Of Brothers and Rams...



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  • Of Brothers and Rams...

    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.

    A giant pad of green moss, the only patch we saw. It seemed out of place.

    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!

    What we had to come down with Mitch and Cody's rams.

  • #2
    After getting some photos, we took care of both animals and proceeded to pack them off the mountain and descend the 2000 feet back to camp. The way down was treacherous and slow going but we finally made it back to camp at about 9am. We began trimming and cleaning meat, washing each piece off in the clear running stream. The meat then went into new game bags and then hung from a tripod we made and shaded by the willow trees. After this was all done and things pretty much taken care of, it was late afternoon. We took a slab of the ribs from one of the sheep and a piece of back strap and seasoned them and put them on a spit over the fire. Mitch and Cody were about to experience sheep ribs over a campfire! They turned out great and were devoured quickly.

    With that, we'd been up for almost 48 hours with no sleep. I was nearly falling asleep on my feet and I crashed in my tent, thoroughly exhausted. The next morning we were to try and find me a sheep to complete our endeavor.

    We started out in the box canyon where we'd seen one of the big rams disappear into the day before. Slowly working our way back into the canyon, we began spotting sheep but not what we were looking for. One spot on the mountain, Mitch stumbled upon a gem that he said was quartz crystal. We began finding them here and there. Very interesting find and something I'd never stumbled upon.

    We would later climb up the left side of the canyon wall in the back into the next canyon.

    Continuing on, we hit the back of the drainage and decided we needed to see what was in the next drainage over. We decided that we needed to go up to the top and peer over to see what was hidden in the back of the next canyon. The going was slow and difficult. Solid footing soon turned to loose gravel. After a good long while, we came to a saddle and peeked into a hidden bowl only to find it vacant. Taking time to rest, eat a snack and cool down we made our last push upwards. The rock hand holds were loose and would break away easily. One more step, one more step... Finally reaching the top of the knife-backed ridge gave us a commanding view. We spotted two sheep, both sub-legal rams. We found other perches to give us different looks into the valley below. But this canyon would not give up a legal ram.

    We descended the other side, skiing down the gravel slope with ease. The three of us strolled into camp at about 8:30pm and cooked more sheep ribs and heart, along with some instant mashed potatoes. We deliberated as to what we should do. Two days into the season and multiple days ahead of us just to get out, we felt that time was somewhat limited. Going up river didn't seem to be an option as it seemed to be more barren of sheep. The drainage the guide was in is what we really wanted to check out but we felt that wouldn't be a very ethical thing to do. I know I wouldn't appreciate someone coming in on me, knowing I was already hunting an area. So we decided to push down river to the next drainage and try it out.

    With heavy packs, we made one good push and found a stand of willows next to the creek that drained the watershed we were wanting to look into. We dropped our packs and began hanging our meat back up and setting up camp, all the while the mosquitos trying to drain us dry.

    With camp setup, and it being about 3pm, we headed up into the canyon, high on the sidewall to peek back into the krags and valleys. We saw sheep, but they were all ewes and lambs. We also watched a herd of caribou come over the ridge in front of us and feed down into a bowl.

    Greatly discouraged, we sat eating some snacks, wondering how there could be so much amazing sheep habitat and so few sheep. Although I knew the answer, it was just hard to fathom and to accept. Two successive harsh winters that went on for too long into what should have been spring and the heavy population of wolves and bears, have wreaked havoc on the sheep populations.

    That night, we contemplated on what we should do. We were now sitting at the eleven mile mark and figured we should push down to the eight mile drainage. We took the meat and part of camp with the intention of coming back for the rest. We reached our next campsite only to see two hunters and there camp a few hundred yards away. Now what? We thought. Let's go talk to them I guess?

    The two hunters were good guys and they'd come in another way than we did and were dropped off by a supercub. We talked for a while and they hadn't seen anything at all. They had plans to head up the drainage we were going into and were way ahead of us since we had to go back and get the rest of our gear. With that, we felt that we were pretty much hosed as far as what we had left to hunt. The sheep habitat below that point was not good and we hadn't even seen a sheep between there and the airstrip.

    Feeling that we were pretty much done hunting, we continued down river and found a place to camp at about the six mile mark. Mitch and Cody went back for the rest of camp and their horns, while I set things up and took care of meat. They were gone almost five hours and I was glad to see them come strolling down the river bed.

    They were beat and Cody had some blisters forming on his feet. We felt good about our position which left us one day away from the airstrip. By now we'd eaten through a good majority of our food and with the meat hanging for a few days now, it had even lightened up a bit as it was drying out and losing a little water weight. After Mitch and Cody's shuttle trip, they decided basically that we needed to load everything up and make one final push to the airstrip instead of doing two trips, which would triple the mileage.

    The next morning we loaded it all up and began the hike, it really didn't feel too bad and by this point in the journey, it was all flat river bed walking. We had a number of stream crossings but were still able to cover ground pretty quickly. At about 11:30, we stopped for a good long break. Cody's feet were really starting to give him problems and we spotted a ram that looked promising but I didn't think he'd be legal. He was close but no matter how much I wanted him to be, he just wasn't there.

