I set out this year to the Alaska Range for a long stint in the field. Initially it was to be 20 days in the Alaska Range, 10 days near Skwentna, and 10 more days in the AK Range. The 3rd hunt would be lodge based, with hot water, bunks, sauna, and a culinary school graduate doing the cooking. Alas, plans changed due to the fickleness of weather and human nature, and I remained on the backside of the Alaskas for 46 days.
Fly date was scheduled for 11 am August 8, so I planned to take off work on the 6th and 7th to shop and settle all remaining bills. I met with the outfitter on the 6th, and helped pack food for the camps, then went into Anchorage for a marathon shopping day. As I drove around the valley settling bills on the 7th, I received a call asking if I could fly that afternoon at 4:30 instead of the following day, as weather was closing in. Alrighty then! I booked it on home, threw my gear into bags, and headed to the airstrip. Quick hugs and prayer with my wife and daughter, and I was off! I was geared pretty heavy for a sheep hunt, as I had to prepare for back to back sheep hunts, and also had a little extra food with me for base camp comfort.
After a plane transfer and short wait for wind to die down, I boarded a Super Cub to hop over to our base camp. I arrived there at 7:30, the last of 4 guides and a packer in camp. I hoped to make the final hop into my camp that night, but such was not the case. Wind picked up and halted flying that evening and the next day.
I passed a day and a half in base camp, tied to the strip in case the plane came. Took some short walks, saw sheep and a beautiful Toklat Grizzly. The other guides wandered off a bit further, and looked at some decent sheep prospects. The afternoon of the 9th, our clients arrived. While waiting for the last plane to arrive, we spotted a sow blackie with 3 two year old cubs across the river from camp. We could also see several dozen ewes and lambs from camp. Things were looking good! I loaded the cub for the hop to my camp, and we took off.
The flight was short, about 10 minutes, and it was country I hadn't seen before. The pilot took me to the head of the valley, to show me some terrain, the spike camp location, and maybe locate sheep. We saw nothing until we were almost out of the drainage, and as soon as we spotted white dots we turned around, to avoid spooking them. I had no idea whether they were rams or ewes, much less what size any were! It was very valuable, though, being able to reconnoiter the country a bit. We landed, I made camp, and greeted my hunter again when he landed. Game plan changed from hunting from base the first 2 days, to packing up a spike, and hunting from that beginning the next day.
Day one started nice and early, but we didn't hit the trail till a little after 10. We buried perishables in the tundra in some shade, and hung dry goods out of reach of larger bears. Laid down some good human scent in the spot and around camp, then started our hunt. It was an uneventful 3 1/2 hours up the creek, with some crossings, wet boots, and plenty of glassing time, but no game. We set up spike near a clearwater spring, then shouldered packs and headed up the canyon toward sheep country. No sooner had we settled into our hiking stride, then Deadeye said "caribou!" And there he was; just up from the river bottom, staring at us, skylined in all his majesty. We watched him as we walked, vacillating between shooting him or passing him. The client's life long dream was to kill a dall sheep, with a caribou being a very nice addition to the dream, but not the main goal. I said I didn't think it would affect the sheep, and as we were the only hunters in the drainage, the sheep would remain undisturbed till the following day. Also, an opportunity like this doesn't come around often; in this area, this would likely be the only bull caribou we saw. I thought it looked to be around 350; not Boone and Crockett, but a wonderful trophy. It would also lower the pressure on us a bit; having an animal hanging in camp means the hunter is out of danger of returning home empty handed. Deadeye wasn't convinced: he decided to pass, as sheep was foremost on his mind.
We found that there was a creek coming across our trail that we hadn't reckoned on, and needed waders to cross it. And DeadEye left them in camp! So he returned for them, and I dug out the spotting scope. Uh oh. As soon as I focused in on the bull, I wanted it. I hoped the closer look would convince DeadEye, too.
He returned after about 15 minutes, with the bull still standing there giving us the stinkeye. I said, "Deadeye, you need to look through this." He gave me an odd look, and bent over to peer through the scope. As soon as he could see it clearly, he said, "I want it." That's all I needed to hear! I stuffed the scope into my pack, shouldered up, and headed toward the bull. Just then, he turned and disappeared! We hustled to the river's edge, hoping to spot him when he broke out of the dip he was in. Sure enough, he reappeared, and I ranged him at 425. Deadeye dialed in his turret, and his rifle spoke! The bull flinched, and ran into some heavy alders. He came back out soon, this time hunched up and moving slowly. I told Deadeye he hit him back, and hit him again! Boom! This time the bull crumpled.img005.jpg
The first shot had hit just a hair back, entering paunch, then passing through liver, diaphragm and lung. Second shot was through throat, spine and front of brisket, also shattering a shoulder. Both at 425 yards on a moving target with a brisk crosswind. After congrats, we undertook the steep climb, took photos, processed the bull, and relocated the parts to our spike camp. Sheep hunting would have to wait a day!img006.jpg