Jim's Outdoor Blog

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Stan Jackson Received Two “Once-In-A-Lifetime” Bighorn Sheep Tags


The Second-Chance Ram


        Hunting for bighorn sheep was the last thing on Stan Jackson’s mind on May 22, 2004.  The Christmas gift of six big horn sheep raffle tickets was half-a-year behind him.  He had just crawled under the covers and was fading fast when the telephone rang.  The caller was Don Whitaker, an employee with Oregon’s Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODF&W).  It took some fast-talking to convince Stan this wasn’t a prank call arranged by his brother Mike, but eventually the truth of it sank in.  Despite incredible odds, one of his tickets had been drawn at Oregon’s annual raffle/auction dinner banquet!


        This tag would allow Stan to hunt for his choice of Rocky Mountain or California Bighorn Sheep, throughout their range inside the State of Oregon.  The enhanced season for raffle winners would run from August 14 to November 9th, providing three months to locate and harvest a magnificent ram.


        In Oregon, the availability of sheep tags is low, but the number of applicants is very high. Thousands of hopeful hunters apply for approximately seventy-tags each year.  ODF&W’s hunting procedures state that persons can be awarded only one bighorn sheep tag in a lifetime.  However, persons acquiring a sheep hunt via the raffle or auction are exempt from this rule.


        Stan Jackson truly had the luck of the angels working for him the night of the raffle, for he had been issued a “once in a lifetime bighorn sheep tag” in 1985.  He was only eighteen years old when drawn, and he knew he could never apply for an Oregon bighorn tag again.  This opportunity was made even sweeter by the fact that nineteen years earlier, Stan was not successful in his attempt to harvest a California Bighorn Sheep.  Now, at the age of thirty-seven, Stan Jackson had been provided a second-chance.


        Like many large game animals, bighorn sheep did not fare well when eastern pioneers settled in Oregon.  Due to land use changes, diseases transferred from domestic animals and over-hunting, bighorns were extirpated from Oregon by 1945.  But, thanks to hunters and organizations such as the Oregon Hunter Association, the Foundation for North American Wild Sheep and the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, California Bighorn Sheep were transplanted to Oregon beginning in 1954.  By the year 1998 there were 31 herds with an estimated population of approximately 2,500 animals.  These sheep are primarily located in the high desert country of South-central and Southeastern Oregon.  A handful of California Bighorns have expanded their range from Southwestern Idaho into Oregon’s Malheur County.


        From 1971 through 1999, Rocky Mountain Bighorn Sheep were repatriated to Oregon’s rugged Northeastern Mountains.  In 1999, ODF&W estimated the population of ten sheep herds was about 700 animals.


        Due to this continual increase in sheep numbers, the state is able to allow some hunting to aid in the management of herd size.  I am always amazed by the astonishing magnetism this big game animal has for hunters.  ODF&W sells raffle tickets for their yearly sheep tag drawing, and they auction a tag to the highest bidder.  In 2004 the auctioned tag sold for $87,000 and in 2005 the highest bidder paid $117,000!


        When a much younger Stan Jackson sought a bighorn ram in 1985, Mother Nature seemed to block his success at every turn.  Hunting rocky bluffs more than 5,000 feet above sea level a raging wind pushed blowing snow for the first four days of season.  Freezing winds and accumulations of snow rapidly changed the bighorn’s feeding and sleeping habits.  He spent days attempting to re-locate wandering herds.  Only once did Stan locate a “shooter” ram.  It was bedded down, the wind was correct and he began his stalk.  But, the consistency of his poor luck stuck to him like glue.  Just as he reached a reasonable shooting distance, a roving coyote spooked the ram from his bed and it was gone in an instant.  Stan did not connect with a ram.


        For his 2004 hunt, Stan chose to once again seek a California Bighorn ram.  He had hunted desert mule deer in an area east of Paisley and north of the Abert Rim, and knew it held good numbers of bighorns.  Stan would be seeking his ram in management unit #575A, the “South Central” hunting unit.  This isolated and seemingly infinite expanse of desert rests at approximately 4,500-feet above sea level.  Resident sheep reside on rugged mountain ridges and canyons, rising as much as 2,500-feet above the desert floor.  Consequently, each morning Stan would be forced to climb 1,500 to 2,500-feet in order to begin his hunt.


