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Thread: A trip of a lifetime TMA ‘11

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    Member mod elan's Avatar
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    Default A trip of a lifetime TMA ‘11

    I’ve always told myself to live life with no regrets. But life is a cruel, heartless b!#%& and looking back I have many. This is not one of them.

    The story truly begins in July of 2006. Broncoformudv(Rob) sends a pm about hunting pressure and getting away from people. Over the next year and a half we begin corresponding more and more. He gets shipped to Iraq during this time and is going to miss the fall hunting season due to a scheduled return of October. Turns out they get orders to extend and won’t make it back until sometime in December. We discuss hunting possibilities for that time of year and come up with a plan.

    A couple days after Christmas ‘07 we finally meet face to face when I pull up to his house to pick him and his wife up for a winter moose hunt. The trip goes as planned and we have an enjoyable hunt. The weather cooperates and they get a nice moose for the freezer.



    Fast forward to spring of ‘11. Draw tags come out and I am in a state of disbelief as I look at my name attached to a late season Tok sheep tag. Starting a sheep hunting career late in life I have been fortunate to go on a fair number of hunts during the few years prior but have never connected. Most times I deferred first sheep to my partner at the time or was a packer for someone else. Of 7 hunts I was designated shooter on two. One of them being a miserable, failed solo attempt where I kept getting snowed out of the mountains and retreating to the warmth of a cabin to ward off possible hypothermia and dry the gear out only to be repeated the next day. The 80 pound ‘rookie sheep hunter’ pack didn’t help matters either. This was truly a blessing to draw such a coveted tag.



    Having researched the draw areas for years I already knew this was a fly in hunt for me. In ’07 I helped a friend on his son’s TMA tag. We drove in that year and the 16 year old kid had a shot at a nice broomer. He didn’t connect but we had an awesome trip and saw a lot of country. I knew from that trip I wanted to fly in next time.

    There was a very short list of people to ask for help on such a once in a lifetime opportunity and Rob was at the top. We have talked sheep endlessly and never been able to hook up to do much in the summers due to our schedules. He accepted immediately and the planning started.

    I had started a new job and was already at work when I found out about the tag. My brother-in-law helped out a ton by contacting 40 Mile for me, getting a location figured out and setting up a flight. Needless to say being a resident of Tok he was quite envious of the situation. Thank you for all the help Brother!

    My new employer was very gracious to give me the two weeks off we needed for this unforgettable journey. Thank you! When the time came I jumped on the plane leaving the jobsite in the rain and flew to Anchorage. Rob picked me up and we headed to Barneys for one last item I didn’t want to chance buying online. We hit the road north swinging by my house on the way. I packed my stuff and we headed to Tok.

    We checked in with 40 Mile that night and did the initial weigh-in for the packs. Anticipation was mounting as every minute passed that night. We repacked several times trying to micromanage our gear and stay under the 50 pound limit. Sleep didn’t come easy.

    We woke to heavy, low cloud cover and drizzly rain. We hit the range real quick to double check things with the rifle since Rob had stolen it from me at New Year’s. He had sent it off to get some kind of a baked on Teflon coating done to it. He also removed the slip on recoil pad and custom built an extension to replace it. I guess he was tired of looking at a nice stainless rifle wrapped in electrical tape to keep the glare down.

    Checking in at 40 Mile had us on hold due to weather. They had a bunch of folks trying to get back in and us to get out. An hour or two into the delay we talked about the weather with Leif and he was skeptical if we were going to be able to get into the place we had planned. The early season hunters were having a heck of a time with the bad weather and he didn’t want us sitting there for days trying to get out and also being stuck out there trying to get back in. He was thinking about the big picture and it was much appreciated. He had some suggestions and we started studying the maps. After much discussion and apprehension, we decided on a new area that wouldn’t be as susceptible to the weather and ran off to print new maps. Upon arriving back at the office the weather had cleared slightly to the south and Leif headed out to grab some folks from the Wrangell’s. A while later sat phone calls started ringing in as hunters to the west reported clearing skies. I loaded in the supercub and Rob in the 206 and we were off!



