LA GRANDE - On a hunt 20 years in the making, La Grande resident Mark Kemp's patience was finally rewarded as he bagged the California bighorn sheep he'd always dreamed of.
The Aug. 16 kill came around 9 a.m. in the Murderers Creek Unit of Grant County, and the estimated 164.5-pointer will soon be officially scored and eligible for entry in the Oregon state record books.
Kemp, a longtime admirer of the California bighorn, said just filling out his tag was amazing.
"It was a thrill knowing I'd drawn the tag, and then I started getting excited about the hunt," the La Grande lawyer said. "It's something I'd been waiting for and I finally had a chance to go out and get it."
Kemp had applied for a bighorn tag each year since 1986, but had yet to draw one due to the high demand of the hunt. Of the 300-plus hunters who apply for the tag in the McClellan section of the Murderers Creek unit each season, only two are drawn.
Statewide, only 68 tags are available, 63 to Oregon residents. Once he found out he'd received the tag and would get to go on the hunt of a lifetime, Kemp set about preparing for the journey.
"Once I got the tag, I talked to a biologist and some people around town to find out where (the sheep) hang out," he said. "Then I went scouting, and one trip I found six rams and watched them for quite a while."
Helping Kemp along the way were friends such as Wendell and Ike Rock, who loaned him a four-wheeler to scout the area and Jeff Roberts, who provided a scope and aided him in sighting the 30-06 he used to shoot the bighorn.
"My rifle wouldn't shoot straight, so I talked to a guy in town and it was pretty accurate," Kemp said about the help. "They were willing to lend me the equipment I needed."
Getting the tag was difficult, scouting the mountains took time, but the real task began when he got the animal in his sights.
"(The bighorn) was facing away from me, so I put the cross hairs at the base of the neck and he went down immediately," Kemp said. "He was crashing and tumbling down the hillside, and I didn't actually see him sliding but I heard it."
Kemp said the animal slid nearly 75 yards, causing a small avalanche as it went. Alone on the hunt, Kemp had to trek to the bottom of the slope by himself to dress and skin the sheep before carrying the head and cape back up the hill.
"It was a pretty miserable," he said about the climb and trip back to the four-wheeler with the head in tow. "It was probably a mile and a half and it took an hour and 50 minutes."
David Morris is the author of the "Record Book for Oregon's Big Game Animals", and said that Kemp's kill is a nice trophy to have and in the mid-range of the record book.
"The hard part's drawing the tag, so you get anything and you're happy," Morris said. "The biggest in state history was 184, so anything in the 160-170 range is going to make the top 100."