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Sheep hunt trifecta

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  • Sheep hunt trifecta

    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.Click image for larger version

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    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!Click image for larger version

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  • #2
    Sheep hunt, continued.

    Day 2 didn't find us in bed long. We were coffeed and oatmealed up by 6:30, on the trail as dawn began to break. We got across the creek this time, finding nothing else to keep us from our goal of sheep country. We worked our way up a low, tundra covered ridge, keeping below ridgeline to keep from alerting sheep to our presence. We didn't spot anything for the first couple hours. As we sidehilled our way up into rockier country, I suddenly spotted a sheep ahead! Ram! At only 150 yards, this was too easy! Alas, we couldn't make him past 7/8 curl. He drifted on, and we followed, with me cautioning Deadeye to be on the lookout, rams often traveled in groups. Sure enough, we watched him join up with another ram; broomed on one side, unsure on the other, but fairly thin and not full curl, that we could see. So we moved on.

    Soon we spotted more sheep, and quick dropped into a little hollow to watch them. By this time the wind was howling, and starting to spit a little rain. We rigged a little shelter with a tarp i carry, every once in a while peering around the side of our shelter to look at the sheep. Before long, what started as a group of 5, had grown to a group of 10! And 4 of them looked pretty good, with 2 looking really close! We never got a good defining look, and they eventually left. As soon as they went out of sight, we descended to the river bottom and continued upstream.. we never saw them again, seeing only the youngest ram in the group, barely past lambhood.

    We spotted the 1st two rams again, and got a better look at the second one. He was dark horned, pretty tight, and his broomed side came to his eye. Seeing it broomed pretty heavily, and less than 2 inches from the bottom of the bases, we decided he was worth a closer look! Wind was good, blowing straight down valley. We began our ascent, a small ridge blocking us from their view. Halfway up the 1/2 mile incline, a heavy gust hit us square in the back! Oh, no, I thought, we're busted. We continued our climb, and when we peaked the top of the ridge, we saw a big fat sheep backside fading into the distance, already 500 yards out and quickly gaining. Crud! But it wasn't the ram we wanted; it was the first, smaller one! Soon the other appeared; 400 yards out, stopped, and looking back at us. I had the scope as steady as I could in the now 30mph wind, and couldn't make the call. Left did not look full, it looked broken but not heavily, and I couldn't read age. We watched intently for nearly half an hour as they snaked their way out of the country, but just could not be sure either way. I couldn't declare him legal, but neither could I declare him sublegal. So down we climbed, and returned to spike about 11 pm for some hot Mt. House. Little did I know how much of that I was destined to consume over the next 40 days!

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    • #3
      Sheep hunt, continued

      Day 3 saw us in the field bright and early once more. Though disheartened the night before by being so close to decent rams without being able to shoot, Deadeye and I were in good spirits. We wanted a better look at the big group, and hoped to find another solo ram lurking about. This was Deadeye's second hunt in these parts; he had hunted the year prior, viewed over 130 sheep, stalked many rams, but could never find one that was for sure legal. Being so close to a good ram the night before had renewed the disappointment from the year before. All I could do was say that sheep hunting is like that; be patient, look them all over closely, and be ready for anything!

      We quickly spotted a ram, and it was the dark broomer from the night before. He was now in an inpenetrable shale and rock fortress. We watched him a bit, still couldn't be sure, and started forward again. Suddenly, less than a mile away, 10 sheep, and we were busted! We settled into the grass and moss, and decided to wait for them to leave before moving again. So the next 3 hours were spent glassing the solo ram, and the group of 10. I was 99% convinced that solo was broken or full on the left side, and 8 years old. Finally the group moved out, and as the leader crested the ridge behind them, he looked full on the left side! For about 2 seconds, I had a look that showed no hair, and seemed to be a full, 360, round circle. But we were a mile away, viewing at 60 power. There was one other ram in the group, spindly, but really nice flare, that looked full, too. Everyone went over the ridge or down to the creek, so it was time to move! We went to the head of the valley, viewed a spectacular gravel covered hanging glacier, but only saw a ewe and small ram; no sign of the big boys. Slightly dejected, already planning for tomorrow, we headed home. Suddenly, as we rounded a corner in the narrow creek bottom, there was a ram! Big! And barely 50 yards away! I said "Sheep! Big- Get your gun!" I put binos on him as he began bounding up the hillside, but never got a good, clean look. It was our broomer from earlier in the day and the night before, but I still needed a good look at the left, and he kept running left to right, with the right horn in view! Aargh!