    Jake flew me into the strip and started shuttling hunters to the 206. I started glassing sheep in the mountains around me and watched as the weather cleared to warm sunny skies. Jake brought Rob in about an hour later and then we were alone. We spent a couple hours watching sheep and bears on the surrounding mountains and ultimately decided to pack up and head to a camp spot for the night. I throw my pack on and grab the sling to my rifle. As I lift it to put it in the gun bearer the top strap on the sling comes out of its buckle and the gun swings barrel first into the rock ring of the fire pit. So much for sighting it in! The scope has a couple paint chips in it but otherwise appears undamaged. I’ve had numerous spills with this rifle over the years and not once has it ever knocked the scope out of alignment. Of course I have my worries but decide it is okay and we make our way to camp.





    The following morning had a chill in the air and we took our time getting ready for the climb into the mountains. We meandered up the creek and tried to keep our feet dry as best we could along the way. After breaking for lunch we spot something skylined on the back of a huge bowl. The spotter confirmed it was a ram but was too far to determine size thru the heat waves of a beautiful sunny day. We decided to take the fork in the creek that would lead us into the area below this ram. This drainage ascended steeper into the mountains as we negotiated increasingly bigger rocks, a slight waterfall and a choked off spot just before it widened into the base of the huge bowl area. As we negotiated the last technical areas of the creek we noticed we were being watched by a sublegal ram alone on the brush covered benches to our right. He didn’t seem bothered by our presence as we entered the lower edge of the bowl.




    As the drainage widened we saw a black bear on the hillside. We continued on and saw another………and another………..and another! Are we in sheep country or bear paradise?! The berries were abundant and they were much too preoccupied to worry about a couple two leggers invading their domain. We found a suitable spot for the tents and proceeded to set up camp. No sooner were the tents up Rob says “turn around”. I do and this is what I see.




    After all the bear sightings we are both wondering if it would break us to pack out a bear and a sheep. Having one run thru camp without even acknowledging our existence was a cruel tease. Then two minutes afterward we spot it. Up the drainage from us is a cinnamon coming our way. Now to say Rob is a diehard bear hunter is an understatement. He has gone on record to say he would go after a bear before he would a huge moose. Now we have a highly sought after cinnamon coming right at us. The next 15 minutes have him come in closer and closer as he investigates if we are a threat. He slowly edges around us as we discuss having to pack him everywhere we go. And that includes the possibility of packing him over a high pass to additional sheep country.




    By this time Rob has him in the rifle scope. The bear comes around into the last area before he would disappear from us and I say “I’m good with it if yo..” BOOM!!!!! He didn’t wait for me to finish. The cinnamon drops like a sack of potatoes and we have a bear down.



    That night is spent watching a handful of rams on the mountain beside us with the bear hide draped over some brush next to camp. At some point the sheep move over the top of a ridge out of sight and get replaced with more bears. A sow with one cinnamon and one black cub have moved in and feast on the surplus of berries. A grizzly comes thru and causes a bit of commotion then everything calms for the evening. At this point we have completely lost track of how many bears we have seen and are in awe of the abundant wildlife.

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    Member mod elan's Avatar
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    The snow has come down the mountain during the night but is still well above our location. We pack lite and head toward the pass on the right. On the way we take quite a few looks at the group of sheep from the night before that have come back around to feed. Neither one of us have pulled the trigger on a sheep yet so it will have to be obviously more than full curl or double broomed for us to consider one legal. I don’t know if either of us will ever be comfortable judging age in the field. None of them in this group meet our criteria so we press on up the mountain. Once we are above them they get antsy and decide they don’t like us up high. They trot across the bowl below us and out of sight. Cresting the pass reveals a drainage on the backside that is void of any activity. Rob waits in the rocks glassing the surrounding mountaintops and I drop my pack and poke around the side of the mountain. A couple caribou graze in the lower end of this drainage and some ewes and lambs are across the main branch close to the ridgeline. Seeing nothing that grabs my attention, I head back to the pass and Rob. I get there and he tells me I need to look at something. Two and a half miles away he has found two rams in the cliffs and even at that distance they have some size to them. The day was running late as we headed down to camp.




