2010 Brooks Range Sheep Hunt
Mine and my brothers 2010 season started like most serious sheep hunters seasons start…….at the end of the 2009 season. After arriving back at the air charters base of operations, I secured my date for the 2010 season. I was fortunate enough to know that my work schedule would not allow me to be able to hunt the opener, and have to settle for a week after. This would be the first time hunting this particular area that I would not be in for the opener, but unfortunately work has to come first to pay for all the hunts I love to do.
August 2010 arrived. Months of preparation, and literally days and days at the reloading bench/shooting range/gym and my brother and I were as ready as we possibly could be for this year’s Brooks Range sheep hunt. On August 15th, my air charter service was calling in on my cell phone. That is not a good sign I thought. I answered and Bob asked me, “Steve, do you have an issue showing up about 3 hrs early for your flight tomorrow”? “ Not a problem” I said. As long as your ready, leaving early is the best news you can hear from your air charter service for something you’ve looked forward to for the last 348 days!
The load up and flight was nothing out of the ordinary. The weather was great. In the distance I could see the familiar site of the strip I had been using for the 2007 and 2009 seasons. Only one issue, from 4 miles out, I could count 7 super cubs/cessna’s parked just off the strip! A little to much sheep hunting company for my taste. My brother and I decided to go to our backup area. It costed us an extra $200 in air time, but that is the way it is. I told the pilot, just as we were starting to circle the strip, and we were off to the next drainage. I always have three different areas (within a half hours flight) we could hunt for situations like what we were experiencing. I was able to get to the maps of the new hunting area so I could get some air recon of the new area on the way in.
We did not see a lot of sheep on the way in, but that did not discourage us, the strip was void of any airplanes. We landed, unloaded our gear, and set up our base camp. As quick as we unloaded and set up base camp, we were packed up and heading up river (the opposite direction of how we came into this new area) with our gear for a 10 day hunt. Our plan was to go up river about 16 miles right in-between the strip we landed on and a second cub strip about 28 miles upriver. We made it about 8 miles upriver and decided to spike out for the night. While doing some glassing we spotted numerous groups of ewes and lambs and a couple groups of rams about 4 miles upriver in the direction we were heading.
The morning could not come quick enough; we busted down spike camp and were off again heading upriver. About a mile out from where we saw our first group of rams the night before, we noticed a super cub coming up the valley. Great! Just what we need, then a second cub , and then a third. They flew right over us, and then started doing circles over the drainage we planned to hunt. The good news, if they planned to hunt this area, they were at least 1 full days hike away (if they were in decent shape, most likely 2 days…..we were hoping anyway). Within about an hour of the cubs circling the area we planned to hunt, we arrived and were glassing it just below it on the opposite side of the river.
Before we could even set up our spike camp, I spotted two legal rams. Both equal in size, one just having a little larger argali flare to his tips. Then another group of 7 rams, with 3 being legal. These two groups were about a mile apart. Our rule when hunting has always been, “who spots them gets to shot them”, so I had first opportunity. Haven taken 5 rams since the 2001 season, I decided to let my brother have first chance at these rams. At first site my brother was ready to go after these rams right then. I said “Gary, this is day one, are you sure you want to end it this soon”, he said hell yeah, that ram is defiantly bigger then my 2007 ram”. We decided to go after the first two rams we saw together. We were about 1.5 miles from them and had a river crossing to deal with so we stashed our gear, and headed after them.
The river crossing was a little dicey, but we made it across without a hitch. The stalk in took a lot longer than we thought, due to the numerous other groups of rams we spotted after crossing the river and heading up the hill after our two rams. We had to evaluate every one of the 25 plus rams we saw before going after our first two rams. We were finally at the 400 yard mark….. our shooting comfort zone on day one. I set up my spotting scope, and my brother got a solid rest. He lasered ranged them at 408 yards, set his BDC for 375 yards (it would compensate for the slight up-hill angle) and waited for me to tell him which was the larger of the two rams.
I watched these rams for over 10 minutes before I was finally able to tell my brother which one to shoot (I never told my brother, but I never was able to 100% say which was the larger of the two). Judging rams over the years gets easiser with every ram you look at but judging just two rams of equal size is always the hardest for me to do. I knew he was well past full, and I figured in the 37-38” range. When the slight breeze eased off, I let Gary know to send it; just as I finished saying that, his rifle came to life. He hit him solid in the shoulder dropping him his tracks, but just as hard as he went down, he was back on his feet. Gary shot three more times, hitting him all three additional times.
