The hunt that many hunters dream about the most is a sheep hunt. The dream starts with a belief that if you apply long enough you will eventually draw a sheep tag. However, as the years roll by and you better understand the draw odds for sheep tags in the lower 48, reality begins to sink in that even after decades of building points the odds of drawing a sheep tag are still a long shot. At around age 50, another reality starts to sink in – sheep hunts are physically challenging, you are not 30 anymore, and if you are going to make this dream a reality, you better come up with a plan. That is just about where I was. I was 52 and had a lot of sheep points in several states, but deep down, I knew that it might not happen. If I really wanted to hunt sheep, I probably needed to make it happen.
It was May, and I knew there would be a few opportunities for cancellation Alaska Dall sheep hunts popping up over the next few weeks. I started responding to every cancellation notice I saw. I missed out on a couple opportunities, but I eventually connected with Riley Pitts of Big Game Backcountry Guides for an opening he had. In a brief conversation, Riley explained that he had a good sheep area on the north slope of the Brooks Range. It would be a true backpack hunt in very remote and wild country. It sounded like a great adventure. References checked out, and the dates were set for late August. I was going sheep hunting.
I ramped up my workouts, updated some of my gear, and headed to Fairbanks. Hunting in Alaska has it logistical challenges. I am going to skip all the fog and fast forward to day three when I actually started hunting.
It was late in the evening when the Super Cub dropped me off on a landing strip by the river. It was a very sophisticated landing strip that was identified only by a 20-inch length of orange marking tape tied to a bush. Jesse, my guide, was already there after having just guided another hunter to a grizzly bear. I set up my tent, had a Mountain House, and headed to bed.
The next morning, we packed what we needed for five days and started hiking up. It took all day to get to the top, and we made camp and did some glassing before turning in. The views were amazing, and we could see lambs and ewes in about every direction. There were several sheep hanging out about 400 yards above camp but no rams. We did see one young ram in the distance but nothing we were interested in.
The next morning, we packed it all up again and headed out. At the first glassing point, we saw several bands of sheep but only one small ram. As we were gathering our packs, Jesse took one last look down a finger drainage and immediately said, “Rams.” They were too far to tell, but he knew that two sheep by themselves that far back in the drainage had to be rams. A quick look with the spotting scope confirmed they were rams, but we needed to get a closer look to determine if they were even legal. We picked a route that would keep us from being spotted and headed that way. We cut the distance in half and found a water source where we dumped our tents, sleeping bags, and unneeded gear before continuing the stalk. Before getting any closer, Jesse wanted to see if the rams had moved, so we scrambled up a point but could not locate them. I saw one of the rams come from behind some rocks, take a couple steps, and then bed down on the edge of the cliff overlooking the drainage. We could not find the other one, but we thought the one we were looking at was the better of the two. We were still a mile away, but the terrain was forcing us to expose ourselves for brief periods of time and the ram had a great view of everything from his bed. We did not know where the second set of eyes was. Luckily, we were able to get through the exposures without being detected and crawled to the ledge on the opposite side of the drainage from the ram. We were 540 yards away with no easy way to get closer.
Jesse spent the next hour scoping the ram, counting rings, and making triple sure he was a legal ram. I spent that hour with my gun across my pack, hoping for a green light. Eventually, the ram stood and it was decision time. Jesse said, “Shoot him,” and I waited for him to turn broadside. It was a long shot, but I had practiced out to 900 yards during the summer and knew that it was within my range. I hit him with three shots, and my dream became reality. I shot the ram at 6 p.m., and we got to him at 9 p.m. I could finally put my hands on him, and he was beautiful. Jesse got to him first and was just as excited as I was. He was a really nice ram, and we had been conservative in his size estimates.
At 11 p.m., we had the meat and cape packed and were headed back to where we had dropped the tents. It was a brutal hike in a light rain, and we arrived at camp at 4 a.m. Luckily, Jesse had the foresight for us to set up tents when we dropped them the day before as I was out of gas. The remainder of the day was spent eating, sleeping, stretching out leg cramps, and recovering for our pack out that would start the following morning.
The pack out was eight hours of rough sidehilling, but I was smiling the whole way, or at least for most of it. As if the pack was not heavy enough, the additional weight of the sheep was a killer but was worth every blister. We made it back to the landing strip at around 5 p.m. We spent the next few days waiting for the weather to clear so we could be flown out. There were a few caribou filtering by, and I managed to take a nice one right from camp. That was an unexpected bonus!
This was an outstanding hunt and a great adventure. I would highly recommend Riley and his team. Now if I can just draw a Rocky and a Desert tag, I will be set.
Alaska Caribou Hunting