      As he crested the bank, disappearing from view, I was just plain mad. Mad that I hadn't held us in check, sneaking around the corner more carefully. Mad at the missed chance. Just mad! Hoping to see him as he returned to his escape ground, I backed away from the hill, looking downstream the way I thought he'd go. I also dug out and readied my spotting scope. Suddenly, I saw him again! Straight away, and climbing! I shouted for Deadeye to come over and get setup, and I got down and tried to focus on him.. Finally, I got a good count on rings, and saw 8! Also, I saw the backside of the left horn had a big chunk missing; broken! That sealed it; I told Deadeye to shoot. He repeated for the 3rd time; "He's short!" "Shoot!" "He's Short!" "He's old enough, and broomed! Shoot!" He was 478 yards. I stated the range, Deadeye dialed it in, and death spoke again. The ram collapsed, sliding and rolling downhill as it attempted to rise. It finally got its legs straightened again, and once more the rifle found its mark. The ram slid and rolled a little further, disappearing in a little hollow in the gravel hillside.

      We shouted and back slapped a little, then packed up and began our climb. The client choked up a bit as the enormity of the moment struck him. He had been saving 26 years to go on this hunt. Financial setbacks and plain ol life kept delaying the opportunity. He had undergone disappointment after disappointment in his first Alaska hunt. Now he was fully redeemed, the other hunt a fading memory.

      Coming near where we'd seen the ram last, I looked for skid and roll marks to show he'd continued on after dropping out of sight. Seeing nothing conclusive, we kept climbing. Suddenly, there it was! Now the dread moment; was my eyesight true, were the rings I saw all true, and not a false ring amongst them? I quickly counted, and felt immediate relief and elation. 8! Not full, possibly double broom, but definitely 8! Full of character, the horns badly battered from fighting, nose torn from fighting or falling, this was just what DeadEye had always dreamed of! I couldn't be happier for him. That night we had heavy packs, and light hearts as we rolled into spike at 2 am. Click image for larger version

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      • #4
        Great stuph, keep it coming.
        il vaut mieux Ítre bon que la chance

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        • #5
          Sheep hunt, continued

          I apologize for the wordiness. At least there's some pics to skip to! And it'll be nice about mid January when sheep season is still 8 months away .

          The next few days were spent packing. First sheep, then caribou. And more caribou. One night spent in freezing misery, our sleeping bags 3 1/2 miles away in our other camp. 7 mile roundtrip every time, with a half dozen swiftwater crossings to make. Finally, Friday afternoon, day 6 of the hunt, we were at spike camp, loading up our packs for the final hike back. We had the antlers lashed to DeadEye's pack, and camp gear and the last two quarters of 'bou in my pack. I decided to brew up one last cup of coffee, and sit back and enjoy what had been a very productive, enjoyable home for us. After finishing up, I packed the jetboil and cups away, and shouldered my pack. Deadeye cast his eye around the valley, and suddenly asked, "What's that black spot up there?" as he looked toward the caribou kill site. "That would be a bear," I stated as I turned around. Sure enough, a little black bear nearly a mile away, standing in the bushes looking our direction! "Get your gun and binos!" I said. My binos were already packed, and his were close. Putting them to my face, I saw what appeared to be a very large, square head. Its a good one, I said. He asked if we should go for it. Seeing as it was the first bear we'd seen since day 1, and a dandy one at that, I told him it was a no brainer. "Let's go," I said. We grabbed guns and packs, and quickly headed toward the river. By this time the bear was striding quickly along the hillside, leaving the kill far behind. Not quite loping, but walking very quick. And he had a big, heavy body to go with the big square head!

