Hunting Report

New state record desert bighorn sheep taken by hunter in Orocopia Mountains

BY JIM MATTHEWS/Special to Western Outdoor NewsPublished: Nov 17, 2017

INDIO — A potential new state record desert bighorn sheep was killed Wednesday this past week by Jason Hairston of Dixon, Calif. while hunting in the Orocopia Mountains near Indio. The ram is also like to become the world record for the Nelson subspecies of desert sheep.

THIS STATE RECORD BIGHORN was shot by Jason Hairston from Dixon, Calif. The photo shows Hairston (right), guide Jake Franklin (center) of Angeles Oaks, Calif, and Hairston's son Cash with the desert bighorn sheep ram shot in the Orocopia Mountains Wednesday this past week. The ram scored 190 5/8s on the Boone & Crockett scoring system. The horns are both 40-inches long with 16½-inch bases.

The huge ram, nicknamed Goliath by Hairston’s guide Jake Franklin, scored 1905⁄8 points on the Boone & Crockett scoring scale. Both horns were 40 inches long from base to tip along the outside edge of the curl, and the bases were 16½ inches in circumference. The ram was 12 years old, which is about as long as desert sheep live. (The previous record scored 1854⁄8.)

Hairston, who owns KUIU Ultralight Hunting, a hunting and backcountry equipment outfitter, hunted with Franklin four days before they saw this ram. But that is a very small part of the effort that went into finding this giant ram. Franklin, who runs Kika Worldwide, a guide and outfitting service out of his home in Angeles Oaks, has spent four years tracking and following Goliath after he first found the ram in 2014. In 2015, he hunted for the sheep 58 days with a client, never able to find the ram or get in on him when they did. In 2016, Franklin spent 30 days looking for the sheep.

This season, Franklin found the big sheep before the hunting season opened, but as the ram did most years, the old boy disappeared. He moved away from traditional haunts, not coming to the springs and other man-made water sources for months.

“He’s one of two rams in the unit that break open barrel cactus to get water,” said Franklin. “When he disappeared, I started searching for him, and I knew I’d found the right area when we started finding the broken cactus.”

It still took four days of dawn to dusk hunting before they found the old ram and were able to get close enough for a shot. For Franklin, the total time spent watching and looking for Goliath was 33 days.

Hairston, an avid hunter, purchased his sheep tag at a fundraising dinner for $235,000, all of which is earmarked for the Department of Fish and Wildlife’s sheep management program, which has been one of the mostly wildly successful programs run by the DFW. It has restored sheep to mountain ranges across the region by trapping and relocated animals from healthy herds. These are ranges where the sheep had been extirpated in the 1800s and early 1900s by market hunting and poaching. The DFW and volunteers restored desert springs, built man-made drinkers (guzzlers), and restored wells in sheep habitat to bring water to habitat so it could be used year-around by desert sheep herds.

These relative simple efforts have paid big dividends, and the success is in the numbers. The desert sheep population has grown from less than 250 animals (some think a lot less) 75 years ago to over 5,000 bighorn today, and the effort continues to expand their range and restore them into more desert mountains. Without hunters, the species likely would have gone extinct in California decades ago.

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