Triple Sheep Hunt

By the Guns and Shooting Online Staff


Hunting at Clover Creek Ranch east of Ashwood, Oregon is a lot like hunting on public land in eastern Oregon. Unimproved dirt roads (4wd required), hilly, broken country, native vegetation and lots of low gear driving and walking required. The ranch property is extensive, so we never had a "fenced in" feeling. The primary difference is the number and variety of animals. The primary game animals on eastern Oregon public land are Rocky Mountain elk, mule deer, a limited number of pronghorn antelope (drawing for tag required) and a very small sheep population requiring extremely good luck to draw a "one in a lifetime" tag in a state lottery.

At Clover Creek Ranch, no licenses or special tags are required. There are Dahl, Hawaiian, Desert, Corsican, Soay, Mouflon, Jacob (4-horn) and Merrino rams, plus Catalina and Angora goats, bison, yak, watusi, turkey and hogs. Rental housing is available to guests in the form of a cabin (sleeps up to six with indoor plumbing and a wood stove for heating) or bunkhouse (outhouse plumbing) are available on the ranch property.

We rented the cabin. The accommodations are rustic; bring your own food, sleeping bags and other necessities. The nearest gasoline and supplies are over 40 miles away. For additional details, visit the Clover Creek website at http://clovercreekranch.net

In our case, the 2011 Guns and Shooting Online staff hunt at Clover Creek was for bison, sheep and (possibly) a Catalina goat. Owner/Managing Editor Chuck Hawks, Chief Executive Technical Advisor Jim Fleck and Technical Assistants Jack Seeling and Bob Fleck were able to participate. Staff Librarian Cheryl Coleman was unable to attend in person, but loaned us her Suzuki Grand Vitara to use as a hunting car. A mid-size 4wd SUV (unlike most, the Grand Vitara is built on a truck frame) is ideal for negotiating Clover Creek Ranch roads. The relatively short wheelbase eases turn-around on dead-end trails.

Jack Seeling drove north from Reno, Nevada (about an eight hour drive), while the rest of the crew drove east from Eugene, Oregon (a four hour drive) to Ashwood. Driving tip: if you are heading to Ashwood up Highway 97 from the south, stop at the Black Bear Diner in Madras, Oregon for a good meal. Fill your vehicle's gas tank while you are in Madras. It is the last opportunity you will have to do so until you return from your hunt.

Guns and Shooting Online readers are generally gun nuts, so here is the scoop on the firearms and ammunition we used. Jim brought his Browning BAR Mk. II Safari Grade rifle in .338 Win. Magnum, as he hoped to shoot a bison. This rifle wears a Simmons Whitetail Expedition 1.5-6x32mm scope. He figured the .338 would also kill a sheep if the opportunity were presented. Chuck brought his Browning X-Bolt White Gold Medallion .270 Winchester rifle equipped with a Nitrex TR two 2-10x42mm scope for Catalina goats (his primary quarry). Jack brought his Weatherby Vanguard SUB-MOA rifle in .270 Winchester, topped by a Simmons Master Series Prohunter 3-10x44mm scope, for sheep hunting. Bob chose his handy Ruger Model 77 RSI International carbine in .308 Winchester with its Leupold 2-7x28mm Compact riflescope for his sheep hunt.

Jim used Remington Premier Safari ammunition loaded with a 225 grain Swift A-Frame bullet in his .338 Mag. Chuck's .270 ammo was Winchester Supreme with a 140 grain AccuBond bullet. Jack's .270 ammo was Remington's Express 150 grain Core-Lokt PSP load. Bob chose the Hornady Custom load using a 150 grain SST bullet for his .308. Many thanks to the great folks at Remington, Winchester and Hornady for supplying this ammunition.

All rifles were carefully sighted-in from a bench rest prior to use. In addition, we did a little practice from field positions before the hunt. Jim's .338 Mag. was zeroed to hit 1" high at 100 yards, as he planned to shoot his bison between 50 and 150 yards. Bob and Jack zeroed their rifles to hit dead on at 200 yards. Chuck sighted-in his slightly flatter shooting .270/140 to take full advantage of the cartridge's maximum point blank range (+/- 3"), which means 2.6" high at 100 yards. However, none of us were willing to shoot at a game animal beyond 200 yards under any circumstances.

Having booked a mid-week hunt, we arrived on a Monday evening in late May and spent that night in the guest cabin. Clover Creek Ranch owner Shon Webb (shon@clovercreekranch.net) met with us shortly after our arrival and provided us with the latest intelligence on the animals we would be hunting.

We planned to hunt all day Tuesday and on Wednesday until the 2:00 PM check-out time (if necessary). After checking-out, we would head back to our respective homes. We have hunted at Clover Creek Ranch annually for six years and this basic plan has worked well.

Tuesday morning found us scouting for Jim's bison, our first priority. Unfortunately, the bison did not cooperate. We finally spotted a group of nine animals with two calves in late afternoon, but they spotted us at the same time. Jim and Chuck attempted a stalk, but the bison were having no part of that and split for the next valley. We never saw them again. We did manage a perfect set-up on a most impressive yak bull (alleged to taste much like bison), but after some discussion decided to pass on the shot. Maybe next year.

