Well it started off simple enough, a friend and I were headed to Crooked River to hunt for the feral sheep that have been living there for the last 20 years or so. We met up at my shop in Madras, OR. and loaded up our gear.
I was hesitant to take my Hatsan .25cal AT44S-10 but there are a lot of cottontail rabbits where we were headed and with a larger caliber air rifle, well I was afraid there would be nothing usable left after the shot, So the Hatsan was chosen. I have taken lots of game with the .25 in the past, but I was worried that it would not get through the skull of a sheep for a clean kill.
Sheep are notorious for having a thick skull. I mean look at the way they fight with each other, ramming heads, and they do that all the time. Over a lifetime that had to build some pretty thick bones and my fear was that I wouldn’t have enough energy to penetrate it with a .25.
Well over the next two days I would have a chance to find out.
We headed down Highway 97 to Terrebonne, OR. then out to Crooked River Ranch, then onto the BLM property just west of the settlement there.
This area is beautiful. With a Golf Course, General Store, Scenic overlooks gazing into the Crooked River Gorge, and abundant wildlife (mule deer run through the residential properties here like squirrels at a nut farm).
On the far western edge of all this is a narrow strip of BLM controlled land used primarily for day hiking and bicycling.
We arrive shortly after daybreak and set about getting ourselves in order, then head out down the trail to find our quarry.
After about a mile of hiking the canyon rim, we stop to check the gorge. looking over the edge can be a sketchy prospect in itself, there are no guard rails here and the rocks can be loose at times and this time of year everything is muddy, so if you loose your footing you can fall to you death quite easily.
That said, the gorge is absolutely beautiful with the river running strong at the bottom approx. 600 feet below.
As we stand there looking off into the gorge checking for sheep along the walls, movement catches my eye. On my left and only 30yrds away lay our quarry, three mouflon.
The largest of the three is standing watching us, and the other two are laying in the sage.
I motion to Jason to take a shot, but my movement set them in motion. We both try to get in a hasty shot, but shooting through the sage at a moving target it would be a miracle if we put down a sheep, and sure enough we watch them run along the canyon rim unharmed from our attempt.
After reassembling our composure we set about tracking them down with the hopes that we can re-engage, and this time with more deliberation and less surprise. We find them again a few hundred yards up the trail, just over the edge of the canyon. This time we are not surprised. I take my time and check the range finder, 33yrds an easy shot.
The sheep are standing on a large rock in a kind of “bowling pin formation”
so I sight in on the front one, a nice sized ram with a 3/4 curl. I steady the shot, squeeze the trigger while aiming right between the lookers, and….
I had my answer. The pellet (JSB exact king) bounced off without any damage at all. DAMN!!!!!
Jason lines up with his Evanix Tactical Sniper .357 and shoots with the same results. I am surprised by this as I have seen many videos of Ian Harford (Team wild) shooting Mouflon and Corsican rams with a .357 of the same power as the Evanix, but at any rate we were underpowered for this game, at least for a head shot.
We followed the sheep for another hour or so before the got down in the gorge too far for us to safely pursue them, we would have to concede the day to the sheep and try again the next day.
As we made our way back to the truck we discuss the events of the day. We decided we were simply out gunned and we would have to step up our game if we were to be successful here. The mile long walk of shame went quietly after that and we made our way home for the night.
The next morning I had an appointment so I was not able to join Jason until after noon. Jason had already relocated the sheep not far from where we left them the night before, and had found a way to get down into the gorge without dying (hopefully).
This time I brought my Sam Yang 909 .45cal rifle. I know this one will put the sheep down without any trouble. Jason brought his compound bow, so we had confidence the sheep would be coming home with us if we got another chance like the day before.
We made our way down the canyon to where the sheep had spent the night, approx. 1 1/2 miles from the truck.
We could see them down at the bottom by the river, but it had rained that morning and the skies were still threateningly gray. The ground was soft with the fresh rain and the rocks were very slick. I surveyed the trail Jason had found and decided this was more than I was willing to do for a sheep.
Jason however, is younger and stronger than me, and despite my advice to wait for a better / safer day, he was going after them.
The plan was for him to make his way down the muddy 60deg. rocky slope to the river, and for me to keep him in sight so if he did loose his footing I could call 911. This is NOT a great plan!
Well after much nail-biting on my part Jason was safely down by the river and looking for sheep. I was stationed on the canyon rim with a view of the area, though not the sheep. I could see the only two ways out of there so if the sheep made a break for it, I would be waiting on top.
After losing sight of Jason below the riverside cliffs, I settled in for the wait. I am not good at waiting, but I also never leave a friend behind, so I settled in next to a sage bush and waited.
After what seemed a very long time two of the sheep emerged from the unseen land by the river. They made their way to a shelf directly below me and proceeded to feed for the next hour and a half.
As there were originally three of them down there, I was hoping that Jason had the remaining sheep with him, and that I would be seeing them both soon.
I ranged the two sheep below me at 88yrds and calculated the holdover given the steep angle of the shot, but decided to wait and see what happened when Jason returned.
The sheep were on the trail Jason had used to get down to the river and as far as I could see there was no other way for him to return. So when he comes up the trail he should push the sheep up the hill before him in which case I would have a 20yrd shot at them when they reached the top, and I would not have to drag them up that hill. This seemed like the best plan, so I waited where I was and did not take the shot.
The sheep stayed where they were until sunset. We were losing the light fast and I figured in 15 more minutes I would not be able to see at all without a flashlight. I still had not seen Jason, although the sudden movement of the sheep did give me hope he would make it out soon.
The sheep were moving the wrong way, and not coming up the hill, so I get up and moved to the other side of a large rock formation to see if Jason had found another trail up from the river, and much to my relief he had. I could see him making his way up through the rocks inching along with a dead ram. By the time he reached the top we needed a flashlight to see. Talk about cutting it close! Jason didn’t even have a light with him, had he been any later he would have spent the night in the gorge, and me on the edge.
As it went it was well after dark when we made it out with the sheep, but Jason had his reward for all his hard work, and I had my friend back from the gorge safe and happy. What a great hunt we had. It was Jason that brought up how fortunate we are to live in Oregon, and to have opportunities to experience hunting like this.
In most places hunter would either pay tons to hunt like this, or not be able to do it at all.
Thank you for the story. What animals can be harvested with an air rifle in OR? Thank you.
Any animal on the predators list, the unprotected animal list, (available from ODFW) or any invasive species. (Mouflon, Wild Boar, Aoudad, Nutria, etc…
Just to be clear… No Game animals may be hunted with an Air Rifle in Oregon.
The animals we hunt are all Invasive, or Predatory animals.
I live in that area, and I’m just curious as I’d like to see one. Were you in the deschutes river canyon or crooked river canyon in search of the mouflon? Or do they inhabit both?
They do inhabit both canyons. We were in the Crooked River Drainage on that trip, but I have also found them along the Deschutes river and over by haystack and Grey butte and there are some along the Deschutes near Maupin.
Great job on the hunt!!! Did you go in on the west side of the river?