Gary was the first up to his ram. The second ram stayed within 100 yards of his buddy, and my brother got some great photos of this second ram. I finally got up to Gary’s ram, wow! That is all that I could say, no ground shrinkage here, quite the opposite. I laid the ¼” steel tape on him…….40” even on both horns. 14.5” on the bases…..what a ram! If this ram was this big, the other ram would fit my bill for a day one ram. After looking at Gary’s digital photos of the second ram from 100 yards, I took off in the direction he went, but I was not able to locate him again. I did find 7 other legal rams in different areas of this new drainage I was looking in, but none were of the class of ram I wanted on day one. As darkness settled in, I decided to go help my brother cape and butcher his great ram. By 2:00 am we were off, heading back to our spike camp “heavy”. We finally got back to our spike camp, stashed the meat, set up our tents, and climbed into our bags just as the early sunrise was beginning to show which was about 4:00 am.
The next morning I was up and out scoring my brothers ram by 9:00 am. I roughed scored him at 167 BC. What a ram. Now it was my turn. From our spike camp, we had the best vantage point you could ask for from a camp for glassing distant rams. Not long, close to 15 rams were spotted from 1-5 miles away, numerous were legal rams. One ram in particular really interested me. He was by himself, high up on a rock pinnacle about 2.5 miles away. He was a massive bodied ram and I could tell both horns were broomed by the legal definition, but not your typical “broomed” look. I decided to get a closer look. We packed up, and headed after him.
Three hours later, we were about 900 yards from him, and he “joined” another group of 6 rams. I say “joined” but he never really looked like he was part of this group; he was just near them I guess. He was a monster of a ram. Of the 7 rams we were looking at, 3 were legal, and he was one of them. He was at least a third larger in body then the closest other ram. His horns were massive, I figured his left “broomed” horn was 41-42” and his broken back right horn was 37-38” and his tip on that side was as big around as my wrists. I figure in the low 14’s on his bases, which would put him in the mid 170’s BC. I was looking at a once in a lifetime Dall ram. In my years, I have taken a couple of really nice rams close to book, but have never reached that goal. This was him, but the problem I had was he was close to 900 yards away; 300 yards farther than I had shot my rifle at throughout the summer. I tried getting closer, but I only cut the distance to 671 yards; 71 yards farther than I would shoot. That 71 yards may as well been 5 miles away. I was stuck, no closer could I get, and light was fading fast!! We decided to spend the night on the mountain hoping the morning would bring him down off the rocky crags, and I could have a straight 498 yard shoot across this massive gnarly canyon.
Morning came quick but instead of sunlight welcoming us, a large fog bank came in obscuring our view. I was a nervous wreck waiting for breaks in the fog. I finally got one. All seven rams were there, but instead of coming down with the other 6 rams, he went up to the top, and I never saw him again that day. I was devastated. Oh well, I would just go into the next drainage he went in when the fog cleared.
Three days later, we had crystal blue skies!! My plan was to go into that drainage I last saw him going in. But I wanted to make sure no other rams came into this close drainage. I counted over 30 rams that day, numerous legal rams, but none like that ram from a few days earlier. With such good glassing weather, I decided to move up on a small knoll just out of spike camp and look into the closest drainage on our side of the river.
What a site!! I spotted another once in a lifetime ram. This one was really a beauty. Not as big bodied ram as the previous monster, but a double tipped converging horned ram. I estimated him at 43” with bases in the upper 13's, not the ram from three days ago, but still a great ram most likely another book ram. I immediately grabbed my gear, and went after him. He was only about 1.5 miles away; one drainage over. I figured I could be in shooting range within 2 hours. My brother decided to stay at base camp to finish fleshing his hide…..one less person for this ram to see…..it was definitely game time now. I had just 3 days left before we ran out of food.
I got to about 800 yards from this ram, and set my spotting scope up on him; he had not moved. He was everything I estimated him at from the spike camp. I watched him for a half hour trying to figure out the best way to get to him. I took my eyes off of him for 10 seconds, and when I came back to the scope, he was gone! The sub legal 7/8’s curl ram that was bedded right next to him was up and feeding. He must have just got up and went on the other side of the mountain close to where he was bedded. I made a plan to wait until the second ram followed the large ram and feed over, and I would B line straight up to where they were and make the shot. Bingo, the second ram appeared to follow suit. I was out of there heading to the shooting position.
I was in position at the top of the small peak were I last saw them about an hour later, but no rams were visible. I glassed the large non steep drainage for 5 hours, but never did find the two rams. Again……failure……I headed back to spike camp seriously beaten down mentally. What had I done wrong? Was it just not in the cards for me to take one of these two monster rams? Just after dark, I was back at my spike camp. My plan the next day was to go in after the first big ram I had seen 3 days earlier.
That would have to wait, a storm came in, wiping out glassing visibility. ****, crunch time now, only one day left. It rained all day, and the next, allowing me just a half a day to finish this hunt. Would it come down to this, I had pasted up well over 30+ legal rams, am I going home empty this year?
