A (record) hunt of a lifetime
By JAYSON JACOBY
Of the Baker City Herald
Mary Turner's four kids gulp milk by the gallon, a fact more germane to the hunting of trophy bighorn sheep than you might guess.
The connection surprised Turner, who lives near Haines.
She certainly didn't consider her children's prodigious thirst for dairy products when she learned, earlier this summer, that she had drawn one of the two bighorn sheep tags for the Lookout Mountain unit southeast of Baker City.
Turner was too shocked to ponder piles of empty milk jugs.
The odds for would-be bighorn hunters aren't lottery-long, but with more than 250 hunters applying for those two tags, neither did Turner start counting sheep as soon as she submitted her application for a tag.
"I was really, really surprised when I got it," said Turner, who's 27 and a veteran hunter.
Then she was really, really nervous.
After all, drawing a bighorn sheep tag in Oregon is a once-in-a-lifetime event.
Fill your tag or fail, you'll never get another one.
Turner figured she had better be able to place a bullet from her .243 Winchester exactly where she wanted.
It was then that she thought of all those empty plastic milk jugs.
She filled one with water, then placed it in a safe spot on the rural property where she and her husband, Silas, live.
She aimed. She fired.
A hundred yards or so out, the milk jug imploded. A spurt of water splashed the grass.
Turner had picked the perfect target.
No need to walk to and fro to check for tiny tears in a paper bull's-eye.
When she shot good she saw a brief but quite conspicuous fountain.
When she shot bad the jug stood unscathed, the ground beneath it dry.
"I target practiced all summer," Turner said. "I was probably shooting about 12 rounds a week."
She set jugs at distances from 100 yards to 350 typical shooting ranges for the open, rimrock country where bighorns typically tread.
By opening day, Saturday, Sept. 6, Turner felt confident that if ever she centered her scope's reticle on a bighorn, the ram would be as good as mounted on her wall.
Several people volunteered to help her find that ram, including her husband, his brothers, Coy and Kip, and their father, Don.
Also in her party was Craig Droke of Union.
He knows Baker County bighorns, having drawn the lone ram tag for the Sheep Mountain hunt, just north of Lookout, in 2000.
On Saturday morning Turner was scanning the sage-strewn hills on the north slopes of Lookout when her handheld radio beeped.
Her brother-in-law Coy had heard what he thought were the echoes from a couple of rams butting horns so as to impress nearby ewes.
Coy was correct.
Turner watched the group of several rams for about half an hour, focusing on the one that seemed to have the thickest horns.
She crept toward the herd, silent lest she spook the wary rams, halving the distance to about 100 yards.
She rested her rifle on a backpack.
Her first shot was well-placed, but Turner fired two more shots just to be certain.
"I was pretty excited and nervous," she said. "I knew it was a once-in-a-lifetime thing. I didn't want him getting away."
He didn't, but still Turner felt disappointed.
As she trudged through the parched rangelands toward the ram, she thought he wasn't quite the trophy she had hoped for.
She was wrong.
"He was quite a bit bigger than we thought he was," she said.
In fact, the 8-year-old ram has bigger horns than any bighorn ever killed in Baker County, said Todd Callaway, wildlife biologist at the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife's Baker City office.
Callaway green-scored the ram at 186 5/16, about five points more than the county's previous best bighorn.
"It's a nice, nice ram," he said. "Exceptional."
Which is how Turner describes the hunt.
"It was the funnest hunt I've ever been on," she said.
Many hunters, placed in that position, would prefer to prolong the experience rather than end it with a perfect shot on opening morning.
But Turner, though she relished the hunt, had ample reason to want to rush home with her trophy ram.
"I wanted to get back to my babies as soon as I could," she said.
The babies are her 16-month-old twins, Seth and Natalia.
The precocious pair, along with older siblings Madi, 4, and Calgary, 11, helped to empty most of those milk jugs their mom used to hone her shooting skills.
But though the hunt ended quickly, Turner's memories will linger.
Her brother-in-law, Brody Turner of Reno, Nev., is a taxidermist, and he has offered to prepare a full shoulder mount of the ram.
For Mary, that final familial connection caps an experience that seemed perfect, from the generosity of Walt Forsea, who owns much of the land in the area and allowed her to hunt there, to all the help given by her husband, brothers-in-law and father-in-law.
"It was just very exciting," she said.
"It was even better than I thought it would be."