At 68 years old, Jerry Barron is, in his words, “too damned old to be climbing up mountains in the cold and snow.”
But he rose to the occasion this fall after winning Washington’s raffle tag for a once-in-a-lifetime bighorn sheep hunt.
“When you’re lucky enough to get this tag, you have to devote yourself to it, and you have to look for a big one,” he said.
Thousands of applicants in drawings or raffles competed for just 40 bighorn ram tags issued in the state this year. But even the scouting was a daunting task for Barron, since his coveted permit gave him access to most of the state’s bighorn herds.
He focused on the Grande Ronde in southeastern corner of the state and the Hall Mountain area 300 miles away in the northeastern corner. Both areas are known to produce world-class rams.
“I looked at a lot of rams down on the Grande Ronde and saw some good ones,” he said. Indeed, a potential state-record ram in the 198-point class was bagged there this fall.
But Barron kept looking, and looking.
“When the weather got really cold around Thanksgiving, I got to thinking that maybe I had been a little too patient,” he said.
But on Dec. 1 he got a tip from a friend who’d been moose hunting near Sullivan Lake. He’d spotted a few big rams on the steep west face of Hall Mountain.
“Nobody had seen those sheep there until then,” said Barron, who quickly gathered two other 60-something friends – Steve Kline and Steve Stenson – plus his 40-something son, Kevin, and went to work.
From a couple of miles across the valley the next day, they used spotting scopes at maximum power and eventually spotted two rams, both of record-book quality.
They persuaded Forest Service officials to unlock the gate to the Sullivan Lake boat ramp, chained all four wheels on the pickup, shoveled through snow drifts, launched the boat and motored a couple of miles down the lake.
By this time it was well after noon and they still had a half mile to climb up the steep hillside in the snow.
“We glassed and found the rams 500 yards ahead,” he said. “We figured we could get to a tree undetected for a possible 300-yard shot, but when we got there, the brush and everything was a whole lot different than we thought, so we kept going farther and farther, closer and closer.
“Finally, Kevin spotted a ram – it was just 30 yards away. I could see his horns moving as he ate, but I couldn’t see enough of him to shoot.”
So Barron drummed up one more helping of patience to wait out the ram, which eventually stepped into a clearing.
Game over, almost.
“It was dark by the time we were dragging the ram down to the boat in the twinkle of our headlamps,” he said.
The ram’s full Boone and Crockett score is likely to be around 196, which is under the Washington state-record ram (198 2-8) taken in Asotin County in 1989.
But the bighorn appears to have a distinction. “It’s a whopper,” Barron said. “The bases on the horns might be the biggest ever recorded, although we won’t be sure until after the 60-day drying period.
“I might as well fess up to it: I’m still higher than a kite,” he said a week after the hunt.
“It’s amazing to think about it – without the tip from a friend, or the help from the Forest Service, or if we’d have left the snow shovel or the chains at home, or if we didn’t have the boat – any missing detail would have screwed up the hunt entirely.”
Patience and the mettle to climb a steep, snowy slope factored into the equation, too.