Just wanted to follow up from the pictures I posted last week. Sorry this story is so long but it grew longer as I typed. One day I will be like Stid2677 and actually insert pictures into the story.
I found out I had drawn the coveted TMA sheep tag in February and was shocked. I had been trying to draw the Delta Motorized huntfor 15 years after drawing a TMA tag in 1998. I immediately called 40-Mile Air and talkedwith Leif and setup my flight for the 9th. I then called my sheep hunt buddy and I thinkhe was even more excited. Originally he drew the tag in 1996 and called me to see if I would go with him as his wife would not let him fly in by himself. I had been in Alaska for a total of 1 month and readily accepted the offer. After his successful hunt I had the sheep fever and had told him if I drew a TMA tag I would return the free flight favor. I drew the tag in 1998 but we couldn’t make it happen then logistically.
Let me preface my story by explaining what the month leading up to this entailed. My wife is an only child and her Mother fell and broke her hip. While she was in the hospital recovering, her Father had a heart attack and died. They run a small sheep farm in Louisiana so we had to go and take care of things and bring the Mother home to stay with us until she heals up. Needless to say it is still an emotional time but I had invested too much time, energy and resources into this sheep hunt. Saying that, I dedicated this hunt to the memory of my Father In-Law.
We arrived in Tok and checked in at 40-Mile Air and weighed our gear to ensure we were under the 50 lb limit. We found out that we were 12lbs under so immediately we went to the store and bought some snack size snickers, an onion and a bottle of barbecue sauce. We ate a big dinner at Fast Eddie's and settled into the motel for the night.
The morning of the 9th we were up early and waiting on FastEddie's to open so we could get a big breakfast in our bellies before we were stuck with Mountain Houses for 10 days. After stuffing ourselves we checked inat 40 Mile and waited to find out when we would fly. After waiting for a few hours, watching synchronized swimming on the Olympics. Not exactly inspirational TV. We were finally loaded up and flown to our predetermined drainage. After arriving at camp, we set up our tent, cooking area and scanned the surrounding hills. I was still shocked we didn’t see a single sheep on the flight in. Within 30 minutes a few small rams appeared on the skyline and bedded watching us scurrying around getting our gear settled. We decided to lay low and not create too much of a disturbance and see what opening day would bring.
We ate our teriyaki and rice freeze dried meal and enjoyed a cup of Taster’s Choice Chocolate and Hazelnut instant coffee. It had been expired for a few years but I am still alive so I guess it wasn’t bad. We watched 4 mountain caribou wander around camp and check us out, one was a pretty decent bull. They hung out with us daily on our hunt.
Not long before went to bed we watched some ewes, small rams and a couple lambs feed into the drainage. We crawled into the tent and listened to it rain lightly for most of the night.
We were up early opening day and realized that the vestibule on the tent did not stick out enough on the tent to cover the opening so when I unzipped the tent in the morning we had some water run onto the foot of my buddy’s sleeping bag. After that all I heard the rest of the hunt is what a crappy tent I brought. Although my side stayed dry ;-) We made coffee and enjoyed some instant oatmeal while scanning the surrounding hills. We spotted the ewes, small rams and lambs. A little while later we had a half-curl and a larger ram feed down the hill and cross behind camp. We made a little stalk and closed the gap. Looking at the larger ram we determined he probably was 7/8ths or so and we couldn’t count the rings. We were within a 150 yards before they fed up out of the drainage. About the time we got back to camp the fog started to roll up the drainage towards us as it also descended on to the tops of the hills. We decided to sneak around and check out a hidden bowl behind camp. We walked around and into the hidden bowl where we found a small knob with boulders on it and settled into the rocks below the top so we wouldn’t be skylined. After about 30 minutes the fog slowly lifted and we spotted two white dots to our left. It turned out to be a ¾curl and a larger ram that appeared to be 7/8’s as well. The right horn on this ram was longer than the left and we tried to count rings but the fog descended again. When the fog began to lift again they had fed higher and we couldn’t count rings on him. About that time the other ram from camp and his smaller buddy came over the top and down into the hidden bowl. We watched the larger ram and his left horn was longer than his right. I wished I could have swapped horns and both of them to make one good set. We watched him through the spotting scope longer and it appeared like he could have been 8 years old and legal. Being unsure and only opening day we decided to pass on him and they fed their way farther away from us.
We headed back to camp and made a plan to go up over a saddle and peak into the next drainage the next day. We made ourselves a Mountain House, Chicken Rib meat with mashed potatoes dinner and it was pretty darn good. We glassed a little more and spotted a sow grizzly with 2 cubs feeding up the other side of our drainage. We watched them for probably 30 minutes and they fed up and over the same saddle we were planning on crossing the next day. One the sow and cubs disappeared out of sight, about 15 ewes, small rams and lambs appeared and headed up to the highest rocky point in a hurry. I guess they didn’t appreciate the bear being close to them. We went to sleep and I hoped we wouldn’t have any encounters that would end up in the next edition of Alaska Bear Tales. That night it rained a little harder and longer.
The next morning I got up and unzipped the tent and my buddy remembered and moved his feet and sleeping bag before the water dripped. Again, I was reminded how crappy my tent was. I can say besides the unzipping the tent never leaked. As we were sipping our coffee and eating oatmeal a porcupine came stumbling down the hill towards camp. We immediately chased him off so he wouldn’t gnaw on anything while we were gone. We looked towards the saddle where we wanted to cross that day and the 15 sheep from the night before had come back during the night and were right where we wanted to cross. My friend wasn’t happy because he loves to walk, I was rather overjoyed. We stayed in camp and tried to decide if we wanted to check the hidden bowl again or do something else. About that time a lone ram came over the top and started feeding down towards camp. We checked him in the spotting scope and it was the ram with the longer left horn that we guessed was 7/8’s to full curl. He fed down far enough that he disappeared behind a rocky drainage. I grabbed my rifle and binoculars and headed towards him. My buddy grabbed the rangefinder and spotting scope and followed close behind.
