12-year-old gets his ram
By LISA BRITTON
Baker City Herald
Deran Dexter held up a spent rifle cartridge and a grin spread across his face Wednesday afternoon.
"This is the charm bullet," he said, holding it up for all to see.
That shell, though, is not what drew the crowd around the Baker City 12-year-old at the office of the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife in Baker City.
His true prize, the one that brought on that smile, is the Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep in the back of his dad's pickup.
It's a 6-year-old ram, the first bighorn Deran has killed.
It's also the last, because Oregon's Fish and Wildlife Commission allows hunters only one bighorn tag in a lifetime.
This the first season Deran was old enough to put in for big game tags, and he's the youngest hunter to draw a sheep tag, as far as the ODFW can tell.
The sheep season started Saturday. A week ago, Deran and his dad, Jason, headed to the northern part of the Snake River unit in the Imnaha River country to prepare for the hunt.
They had quite a hunting party.
"It wasn't a hunting trip, it was a family reunion," said Tom Van Diepen, a Baker City hunter who killed a bighorn 11 years ago and was Deran's hunter education teacher.
By Sunday, though, the party was down to Deran, Jason, Van Diepen and Steve Bailey, a cameraman from the Foundation for North American Wild Sheep.
Deran's hunt, now caught on tape, may be shown on an Outdoor Life program scheduled to air in 2008 or 2009.
Jason Dexter said they saw only one ram on opening weekend.
"It was just a young one," he said.
During the weekend the Dexters ran into quite a few other hunters, including Mark and Dan Moncrief of Wallowa County, who shared some sheep scouting tips. Dan's 17-year-old son, Nick, also has a sheep tag.
Others helped "glass" for the bighorns, including Jack Palmer of Baker, who helped Van Diepen on his own sheep hunt in the 1990s.
But even with all that help, the rams eluded the Dexters until Tuesday.
"They're not easy to find," Jason said. "These suckers are wild. They spook, they see you, they're gone."
Bailey was the one to spot three rams Tuesday morning.
"You couldn't tell what they were," Jason said. "You're looking for little white dots on the side of cliffs."
They started stalking the sheep at 8:30 a.m., and were on the cliffs by 11 a.m.
"We sat on the side of that mountain till almost three in that miserable heat and ran out of water," Jason said.
All that time, Deran was in position with his 7 mm rifle, just waiting for the perfect shot.
"We did not want to blow it and start all over again," Jason said. "I was trying to keep his head shaded, keep him as cool as I possibly could."
Finally the rams decided to move and Deran got ready to shoot as soon as Bailey gave him the go-ahead.
"It killed me. I just wanted to shoot," Deran said.
"The camera guy sits behind you saying no, no, no, no, no.' And finally he said yes,'" Jason said.
Deran pulled the trigger.
"He fired the first shot and the other two (rams) were gone," Jason said.
The first shot, at 100 yards, was true, but it took two to bring down the bighorn.
That was around 3:30 p.m., and the hunters immediately began dressing the animal.
Jason sent Deran and Tom (who packed out the ram's head) back to camp.
"By the time we got done, none of us had voices we were so dehydrated," Jason said.
Jason worked on the ram until 10 p.m., and figured he would either spend the night on the mountain, or make three trips in the dark to pack out the meat.
Fortunately, Bailey stayed to help and the two carried everything back to camp in one trip.
"He was great," Jason said.
The ram's head will be mounted, but its place of honor is still undecided.
"He wants it in his room," Jason said.
Deran just grins, and nods at that idea.