    I tried numerous times to get a hold of the air service with the satellite phone, hoping to get a flight out the next day. Finally I got through and they said they could get us out today if we wanted. I said, we're not quite at the airstrip yet and he said that if we could get there in two hours there'd be a plane waiting for us. I checked with the guys and they said lets go for it. We had about 2-2.5 miles to cover and that sounds easy, but even walking on a river bed and crossing the river back and forth, with heavy packs on, it's not as easy as it sounds! To stay motivated, we talked about what we were going to eat when we got into town and what we were craving.

    As we neared the strip, we had to ascend up out of the river bottom then traverse a rock slide and finish it off with a quarter mile slog through wet tundra. With a quarter mile left, the airplane flew over and we hustled to get there so the pilot didn't have to wait long. We reached the plane and dropped everything in a heap. We'd done it! We'd walked 14 miles into the wilderness, found two great dall sheep and packed all our gear and the meat all the way back out.

    The flight out was bittersweet, at least for me. It was sweet in the fact of what we'd accomplished, the time I got to spend with Mitch and Cody was priceless. Seeing the effect that the Brooks Range had on them was a great feeling. It was tough leaving this great place not knowing if I'd ever return and also leaving without a ram. In the end, I wouldn't change anything we did. I'm thoroughly satisfied with the outcome of our hunt. It's one that we'll all three remember forever.

    On a side note... We weighed our packs when we got home, rather the contents, to figure out what we packed out of there. My pack came in at 73 lbs. Cody's came in between 80-85 lbs and Mitch's was right up at 100 lbs. This is what our packs weighed for the last days push to the airstrip.
    Cody's bad foot. Unsure if he broke his 2nd toe.


    • #3
      What a great story and photos! Thanks for sharing! I have three sons and I hope someday they manage to have an adventure like this.

      Alaska just blows my mind, sometimes. Beautiful, magnificent, dangerous, inspiring...


      oh and I love your choice of camp shoes!
      Taxidermy IS art!

      Your mount is more than a trophy, it's a memory. Relive The Memory!


      • #4
        Awesome post. Thanks for the great write up and pics. I have two brothers and I would love to do a hunt like this. Unfortunately, I doubt it will ever happen. You are lucky to have family who can do this with you!!!


        • #5
          Fantastic story and great photos! Thanks for sharing, that sounds like a great hunt! Hopefully someday the three of you will be able to do it again!


          • #6
            Tremendous write up! Congratulations on a pair of fine looking sheep!


            • #7
              Looks like a great hunt. Congratulations. My friend says it doesn't look like the ******* river has changed much and great the hear all the old rams aren"t dead.


              • #8
                Awesome! Great post, incredible pics, making memories for sure! Congrats to all.


                • #9
                  Originally posted by wesleyM1990 View Post
                  Looks like a great hunt. Congratulations. My friend says it doesn't look like the ******* river has changed much and great the hear all the old rams aren"t dead.
                  They may not all be dead but they are extremely few and far between. We just happened to find a very small pocket.


                  • #10
                    Congrat's to the Three of you on a great trip. Thanks for posting all the pic's . You will look back over them for decades and remember every step. Sad to hear the Sheep are in bad shape up there. The Brooks holds a special place in my heart.


                    • #11
                      awesome trip i am sure...congrats
                      President of Alaska Waterfowl Assoc.
                      [email protected]
                      And God said, let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth.


                      • #12
                        Thanks for the stories and the great pictures. You and your brothers put in the hard work and it paid off. I am sure you received a lot of satisfaction seeing them harvest a sheep. Would have been super to get yours also, but still a super trip and hunt for all.

                        Thanks again


                        • #13
                          Simply awesome. Thanks for sharring! Maybe a follow write up about gear. What worked and what didn't..


                          • #14
                            Man, thxs for the great story and the awesome photo's. Congrats on the beautiful rams!


                            • #15
                              Gear review, ok.

                              My highlight was my new Meindle Denali boots. Ran with them this year and was beyond impressed. Good boot for the mountains, they held up great and my feet didn't sweat hardly at all, compared with other boots I've used in the passed. I bought the cork soles to go with them and was very happy.

                              Took a Rab sil tarp with me this year and for 14 oz, it was a great investment.

                              My brothers Kuiu ultra gets a crap review, terrible terrible pack. It ended up getting the job done but the whole design is crap, the load sling is a pain in the rear and the buckles are difficult to use. Not sure why they didn't just use the standard clip and buckle? The waist strap buckle broke on the last day. The load carries around your butt and there's no way that we could find to get it up where it needed to be. He'd tried the pack before the trip and felt it would work but wasn't ready to put the loads in it we were dealing with.

                              My other brother's Arcteryx Altra however gets rave reviews from us. That pack was amazing and packed a load better than a Barney's frame in my opinion. Solid, durable pack. Coming in at 4 lbs vs my barney's at 9 gave me serious pause as to the future of using my Barney's frame.

                              Nothing else off the top of my head that isn't real common. I'll answer any questions anyone has about gear we used.


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