Growing up with my two brothers, we did pretty much everything together. We grew up really close and since I moved to Alaska, that's been tough to maintain. However, we've managed to stay close and everything finally came together to allow the three of us to go hunting together in the Brooks Range for Dall sheep.
After Cody and I's trip last year and our inability to find legal rams, I decided to change our area and look at something different. I did a lot of research and looking around and took several things into consideration to allow us a better experience.
So after months and months of planning and preparation we were about as ready as we'd ever be. We had a few bumps in the road leading right up to our departure date. The first being that Mitch had a knee infection, the second being Cody had a neuroma in his foot and a back injury, the third involved me injuring my back in the process of moving over the 4th of July. It was a mad dash trying to rehab my back and get ready to pack heavy loads over long distances.
August 6th arrived and Mitch and Cody both arrived here in Anchorage. We got some lunch and bought licenses and tags and began organizing gear in the garage. Our final weigh-in for our packs was about 60-65 lbs a piece. With everything loaded up we slept for a few hours and then woke up at midnight and hit the road for Fairbanks. After a bit of a wait, we were getting into the bush plane for our 3 hour flight into the mountains!
Upon landing, there was only one tent at the airstrip and I knew that it was the guide that was using the area. I knew there'd be two clients in there with him. We began setting up a base camp and stashing extra gear in the tent. Once we were done, we donned our packs and headed up river. It wasn't long into our hike when we encountered the hordes of mosquitos that would plague us for most of our trip. I have never encountered mosquitos on a sheep hunt in the Brooks and this was very unexpected.
A couple miles into our journey, we spotted three people walking towards us about a mile out. When we reached each other, I knew that it was the guide and his two assistants. He was nice and informed us that he had two camps set up and where he'd be hunting. With his hunt plans in mind, we pushed on with the idea that we'd hunt further past him.
We went about five miles and set up camp for the night, it had been a long day and by now it was about 6 or 7pm. Camp was assembled and a nice warm campfire built. The next day would lead us another nine miles upriver...
As we continued on, we reached the eight mile mark and spotted a sheep up a side drainage and noticed it was moving at a pretty good clip. With our binoculars thrown to our eyes, we saw a smaller white object following closely. A ewe and a lamb I thought... until I saw a big bushy tail. It's a wolf!!! The two disappeared from sight and we were left wondering if the wolf got the sheep.
We plodded onward and kept looking back to see if we could see either of the two. I caught a glimpse of movement and it was the wolf moving towards us, not knowing we were there. It didn't appear bloody at all, so we assumed that the sheep escaped. The wolf clued into our presence and moved off in the other direction.
As we neared our destination, the next drainage up from where the guide said he'd be hunting, we were overjoyed to finally get our packs off for the day. That is until we spotted two tents set up at the base of said drainage... We weren't sure if we misunderstood the guide or he relayed his message incorrectly. Either way, he was going to be there and we didn't want to hunt on top of him and vice versa. So with a little deliberation we decided to continue upriver and find a suitable campsite.
Two miles later we found a good spot and began setting things up, just as soon as a rainstorm set in. Mitch and Cody went all out and constructed the sheep camp of all sheep camps. We had a sil tarp set up and they built a rack in the back with willow poles to hang our gear up on. They gathered flat rocks and made an area in the back to set other gear items on so they wouldn't get muddy. Then they proceeded to break out their "camp chairs" which were more like full-on lawn chairs! It became quite the camp, fourteen miles from the airstrip!
We spotted some sheep above us and the spotting scope revealed a small ram and one big giant grandaddy ram! There were very few sheep spotted over the distance we'd covered in the prior day and a half and it was good to see a legal one above our camp. Not long after, we spotted a second ram on the same mountainside and it was also a really nice legal ram. Now we just had to wait a day for the season opener and hope they didn't disappear on us.
The next morning, we caught glimpses of both of them and they seemed content in their areas. At about noon, we decided to take a walk upriver to see if there was anything else hanging around. We ended up a couple miles upstream and didn't see much of anything and headed back to camp to prepare for the opener. When we left camp earlier, the big ram was bedded on a saddle, high on the mountain. He had moved on when we returned and we couldn't locate him, nor could we find the other ram, who we saw working his way back into a box canyon that morning.
What we did see though was three rams, two looked like nice legal rams. So we made a game plan and left camp at about 9:30. Regarding sheep, there are no shooting hours since it can be light enough to shoot at any hour. So legally, our season opened at midnight. We made our way up the very steep mountainside and reached our destination. Mitch crawled up to the ledge that would give us a vantage of the three rams. One problem we had was the the small ram was bedded much higher than the other two and was able to see us before we could see the big rams. The second problem we had was the canyon that was between us and them. We couldn't see into the bottom of it and it was very steep and rugged. If shot in the positions they were in, they would roll and fall into the canyon below. I didn't want to shoot them and not be able to get into the bottom to retrieve them. So, we held off.
The hours crept by, it didn't quite get dark but it was dusk and dew began to cover everything in the early hours of the morning. We were waiting for the sheep to make a move and hopefully to a position away from the canyon. At about 4:30am the small ram and one of the larger ones got up and began moving straight up the mountain. They were in a spot that was worse than before. We were now focused on the other ram and at about 5am, he got up and started walking away from us. Cody was designated as the first shooter and he got on the rifle as I began calling out distances with the range finder. 330...340...350... He was heading for a bench, a flat spot above the canyon. 360... Now, well onto the bench, the ram just needed to stop and stop he did! 370... The ram paused, lifted his head and turned back towards us. "Hit him Cody", I said calmly... with the report of the rifle and the unmistakable "WHOP" of a solid hit, the ram went down. He began rolling and struggling towards the cliff's edge. With two more shots, the ram came to a stop within feet of the edge.
We got up and made our way over to our side of the canyon and could now see that we had nothing to worry about. Although difficult, we could have made our way down into the canyon. The other two rams were still standing up above us wondering what was going on. We moved around the hillside for a better angle and Mitch set up on the legal ram. Cody called out yardage as I was also trying to get on the ram for a back up shot if needed. I couldn't find a good spot and Mitch fired at 300 yards. The ram folded in his tracks and seemed to be anchored where he fell. Moments later the ram began kicking and flung himself off the ledge, beginning a horrific cartwheeling display down the cliffs. We thought we'd be walking up on a destroyed sheep except when we did, our thoughts were only validated with how tough these animals are. He only had a few scuffs on his horns and some broken ribs. Unbelievable!