Jan
27

A Bighorn for Brian – Part I

In Washington, as in most states with bighorns, there are long odds against being drawn for a hunting permit. Relatively few permits are issued; in the 2016 special permit drawing there were 14 ewe permits and 26 ram permits statewide. If you draw a tag and harvest a ram, you may no longer apply in Washington. Each year I apply unsuccessfully, I get another preference point. Some of us have two dozen or more points. This increases our odds, but anyone can draw. We are all optimists; we pay a few bucks to throw them into a drawing with up to 6,000 others hoping to draw one of two or three permits available in a specific unit.

In the Lower 48, we have three subspecies of bighorns: Rocky Mountain, Desert and California. In Washington, we have a handful of Rocky Mountain bighorns and a fair number of California bighorns. Our local sheep are the California subspecies.

Some decades ago, I somehow drew two licenses over three years for a Rocky Mountain bighorn in Colorado. With those two licenses, I hunted some 25 days before I took my lifetime Colorado ram. Talk to enough sheep hunters and you find out that is pretty much the norm.

Now, let me introduce you to Brian Talbott. We grew up together in East Wenatchee, and spend odd moments hanging out, talking family, hunting and fishing. Brian’s been applying for sheep for many years, too, but only submits an app when he knows he won’t be out on business – which he has happened most sheep seasons. He figures he had four or five preference points.

My hunting season always starts in spring, when I apply for everything I am eligible for. Of course, I know the chance of receiving a draw is slim at best. However, part of the fun is to be able to call my old classmate Jim Huckabay to see if he was drawn. He would always say ‘This will be our year!’ Then we would wait for next year. This year when I heard the drawings had taken place, I immediately picked up the phone to call Jim. Midway through the dialing I stopped as I realized the first thing Jim would ask me was ‘Well what did you draw?’ I jumped on the Internet and checked.

“Lo and behold! There it was, a once in a lifetime Bighorn Ram Sheep tag. I was stunned and immediately called Jim to see how he had done, share my good luck and seek his assistance since my draw was in the Selah Butte Unit in the Yakima Canyon. Of course, Jim was excited about my tag – even as he muttered about ‘not drawn’ – and offered to help in any way he could.

“As usual, work was causing a lot of traveling around the country. In addition, I had a moose hunt in October with Babine Guide Outfitters out of British Columbia. Before I knew it, November was just around the corner and I called Jim to ask for his help. He had been talking to people, so get back to him and we would do some scouting. Once again, time ran out and I called Jim in the first week of November, only to catch him and wife Diane on a genealogy search across the country. He had, however, made access arrangements for my hunting on the Eaton Ranch through Joe Rotter (Jim calls Joe one of his ‘outdoor heroes’) at Red’s Fly Shop on the Yakima River.

“I called Joe. He said if I came over on Friday, November 11th, he would show me how to access the area. He said to arrive mid-morning. Now ‘mid-morning’ to me meant 9 or 10 a.m. I arrived around 9:15 and asked at Red’s Fly Shop if Joe was available. They said, ‘Not unless you’re Brian Talbott… He’s about two miles away watching some sheep. He has a big 4×4 truck and he should be looking through a spotting scope.’ Joe had been spotting sheep since daylight, according to the guys at Red’s. …Not exactly mid-morning!

“I headed down the Yakima for my day of scouting before I would get really serious about my hunt (which ran until the end of the month). Sure enough, Joe was along the river, with an outdoor photographer, watching four California bighorn rams way up on the mountain. I introduced myself and he showed me the rams. Since I had never hunted sheep they all looked nice to me. After a while Joe suggested we look at how to access the area. I quickly realized Joe was a skilled hunter with a great eye for game. We drove around behind closed gates, watching several bands of sheep and looking around the top of the ridges. I learned it wasn’t easy judging the various rams’ horns.

“Joe mentioned he needed to get back to work, but kept putting it off as we both got more interested in sheep. After we had explored for a while, we agreed to go back and see if the four rams from the morning were still around. We could look them over, and I could be on my own.

“The rams were still in the same place – busy fighting now that a ewe had joined them. As we watched, we could hear the noise of butting heads ricocheting off the rock walls. I was totally enthralled by how they pushed each other around, trying to see which ram would dominate. It became obvious how much Joe’s high-powered spotting scope helped; even my 10×42 Swarovski binoculars were not nearly as clear.

“A fifth ram showed up – bigger than the other four. It had an orange tag in its right ear, which seemed a little strange. After watching them all I said, ‘Boy, that ram really looks nice.’”

…To be concluded.

 

(Joe Rotter Photos 11/11/16)

Written by Jim Huckabay. Posted in Uncategorized

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