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Dane Scott, 15, with his once-in-a-lifetime California bighorn sheep, taken Sept. 6, 2010. - Photo courtesy of Kevin Scott

Teen bags a once-in-a-lifetime ram on Hart Mountain

When it comes time every May to apply for the requisite hunting tags, the Scott family of Rogue River always tries for that one great fantasy hunt, a California bighorn sheep outing on southeast Oregon's Hart Mountain.

With just four tags available, they realize it's about as likely as winning a $10 million lottery. Even so, dad Kevin Scott has put in every year since he was 18 years old. He's now 44.

Son Dane Scott, 15, has applied twice.

Guess you know where this story's going. Sure enough, the Cascade Christian High School sophomore drew the coveted tag and filled it brilliantly Sept. 6 when he shot a ram that exhibited all the flair Dane Scott could have wanted.

In fact, they nicknamed the ram Flare, because the end of one of its horns flicked out like a cowlick.

"That is probably the only bighorn sheep hunt I will ever be on," Kevin Scott says. "Life is not fair."

And Dane Scott knows it.

"My dad really was jealous," he laughs. "But he was really, really happy for me."

California bighorns, as well as their Rocky Mountain bighorn cousins, are rare enough that Oregonians are limited to one sheep tag in a lifetime.

Oregon's bighorns disappeared in the 1940s following decades of over-hunting, habitat degradation and diseases transferred from livestock.

Oregon began restoring sheep populations in 1954, with transplants into and out of the state as sheep returned to their old Eastern Oregon haunts. That includes Hart Mountain, where the hills and cliffs are managed primarily for antelope.

Dane Scott has been in the field with family since age 2. He shot his first turkey at age 8 and joined the buck-and-bull shooters world by killing his first deer and elk at age 12 — the minimum age for big-game hunters.

"I love to hunt," Dane Scott says. "Everybody has their own niche, and that's mine."

When the Scotts discovered Dane's draw in May, they set up to do it right. They talked with local sheep hunters and experts such as Elvin Hawkins and studied maps. At first the family intended to hunt alone, but after several scouting trips Scott spent about $4,000 to hire Adel guide Ken Messner.

"This is a once-in-a-lifetime tag," says Kevin Scott, a real-estate investor. "Let's spend the money and do it right."

The plan was to hunt eight days, looking for the best ram available. On the second day, they spotted the ram with the flared horn, but Dane decided to pass on it.

"Sheep aren't like deer and elk," Dane says. "The guide was confident that sheep was going to still be there in a week. Why kill him now? Let's look for something bigger."

"We looked at pretty much every sheep on that mountain," Dane says. "But I was thinking about him while I was looking at all the others. I really liked the looks of him."

At the hunt's end, they returned and, sure enough, old Flare was there on a cliff.

The group snuck into position just barely out of sight. When ready, Kevin Scott acted like a bird dog to flush the quarry for his son.

"They're curious animals," Dane says. "We had my dad peek over the edge. He spooked him out."

One 66-yard shot later, Dane's career as a California bighorn sheep hunter in Oregon came to a close.

The animal's horns scored a preliminary 1632/8 inches on the Boone and Crockett Club measuring system. That's not big enough for the record books, but it's big enough for the Scotts.

"To kill the biggest sheep on that mountain is what we were after," Kevin Scott says. "I feel we did that. It was an adventure, for sure."

While the California sub-species is off-limits here for Scott, he still has his eyes on getting a shot at each of the other three bighorn species in North America.

"I'd love to kill my grand slam some day," Scott says. "I got my first step in it, and at my age that's pretty good."

Reach reporter Mark Freeman at 541-776-4470, or e-mail mfreeman@mailtribune.com.

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