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Heart vs Addiction

December 2023
Story by Will Berry
State: Alaska
Species: Sheep - Dall

Hunting. Many call it an addiction. Addiction is defined as a habit, dependence, craving, obsession. True, but for some, it runs in our blood which pumps straight through our hearts. Heart is defined as emotion, nature, spirit, compassion, soul.

I consider myself a successful hunter even on adventures that end without a harvest. Physical training, marksmanship practice, a gear “nut,” scouting, maps, days in the field, and against better judgement, thousands of dollars. All of this to be left empty-handed, more often than not, physically drained, and sometimes injured, meatless, and questioned by outsiders. Why do you do it? Is it because I’m addicted, or is it in my heart?

On our final day of the 2021 season, as we sat on our last mountaintop, we had one more drainage to look through. “This is gonna be the spot, Mike. The ram we are looking for will be there!” I proclaimed.

Mike Gray, my guide, responded with, “It’s always helpful to have a client with a positive mindset.” It was with his comment that I realized the difference between a hunting addiction and a hunting heart.

The adventure is grueling. It’s so hard, only other sheep hunters can relate. Rain, snow, cold rivers, wet feet, bruised heel bones, sleepless nights, limited calories, numb and cut up fingers. These were the daily warmups for a steep climb up a new mountain, usually starting out with a river crossing, chest-high wet grass, and thick alders. Now it was time to cross the rolling tundra, deceivingly unlevel ground, that is. Then it was up a mountainside that laughed at black diamond ski slopes, sprinkled with rocks of various sizes. It was so steep each step felt like it was ripping my Achilles tendons from the bone. Wait! Stop! It was raining now. We put on our rain gear again.
At the top of each climb, you arrive dripping in sweat, soaking wet from the inside and out. You’re hot, but the wind is blowing and temperatures have dropped. Soon, you will be freezing. After adding layers, it’s time to glass. You see lambs and ewes. Then, high in the rocks, a ram’s white coat sticks out in your binoculars. You break out the spotter. In the back of your mind, you just finished a 2,000- foot climb and if this ram is legal, you’re going up again, this time in the cliffs.

“It has good mass, but I just can’t make it legal,” Mike proclaimed time and time again throughout our hunt.
“It’s okay, we’ll find one,” I’d reply with 100% honesty and belief. Every day was day one to me. Each day was the start of the adventure, and our luck was right around the corner.

We ultimately spent 13 days of the 2021 season in the Chugach Mountains of Alaska chasing sheep, hiking over 70 miles, never camping in the same spot, full pack up and down every mountain. We memorized the unit’s younger rams by size, shape, and location, never locating a legal ram. At the end, Dan Montgomery of Alaska Trophy Adventures shook our hands and said in his 25+ years in the Chugach he was not sure if anyone had covered as much ground as we did. In the end, I walked out with a smile on my face and I would do it all again. Successful in my book!

With addiction usually comes highs and lows. A harvest puts us on cloud 9. We have a new mount to show off, a story to tell the boys, and meat in the freezer. There’s not much better! Yet, then there’s a harvestless hunt, disappointment, excuses, or even quitting. Both situations drive us back to the addiction. Let’s be clear, if the addiction is hunting, nothing is wrong with it (unless we ask our wives). However, the day you never let the lows of your hunt change your mindset will be the day you realize hunting is in your heart!

Fortunately, I’m a firm believer in the Lord’s plan, and to me, it was just a matter of patience and positive attitude. Call it lucky, playing the odds, or unbelievable, somehow divine intervention stepped up in 2023 when I drew the same third season Chugach unit. At this point, my wife is numb to “hunt-of-a-lifetime tags,” so I’ll have to convince her in other ways to be happy for me if I ever draw another one.

Hunting with Alaska Trophy Adventures in 2023, I was excited when Dan Montgomery placed me with Mike once again. Additionally, we were joined by Hank Frank. Both are experienced sheep guides who have helped many governor’s tag hunters find success. Both are also true cowboys whom I consider friends.

From my 2021 hunt, I professed my heart toward hunting and why I love the mystery, challenge, and mystique thereof, harvest or not. With that being said, from the February 2023 draw results, I knew in my heart things would be different. It was up to me to be prepared and keep positive no matter if I was wet, cold, or tired. In the end, we hiked 130+ miles and climbed over 46,000 feet of elevation gain/loss over the 2021 and 2023 hunts, ultimately to harvest a beautiful 10-year-old ram on the eighth day of the 2023 adventure. It then took two and a half days to pack out. Over the moon with this result, it brings me back to my final reflections:

In 2021, I had one of the best hunts of my life and never drew the bow or clicked off the safety. To Mike and Frank’s credit, they helped me realize the value of staying positive no matter what.

Positivity helps us as the hunter and anyone else along for the ride. As a hunter, there are going to be trips without a harvest, but we experience Mother Nature in ways many never get to see. We are out of the office, no one is calling/texting, the kids aren’t screaming. The only stress you have is in our own minds, and I’ve learned to keep it out. Every day of our sheep hunt, we took one step at a time, going through the various veins of our terrain, pumping harder to find our prey. Just like you would cover any terrain for the ones you love, you fight for things that are in your heart.

A huge thanks to Dan Montgomery, Mike Gray, and Hank Frank of Alaska Trophy Adventures. They are first class and treated me with respect despite having oatmeal on my face or stepping in my own you know what. Furthermore, my wife is a saint, my soulmate, and true love who allows me to pursue this great heritage called hunting!