We got to within 300-350 yards of where we thought he would come out and feed the opposite way we watched him feed yesterday. We set up behind a nice 8 foot tall berm with a cut out where you could sit and peek over the top. We ranged the area we thought he would cross and set up the spotting scope so we could get a real good look at horn length and age. After about 45 minutes he surprised us and came out directly above us at about 475 yards. He milled around for a second and then bedded down looking directly at us. Now we were pinned down and had to wait and see what he would do. We looked at him through the spotting scope whenever he would look away. We still determined him to be almost full curl, real close and maybe 8 years old. About this time I feel I had a little help from my Father In-Law. He finally stood after 30 minutes and began to go back and forth feeding. My buddy would say "I need to see his right side" and right on cue he turned and gave us a long look at his right side. Then when my buddy said "I need to see his left side again" he turned and almost posed perfectly so we could look him over and we determined he was 8-9 years old and we thought about 95% a full curl. It was at this point I knew he was a shooter.
He finally began feeding down toward us a disappeared behind the lip of a flat spot. My buddy wanted to push up closer and see if we could close the distance. I told him I was fine where we are and if he went left or right we had him at about 235 yards. I had a solid rest and I don’t think he knew we were there. Had we moved forward we would have lost our ability to see him pop out up top as the angle become more extreme. We waited again and checked all possible yardages as to where he could come out. After about 30 minutes he popped back up top and stopped and turned broadside. My buddy took another long look and said he was full curl and 8 years old. He ranged him at 370 yards and I stated I was going to take him. I had a solid rest on the berm and squeezed the trigger. He humped forward and kind of stumbled. I worked the bolt and loaded another round. We couldn't see where he was hit and saw no visible blood. My buddy said I think he is going to leave you better hit him again. I squeezed off another round and he went straight down, rolled onto his back, his four legs went stiff and stuck straight up (dying cock roack position). We whooped and high fived and I finally breathed a sigh of relief. It was nice to finally move around after sitting behind that berm for almost 2 hours waiting on him.
My buddy said “Let’s go up and check him out”. I said “Let’s go back to camp get our packs and climb up once”. We went back to camp and grabbed our packs and turned and could see him laying up on the hill about 1000 feet up and a ½ mile away. We trudged up the hill and after about 45 minutes we were on him. My first shot had hit him low and my second shot took out his spine. We guessed the angle of the shot at about 70 degrees.
We looked down at our tent way below us and took a break and enjoyed the rams last view. We caped, skinned and quartered the ram. We collected the rib and neck meat and cut out the nice sized backstraps and tenderloins and placed all of it into our game bags. We did a rough measure and came up with 37.5” and 37” for length and 14” for the bases. We loaded our packs and began the slow trek down the steep hill back to camp. We laid the meat out on some rocks near the creek and spread the head and cape out to dry.
Now we broke out the onion and barbecue sauce and my buddy made a nice fire and we cooked the onions and tenderloins and then doused them with barbecue sauce. There isn’t anything better than fresh tenderloins and onions in sheep camp.
This was Day 2 of the season and we weren’t supposed to get picked up until Day 8. My buddy put our early pick up sign on the airstrip and we spent the rest of the day checking meat and relaxing. We watched more sheep come into the drainage but nothing large. We become friends with a couple of Marmots until we caught them in our meat stash so we had to move it closer and keep an eye on it. We finished taking the cape off of the skull, fleshing and salting the cape.
The next day we woke up a little later and again had coffee and two servings of oatmeal. We figured that it was Sunday so the pilots wouldn’t be flying. They did fly just not near us. We hung around camp and waited to see if maybe a boar would come through or hit the gut pile on the mountain. All we saw were Ravens, caribou, marmots and more ewes, small rams and lambs. We enjoyed a large meal of Mountain House Chili Mac and called it a night.
The next morning we had coffee and oatmeal and checked the meat and cape. We rolled up our sleeping bags and hung out to see if a plane would come by. At around 1100 hours, Randy and Jake flew over, circled the drainage, tipped their wings and left. We tore down the tent, began packing all of our gear, and drug it to the landing strip. About 45 minutes later they returned and landed. We loaded our gear and flew back to Tok without a hitch. Our wives were glad to hear from us and we rescheduled our flights to the lower 48 to 5 days earlier.
We went to the Tok Fish and Game to have my ram sealed and were pleasantly surprised by their friendliness. I have heard many horror stories of Fish and Game and what is a full curl. They told me it was a full curl and 9 years old. Final measurements were: Left Horn 37 3/8”; Right Horn 37 ¼”. LeftBase: 13.5” and Right Base 13 3/8”
I now have my bookend rams and thoroughly enjoyed myself.
I would highly recommend anyone who draws a TMA tag to get with Leif, Jake and Randy at 40-Mile Air. This was my 4th time flying with them for sheep and they really take good care of you.
A couple other recommendations: Themarest NeoAir sleeping mattress and NorthFace Cat’s Meow sleeping bag. I combined my air mattress with an old Army ½” foam pad and the bed was extremely lightweight and very comfortable. The Cat’s Meow was toasty warm. We did have a couple of issues with our MSR Whisperlite International but finally got it to workconsistently.
Oh and lastly, I have a pretty crappy sheep tent for sale if anyone is interested J