the Oregon outback. They settled in and began, well, doing some more scouting.
By the second day of the hunt a ram was in Dick’s scope 350 yards downrange.
“We were able to enjoy a 5 1/2-hour stalk and clean miss on a dandy. Our hearts sank and we felt as if the mountain was beating us,” Troy recalls.
“The desert began to take its toll on all of us as we decided to set up near a water hole. Water is in short supply over there this season and we knew the sheep would be making their rounds. We had seen plenty of rams, including three or four shooters. However, the water would be new to our spot-and-stalk strategy. Instead, it would be spot and wait.”
“On the fourth day we spotted a group of five rams from about 2,000 yards at about 10 a.m. We watched them all day slowly feed, bed and walk our direction as we baked against a rock that kept us from their view”
“About 7 p.m. the largest ram finally closed the distance to around 325 yards. My cousin and I waited as the safety slowly clicked into the firing position.
It had taken the rams nine and a half hours to cover the less than 2,000 yards.
“Anticipation of success or heartache rested in my uncle’s hands. Running low on water and daylight we could barely breath through our dry dusted airways and cracked lips as we patiently waited.
“Luckily, the shot rang true and we had our coveted prize. The .270 Weatherby anchored him to the desert floor.”
“We packed him out until 4 a.m. Blood, sweat and tears are not uncommon in sheep country and we were lucky enough to have experienced them all.”
They call the ram The Old Warrior.
Take a look at those horns again.
Notice the missing bits — concussion flakes chipped out of the old boy’s headgear over a lifetime.
“Ten and a half years of fighting,” Rodakowski notes. “Fos has never seen one that fractured up and was surprised he wasn’t missing an eye. I’m sure there are a few sheep on that mountain that are his offspring.”
Fos would be Craig Foster, the longtime ODFW wildlife biologist.
“He was a fighter,” Foster confirms over the phone.
He scored the ram at 160, maybe not the biggest ram taken this year in Oregon, but certainly among those with the most interesting stories to tell.
And rest assured, a seed farmer from the valley and his family will be telling it for a long time to come.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Got a great Northwest trophy tale to tell? Email it and pics to firstname.lastname@example.org!