I've been silently reading on these forums for almost two years now, and although I created a login a while back and have posted a few comments, I never really introduced myself. I figured since I've been spending a lot more time on here recently, I might as well introduce myself and what better way to do it than with a story. So here it goes....
This sheep hunt for me started sometime between April 2012 when I met the girl I now call my wife and February 2013 when the ADF&G draw results were posted. I moved to Alaska in 2011 from Pennsylvania and 2013 was the first year I applied for the resident draw hunts. Knowing the odds were low, I took the suggestion of my now father-in-law, put my name in for a few hunts, and figured that would be the end of it. Instead, I was blessed with luck I didn’t deserve and drew a DS203 dall sheep tag for the Delta Controlled Use Area. I didn’t truly understand the magnitude of my luck until I began researching the hunt and realized the opportunity I had been presented with. There was one hitch my plan however, a wedding. My wedding.
Just a few weeks prior I’d made the best decision of my life and asked my best friend to marry me. Again, with luck I didn’t deserve, she’d said yes and we had already picked a date, just two weeks before sheep season. With the hunt being so soon after the wedding and honeymoon, I felt guilty about leaving my new bride at home and figured there was no way the sheep hunt would be possible. Telling my fiancée this, I offered to burn the tag and forget about the hunt altogether. She would have no part of that. Watching her father apply year after year for the tag and never get drawn, she understood how special this tag was and was adamant that I go. Like I said, I’m blessed with luck I’m not sure I deserve.
Fast forward to Sunday, August 11th and my Father-in-Law and I are parked at the trailhead along the highway gathering our gear for the hike back to our selected hunting spot. A good friend, familiar with the area, had given us a few hints on where he recommended we go. “Head back, take a right at the fork. They’ll be on your left. Go past them, climb up, and hunt back towards them.” Being that this was a walk-in only hunt, we planned to camp midway on our 17-mile hike back to base camp and finish the rest in the morning.
Up early on Monday, we continued on our way towards base camp. Along the way, we began spotting white dots on the hillside. Four here, six there, another band of seven there; the numbers kept adding up and I think we’d spotted over fifty ewes and lambs by time we’d reached the fork. One in a band of four rams looked promising, but the terrain to reach him was incredibly daunting, so we elected to pass in hopes of a better opportunity once we reached our intended hunting grounds. Taking a break before the final hike into camp, I pulled out the spotting scope and glassed the hillside we intended to hunt for the first time. Our break was cut short when almost immediately I spotted three large rams standing together low on the hillside resting their horns on each other. The image is still burned in my mind, even though we scrambled to throw our packs on and get out of sight as fast as we could. One more ram was spotted before we made it to camp in the early afternoon, that one too showing potential of being a full curl. With our bodies tired from the hike and exhausted from the seventy-degree plus temperatures, we decided to set up camp and rest for the remainder of the evening. Making our plan for morning, our spirits were high from the rams spotted. And as if that wasn’t good enough, more sheep, rams included, silhouetted themselves on the ridgeline above camp at last light!
We left base camp early on Tuesday and began our accent into the sheep hunting grounds. After climbing for about an hour, we slowly peeked our heads over the first plateau. I couldn’t believe our luck as we’d unknowingly snuck within a few hundred yards of six sheep that we didn’t even know where there! After a few heart racing moments where I thought this might be the quickest sheep hunt ever, we determined that even though all six were rams, none were legal. They fed within 40-yards of us, so close I could even hear them eating grass, before the sensed something was wrong and moved off. They headed off in the direction we intended to hunt and we ended up dogging them most of the day, trying our best to get around them without entirely spooking them. In the process, we spotted the three large rams from the day before. We watched them climb to the highest point in the entire drainage to rest for the day, and likely to cool off from the stifling heat. The largest ram literally could climb no higher from where he was bedded. Thinking they would come down in the evening to feed, we set to building a makeshift blind in a rock outcropping we thought they would travel past. The blind also helped to shield us from the sun and heat while we waited them out. We spent all day on the ridge, watching the King of the Mountain and his entourage, wondering if our plan would work. Just as we were thinking about calling it a day because the rams hadn’t budged, they stood up and started heading down the ridge. My heart was pounding as they disappeared in a depression that we figured would lead them right by us. My Father-in-Law was the first to spot sheep from his vantage point. The sheep spotted him though too and a standoff ensued. Finally two followed their stomachs and worked past me at 60-yards, but neither were full curl. Inching to see the rest, I spotted four heads coming out of the depression about a hundred yards out. Still sensing something was amiss, they turned and headed off another direction, never giving me a good look. Later on, back at camp, we decided those sheep were the same six from this morning who had worked their way up and over the side of the ridge from their daytime bedding spot and just so happened to appear at the same time. We never figured out where the rams from the top of the mountain went.