    We continued to keep an eye on the two sheep in the cliffs that night and again the next morning. We dubbed them the ‘Rock Rams’ since they didn’t seem to want to leave the cliffs and they appeared to us to be licking the rock faces as they moved around the mountainside. That morning a wolverine decided to amble past camp and disappear into the brush by where the bear carcass laid. We watched Rock Rams for a few hours then decided to move up the spine separating us to get a better look. On the way up three marmots came out of their cubbies to see who was invading their property. We climbed around the spine for a few hours watching Rock Rams and an assortment of sheep in the bowl next to the big mountain. As we made our way back to camp we came across half a dozen ptarmigan pretending to be invisible. We walked right into them and they just stayed put while we took pictures. A little ways farther down the drainage Rob spots a black bear. We drop out of sight on our little ridge and remove our packs. Crawling over the top puts us 50 yards from him. He is munching berries on the hillside across a mini drainage from us. We watch him for quite a while and he beds down in the thick brush never knowing he is being watched.





    Morning comes all too quick and brings some frost with it. Late the night before we witness all the sheep in sight move out of country. Now with a new day in front of us we are left wondering what got them moving all of a sudden. A big grizzly in the area? Did they sense some bad weather coming? We were even more stumped when we glassed for over three hours and caught no sight of Rock Rams. We had discussed going after them but it was too dangerous. It wasn’t impossible terrain to navigate but the snow cover elevated it into the too dangerous level for my taste. We made a tough decision, packed camp and headed toward the high pass next to the mountain Rock Rams were last seen. Immediately we run into a waterfall that would have required us to get wet in order to climb over. We were forced to climb straight up out of the ravine we were in and follow a game trail around it and back into the creek bottom. 6 caribou were grazing across the drainage from us and didn’t seem too agitated with our presence.



    A short distance after reentering the creek we spot a sheep on the mountain under the lower cliff bands. Leaving the creek bed we climb into a shallow side drainage giving us some cover from the lone sheep. Dropping our packs we crawl to the top of the knob and discover not one but 10 rams bedded right across from us. Using a boulder for cover we look them over with the spotter. The next three hours crawl by as we determine if any are legal and wait for them to get up and feed. At one point Rob goes down to the packs and starts fleshing his bear hide. We conclude one may be full curl and another is double broomed. As we discuss going after the broomer whenever they finally move Rob spots two sheep come over the pass we are headed for. They quickly disappear over the backside of the pass before we can get the spotter on them. His reaction when seeing them was promising. The glimpse we got in the binos showed some good head gear. Another hour passes as we watch the rams across from us and a few others on the ridges behind us. That’s when the amazing happens. Two rams come strolling over the pass grazing like cattle. The spotter shows us what we have been looking for. The Rock Rams finally got hungry enough to leave their stone mountain and come down to gorge themselves silly. They never so much as raised their heads to look around the whole time we watched them come thru the pass and commit to dropping into our area.

    We hatched a plan to climb the mountain behind us and get above them for the advantage. I took the top bag off my pack and used it as a fanny pack to carry the spotter and we set off to gain a thousand feet as quick as we could. We knew this was a big risk because it would bring us into full view of the ten rams we had just watched for 4 hours. We watched the rams as we made our way higher and they eventually got up and began nervously moving around. I had hoped they would go away from the pass and climb the mountain but eventually they started moving right towards the Rock Rams. Once we were higher than the two rams we started to sidehill over to where we calculated they would be. On the way we saw another wolverine below us pop out of the creek bottom in amongst all the sheep and disappear into the brush like nothing was happening. By this time the sheep had crossed the creek bed and were directly below us feeding in the brush.

    As we got closer to where the Rock Rams should be we started edging down thru the benched terrain and suddenly we saw it. A lone 11th ram had been hiding in a scree slope and came over to the creek bank to investigate. He stood there eyeing us suspiciously. He was not legal and was the perfect example of a stalk ruining tattletale. We tested his limits on how close we could get as we continued to creep down thru the terrain. That’s when I saw one of the rams. He was a big double broomer headed right for us with his head down feeding. At that same moment the lookout had enough and sprinted away. I looked back over to the broomer and his full curl partner came into view trotting directly away gathering up the broomer as he passed him. It was all over as they headed toward the mountain pass from whence they came.

    What followed still boggles the mind. They didn’t make their way over the pass to guaranteed safety but instead turned and contoured around the head of the drainage navigating the scree slopes directly across from us. I scrambled to find a rest as Rob called out yardages. After a not so impressive show of accuracy my first sheep lay at the base of a rock outcropping. The 300WM performed flawlessly as it shot Rob’s hand loaded Barnes 180 grain TTSX bullets down range. I take full responsibility as I suddenly came down with a severe case of ‘buck fever’ for the first time in my life.

    I made my way around to the sheep to make sure the job was done while Rob backtracked and gathered up our equipment strewn across the mountainside. I caught up with him and apologized. During the flurry of activity I had asked which one was the broomer and then got greedy and shot the other one. It was deceptive and I felt bad, for a minute.





    Not having anything but our bare necessities with us we gutted the sheep and laid it open to cool. We headed down to our packs and had to hump them back up the hill to a suitable camping spot. We slept good that night. The rain came during the night and the snow descended almost to the level of the pass by morning. We headed out to retrieve the sheep and as we approached the base of the scree slope that would lead us back to the sheep we saw an amazing sight. A toklat grizzly came strolling over the pass from where the sheep had come. We watched in disbelief as he picked up the scent from the Rock Ram’s retreat the day before and started following it in to where our sheep sat. In a moment of sheer brilliance I had left my rifle in camp that morning. Now here we are with a grizzly coming in to steal our sheep and only one rifle among us. I hung back as Rob climbed between me and the grizzly to get an eye on him. He came right in above the sheep and dropped in on it. He was directly above me and I wondered if Rob wounded him would he charge downhill at me. I scrambled over to Rob’s location and knowing how much of a load we already had we decided to see what the bear would do next. He grabbed a scrap out of the gut pile and ran across the slope from us. He stopped and chewed on the scrap while still within shooting distance. I knew he was going to come back for the main course and told Rob to take him when he returned. Incredibly he finished the scrap and started running away. He contoured all the way around the head of the drainage and disappeared over the ridge in the distance never to be seen again. We boned out the sheep, loaded 69 pounds of meat in the packs, strapped the head and cape on, and headed to the tents.






    We decided there was enough time to make the airstrip that day, so we packed camp and headed down the mountain. The day flew by and we ended up negotiating the last brushy mile following the GPS in the dark. The wind was blowing hard as we left the shelter of the mountains and continued thru the next day as we called to check in with 40 Mile and request a flight out. It was too windy for the super cubs to land at our little strip so we spent the day arguing about how big the sheep was. Rob sat skinning the head while I impatiently paced up and down the strip between discussions on how long the horns were. He insisted they were huge and we measured them with everything we could think of trying. The sling on his rifle he had made from 1” webbing so we used that and it came out 40 plus. No way was I going to believe my first sheep was over the mark. We used some string to measure the barrels of our guns and came to the same conclusion. Everything we tried ended with the same result. “Nope we’re doing something wrong”, I said. I think Rob was getting a little annoyed so we dropped the subject for a while. A day and a half of pacing on the strip finally brought calmer weather as Leif and Jake appeared around the corner to pick us up in two cubs. I finally began to realize we had something when they saw the horns and eyebrows went up. The flight back was surreal and before the props stopped turning Dick came out of the office with a tape measure.





