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North Country Obsession

December 2021
Story by Clint Baker
State: Alaska
Species: Sheep - Dall

In 2018, I went on my first remote, fly-in hunting trip in Northwestern British Columbia. I convinced my wife that going to Canada would be my retirement gift and a “once-in-a-lifetime” hunt. She didn’t seem too surprised when my obsession with remote hunting lead me back to Canada the following year. Both of those hunts were awesome adventures with excellent outfitters. I got a wolf, Mountain caribou, moose, and mountain goat. It was during my first Canadian hunt that I started dreaming about a Dall sheep.
I decided to hunt Dall in 2020, and it was time to start planning. Do I hunt in the Yukon, NWT, or Alaska? Should I use horses or only backpacks, and which outfitter would be the best fit? I originally planned to hunt in the Yukon, but that hit a snag. I then decided to hunt in Alaska, and I was grateful for that decision. As it turned out, Covid struck and Canada shut down its borders to USA hunters.
I liked the idea of a backpacking adventure because I enjoy hiking and hunting the mountains at home in Nevada. The mental roadblock for me was knowing I couldn’t handle a 60-80 lb. pack every day. This led me to Ron Lambert. He’s a small outfitter that uses horses to access sheep country in the central Alaska Range. By the time I decided to go with him, both of his 2020 hunts were booked, so Ron came up with a plan to fit me in between the other two hunts. I was set to start my hunt five days after the first hunter started, allowing me 16 days to find a ram. My guide and I could use the horses as long as one of the other two hunters wasn’t using them. I wasn’t thrilled to be the “backup hunter,” but it seemed like a workable plan with some extra time built in.
A month before my hunt, Ron called, telling me that his guide had a terrible accident and his recovery could take months. He asked if I could rebook for next year, but I already had another hunt scheduled for that time. I’d been training hard and really wanted to go, so I asked if he could come up with another guide. He agreed to try. The next week, he called, telling me that he had found a registered guide but that he didn’t have sheep experience. I accepted that, and the hunt was back on.
After multiple Covid travel and testing policy changes and two flight rebookings, I arrived in Alaska three days early on August 9th. I met my guide, Davy, as we were headed to Wright Airfield to take off in our bush plane. We had to wait a couple hours, allowing a storm to pass over, and then we flew for about an hour in and out of storm clouds. I got a chuckle from seeing a rag tied below the windshield to keep water from dripping on the instrument panel. I could hardly believe I was finally on my way to hunt camp! As we were landing, the pilot pointed out the remains of a plane crash just past the end of the gravel runway. The old wreckage was a reminder that things don’t always work out.
I’d flown into base camp early and had a couple days to hang out before I could hunt. I passed the time picking blueberries, watching caribou pass by camp, and watching moose feeding in the willows.
Six days had passed since I’d left home, and it was finally my time to hunt. The first hunter was still looking for a legal ram, so no horses for me. Davy and I set off on foot. We hiked the mountain behind camp and glassed a remote drainage. We saw about 15 ewes and lambs but no rams. I really think the outfitter thought I would have the horses available by now because he didn’t have the needed gear to spend the night out, so we hiked back to base camp every night.
The next couple days were more of the same – amazing scenery, glacier stream crossings, and over 10 miles per day of hiking with a healthy dose of vertical ascent. We glassed up a few more sheep but no rams.
I woke up on the fourth day of hunting very stiff and sore. I took some meds and ate breakfast and then decided we would take it a little easier that day. Our destination was a small plateau four to five miles away that Davy had been to earlier while assisting the first hunter. We fought through willows and brush before reaching a glacier drainage and then hiked up it for a couple hours. We were set up before noon and figured we would glass until 7:00 or so, giving us plenty of time to reach camp before it got dark around 10:30. We hadn’t been there long when I spotted two bedded sheep over two miles away on a jagged ridge. They looked to be rams with no decent way to approach without getting busted. We came up with a plan to get closer without being seen and then headed out, covering about half a mile before running into the first deep glacier drainage. We set up my spotter again and took some pics with my Phone Skope and enlarged them. We confirmed that they were rams, and the top one had horns going all the way around and into the sky. We were pumped to finally find a ram and that he looked like a “no brainer!”
It took about four hours to reach the mountaintop that was directly across from him. During the last hour, we had rain, sleet, and hail as we zig-zagged our way up a mountain of loose shale and glacial silt. We’d take two steps forward and slide back one. We reached the top and snuck a peek from around a rock outcropping while trying not to fall off the cliff. We had to see if he was still there and check the distance. The larger ram had moved to a new grassier ledge just above his first bed. Davy called out 404 yards and legal without a doubt. I laid my pack on a tall rock and patted it down firmly, then settled in with my right foot hanging off the cliff edge. I wasn’t thrilled with an almost straight-on bedded shot, but I thought if he stood up, he would take two steps and be gone forever. My scope was steady, so I felt confident about making the shot. When I squeezed the trigger, he jumped up, stumbled, and fell out of sight behind the cliff. Davy yelled, “He’s down!” I really wanted to have his level of excitement, but I didn’t see him fall and wasn’t ready to celebrate yet.
We took a few minutes to relax and admire the scenery before gathering up our packs and picking our way through the loose boulders on top of the ridge. At one point, I found myself clinging to the side of the mountain when a rock the size of a refrigerator came out from under my feet and crashed all the way to the bottom. I was able to grab some rocks and brush and pull myself back up to fairly solid ground. Davy was out of sight and thought it was me taking a fall, so I yelled that I was alright. We continued on and found a land bridge that led to the ridge where the two rams had been.
We located my ram where he had stopped tumbling about 200 yards from the top with a horn wedged under some rocks. It had been well over an hour since I took the shot and all of the emotion finally hit me. We had spent the last five hours navigating some of the gnarliest terrain I’d ever hunted, all while dealing with rain, snow, and hail. Now I stood in awe admiring this beautiful ram with the glacier-covered mountains as a backdrop. We said a prayer, thanking God for this amazing experience and for this ram.
The sun was setting as we headed off on a 10-hour pack out, covering the nine miles back to camp. We made countless drainage and river crossings and stopped once for a warming fire. Our packs were heavy, but the smiles seemed to lighten the load. I’m very grateful for Davy’s positive attitude and strong back.
All I ever wanted from this hunt was a fun adventure and a legal ram. Our butt-kicker stalk along with this amazing ram far exceeded any expectations! Alaska Fish and Game aged him at 10 years old and 38 2/8".