CHADRON -- As the day of the big hunt drew near, Chadron resident Jack Nemeth, winner of one of Nebraska's two bighorn sheep lottery tags, knew two things — that he was already lucky, and that there were no guarantees.
“It’s a hunt, not a shoot,” says Nemeth, who knows that fact intimately, and shares it regularly, when he guides turkey hunts.
Knowing that, Nemeth wasn’t going to take any chances with his bucket-list opportunity, and the decision was made he’d take the first mature, full-curl ram that presented itself.
After months of preparation, including making sure he was physically ready for the hunt, and making plans for his son, Riley, to make his way from Texas to join him, the two, along with Todd Nordeen from Nebraska Game and Parks and Nemeth's friend, B.J. Dunn, headed out near Fort Robinson State Park.
It didn’t take long for the group to find a herd and spot a mature ram among a group of ewes. But Nemeth didn’t have a bead on the ram from where they set up their stalk, and a staredown with one particular ewe, who seemed wise to the group’s presence, meant they didn’t dare move.
After about 20 minutes, the ram decided to leave the herd, and began walking away at a steady pace and eventually into an area where Nemeth had a shot at about 275 yards out.
“When I shot, I could see in the scope immediately that he jumped … so I knew he was hit," Nemeth said. "It was a good, humane shot. He was down-and-out right there.”
The ram is estimated to have been 7½ years old and weighed over 200 pounds.
Earlier in December, archery hunter Jason Bruce of Lockeford, California, took a massive ram on private property in the Wildcat Hills near Gering.
The mature ram, estimated to be 10 years old, could be a Nebraska record.
Nemeth admits there were nerves prior to his trigger pull, but says the feeling was like going on autopilot. “You start just doing things you’ve done all your life…all the sudden you look, and you’re getting your bead, and boom. And it’s just -- wow,” he said.
Nemeth celebrated with friends and family at Fort Robinson.
“My daughter and son-in-law came up from Denver, so I had my daughter and son-in-law, my son, and my best-friend B.J. there -- and staff (from the -Game and Parks Commission) -- so we had a few Hot Toddies over there that night … and learned a lot about the sheep program. It was great.”
The hunt was truly a learning experience for Nemeth, who says his view of bighorn sheep in the area has changed.
Proceeds from the lottery help fund bighorn sheep management and reintroduction efforts in the state.
His advice to hunters who might hope to enjoy their own hunt of a lifetime? Go buy a bighorn tag each year. “Like my coach used to say, 'If you want a hit, you gotta swing the bat.’”