Wednesday proved to be much slower with only two possible rams spotted, but neither were legal. One, which was hanging out in the same area as the final ram I’d spotted on our hike into camp on Monday, provided us with ample time to spot and judge his horns while we search for others. He was so close to being a full curl, but not quite. We explored more of our hunting grounds, learning the terrain, but after a long day of little action, we headed back to camp early to rest up and regroup for tomorrow, which would be our last full day to hunt. After such an action packed Tuesday, we were very confused where the sheep went because none of the rams from yesterday had shown themselves. That is, until we were back at camp eating dinner when three of the large ones from yesterday showed themselves coming down the ridge we’d waited on the night before. If only we’d set up there again!
I don’t know if my legs were just conditioned to the mountains by Thursday morning, or if it was the excitement going into the last full day to hunt, but I wasn’t dreading the morning climb as much as I had been on previous days. Tuesday had provided me with close encounters with sheep and a chance to observe their habits. On Wednesday I was able to spend time field judging a ram and better learning the layout of the land. If it was going to happen, Thursday was the day to put all the pieces together.
Up early, we headed to our glassing spot and almost immediately saw two of the large rams feeding low on the mountainside and working our way. We stayed low in a depression as we scrambled up and towards them, trying to get in position for a shot if they continued to feed our way. I ran out of terrain at about 500-yards and was forced to watch them feed in a loop and head back up the ridge like they’d done on Tuesday. While they moving up, I was able to watch them extensively though the spotting scope and determine one of the two was a confirmed full curl on the left and broomed on the right. Albeit being close, the other was neither full curl or broomed.
The two rams then did something we hadn’t seen them do in the past. They bedded part way up the ridge on a grassy ledge with a commanding view of the terrain below them, which was normal. The abnormal part was they were low enough we could theoretically climb around and above them, then work down over them.
Knowing that this was our shot, we committed ourselves to doing the stalk right. The next few heart-hammering hours were spent dropping elevation to get out of sight and sidehilling past them to get on the opposite side of the ridge they’d bedded on. Several times after making significant progress we’d run out cover and would back track, loose more elevation, and try another path to ensure they wouldn’t spot us. We were determined not to get busted. Finally we were behind them and began climbing up the ridgeline. Near their elevation, we dropped our gear at our rock blind and continued. Our stalk slowed as we crested over from the backside of the ridge and we began to determine where they’d bedded. My Father-in-Law spotted them first and we decided on our final approach. They’d bedded in a secluded position that even from the top that would require us to work our way in close to get a clean shot. As the gap closed, the terrain disappeared and I was reduced to belly crawling down the shale slope, moving one rock at a time to make a silent approach, taking over half an hour to cover the final hundred yards. Finally, I spotted white patches through the rocks. Propping myself up on my elbows, I ranged them at 94-yards. I still could not make out full sheep, let alone determine which one was the legal ram. One stood and not seeing a broomed tip, I determined he was the smaller of the two. That ram sensed something was out of place and an intense 30-min stare down ensued where I did my best to look like a rock. Laying headfirst down the mountainside, I was forced to flex my muscles to keep the blood from rushing to my head while I waited so I wouldn’t pass out.
Finally, the legal ram stood up to adjust his bed and the small ram broke his concentration on me. When they rebedded, the larger ram was exposed just enough that if I propped one elbow on my binoculars, I could raise my line of sight just high enough to clear the rocks in foreground with my crosshairs. I knew this was my chance, so in one slow motion I elevated my upper body, consciously checked for foreground clearance in the scope, subconsciously said a prayer for a clean shot, and squeezed the trigger. The ram never got out of his bed and I was once again blessed with luck I’m not sure I deserve.
Mere seconds after the shot:
Packing it out: