When my wife and I moved to Alaska 10 years ago, I had never really thought about sheep hunting. That kinda thing was for rich folks, I thought. We had friends that had a leak in their home and they ask if they could leave a mounted Ram at our home while they removed the mold and made repairs.
I found a place on our wall for his Ram and over the next few weeks, as I admired the Ram, a desire to pursue them slowly crept into my being.
Our friends had to work during the house repairs, so I helped out. To show their appreciation he took me on my first ever sheep hunt. To say an obsession was born from that experience would be an understatement.
My wife Flor and I have been hunting together since the 90s and she has taken numerous big game animals, but with her only weighing just over 100 lbs and me having some physical limits, a sheep hunt together seemed like a pipe dream.
I have been blessed to have been able to harvest several Rams and I really wanted to be able to share the love of the mountains and sheep hunting with her.
Luke Moffat and I had spoke about this desire on multiple occasions, but with my wife still being on active duty, the opportunity just never came along.
She recently returned from an overseas deployment and would be able to go this fall if we could put something together. Luke and I had long discussed a couples sheep hunt and was kind enough to offer to help us make this dream come true, as many hands make for light work.
So with the decision made last winter, the preparations began.
She had a lot of gear, but she was going to need a few new pieces more suitable for mountain hunts.
First item was a pack, I love, love, love my Kifaru KU5200 but I knew that it would not be large enough for my gear and the extras I would most likely help carry for her.
So I called Mr Patrick at Kifaru and ask if he would resize my KU5200 for her with new stays and a smaller belt. Awesome customer service as always from a great American company, in no time at all the KU was back and fit her like a glove.
Finding rain gear and clothes proved much more difficult. Not much on the market for the small folks, so we had to settle on North Face rain pants and arcteryx rain top. I was able to find some Sporthill camo that fit her well.
Next on the list was a lighter rifle, I'm a gun nut and I fell in love with the look of the Kimber Mountain Ascents. So I was able to find one for each of us, one in 280AI and the other in 30-06.
As soon as spring came around I started working up loads for both rifles. I was in need of a new chronograph and when I saw the new Magnetospeed chrono I thought I would try one out.
This chrono attaches to the end of the barrel, so no need to go down range and setup and no more chances of shooting it or blowing off the sunshades with muzzle blast, or not capturing data because of too much or too little light.
Load development for the 30-06 went quickly as I already had a good load for another rifle that just needed to be proven safe in the Kimber.
The 280AI proved to be a little more finicky but I did get a 160 grain Accubond load to perform well.
I mounted a Luppy VXII CDS 3x9x40 on the 06 and ordered a custom dial from Kenton to match the 180 grain Accubond ballistics.
I'm waiting for the long range accubonds to become available for the 280AI, so I just used a Luppy VXII 2x7x33 for this hunt.
After the loads were done, I was able to proof them out to 500 yards and both rifles proved to be very reliable and accurate.
I found some poly sling mounts instead of steel and sewed up a couple slings to save a few OZs
This completed the rifle prep and on to the other gear.
She was in need of a lighter sleeping bag and she gets cold easy so I bought her a ZPacks™ 900 Fill Power Down Solo Sleeping Bag with the treated down and a Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite Sleeping Pad - Women's, both these were used in a TI Goat Bivy.
Looking for a better way to carry my binos Flor and I used Ribz Chest packs. I really liked having the extra storage that I could get to. Holds about 1000ci, was really happy with them with the only negative being that the straps get twisted easy. I think I will modify the straps for next year. Nice to have so weight forward as counter balance.
Also upgraded my binos to Swaro 10x42 ELs and my old eyes sure was thankful for that.
Having experienced all sorts of weather I was concerned that she may get cold, so when Kifaru announced their new Oval stove I quickly placed an order and was blessed to not only receive the stove before we left, but also got the very first one.
A sawyer water filter rounded out the new gear so now it was just a matter of getting it all gathered up.