          He went in and out of some alder choked, steep draws, and suddenly stopped to graze on some berries. We were able to set up with a good rest and a view of him clear of trees and brush, so DeadEye settled in. I had my rifle ready for backup if needed, and my rangefinder went to work. The nearest I could get to him was 398 yards, and he looked to be a ways further.. I guessed it at 475, and Deadeye dialed it in, then a pause, and BOOM! The bear crumpled, then began struggling to rise, flopping downhill every time he moved. I was staring through the binos at the bear, and saw DeadEye look away from the scope to me, grinning hugely. NOOOO! My inner voice screamed. "Stay on him!" I heard myself say. "But he's dead!" "No! He's still moving. Stay on him! Shoot again when I tell you!" (The bear was rolling down hill in berry patches and small scrub willow, with deep draws and hollows choked with taller alder and willow all around. One quick lunge could make him nearly impossible to find.) Deadeye put his eye back to the scope, and soon the bear was able to stand again, facing the opposite direction. Adjust to 425- he's about 50 yards closer, I said. Then, "Shoot!" And in nearly the same instant, the dealer of death spoke again. The bear collapsed again, this time for good; he rolled a couple times, then slowly toppled over out of sight behind a small hummock. High fives, and congratulations on excellent shooting and his first black bear, then we began to gather our gear for the climb. We needed the boots to cross, and they were left behind at the last downstream crossing. The client went for those, and I went back to camp for my pack. Took the meat out and put it in my tent to keep flies off it, threw in raingear and an extra shirt, and back to the river. We soon met, and began the climb. After some searching , we located our landmark, and shortly after, the bear! The apparently big head was a big head, and belonged to a nice bear! Click image for larger version

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          We tried packing the bear and final caribou load home, but it proved to be too much. We left the 'bou rack behind, stashed a half mile downstream of spike camp, and continued to base. We finished our pack the following day, with some tailwinds that would spin you around if you tried to walk into them. We saw another, much taller, wider caribou near base camp, but with no one to shoot it, just enjoyed watching it a while. Settled into camp Saturday night, day 7, to await extraction on day 10.

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          • #6
            Click image for larger version

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            The trifecta, back at base camp.
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            A trooper landed at camp, checked our papers, made sure we had all the meat, aged the sheep, then sealed it in the field for us! I asked about the left horn, if he would consider it broken, and he said absolutely not. It makes me wonder when exactly does a broken horn become broken; where is the line?

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            • #7
              final photos

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              A couple more photos of the sheep's left horn. Can see that it is missing some of the tip, just can't tell how much. As it is so close to full curl on that side, It is hard for me to believe that had the missing tip still been there, it would still not have made full. So I'm left to wonder; what exactly constitutes a broken horn?

              It didn't matter on this ram, as it was also 8 years old. But it really brought home again to me how amazingly difficult it can be to make the call in the field on a ram that is legal, but just legal. We stalked this ram once, viewed him in 4 different locations, mostly at distances of 500 yards or greater, but briefly at 75-200 yards, for over 4 hours total, and couldn't make the call until the final seconds. But I am so glad we made that call!

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              • #8
                Well done to the guide and good shooting by the hunter:topjob:
                il vaut mieux Ítre bon que la chance

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                • #9
                  Great hunt, great write up. Eager to hear about the rest of your trip.

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                  • #10
                    Positively amazing.

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                    • #11
                      Very well written!!!
                      Many thanks for taking the time to write it.
                      Really looking forward TO THE REST OF THE STORIES
                      Vance in AK.

                      Matthew 6:33
                      "But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you."

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                      • #12
                        Looks like you had a great hunt. I think my feet have been on the ground there. Looks like "Bucks" country?

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                        • #13
                          Are you still taking photos on film?

                          Also, how did the rest of your hunts go?

                          I loved reading along. Sounds like a great hunt and better shooting from a client than I usually see/hear about.


                          Sent from my iPhone using Tapatalk

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                          • #14
                            Wow! Thanks for sharing.

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                            • #15
                              Originally posted by AK flyster View Post
                              Are you still taking photos on film?

                              Also, how did the rest of your hunts go?

                              I loved reading along. Sounds like a great hunt and better shooting from a client than I usually see/hear about.


                              Sent from my iPhone using Tapatalk
                              I was all hooked up digitally for the hunt; till a bit of moisture and cold interfered. pics are from the client who was old school with 35mm. Rest of the story coming when the pix get here. tx for the input, all!

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