I have been putting in for this once in a life tag for over 30 years. My best friend and I always joked that if one of us drew it, the other was going to be his Sherpa. When I checked on line I couldn’t believe my eyes and I screamed so loud Steph dropped something in the kitchen and came out blistering mad when she realized I wasn’t injured, within 24 hours I was getting hammered with phone calls of congratulations and she soon realized the importance of the tag. My first phone call was to my best friend Scott Brown and his father Grover who is my hunting dad on a a three way call in which we celebrated on the phone like three kids going to Disneyland. My second call was to Thad Metzger who hooked me up with Cody Cole who was from good hunting genes (his father John Cole is also a sheep guide) and an outstanding guide for Sheep, and as I found out just about everything else. I booked him that night and thank God, he would have been booked in another unit that next day.
That was the first night.
They call it a hunt of a life time because if you actually draw the tag in your life time, you can never draw it again. I drew McClellan unit in between Dayville and John Day. The only one hunting big horn in that unit. I drew in June….and my hunt was in August. That is not enough time to prepare, especially with travel and fishing in between now and then.
My long time best friend Scott Brown and I made a list of necessities for equipment including Mendel hiking boots, hiking poles, Garmin Radio GPS unit, light tent, packing boards, backpack, sleeping pads….and about 2k later I was ready for battle, so I thought.
We arrived at Sheep Camp in the McClellan unit and to be truthful Scott and I were like little kids. We haven’t seen each other in awhile and we kept saying to each other “Dude we are on a sheep hunt!” I was 206lbs when I drew the tag and dropped to 188lbs and it still would not be enough
Scott saw the first set of rams within 30 minutes on the very top of that mountain. “We don’t even need guides Shay, we just walk up there in the morning and shoot it” Scott said. Then Cody and Thad arrived, Cody looked at the larger of the Rams, “Too small”. We had no idea how steep that was going to be until the next day. Scott and I did have experience hunting this area for elk, we bow hunted hear a few times…in our 30’s. We were both 46, a little different story. Plus Elk do not reside at the very top in shale rock.
The next morning, Cody had several spotters all over the mountain ranges spotting for a big ram for me. It begins with a 4×4 ATV ride up to the top of fields peak. This is nerve racking because Scott and I are riding with two of us and all of our gear to the top on a small ATV trail that is cantered towards down the mountain and if you go off here and you will never see your ATV again.
Once on top you glass with a spotting scope looking for Sheep. Keep in mind, Cody had people looking for weeks but the weather was 100 degrees or more and the sheep were in the trees seeking shade.
Before long Cody gets a radio call about four rams below us a mile and they had one good 170 inch plus ram in the bunch. So I looked at Cody and he pointed “We go right off that hill, get your gear and go light”. If you look at the picture above its right where Scott’s foot is.
We go over and start walking cross skiing on shale rock down. We go about 300 yards and Cody turns and asks me “How many bullets do you have?” I reply “Six” which I never carry six. I never shoot twice. Cody looks at me and says “Shit, I am gonna hike back up to the ATV to get more bullets.” I say to him as he passes me up to march up the hill “Cody, you sure? I seriously never miss.” That would later haunt me, because I had no idea of what I was going to thru and how far the target was going to be. After he returns, we start hiking down this mountain and you can feel the burn in your quads and in your shins. I slipped several times, and once really bad falling back on top of my rifle taking the bolt of the action square to my spine. I recovered, continued after Cody who is going down the hill like the downhill racer Billy Johnson. We find the four goats below but they are 800 yards and really do not have a good rest because of the steep terrain we were laying on. Cody says “Lets go, we can get closer and find a better shooting spot”. Down the hill we went, but we lost them. They were still on the move. Cody and I split up and I went down this logging road to make sure they didn’t go out the bottom when I spotted them. Cody came down and we had a beautiful 550 yard shot with great rest. I went to fire the weapon and it misfired, “Shit, they are moving again” he says. We pick up gear to move down to get another shot and I am thinking to myself “This is one expensive custom built rifle it never does that”. The rams do not know we are here but they are moving farther and farther down the mountain and Cody bails off another steep hill and I follow. We find him and we stop and they are definitely moving farther away. We set up on a old fallen tree on a serious downhill grade. He ranges it 750, I dial it up. I don’t feel real good about the rest and having a hard time getting comfortable. I should have made a better rest but was confident in my shooting, but this was a long poke and I never shoot this far unless an animal is wounded. I squeeze off the first round and it goes over his back, Then all hell breaks loose and the all start running back towards us. Do you know how hard it is to pick out the right ram in your scope while trying to keep your shitty rest? Cody says “Dial up 640”. I fire again, right over his back. The rams stops and Cody says “450 and put it in his shoulder”. Well I just shot over it twice and I fell on my weapon. I am going to aim lower and fire. So I do, this time I shoot under him and this time he runs with the rest of the sheep banditos back up the drainage we just came down. So Cody was compensating for overshooting as well and not telling me, and really had range of 550 adjusting for my rifle, and I did the same adjustment. I am just feeling as horrible as a hunter could ever feel. I blew it and let everyone down. We were out of water, so we drank from a small spring creek and filled our water bottles which would later haunt me. Then we get the call that the ram bedded down and we start back up the hill after him. We get on a cliff side and I have a different rifle, Scott brought me his. We sit there on a steep side hill waiting for hours.