    41 1/8 both sides
    12 7/8 & 13 1/8 bases
    9 ½ years

  3. #3
    Member mod elan's Avatar
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    This is the Mona Lisa picture. Penny for your thoughts?


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    freakin sweet.

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    Supporting Member Amigo Will's Avatar
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    Remember if you un do a single regret everything from then changes,maybe even this fine story. Outstanding wright up and welll earned rewards
    Now left only to be a turd in the forrest and the circle will be complete.Use me as I have used you

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    Awesome pics. Sheep of a lifetime. Sounds like you also have a new favorite bear hunting spot! Congrats.
    “I come home with an honestly earned feeling that something good has taken place. It makes no difference whether I got anything, it has to do with how the day was spent. “ Fred Bear

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    Member TWB's Avatar
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    Mod I didn't know you hunted. I thought you were just here for ribbing and shenanigans!! Lol jk

    Well done man!! Rob needs to get his ass back home. It's hunting time!!

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    Moderator LuJon's Avatar
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    What a great writeup!!!!

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    Moderator LuJon's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Amigo Will View Post
    Remember if you un do a single regret everything from then changes,maybe even this fine story. Outstanding wright up and welll earned rewards
    Nothing like having one of those experiences that is so great it nullifies everything negative that preceded it. Reading this story I don't believe a man could come down from that mountain the same person that went up.

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    Member mod elan's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by LuJon View Post
    I don't believe a man could come down from that mountain the same person that went up.
    He didn't

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    Member MTBrownBearHunter's Avatar
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    That was an awesome story.

    Congrats on a fantastic ram.

    Great pictures and narration as well!

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    Moderator bkmail's Avatar
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    Freaking sweet hunt, write up and pics to boot. Nice!!
    BK

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    Member Matt83's Avatar
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    Great story, great pics...awesome trip man! You will have many great memories of that hunt everytime you look at that mount on your wall, memories that will last a lifetime.

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    Member AKnook's Avatar
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    Congrats on a great hunt. Thanks for sharing. Beautiful pictures!

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    Great pictures and write-up! Awesome ram! How far was the pack back to the airstrip?

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    Total awesome! I found myself thinking of the hills all morning after reading that account. Holy BEARS!!!!! I wouldn't have been sleeping easy.

    I didn't quite understand the extent of your ram fever though? Were you intending to shoot the broomer?

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    Member mod elan's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by AKHUNTINFOOL View Post
    How far was the pack back to the airstrip?
    A tad over 6 miles and 3200ft. Many breaks were taken on my part. For whatever reason my hip flexors were killing me on the way down. Something they've never done before with similar loads on more difficult terrain.

    Quote Originally Posted by Bighorse View Post
    Total awesome! I found myself thinking of the hills all morning after reading that account. Holy BEARS!!!!! I wouldn't have been sleeping easy.

    I didn't quite understand the extent of your ram fever though? Were you intending to shoot the broomer?
    Some would call it naivety, others perhaps foolishness but I don't feel as uncomfortable around bears like some people do. Yes I take the normal precautions but I don't get freaked out about them. I'm not sure how Rob feels but he's such a bear nut I think he wouldn't mind using a live one for a blanket at night!

    I think part of my fever came from the fact the rams were giving me an unexpected second chance and I felt I aught not waste it. My dad has been forever perplexed at how calm I am when it comes to shooting an animal. This time his habits seemed to rub off on me! I absolutely knew which ram I was aiming at when shooting. The initial question of which was the broomer was to identify both rams and not until that happened did the first shot ring out. I was just being deceitful/greedy in making Rob think I was after the broomer

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    Member Bullwinkle50's Avatar
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    Mod,

    Great hunt and story. All these stories are getting me primed. Can't wait until August. Thank you for sharing.

    Randy

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    Great story brother. Awesome ram. Thanks for taking the time to share

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    Member GD Yankee's Avatar
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    Fantastic write up and pictures. Thanks for sharing. Incredible sheep.

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