The bison hunt concluded in the bison's favor, we turned our attention to sheep and Catalina goats. We found no goats (Catalina's are the most difficult animals on the ranch), but before sundown we stalked three different groups of rams, all in the same general area of hills and ravines.

The third stalk was the charm and Jim finally got a chance at a Dahl ram. The sheep were grazing on a gentle slope covered with new grass. The range was about 100 paces, which should have been an easy shot. Jim was shooting his .338 from a kneeling position, using Vanguard's convenient and versatile shooting sticks.

He took the opportunity to increase his scope's magnification to 6x, to maximize precise bullet placement. However, when he pulled the Browning's trigger, all he got was a "click." Carrying his BAR autoloader with an empty chamber for safety, he had racked the bolt slowly and quietly with game nearby. Unfortunately, the bolt had (apparently) not fully closed and locked, creating the misfire. The sheep stared intently in Jim's direction after the click, while he desperately opened the magazine floor plate, ejected the unfired cartridge, closed the magazine and let the bolt run forward, chambering a new cartridge.

The rams moved out in response to this activity, but two rams stopped to look back. They were nearly broadside, but almost completely overlapped. Jim held his fire, hoping that one would move first. Finally one did, unmasking the other--a full curl Dahl--for an instant before it would have vanished into cover. The .338 roared to Jim's compressed squeeze. The ram bolted and Jim lost sight of it as the rifle recoiled, but Chuck saw it fall about 15 yards farther on, kick and become still.

When we reached the downed ram, it was stone dead. The 225 grain A-Frame bullet had done its job, taking off the top of both lungs before exiting the far side. This bullet was not recovered (it probably stopped about half way through the hill), but the short blood trail it produced was, let us say, easily visible. The ram was dead no sooner than others we have killed with .270, 7mm and .30 caliber rifles, but it was bloodier. That's what happens when you shoot CXP2 class game with a medium bore safari rifle!

Jim and full curl Dahl ram
Jim with his full curl Dahl ram.

After the required photography session, we radioed the ranch house to notify them that we had a sheep down and where to come with the ranch ATV to collect the carcass. One of the nice things about hunting at Clover Creek is that you do the hunting and they take care of the downed animal afterward. Hard to beat that deal! After a slow start, our first day had ended successfully with a bang.

Wednesday morning we skipped breakfast in favor of a quick cup of coffee and an early start. We drove straight to a ridge behind and above the main ranch house, where Shon told us he had seen a band of perhaps a half dozen mixed rams.

When we found them they had come down to graze in a meadow at the foot of the ridge. They were so absorbed by the tasty spring grass that they ignored the slow approach of our 4wd SUV. We pushed our luck and our vehicle as far as we dared before Jack slipped out and rested his .270 over the front fender at about 85 yards, his scope set at 5x for sheep hunting. The 2/3 curl Corsican ram he selected was quartering away. After the first shot, it was dead on its feet, lungs shredded by the 150 grain Core-Lokt bullet that also took the top of its liver. However, being a ram, it attempted to stagger away. Another bullet that hit just below a shoulder and exited the other side put an end to that.

Jack and Corsican ram
Jack and his Corsican ram.

Cartridges are cheap compared to the expense of an exotic hunt and we have learned to take no chances. We recovered the first bullet from the carcass and it had expanded into a textbook mushroom.

While this was going on, the rest of the sheep climbed the steep slope behind the meadow, which terminated in a classic Western rim rock. Bob hastened in pursuit, taking cover behind a fortuitous tree at the base of the rocky slope, where he could rest his rifle.

Sure enough, a desert sheep stopped to look back. He was maybe 100 yards above Bob's position, quartering away, and probably felt confident that no predator could scale that cliff as fast as he had. However, a .308 bullet flies uphill even faster than a ram, which Bob conclusively demonstrated. The ram sagged at the shot, lunged a few yards upward, then collapsed and rolled back down. He kicked a couple of times and Bob drove in a second bullet that shattered his spine before exiting.

Bob and desert ram
Bob with his desert ram on steep slope.

The post mortem examination showed that the first 150 grain SST bullet had shattered a rib on its way in, destroyed both lungs and traversed the ram's chest, stopping against the ribs on the far side. That bullet had expanded violently and shed its plastic tip, along with the front part of its lead core. However, most of the remaining core was retained in the rear portion of the InterLock jacket, just as advertised. The second shot was unnecessary, but better to be safe than sorry.

That kill effectively, and successfully, ended our hunt. Another photo session was followed by a radio call to the ranch house for the ATV. Chuck could have continued to hunt for an elusive Catalina goat or perhaps taken another ram, but on reflection he decided that we had done enough killing for one trip. Better to return to the cabin for a celebratory brunch and an early start on the trip home. After all, we had scored a triple on trophy rams!




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