FOR FRANK MEEKS OF LA GRANDE HUNT OF A LIFETIME UNFOLDS ON SHEEP MOUNTAIN
By Dick Mason
Observer Staff Writer
The celebration started several seconds later than it should have.
Frank Meeks of La Grande had just done what most hunters only dream of successfully shoot a Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep.
Meeks shot was perfect from 200 yards but something was wrong.
Several of his friends were worried that he had hit a ram that was much smaller than the one he was aiming at.
His fears were soon allayed by his friend Craig Droke of Union. Droke, who had run ahead of Meeks, turned after reaching the ram and shouted to Meeks,Get a smile on your face! You shot a great ram.
Meeks had indeed shot an impressive ram, one with a preliminary green score of 170 3/8.
Meeks took the ram in the Sheep Mountain area west of Oxbow Dam in Baker County. He initially feared that his shot had hit the rams horns. Again his concern was unwarranted. His shot had gone behind the back of the front legs and right into the heart and lungs.
It was one of the cleanest kills you will see, said Silas Turner of Haines, another friend who was helping Meeks with the hunt.
Droke and Turner served as Meeks guides.
I was so lucky. I had two of the best guides you could find, Meeks said.
Meeks was also fortunate on a second count. He was one of only nine hunters in Oregon to win a drawing for a Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep tag this year. A hunter can win a drawing for a Rocky Mountain bighorn just once.
Meeks won the drawing for a tag in the Sheep Mountain area the first time he entered.
I couldnt believe it. I know of some people who have been applying for more than 20 years and havent won, Meeks said.
He said that when he told people he had won they thought he was joking.
A total of 277 hunters applied for the Sheep Mountain hunt tag.
Meeks and his friends made four or five scouting trips to the Sheep Mountain Unit before the hunt. They made extensive scouting hikes over rugged terrain.
Their scouting paid off. His party found a herd the first day of the hunt. Meeks and his friends got within 400 yards of a promising herd. With binoculars in hand, they examined the herd for an hour to determine which of its rams would be best to take.
There were three good rams we were looking at, Meeks said.
The party remained undetected while hiding behind a wall of brush.
The brush was a great shield, Meeks said.
Meeks was provoked into action when a young ram from the herd wandered within 100 yards of the hunting party. Spooked, the ram turned and began running away. This alerted the herd, which started running up a slope.
Meeks then took his shot from about 200 yards away.
The ram died instantly and rolled several times down a slope. Its horns were not damaged.
In addition to Silas Turner and Craig Droke, those who helped Meeks pack the ram out were Aaron Woods of La Grande and Brody Turner of North Powder.
Meeks brought nine bullets with him but used just one. Some people told him that nine bullets were not enough.
I thought, if I cant hit a sheep with nine bullets I ought to go home, Meeks said.
The preliminary score of Meeks ram ranks it 76th among the 172 Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep taken by hunters in Oregon since 1978. The rams score is a green one, meaning that it could increase or fall after it is officially measured.
The ram Meeks took was particularly noteworthy because Droke won a drawing for a Sheep Mountain bighorn tag last year. Droke took a ram last year that had a score of about 185.
Droke and Meeks, who both graduated from Union High School in 1994, have been close friends for years. Meeks said he cannot believe the good fortune he and Droke had.
Its unbelievable that we won once-in-a-lifetime tags in back-to-back years for the same unit, Meeks said.
PNEUMONIA WREAKS HAVOC WITH BIGHORN LAMB SURVIVAL
The Sheep Mountain bighorn herd in Baker County is being watched closely for pneumonia by Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife biologists.
The Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep herd was hit hard by an outbreak of pneumonia about 2 1/2 years ago. Forty-five percent of the herds sheep died from pneumonia from the summer of 1999 through the winter of 1999-2000.
Today the Sheep Mountain herd has 14 rams and 22 ewes, none of which have symptoms of pneumonia. The adults apparently are still carriers of the disease. This probably explains why the herds lamb survival rate has dropped sharply since the summer of 1999.
ODFW biologist George Keister said that many lambs in the herd are apparently getting pneumonia from their mothers, which is why most are dying 4-6 weeks after birth.
Most of the herds lambs are dying by mid-June after being born in mid to late April. The lambs are protected from pneumonia immediately after birth because of special immunity provided by the colostrum in their mothers milk. The lambs are vulnerable to pneumonia after they stop receiving colostrum in their mothers milk.
In 1999, only two lambs survived. In 2000, all 16 of the herds lambs died. It is not yet known how many lambs survived this year.
Bighorns can contract pneumonia from domestic sheep.