On grazing allotment in Ochocos
A Jefferson County man is still trying to understand the senseless shooting of three of his trained sheepherding dogs late last month.
Gordon Clark, owner of the historic Hay Creek Ranch since 1993, grazes up to 5,000 sheep on several allotments in the Ochoco National Forest, where the shootings took place.
The sheep are divided into three bands, with each band guided by a Peruvian sheepherder, and guarded by Great Pyrenees dogs. Signs surrounding the allotments advise visitors to the area of the presence of guard dogs, Clark said.
The five dogs guarding one of those bands -- in the Walton Lake area, east of Prineville -- came under gunfire from bowhunters around 9 a.m. Aug. 27, said Clark.
"The sheepherder was going down a real remote road in Ochoco National Forest with just under 1,000 sheep," he said. "These guys were walking back to their camp in the same direction the sheep were coming from."
The sheepherder, who never saw the hunters, heard four gunshots ring out, and then heard one dog crying in pain. Another lay dead. The sheep ran off the side of the road, with the sheepherder following them in an effort to maintain control of the flock.
The hunters apparently continued on the road toward the sheep, and opened fire again, killing a third dog. The other two dogs ran off.
The sheepherder returned with the sheep to camp, where he told the camp tender what had happened.
"The camp tender got ahold of me about 4 in the afternoon," said Clark, who contacted the Crook County Sheriff's Office to report that three of his dogs had been killed. "Five dogs were missing; one came back late that night, and another the next day."
The deputy met with people who had been camping in the area, and soon figured out who might have shot the dogs, even though the two men initially denied knowing about any shootings, Clark said.
"They ran right into the sheep and opened up (firing). Their claim is that the dogs were chasing an elk, and they thought they were wild," said Clark, remarking on the absurdity of that statement. "Elk and wild horses take off whenever the dogs are nearby."
John Gautney, undersheriff for Crook County, said the case has been turned over to the Crook County District Attorney's Office. "I think she's planning on meeting with the dogs' owner," he said.
"The people involved have been interviewed by our deputy who was investigating," said Gautney. "We forwarded a report to the DA's office for a review; if the DA's office finds that there are grounds to file charges, then we will do whatever they say."
Great Pyrenees dogs, which have been around for at least 600 years, can be aggressive against predators, but are considered to be a gentle and affectionate breed.
"They're sweethearts," said Muk McCallum, who stays out at the ranch part of the year. "It was quite a traumatic experience."
Clark has been raising Great Pyrenees for about 15 years, beginning with a female and her pups. "Now her great-granddaughter is having babies," he said, noting that he has three females and nine pups at the ranch.
During all the years that he has been raising the guard dogs, which cost about $2,500 each, and take years to train, "I've never had an incident of a dog biting anyone," he said.
"They're bred specifically for guarding sheep," Clark explained. "Without them, coyotes and cougars around here will learn to kill sheep."
"Without them," he said, "forget about the sheep."
The Hay Creek Ranch, which dates back to 1873, was once the largest sheep ranch in the country, with 100,000 sheep. Now, the 52,500-acre ranch is home to about 700 head of cattle, in addition to the sheep, and has at least a dozen employees.
From nine to 20 Great Pyrenees work with the three bands of Hay Creek Ranch sheep, in addition to 12 to 16 border collies.
Clark, who lived and worked in Southern California before moving to Jefferson County, developed the "Clark Foam" boards -- used in 90 percent of the world's surfboards prior to 2005. He has owned the Hay Creek Ranch for nearly 20 years, and was recognized in 2010 as the Jefferson County Cattleman of the Year.