Here’s my recap of my recent Nutzotin hunt.
Day 1, Aug 9th: Forest fires in the interior make for a very smoky ride into the Nabesna river in a Cessna 206. From there we jump in the super cubs and head for the Nutzotins. We fly over some real rugged country that is plum full of ewes and lambs and several bands of big rams. This really primes the pump. We try and land on our gravel bank but a real strong cross wind is blowing. On the 5th try Randy is able to land the cub, Ethan and my cousin Leif follow right behind us. We quickly unpack, filter some water from the glacier creek and head for sheep country. The initial 1 ½ miles is through some real nice moose county. About 3pm the rain starts to fall heavy and we drop the packs and don the rain gear. As we eat a quick bite we see a nice ram about a mile away. We decide to pitch camp and not spook him. Rain is falling heavy and we quickly remember 2008. Not good memories.
Day 2, opening day. We wake to clear skies and begin our hike into sheep country. After a good 7 hours and 5 miles we find our camp site. We pitch the tent at about 5,000 feet with great water source. We quickly take a peek around. We end up spooking two rams, one of which is probably a shooter.
Day 3: We wake at 6 am, look outside the tent to find 3 inches of snow and fog right to the tent. Once again visions of 2008 creep in. Perhaps we are cursed. I do my Tlingit sun dance and we sacrifice a ground squirrel in hopes of better weather. Instead of playing footsie in the tent we decide to gear up and head over a mountain pass about a mile from camp. This pass is 1,000 feet straight up; a combination of big rocks and dreaded black shale scree ~ the kind of stuff that takes three steps to gain a foot. After 2 hours we make it to the top. After a couple hours it’s clear that the fog is here to stay. A couple hours trek back to the tent.
Day 4: The fog has lifted and we get our first real glimpse of what we went up the day before We make it to the top of the pass by about 1pm. We then get our first glimpse of the next drainage. We quickly have some lunch and break out the spotting scope. To our great pleasure we quickly spot a band of 7 rams about half way down the valley. We can tell that at least 4 are shooters, with two really nice rams. Here comes the hard part. In order to make a play on them we have to do so under the cover of darkness. We have about 3 miles to get there, but we’ll only be under cover for the first two miles. Camp is a several hours away. We decide no time like the present and go for it. About 6pm and we get as far as we can, they remain in the same spot and we can see a ridge that will give us a perfect place to put the elmer fudd stalk on em. Dinner is a couple cups of top ramen and some chocolate bars. At 10:30 its dark enough to proceed down the valley. Headlamps go on at 11pm and by midnight we arrive at our “beds”. We quickly dawn every piece of clothes that we brought and jump into our space blankets. At 2am we’ve had enough and crawl out of the tin foil and boil some coffee. At 4am its time to climb the mountain. We are so cold in such a hurry to get the blood flowing that we fail to grab food, or even our water bottles (decision that will not sit well). At 5:30 am we are sitting on the ridge and peering over to where we last saw the sheep. To our dismay the 4 shooter rams are quite a ways away. Two full curl rams are about 600 yards above us, two real heavy broomed rams are below us at about 700 yards. Give it time we say, they will eventually come feed closer. We try to take a nap or two, but sleeping on the cold ground is not pleasant. Its noon and no movement from the rams. We can see our food and water 1,000 feet below us. No way to get to it as they will see us. It’s now 4pm and no movement from the rams. We’ve been up since 6am the day before. Camp is a good 6 hours away. We decide that we must press the issue. We bunker down and put our cross hairs on the two rams above us, the rangefinder says 587 yards with a 20 degree slope. Crack, we both shoot and the rams run towards us. Several shots later and they both dive into a rock slide, out of our view. One of them pops over the top and I take a couple cracks at him from 400 yards, Ethan moves up the ridge for a better shot. 5 minutes later and 4 more shots and he’s over the top heading to Canada. We never see the other ram and assume he’s gone up another escape route. We’ve gone 36 hours with no sleep and have a good 6 hours back to camp. Dejected we drag ourselves off the mountain and back to the packs. We finally get some water and food and begin the empty handed march back to camp. At best we’re back to our sleeping bags at 11pm. As we are walking we look back up the mountain and notice a suspicious white rock. Out comes the spotting scope and we quickly see a wounded ram! Given what we’ve done the past 36 hours and given that he’s a couple hours back up the mountain, there wasn’t too many high 5’s. He’s in some real bad stuff. A couple hours later and we are on him. Thankfully he fell about 500 feet. The slide is so steep that it’s hard enough to stand, let alone dress out a sheep. We snap a couple pictures and quickly start working on him.
I wanted to cape him, but every time we take a chunk off, he slides another 20 feet or so. It takes a good hour to get back down. It’s now 8pm. We have full packs with a very long hike in front of us. We try for 30 minutes to slog up the valley but we both quickly realize we don’t have anything left in the tank. We quickly decide to stash the meat and head. We triple bag the meat and bury in the creek, the head goes up in a tree.
We now embark on the 2009 version of the death march. 5 hours and several thousand feet up the pass, followed by a thousand foot decent back to camp. Each step hurts and whenever we stop for a break both of us nearly fall asleep on our feet. At 2:30 am on the 14th and almost 40 hours after we left camp we arrive back, as mentally, physically and emotionally exhausted as we could be. The next day we pack up our camp and begin the death march back over the pass to reclaim our buried sheep. At 8pm we arrive at the meat, no bears thankfully. We load up the packs and manage another hour. Awake at 6am on the 15th and we think we have 5 hours to the landing strip. 9 hours later after busting through moose bogs and alder brush we finally arrive at the landing strip. Dreams of dinner at Fast Eddies are in our heads, along with a cold beers and sauna at Ethan’s buddy’s place in Tok.
The death march was worth it, we are back in Tok with a great Ram. He measures out at 38 ½ inches with 13.5 bases. He’s only 8 years old, a couple more years and he would have been a real bruiser. I’ve never done anything that comes close to the exhaustion we experienced on this trip. Have never done anything that’s been more rewarding either ~ at least in my hunting experiences.