April/May 2013 EHJ (Issue 136) - My mouth was so dry I could taste the unforgiving dry heat. Beside me, on a rugged, shade deprived mountainside in Oregon’s relentless Hell’s Canyon, lay a twentyyear- old woman with her rifle and one giant dream. For four hours we waited out the bighorn people would dream about. Bedded comfortably under a juniper, enjoying his view of Oregon’s Snake River is where Shelby’s story begins.
Goliath, as we had named him months ago, just needed to stand up and step out to offer Shelby a broadside shot. Twelve solid weeks of scouting, the countless miles on the the boots came down to the moment he stirred.
Goliath rose from his bed and, like he had a sixth-sense, walked straight to cover, never offering her a good shot. The Bighorn ram that consumed our lives those past few months crested the hillside out of sight. The look of defeat covered Shelby’s face and I couldn’t help but feel it myself.
On our second scouting trip into her hunt area we noticed a small cabin with a last name written on a fencepost. It was a name I had heard from several of my previous phone calls as someone I needed to talk to. We sat for hours, scouring maps and looking over photographs of previously ki l led rams f rom her unit. Dan Blankenship’s excitement was contagious, and we soon found ourselves more motivated than ever. I immediately sensed that this man had a serious passion for sheep and sheep hunting.
"Shoot the ram you like Shelby, shoot the ram you want to look at for the rest of your life,” Dan told Shelby.
That’s when she pointed down at the picture of a giant 191-inch ram killed by a woman a few years ago and said, "That’s what I want, just like that. I want the female state record.” We all chuckled, thinking, yeah right, don’t we all want a 190-inch ram.
It wasn’t until a hot July afternoon that we saw him for the first time. He had mass in all directions and carried it all the way out his long horns. This ram had great curl and horns that dropped well below his jaw. Goliath, as we named him, dwarfed any ram that stood next to him.
"That’s him, Cal, that’s my number one; he is the ram I want to shoot,” she told me as I stared in amazement through the spotting scope. Little did we know, she had just committed to a rollercoaster ride of emotional highs and lows that would string us along for months.
Cooler spring days drew to an end and the agonizing heat of Hells Canyon set in as July turned to August. Rams became harder and harder to find as they more commonly utilized the dark timber and thick brushy draws to bed, feed and travel. Goliath seemed to be a distant memory as the old lone ram simply disappeared for weeks. We searched and searched, looking everywhere and finding all the other rams he used to be with, but like most big rams do, he vanished all by himself.
We were forced to sit back and wait while the holder of the Oregon Governor’s Tag hunted in Shelby’s unit with, literally, a small army of professional sheep hunting guides. Surely if they found Goliath he was as good as dead, and I prepared Shelby for the heartbreak a few weeks in advance. I learned later in the week the Governor’s Tag holder had harvested a large ram we named Lefty who was world-class himself, but, this meant one thing… Goliath lived on!
The very next week we were moving in on a band of rams for a closer look when Oregon’s raffle tag holder killed another ram right in front of us that we had been watching all summer. As a beautiful ram we’d named Flare rolled down the hillside to his final resting place. I turned to Shelby and said "Now you’re up,nothing stands in your way.”
A week prior to opening day, we arrived in camp with one sole purpose – we had to find Goliath. It was now or never. It was a tense few weeks between her and I when I would bring up any of the other rams. Shelby was simply not having it. Just as Dan had told her, she picked the ram she wanted and that was Goliath.
Finally like a gift from above, the last remaining light of our last scouting day I found him from nearly 1,000 yards away. There was no doubt in my mind as Shelby and I wrestled to get a view through the spotting scope. We would begin opening morning right here, hopeful to turn him up just one more time.
Finally, at mid-morning Goliath turned up in a small band of rams just feeding out of the dark timber. By the time we caught up to the sheep they were bedded out of the midday sun underneath large junipers. This takes us back to the beginning of my story…the agonizing wait.
We watched him leading his band of rams over the complete opposite side of the canyon a short time later. The truly majestic ram skylined himself just as the sun was setting behind him. Day one was in the books as all our tired sheep hunters descended to camp in the dark. The second day started off with everybody a bit sore; opening day had been rough on everyone, especially Shelby. The night prior, as she read an encouraging text message from Dan, she almost lost it completely. I knew the pressure she felt was immense; there was a camp full of extremely accomplished hunters, all of whom were there for her and she was determined to not let anyone down.
Day two we began hiking in the direction we had last seen Goliath. Shelby and I began walking towards a rock pedestal below us with another hunting partner to get another angle and glass.
Jeff Dunn, who was filming the hunt and walking behind us, suddenly said, "Stop, don’t move!”
We froze as he slowly raised his binoculars. A small ram came around the rock pedestal and walked back over the edge. We slowly backed out as another hunting partner, Fred Daggett, came over to us and said, "He’s there! There are three of them, and he’s just feeding!”
This was going to be it, Goliath was in a perfect spot to make a stalk, the wind was right, and the terrain would allow us to get Shelby a nice shot opportunity. We dropped our packs with our dads and friend, D.J. Fox, before we began to lose elevation, sneaking along the steep hillside. Expecting the rams to be right below the crest in front of us, all of our focus was straight ahead.
All of a sudden I heard a noise and caught movement directly to our right! Goliath was in the lead, walking up the opposite hillside, about to walk out of our lives once again.
Shelby quickly got herself down and into position. I heard her safety click off as my eyes were seemingly glued to those massive horns less than 120 yards away. Goliath crested the hill and stopped in his tracks, looking straight away.
"No shot, no shot,” I whispered in Shelby’s ear as the smaller rams walked right past Goliath and over the hill.
Then Goliath, for no apparent reason at all, began to turn toward us. He spun completely around and just stared Shelby down as if to call her bluff.
It all seemed so fast and surreal as her 7mm-08 Rem. cracked a round off downrange. I watched the bullet impact hard, dead center. On impact, his rear legs picked up to his hanging belly and he rolled one time into a juniper, not moving a single muscle.
"YOU DID IT, SHELBY!! HE’S DEAD!!” She could not believe it and I couldn’t help but grab her in my arms. Goliath and the legend he had created was all over with one well placed bullet.
As we walked up to him, Shelby laid the first human hands upon this incredible animal and just stared in amazement. This small town girl that everyone doubted had done it! Shelby picked her ram, and killed the ram she wanted. She was speechless as we watched a tear fall to the ground, recalling all the hard work and commitment we had put into this hunt. She had just killed the largest Rocky Mountain Bighorn ever killed by a woman in Oregon, officially scoring 193-0/8 net B&C.
This was a hunt we will never forget and one that we must thank a few people for. A huge thanks goes out to the Blakenship, Miller, Miles, Daggett, Fox, Krewson and Halladay families. They all played a role in the success in one way or another. Also, we’d like to thank Andrew Johnson and Jeff Dunn for the incredible photo work.