I decided to head up into the area my brother killed his ram on day one. I spotted a band of 24 rams in an upper hidden valley. Though only 3 were legal, I decided with time running short, I would end my hunt with the best of these three. I first saw them from about 850 yards out, and closed the distance by staying on the blind side of a peak between them and me. I peaked over the small rocky mountain face and had the majority of the rams right below and across from me. The largest of the rams I decided to take. I ranged him at 354 yards. I adjusted my BDC to 335 yards (again they were at a smaller downward angle) and touched one off. It slammed him hard, putting him down immediately. He managed to get back on his feet, and I fired once more breaking his back, and putting him down for good.
I collected my gear and got down to him. My 2010 sheep hunt was over. I had just taken my 6th 100_0056.jpgram in 9 hunting seasons ( I did not hunt the 2004 season). At first I was a little disappointed in this ram, he was the smallest ram I had every taken100_0156.jpg, I had passed up 15+ rams larger than this one, and to make things worse, I believe the ram that was with my brothers on day one, came out from above a rock slide I could not see after hearing my shooting.
Then I thought…. this is sheep hunting, I am very lucky to be hunting like I do, seeing rams like I did on this hunt. Bottom line, if I would have taken one of those little larger rams I passed up, I probably would not have seen that second once in a lifetime ram or the numbers of rams I did see. Sometimes I get too wrapped up in the quality of the ram, and not the quality of the hunt. I had the very best sheep hunt I had ever been on. I’d seen over 100 rams and at least 35 of those were legal. Now granted, some were the same sheep no doubt, but those were the numbers.
This ram has a small argali flare tip typical of the Brooks Range. He is 35” with 13.25” bases. After caping and butchering this ram, we packed him back to the spike camp and got a good nights sleep, because we would need it for the trip out. We were up early breaking down our spike camp and on the “trail” back to our main base camp with all of our meat and a little bit of our camping gear. Wouldn’t you know it, three small drainages down from our spike camp towards our base camp, there lies that monster double tipped ram with his 7/8 curl buddy. They were laying on a small outcropping of rocks almost completely inside of a cave, right in the middle of the tundra, about 500 yards from us. This would have been the easiest stock in the world; I could have killed him with my Hoyt bow. Oh well that is why my 2011 hunt is already planned. Hopefully he survives the winter and I will meet up with him next year.
We finally got back to camp, waited till the next day, and did a turn and burn to get the rest of our camp, horns and capes out. Nothing spectacular happened on the way back, and on, our scheduled air charter pickup day our ride home landed safely. We loaded up, and closed the books on the best Brooks Range sheep hunt I have done to date. 234 days and counting till 2011. I hope you enjoyed this story. I enjoyed the hunt immensely and it brought back great memories writing it.
For the gear junkies and gun guys out there (aren’t we all) this is mine and my brothers gear list of main hunting/survival items.
Custom built (by Weaver Rifles out of Peyton CO) Rem 700 Titanium actions (280 Ackley Improved and a 7mm STW (mine)), Lilja Barrels, High Tech stocks, Jewell triggers, Falcon ceramic coating. Leupold VXIII 2.5x8 scopes with custom bullet drop compensation elevation knobs tuned to our particular loads. The 280 AI is shooting 140gr Nosler Accubond at 3057fps and the 7 STW is shooting 160gr Accubonds at 3187 fps.
I do all the stock work and load development myself.
Swarovski 10x32 EL binos / Leica New Generation 10 x 42 binos
Swarovski 20-60x65 ST HD spotting Scope
Outdoorsman’s Tripod with pistol grip pan head
Mystery Range NICE Frame 5200 CI (older model) / 6500 CI back packs
Hilleberg Akto Tent / MSR Hubba HP Tent / Mt Hardware 3.1 Arch Trango tent (base camp)
Kenetrex / La Sportiva boots
Western Mountaineering Sleeping bags
I was hesitant about even writing this story concerning my 2010 hunt, or for that matter my other hunts since I have been a forum member I have been a member for almost 2 years, and read this site numerous times a day. I have seen many great stories and have enjoyed all of them (especially from the hardcore sheep hunters). That is until I see all the negative comments from the “cyberspace expert hunters” start rolling in. From comments about shooting to far, to their idea of laws they feel the author broke, ethics violations, etc. Yes I know some of this is constructive criticism, etc. As for me, save it, I didn’t break any laws, my ethics are my ethics and I don’t really care to read comments how you feel about them. I’m a hardcore sheep hunter and I don’t need any “negative” advice about sheep hunting, shooting, gear selection etc. Bottom line I just put this story out there to pass the winter hunting blues for folks out there including myself. It is sad that I even have to put this statement into this story, but I don’t want to read someone picking my story apart. Thanks for reading, take care……Steve