Summer was gone in a blink of the eye and before we knew it it was time to head into the hills.
Our plan included some pack rafting and Flor did not have a lot of experience. So this is where the "Good Idea Fairy" got me bad. Since she did not have much experience I though it might be safer for me to have her in my raft with me and strap her raft to mine as a trailer. I did go during the summer to proof this concept and it worked great on a class I river, not so much on class II and III.
All was well until we got to the giant rock garden. We got sucked into a bolder and got crossways, I was just able to avoid disaster and get free from the hazard, but not before my camera fell from my pocket in the struggle and into the river.
After a long day on the river and many river miles we arrived at our chosen campsite.
We set camp with Luke and Becca using their SL5 and Flor and I in our Sawtooth.
We settled in and started to do some glassing.
Before long we were rewarded by spotting a wolf, a couple grizzly and a couple rams.
As the sun set on our first day we all headed off to bed exhausted from a long day, but full of enthusiasm for what lay ahead.
With some time to kill before the season opened we decided to try our hand at a little angling.
As opening day approached eagle eyed Becca Spotted a legal Ram so we packed up and headed off to see if we could get on one.
Over the years I have learned that it is always best when hunting with others to work out who is shooting first and so on. Since we had all taken Rams except Flor, she was to be the first shooter with Luke next up, then myself and if we got 4 Becca was last, because she had a coveted late season sheep draw tag.
We tucked into some alders and enjoyed glassing the Rams as they fought over who was the king of the mountain.
The Kuiu SD jacket made it nice and warm for those long sits while glassing.
Luke, ever the Gentleman wished us luck and gave us the Okay to try for the Ram they had spotted and he and Becca headed off to try to find one for him.
As luck would have it they soon found what they were looking for.
I know from past sheep hunts that if the skies are clear, it is possible to have enough light to shoot, just after midnight once the season opens on the 10th of Aug, so as we watched the rams I had to decide if we should climb or wait.
As we waited, a few showers moved through but it looked like it was clearing, so at 7pm I made the call to start our stalk.
It took as 4 hours to climb up to where we could observe the Ram. We hid behind some rocks and glassed him up real good to make sure he was legal. He was no giant but he was 8 YO and fullcurl X2 legal.
At 11:30pm we slowly started to move close enough for a shot at midnight. At 11:45 a dark cloud moved in and the rain soon started. The clouds and rain soon had us in near total darkness. Last time we saw our Ram he was 700 yards and slowly feeding away from us.
We climbed up until we found a some what flat spot and I quickly set up the Para Tarp. I had hoped we could make it down before dark, but this was no longer an option. I also knew that a Ram was going to be a load for us and because of this I had only taken what I thought would get us by.
Under clear conditions it only gets dark for a couple hours, so I figured by 2am or so we would be able to see enough to continue our stalk, so we cuddled together with all we had to wear and prepared to wait it out. The next few hours were miserable, the 25mph wind and rain made the 38 degrees cut right through us.
I don't think either of us really slept as we waited for daylight to break, about 2:30am I kept peeking out to see if I could see anything, but with the low ceilings it stayed too dark to see until almost 5am.
By this time I was chilled to the bone and wanted to get to moving, this is when we had some husband/wife drama as she was about over it after the long cold night. She had finally gotten warm was none to eager to crawl out.
I told her I was going to walk down the ridge and have a look, I walked down a ways and decided that this was her hunt and I was determined to get her to come along after the ram with me. She was sure he was long gone and I was sure he was close.
We packed up and soon were back on the stalk.
We slowly moved along the ridge line and before long I spotted our Ram. We were able to close to within 422 yards before we ran out of cover and only open ground was between us and the Ram.
The Ram bedded down and I again looked him over to be 100 percent sure that I did not have her shoot a sub-legal Ram.
It was at this time we had another husband/wife moment. She had never made a shot this far before and wanted me to take the shot. I had killed several and I wanted her to shoot. We had a nice big bolder to use as a rest and the Ram was bedded broadside, Flor is a good shot and I was confident she could make the shot.
