Andrew VanDyke lucks into coveted hunting tag

by: COURTESY PHOTO - Andrew Van Dyke will be one of the lucky few hunters this year to stalk a bighorn ram--with help from his dad and grandad--in central Oregon this summer.Pete VanDyke of Forest Grove and his father, Glen, have been trying for one of Oregon’s highly sought-after bighorn sheep tags for decades.

But seven years ago, it was VanDyke's 17-year-old nephew who won the elusive hunting tag--on his first try.

Lightning struck twice when VanDyke's 16-year-old son got the honor last month — again, on his first try.

Andrew VanDyke applied with 19,530 other hopeful hunters, and joined the lucky 96 who will participate in controlled hunts across the state this season.

Andrew, along with his father and grandfather, will attend the 11-day hunt Aug. 10 to 21 near the John Day River in Central Oregon in search of an adult California bighorn ram.

The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife posted the 2013 tag recipients online June 14 and will notify applicants through the mail this week.

Just three years into his hunting career, Andrew received his once-in-a-lifetime chance at tracking down a bighorn sheep.

“Congratulations to him,” said Michelle Dennehy of the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife. “You only get one (bighorn) tag in your life — once you get one, you can’t ever get another.”

It costs $8 to enter the drawing for one of 35 controlled hunts. Winners then purchase a tag for $122.50. The ODFW also raffles one tag and auctions another to hunt bighorns for an expanded season and wider range. Dennehy said this season’s auction tag went for $135,000.

She said revenue from tag sales supports research and management of Oregon’s bighorn sheep population.

California bighorn sheep were nearly wiped out in Oregon in 1915, and Rocky Mountain bighorns met the same fate in the state in 1945. But their populations began climbing again as wildlife managers released animals into the area, regulated hunting, and controlled contact with domestic sheep and viruses.

The first controlled hunts in Oregon were held in 1965 with six tags and 1978 with eight tags for California and Rocky Mountain sheep. According to ODFW’s 2003 estimate, more than 3,700 California bighorn sheep now roam the rocky mountainsides of central and southeastern Oregon alongside about 700 Rocky Mountain bighorns.

Dennehy said many hunters find success on the slopes during controlled hunts, although the process is a little different than other big game tracking.

VanDyke has hunted deer and elk, and he said Andrew has hunted deer.

“Each animal group has its own different habits,” said the VanDyke's Appliances owner.

He was also optimistic about the trip, and excited to experience it with his father and son. He said they plan to scout out the landscape throughout the summer, and arrive a couple of days in advance.

“We’ll do a little sightseeing, find a good place to camp,” VanDyke said.

He and his father will help Andrew pack his gear in and a ram out, but only one of the three will do any hunting.

“He’s the only one who can carry a rifle. He’s the hunter, we’re just the help,” said VanDyke, who doesn't mind that role. "It's almost more fun to watch them have fun than to have fun yourself."

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