After 13 years of unsuccessful applications for permits here in AK for any species I was at the Anchorage Sportsman’s Show this spring knowing permits were due out but thinking to myself, “another year of donating to Fish & Game”. My buddy Craig called me and gave me the good news. I finally had broken the code and drawn my first AK permit, Dall Sheep in the Delta Controlled Use Area (DCUA). I drew the non-motorized hunt. I knew if I had any chance of success, I had better start getting into better shape so I could do my part. My first order of business was to call my buddy Garrett to see if his offer of accompanying me on the hunt when the day came still stood. He works on the slope and had to do a bit of rearranging of his schedule but we were on for the hunt. Garrett had been into the area as a permit holder a couple of times over the years and also accompanied a couple of other friends on their hunts over the years so he was pretty familiar with the area. This was my first real sheep hunt and I was more than excited to get going. I spent my summer hiking, running and lifting weights as often as I could. I had a nagging case of tendonitis in my elbow which caused me some concern. A quick trip to the Doc and a cortisone shot later and we were back in business.
We departed Wasilla on Sunday afternoon of the 8th of August and spent the night at the trailhead near Delta Junction. Monday morning the 9th was rainy and windy, typical Delta weather. I had plenty of anxiety and butterflies as we stepped off with heavy packs. My pack was full on the way in and I kept asking myself, how am I going to fit half of a sheep in here for the trip out….. The hike in was approximately 10 hours before we got to the base of the mountain we had to climb to access the glacier valley we were going to hunt. The weather was turning bad so we pitched tents and ate a hot mountain house just in time before the winds picked up. It was gusting off the glacier and would go from 0 to approximately 50 mph every couple of minutes. I thought for sure my new MSR Hubba Hubba tent was coming down but it held through the night. A bent pole was the only damage the next morning and a quick fix with the repair sleeve and we were on our way. We spent opening day hiking up into the glacial valley and glassing for rams. Lots of scree, gravel and loose rocks. More than once I wondered if I was every going to get to the top and actually see rams. Once we finally made it to the top and looked down into the valley we spotted a tent further down the creek so knew we were in the area we would hunt. I would never drop in on top of another hunter. There was more than enough real estate and sheep to keep us all busy. We dropped our packs on the top of the ridge and spent a couple hours glassing our side of the glacier. The weather was still pretty typical for the area, windy, rainy and some sleet. As we grabbed our packs before dark and started looking for a camping spot we heard a very loud booming sound-thunder, followed by some bolts of lightning. Here we are at 6,000 feet in the middle of a thunderstorm, complete with lightening. We grabbed our gear and bailed off the lip of that ridge as fast as we could go without falling and getting injured. We were carrying “lightening rod” rifle barrels and trekking poles and wanted nothing more than to “not be the highest point on the hill”. We moved 1500 feet or so down the ridge and carved out a couple spots on the hillside to pitch our tents.
The morning of the 11th found us trying to glass through some light fog and clouds. We finally spotted a nice ram on the other side of the glacier. It was about 10 AM so we knew we had to hurry to have any chance at this guy before dark. It was a 4 hour hike to get down the hill, across the glacier and up the other side to get to the bowl where we had spotted the ram. The wind was whipping straight down the valley off the glacier. We could not detect any wind once we got up in the bowl. The ram however winded us and after 30 minutes of glassing, he appeared out of nowhere and was walking up the back of the bowl headed toward the top-and safety. We were able to get the spotter on him as he moved out. One look at Garrett’s eyes told the story. He said it was probably the biggest ram he’d ever seen. Oh well, I was not going to take a shot at over 500 yards on day 2. We headed back to camp and were eating hot chow and glassing for sheep as darkness set in.