It was going to get dark, and the rams were still bedded and acted like they knew something was up. Cody said “We may never see these guys after tonight. We are going to have to make a move.” He got on the radio and told the guys he was going to make a sound to get them to stand up. I got on the rifle and bam they not only stood up at the sound they took off thru the trees running like they stole something. The big one finally slowed down and Cody said “840”. Scott’s weapon only had clicks to 700 yards. Bye Bye Ram and we headed off the mountain and at this time I was feeling worse. We got back to camp at dark and I just went straight to bed. We woke up at daylight and the smoke from the John Day fire made visibility worse. I had been battling diarrhea thru the night and morning and was not doing well. At this point I knew it was the water I drank from the creek, probably not a good idea when it had cow shit around both sides. It didn’t seem to effect Iron Gut Cody Cole, he says he drinks it all the time. We decided to take the morning off and run into town for meds, water, and supplies.
That afternoon Cody said to gear up it was time to mount up and get to the top of the mountain, I still had not ate anything but Scott tried to get me to eat half of a protein bar which I did, Scott and I met one of Cody’s buddies at the top of Fields Peak, and Thad and Cody split up to get eyes on other mountains.
We spotted for a few hours when Cody’s friend Russ says “I got a good ram by himself” and if you look at the picture above, see that finger of trees with a rock cropping? The ram is to the right of that almost at the bottom. It was 7:15 pm and Russ says “You guys have to get down that rock cropping and shoot across. There is a goat trail over there, get on it and haul ass to Cody it is gonna get dark soon. I thanked him as Scott and I geared up and took my first rifle and Cody’s trusted Old Red .270 and started hauling ass to the trail. We met Thad on the trail who ran from his spotting station back to us to help us carry packs and get moving, We got to his spotting scope on the trail where he would remain to give us reference to where the ram was and to watch the entire thing,
Drank water and we moved out. Russ said it was over 3 miles so we had to really step it out. We find Cody and he says “We got to climb down this and pointed down” Then he jumped down on to a rock below and gave me a signal to follow. “Holly Shit it is steep, don’t fall Scott you may not get out of the canyon” I said, We are scaling down this rock face following Cody the goat. Keep in mind its a 100 degrees and we were sweating from our race to the other side. Cody climbs down signals me to slide down to him and he grabs me from going over. After 30 minutes of this he finds this small rock bench and we crawl into it, There is not enough room for us to lay besides each other so he is behind me laying on top of me giving the range. I am sweating thru my hat that I cant see out of my eyes. I have Old Red in on bipods, he gives me range and clicks his rifle which is on MOA the appropriate clicks and says to me calmly to aim at the shoulder when he turns. I got him in the scope, and when he turned I was thinking “I have to make this count because I got nothing in the tank. Squeeze easy”. The old ram by himself turned to look down the hill giving me a clean shot, I said I was gonna take him and somehow Cody got his weight off me (probably doing a push up over me or something I don’t know). I released my breath and squeezed. The ram went down hard. Cody barks at me to reload. This is when I figure out it is a left handed gun so it took me a few seconds. The Ram was dead already no need to fire again, A lot of emotion going thru my head at that exact moment. I was hurt and fatigued and didn’t have a lot of strength due to not eating. I did turn around and snapped a photo of the rocks we came down.
Cody and I moved out to a ledge where he could use the radio to call Thad and to thank Russ for coming out to help spot. I think surprisingly it was my few photos of Cody.
By the time we reach the ram, it is dark. My stomach is cramping, my head hurts but I got an old ram on the ground.
We had to dig out a spot for photos and Cody called Thad who ran back to ATVs to get the pack boards and more water.
Cody and Scott get to cutting and I just help by holding legs and just trying to keep it together, because I know we still have to hike out of this hole. The boys were making good progress when Thad called on the radio trying to locate us in the dark. Took a couple of yells but he finally showed up for a photo. We were not leaving until he got in the photo with me, without his help it would have been very hard for this to all happen.
We load our bags, with meat. Cody loads the horns and cape, and the four of us begin at our accent. It was 9:23 pm.
It is too steep to go straight up, basically you have to side hill 20 steps, side hill the other directions. The shale rock is a bitch. By the time we get to the top it is exactly 12:03 am. We water up take a break, and the cool air is making our sweat cold and we still got a long ways to go up a goat trail to our ATVS. Then go down a treacherous ATV trail with cliffs in the dark. We made it home I think by 3 or 4 am. We were all so rummy we went to bed with little celebration.
We woke up in the morning, sore. My stomach was still hurting and I needed to get to a doctor so we broke camp and headed home. I had a lot of mixed feelings about this hunt. Stressful, anxiety, painful, sick, never ever again were all words that went thru my mind. People asked me why I thought it was stressful. I guess now it is easier for me to explain. You have a huge support crew watching from spotting scopes, every ounce of you is focused so you don’t fall down the mountain and kill yourself, and every muscle in your body is in pain. It is not the hunt I would recommend to those of you that are not in good shape. I was 206 lbs when I drew the tag, and 181 when I got back, of course giardia does help with weight loss.
It was good to hunt with my friends and we put it together with minutes to spare to accomplish what most do not even get the opportunity to do. The McClellan unit is a tough one, and really give you a different perspective and appreciation for hunting. My one memory before I squeezed the trigger was that of an beat down old ram looking down the mountain with his broke up leg and his scars on his face thinking to himself that he lived a long 10.5 years and that it was time. He died respectful and instantly and that is what I am the most proud of, He was a ram of character with broomed off horns that showed his age and I guess his wisdom.
Thank you fellas for your support and enjoyment to share this experience with you. If you ever do draw a tag, pick up the phone and call Cody Cole 541-620-2341, or email firstname.lastname@example.org as quick as you can. It is worth every penny. Trust me you do not want to try this alone.
Scott and I go to a little place called the Seven Devils in Idaho in November for Muleys and Elk, I am not sure if that is a good idea or not, we both were second guessing the idea on the hike out, Another bucket list item crossed off buddy.
The Hunting Chef