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Sheep hunters' lifetime hunt lasts less than a day

Schyler Gorman is the latest Oregonian to learn exactly how fleeting a hunters' once-in-a-lifetime moment can be.

The 26-year-old man beat the nearly 431 to 1 odds by landing one of Oregon's coveted tags to hunt California bighorn sheep this year after just four years of applying for the tag.

And he came through in spades, killing his ram Aug. 22, less than eight hours into the two-week hunt in the Fish Creek  area of southeastern Oregon's Warner Unit.

"It happened so fast," Gorman says. "We got up at 6:30 and shot him at 2.

"Usually, when we're deer hunting, I'm out there 11 days or so," he says. "I know this is a once-in-a-lifetime hunt, but for it to be over so fast is crazy."

Drawing a tag is always the toughest part of sheep hunting, says Tom Thornton, the game program manager for the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife.

Most hunters who do get the tag are like Gorman, Thornton says. Most don't hire guides, they hunt public lands "because that's where most of the sheep are," and their sheep tags are usually filled, he says.

"Most people put a lot of effort into it and are successful," Thornton says. "But while unguided, it's usually not unassisted."

Gorman applied for the tag at the behest of his father, Joel Gorman, "because you can't draw them if you don't put in for them," he says.

"But putting in for the hunt, I really didn't think I had a chance," he says.

Like most other lucky ones, Gorman worked to make the best of it.

He scouted the unit five straight weekends before the hunt, watching and noting every movement of the rams inhabiting the region.

"I drove over 3,000 miles just scouting," Gorman says. "And I don't know how many hours I spent looking through binoculars and a spotting scope. My neck was sore, and the back of my eyes hurt."

But each trip he saw a small cluster of rams, with one's horns clearly larger than the rest.

That's where he and his father headed on opening day of the hunt, first spying the rams more than a mile away. By using ridges and cliffs to hide their approach, they got within 100 yards as the rams bedded down under a tree after their morning feeding.

"From scouting them so many times, I got used to what they were doing," Gorman says.

They waited more than an hour, until their subtle movements drew the attention of one ram, which stood up.

"After the one stood up, they all stood up," Gorman says. "I really tried to steady myself, tried to stay calm."

He spied the ram he was after, and shot it right between the horns, Gorman says. They radioed four friends from his deer-hunting party who were waiting nearby to join them.

"None of them had ever drawn a (sheep) tag, so they were as excited as I was — not just to get the tag but to shoot the ram," Gorman says.

The group helped pack out the meat, which hung overnight in camp, "and then we were gone," he says.

They drove home and took the hide and horns straight to the taxidermist.

"It still doesn't seem real," Gorman says. "I have nothing but pictures to look at for five months."

Reach reporter Mark Freeman at 541-776-4470 or mfreeman@mailtribune.com. Follow him at www.twitter.com/MTwriterFreeman.

Schyler Gorman, left, and Kyle Gebhard glass a valley for bighorn sheep in a preseason scouting trip to Warner Valley. Photo by Dustin Harris