Thursday the 12th started off with great weather. We were able to glass right away at daylight and found 2 potentially legal rams right away. We inhaled coffee and oatmeal, grabbed only what we would need for the day and set off. The trip down the hill was loads of fun. Loose scree and a very steep slope required intense concentration so we didn’t break our necks. I managed to hit a patch of scree that gave way which spun me around and down I went. Tore my left knee up pretty good and shredded my Sitka Pants. I stopped long enough to rinse the cuts with some water and do a quick patch job on my pants with some duct tape. Garrett commented that I “looked like a real sheep hunter now”…. We negotiated the mud and rocks on the lower part of the glacier and found our way across to the far side. We had few options to climb up the other side because of the steepness of the terrain. We climbed up a creek which offered our only footing in the rocks of the creek bed. We were down wind of the rams we had spotted which made our approach go a little quicker. We soon found a spot to drop packs and get a look at the rams at about 1pm. They had moved up several hundred yards into the rocks from the time we glassed them at first light and were able to get in place. They were truly magnificent watching them sleep on their rocky perch, safe from anything-including hunters. We played the waiting game knowing that if we tried to make a move on the rams, that the two other sublegal rams in the bowl would bust us and everyone would be leaving the bowl, leaving us with no option but to wait. Four hours ticked by as we tried to stay warm and out of the wind. Garrett and I both made several trips further down the valley out of sight to do some walking and stretching to stay warm. Finally at 6pm the rams promptly got up from their naps-and fed out of sight. I knew this was our best chance at a sheep and my hunt was quickly drawing to a close. We had to hike out on Friday the 13th as Garrett had to return to work on the slope. I was very grateful that he had take time off to help me out so I was prepared to go home without a ram. Garrett later told me he could see the disappointment in my eyes as we contemplated what to do next. While we discussed our options a sheep stood up high in the bowl that we had not seen previously. A quick look with the glass and we realized he had potential. I put the rangefinder on him, still 500 yards away and moving pretty slowly our way. Daylight was our number one factor as to whether or not we had a chance. Garrett kept the glass on him and finally declared “he’s legal”. Since I was the shooter, I took a look and had to be sure for myself. He finally gave me the angle I needed and I too was sure he was a legal ram. The ram started staring towards our side of the bowl indicating he was going to make a move towards us. He made up his mind and in a short time was on our side but further up in the bowl. Once he was out of sight, we grabbed rifles and off we went keeping terrain between us and the ram. We closed the distance in a couple short minutes, stopped to catch our breath before showing ourselves. Garrett shouted out that he was 230 yards as he ranged him. The ram knew we were there and was getting a bit antsy. I moved a few yards up into the rocks, dropped down and quickly took the broadside shot. The .270 Wby loaded with 160 grain Nosler Partitions did the job in short order. The ram tumbled approx 40 yards down the hill before getting wedged in some rocks. It was over just that quick. A flood of emotions overcame me as a lifelong dream had just come true. I knew we had a lot of work left to do but I was going to do whatever I had to in order to get my ram and ourselves off the mountain.
After some back slapping and pictures we caped and quartered the ram. He taped out at 38” on the right side and a broomed 35” on the right. Bases were 13”. I was elated. It was the first ram I had taken much less caped. We worked quickly on the side of the mountain as light faded. We got the ram into packs and headed off the hill and down the side of the valley. We quickly ran out of daylight and had to spend the night on the side of the glacier. If you ever have the chance to spend the night in an emergency bivy sack made of foil-don’t! It was a bit chilly and it rained most of the night. I felt like a turkey in a roaster oven bag! We were up the next morning thankful that we did not have any furry visitors during the night. We stepped off at 4:30 AM headed back across the muddy slurry of glacial sludge and up approx 3,000 feet back to camp. We arrived back at camp and quickly finished caping out the head of my ram and taking down tents etc. A hot meal and we stepped off at noon with really heavy packs now that tents and sleeping bags etc. had been added. I was grateful to have a Barney’s Pack on my back. I could not imagine carrying that much weight with a different pack.
I tried to convince myself that we only had a few hours to go and we could drop the tailgate of my truck and drop these extremely heavy packs. Yeah, I had to keep reminding myself of that over and over during the grueling 12 hour hike back down the trail. We made several creek crossings and during one such crossing Garrett’s feet got tangled up and down he went in the creek. Now we were in more of a hurry to get off the trail and into dry clothes. We pushed hard as darkness approached. I had not done a very good job of eating towards the end of the day. I had stopped to rest for a minute, trying to get the weight of the pack off my shoulders for a minute when I got dizzy and down I went face first into the rocks. I remember my trekking poles being under me and the sound of grinding rocks. I wondered why the rocks were so close to my face. I finally regained my senses and realized I had passed out and was now face down in the rocks. I struggled back to my feet and wiped the blood off my busted eyebrow and cheekbone. We pushed on, completed the trek by headlamp and were very elated to drop our packs for the final time.
I told myself that I would not celebrate until we were safely out of the mountains with my ram. Well that time finally came and emotions ran high. A dream finally come true and I had a great story to share with family and friends. We celebrated with a couple of cold beers and a hot meal before getting some sleep in the truck. We were up early on Saturday the 14th and made the drive home.
I learned a lot during this trip and only a small part of that was about sheep hunting. I am a retired Marine who spent 20 years in the Corps and this was by far more physically grueling than any mission I undertook in the Corps. I pushed myself beyond what I thought were my physical and emotional limits. We endured rain, high winds, thunder and lightning, sleet and the terrain. I now know that I can accomplish more than I thought I could thanks to my goal of a Dall Ram and my good friend Garrett. I cannot thank Garrett enough for everything he’s done to help me to fulfill this dream. He endured the same pain and discomforts, just to help a buddy. Thanks Garrett!
I’m sorry this is such a long story but after reading successful stories from all the members on the forum over the years, it is nice to finally write my own story.
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