I knew the drop on both rifles by memory and knew where she needed to hold to make the shot from 422 yards. I told her to aim 12 inches over his back and that I would back her up. I said we will shoot on your 3 count. We both got on him and she counted down, 3, 2, 1, BOOM.
To her surprised I did not fire, as I wanted her to know she had indeed killed her own Ram. Her shot was true and the Ram rolled over dead where he lay.
We slowly worked our way over to the Ram and as I looked him over to indeed make sure he was legal, a wave of raw emotion flowed over me. I knot formed in my throat and tears began to run down my face. For the longest time I stood over him with my back to her doing my best to regain my composure. She seemed to sense this and ask if I was Okay.
I turned towards her and wiped away the tears and through quivering lips assured her I was fine, just overcome with feelings of realizing a dream come true. I was so proud of her. We just sat there and shared a quiet moment together before we started to take a few photos and get him ready to move back to camp.
Heroin photo time.
Flor was a champ and jumped in and in no time at all we had her Ram caped, boned and packed up. The boned out meat fit perfect into 2 Kifaru meat bags. I placed both of these into an OR 55 liter wet bag to keep my pack clean. We packed up the rest of our gear ate the last of the food we brought and drank our fill before we started the long trek back to base camp.
We both had all the weight we cared to carry, but moved along slow and careful.
As we reached the spot in which we had to start our main decent, I was exhausted. I did not dare share with Flor, but I was unsure if I was going to be able to get down with the load I had.
While we rested and tried to catch our breath. I switched on my VHF radio and tried to check in with Luke and Becca. We had not spoken with them since we parted ways the day before and I wanted to let them know we were Okay. I got no answer and tucked the radio into my chest pack and started down.
The next few hours were horrible, descending over an over grown bolder field with a load was pure agony. About half way down I took a nasty fall as my leg slipped into an unseen hole. I was unable to get up and Flor had to come over and help me get back up.
About this time I heard Luke call on the radio, I did not even realize that I had forgotten to turn the radio off. Luke (God Bless him) ask if we needed any help. I did not have to think about that long and said that I sure would not turn down some help.
Flor insisted on taking the cape, head and horns, this allowed me to continue to fight my way down through the brush. The next few hours seemed to move in slow motion. We could see base camp in the distance but it just did not seem to be getting any closer.
When we made flat ground, we still had a long way and a couple river crossing to navigate. Flor and I were the walking dead, we no longer spoke and the only sounds that could be heard were our feet moving through the brush and the occasional grunt or groan.
We at last made it to our staging area were we had stashed our gear and food. I took this photo with what little strength I had left. Then I collapsed onto the ground and started to feel sick. Flor and I had left it all on the mountain and had we been alone, that spot would have been our home for the night.
I started to get the dry heaves and severe cramps. Flor mixed me up some water and Emergen-C and I started to pound fluids.
Since I returned from Iraq, I have suffered from bouts of cyclical vomiting syndrome. I could tell Flor was afraid I was going to stay sick and I could see the concern in her face.
Luke showed up and shared with us that he had taken a Ram as well. He had just packed his Ram back to camp and was now there to help us. He quickly grabbed my back and was off in a flash on his way back to base camp.
I felt better after some food and drinks, and felt I could make the push to base camp before it got dark but Flor was not having it. What I did not have was the strength to argue about it. She insisted that I head back with an empty pack. Luke made the trip back in record time, the man is more machine than human. When he dropped the load off he told Becca that we were in a bad way and she jumped into action making some fresh meat and hot drinks.
Luke and I passed each other as I dragged my worn out behind back to camp. Becca had hot tea for me and some motrin, both made me feel so much better. It was not long before Flor and Luke returned and we all took shelter in the sawtooth as Becca prepared us a 5 star sheep diner.
To be honest the rest of that evening is a blur, but the meat was tended to and we all fell exhausted into bed.