The hunt of a lifetime

Written by Paul Harder / The Observer August 23, 2013 10:30 am

Shelby Miller, of La Grande, poises by her kill, the largest Rocky Mountain Bighorn ever killed by a woman in Oregon. (Courtesy photo)
Shelby Miller, of La Grande, poises by her kill, the largest Rocky Mountain Bighorn ever killed by a woman in Oregon. (Courtesy photo)
 

La Grande woman sets state record with big horn sheep kill 

Shelby Miller spent last summer chasing and getting the holy grail of rams, and, along the way, grew closer to the man of her dreams. 

The former La Grande High School track star became a rock star in the hunting world, garnering the cover of Eastmans 2013 Sheep edition, reaching more than 500,000 subscribers per year.

“It was unreal,” Miller said. “It’s hard to wrap my head around seeing myself on magazine racks. I saw it on a rack in Boise, Idaho, and of course seeing it circulate around the Internet. 

“I never imagined being on a hunting magazine. Then I started to think about it. Maybe Eastmans Magazine, but I thought ‘no, that won’t happen.’ Then they told me that the cover picture had been picked out and to expect it in the mail. When I finally saw it, it was Christmas on steroids.” 

Miller’s love for the outdoors grew by circumstance. Her father, Jim Miller, couldn’t get anyone else to go with him.

“My dad started me really young,” Miller said. “I fished when I was a kid. In high school none of my brothers would go with him. I said sure, I’ll go with you. Throw me in for a buck tag, and I was successful that year. I thought it was pretty cool.”

Then she met Calvin Halladay, a hunter to the core. That’s when hunting and her relationship went to the next level. 

“When I met Calvin I thought I needed to start hunting more or else I’m never going to see this guy,” Miller said. “So, because of him, I started hunting a lot more. He’s the guy behind it really. Calvin made me passionate about hunting.” 

The couple originally met in 2010, working at the Shortstop located on Gekeler Lane. It wasn’t until 2011 that they offically started dating.

First, Miller had to break through the initial hunting stereotype — that it’s a man’s sport.

“Most of my buddies would bring their girlfriend for a hunt a year,” Halladay said. “I brought Shelby all the time. In the beginning a lot of the guys thought she was intruding on guy time. She proved herself very competent from the beginning, and now she’s just part of the group. She’s respected as an athlete, a hunter and as a person. She doesn’t get any special treatment. Shelby is treated just like everyone else.”

One season, on an elk hunt, Shelby and Calvin were leading the pack. She didn’t have a pack on her back. The guys at camp told her not to worry about it, they would carry the packs. 

A little ways into the hike, she looked over at Calvin and asked him if she should offer to pack the 60-pound backpack from another hunter in their group. He snickered at her and said a guy wasn’t going to let her carry his pack. 

She still offered and the hunter quickly took off the pack and handed it over without hesitation. Shelby threw the pack on and off she went up the rest of the hill. 

The thrill ride started June 13, 2012, when Shelby found out she drew the tag to hunt in the premier unit for bighorn sheep — Lookout Mountain. 

“I got the tag and the following week we were in the mountains, Miller said. “We decided this was a huge deal. I got extremely lucky. Granted, I had just as good of odds as anyone else did. However, I put in for it the first year and drew it. 

“We wanted to make it the experience of a lifetime. Every weekend we went out for four-day weekends. We’d get up at 4 a.m. to beat the heat and hike up 3,000 feet of elevation and then do it all over again the next day. We did this for 12 weeks, with one week off for the sheep convention.”

There were a few low points along the way. 

Goliath could not be found for six weeks, and Miller didn’t get the first crack at her ram. 

There were two hunters able to enter the unit before Miller. First an auction winner and a raffle winner.

Miller was drawn out of a hat of 866 other names that put in for the Snake River Unit, it’s a once-in-a-lifetime draw. Once you get it, the hunter can never put in for the tag again.

The auction tag buyer had the first chance to hunt in the unit. He flew in with a team of hunters.

“I was extremely worried because we lost (the ram) for six weeks.  The auction winner flew in looking for the biggest ram in the unit, which was mine. He paid $150,000 for the right to hunt whichever unit he wanted. Plus, he brought eight professional sheep guides with the best optics in the world. 

“The day he shot a ram we got a picture message. I didn’t want to open it and see my ram. When I did, it was a huge weight off my chest. It was not Goliath. After that, it was game on.” 

A raffle winner had the next chance in the unit.  

“We were scouting and we saw a hunter with a gun,” Halladay said. “It had to be him. Five minutes after talking with him we heard the shot, and knew it wasn’t him.”

Still, Goliath was nowhere to be found. Shelby, Calvin and Jim sat down on a ridge on the final day of scouting before the hunt began the next morning. The sun had set, and the last bit of light was fading away.

“I’m not a real religious person,” Halladay said. “We climbed one last hill and stopped and sat down with her dad. I pulled the spotting scope up and there he was. Just like he appeared out of thin air.” 

Standing there was the ram Miller had her sight set on. He was standing with 11 other rams about 1,000 yards away, but that chance encounter drove the determined hunter that much more. 

“It was a breath of fresh air,” Miller said. “I was hoping that he didn’t leave the unit.”

The first day, the team of hunters with Miller watched Goliath on the opposite side of the Snake River Canyon. Night came and nothing transpired, just the agony of waiting. But Miller received a reassuring text from Dan Blankenship. It reminded her of the first words he said when she drew the tag.

“He told me to get the ram I wanted to spend the rest of my life looking at,” Miller said. “I nearly lost it when I saw his text that night.”

The break came on Day 2, when a cameraman along with Fred Daggette spotted Goliath 120 yards away. He was with three rams, feeding on
shrubbery.

Miller got herself into position, and eyed the massive ram through her scope. 

“It was an amazing feeling,” Miller said. “I finally had him.”

That feeling didn’t last long. 

Halladay whispered in her ear, “No shot, no shot.” 

The Goliath turned toward Miller and with one shot from her 7mm-08 Rem, fired one shot. And down Goliath went.

“It was an amazing shot,” Halladay said. “The look on Shelby’s face was priceless. I told her that she was the first one to touch him. She earned that right.”

She had just killed the largest Rocky Mountain Bighorn by a woman in Oregon, officially scoring a 193-0/8 net Boone and Crocket. But the hunt gave Miller more than just an Oregon state record, it gave her a bond that will last a lifetime.

“It was really the two of us out there every day,” Miller said. “It’s the toughest thing I’ve ever done physically and mentally. I couldn’t have done it without Calvin there. 

“Nobody but him and I can ever realize how much he did for me and for that hunt. The hunt would have never even happened if it weren’t for him even
putting me in for the tag.”

Now, nearly a year later, the two have decided to start another journey. Miller and Halladay became engaged on Aug. 18.

“He keeps me on my toes,” Miller said. “That’s what I love about him.”