        Before traveling to the area on scouting trips, Stan telephoned ODF&W wildlife biologists, Mary Jo Hedrick and Craig “Foz” Foster.  He found them to be more than willing to aid him in his quest.  Stan told me they offered suggestions and patiently answered a multitude of questions.


        Scouting in mid-July, he had little problem locating large numbers of sheep.  Aided by his brother Mike and their father Dave Jackson, the men covered an enormous area evaluating bighorn rams.  Probing thousands of square miles, they scoured the countryside within the Abert, Coleman and Fish Creek rims.  Eventually, Stan and Mike located a bachelor-group of eighteen rams in the South Central unit.  Amongst these individuals was what they believed to be a very large ram.  Upon spying this exceptional animal, Stan determined it would be the bighorn he would attempt to locate and harvest when the season opened on August 14th.


        In camp, the night of August 13th was a long one.  A severe thunderstorm with high winds drenched the area with heavy rains.  Hundreds of lighting bolts blazed across the black desert sky with a performance equal to the finest Fourth of July display.  Still misting rain, opening morning was cool, wet and muddy.  Stan, his brother Mike Jackson and their friend Dave Backen climbed to the rim top on the southeast end of their chosen area, carefully probing rocky bluffs and outcroppings for the big ram.


        Stan, Mike and Dave located a group of fifteen rams early in their hunt.  Although they didn’t see the big ram he wanted, they decided to remain stationary in hopes that he may join the others.  This small cluster of sheep eventually surrounded the men, some coming within 60 yards of the hunters.  When the first day of the 2004 bighorn sheep season came to an end, they had seen numerous sheep, but the trophy ram was no where to be found.


        While making their way to the rim the following morning, Stan and his group observed a decent sized ram about one-half mile in the distance.  Walking north they saw several ewes, and came across some small rams.  Before stopping for lunch the group of hunters had seen dozens of sheep.


        After eating and napping in the warm sunshine the men resumed their trek.  They quickly spotted a group of six big rams about one mile ahead.  The sheep were slowly moving across the top of the rim, apparently heading for water or afternoon beds.  Although they couldn’t be certain, the men hoped “their ram” was in this band of sheep.  Making their way through a maze of boulders and rocky outcroppings atop the rim, they observed a cluster of about two-dozen rams three to four miles to the north.  Sheep seemed to be everywhere!


        Closing the distance as quickly as they dared, the men watched as the band of large rams stepped off the rim and into a shallow depression.  The animals had not detected their presence.  As he reached the last place he’d seen the rams, Stan stopped about 50 yards from the edge of the canyon.  The wind was in his face and his heart was racing.  He knew the sheep were close.


        Pausing to scour the landscape, Stan discovered a medium sized ram standing only 40 to 50 yards below him.  The sheep was frozen in place, with his gaze solidly locked on Stan.  Moving only his eyes, Stan observed four more bighorns, just twenty yards away.  Suddenly he saw the large ram.  Bedded approximately forty yards in front of and below him, the bighorn had no inkling of his presence.  Positioned completely in the open, Stan knew he dared not move a muscle for fear of spooking the ram whose eyes remained fixated on him.


        After what seemed an eternity, Stan slowly began raising his rifle to a shooting position.  When he fired, the ram was instantly on his feet and bolted toward the other sheep.  Stan charged another cartridge into the action and prepared to shoot again.  Standing a few yards behind his brother, Mike Jackson knew the shot had been perfectly placed and called out for Stan to wait.  Within seconds the beautiful California Bighorn Ram dropped to the ground.  With a green-score of 170-1/8″, the sheep would not qualify for Boone & Crockett’s book of records.  Nonetheless, it is the trophy of a lifetime for Stan.


        After posing for dozens of photographs the men dressed and caped the ram.  With the horns, head and cape affixed to his back, Stan stopped at the summit of the rim to soak up the scenery and fully absorb his once in a lifetime experience.  Perched at more than 6,500′ above sea level, he could easily see 60 to 80 miles across the vast expanse of desert.  Stan knew that by every available statistical measure, he should not have been here.  Nineteen years earlier he had drawn his “once in a lifetime bighorn sheep tag”, and yet, here he stood.  Feeling the weight of the sheep’s head and cape in his backpack, Stan Jackson couldn’t have been more grateful for the opportunity to take his “Second Chance Ram”.


March 12, 2008 - Posted by | Deer, Elk, Antelope, Big Horns and Such

1 Comment »

  1. Great story, Thanks

    Comment by Pete Dumont | August 8, 2017 | Reply

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