I have always loved caribou hunting. Those magnificent trophy bulls are some of the most regal looking antlered animals I have ever seen, each having their own unique set of antlers. Before I started guiding I had already honed my skills on judging trophy caribou, a must for a hunting guide.
Those of you who have been following my blog know that I have spent more nights out without my sleeping bag than most normal hunters. I know some of you are probably thinking, “Is this guy an idiot, or just plain stupid.” Well I guess at different times both might apply but the real reason is simply time and distance. Most of our mountain hunts were weekenders or three day hunts. It usually took one day to hike in and one day to hike out so that left one day to hunt. If you are going to be successful you have to go to where the animals are or in other words push the envelope of time and distance. Most of the nights out were after a successful harvest in dangerous terrain and traveling in the dark was not a wise choice. Traveling at night with flashlights or headlamps is no big deal on flat ground. I have gotten back after dark many times on caribou, moose and black and brown bear hunts.
Almost every year during the 70’s and the early 80’s I went mountain goat hunting the third weekend in September. For some reason that weekend was usually cool, crisp and invigorating. There were a few exceptions with brutal storms that I have already written about. We were never really prepared for those storms but we survived. Overall I went on as many goat hunts as sheep hunts but some of the sheep hunts in the later years were much longer in duration so I spent more days in the mountains chasing sheep.
Moose has never been my favorite animal to hunt. I’m not sure why because I love that time of the year. That’s when I think Alaska, with all the brilliant fall colors, is most beautiful. I have always said that moose are too much work after you pull the trigger. Why then do I love sheep hunting so much as I walk many more miles and beat myself up climbing mountains. Many hunters think sheep hunting is too much work. I guess we are all different. I know there are more moose hunters out there than sheep hunters. In the guide business more hunters are looking for moose hunts than sheep hunts. AAA Alaskan Outfitters took between ten and twelve moose hunters per year. The following clients are the ones that I personally guided.
It’s August 10, my birthday and the first day of sheep season. I’m at home and not in the mountains. There is something wrong with this picture. A number of events led up to my not celebrating my birthday sheep hunting. A road trip, a new job and a major operation were a few of the reasons that my sheep hunting partners couldn’t go with me. I’m kind of bummed, but the last four days presented constant rain in the area where we were to hunt. And, there is another low pressure system coming in so thinking about lying in the tent listening to the rain is not something any of us enjoy. There is always next year and even at my age I still have that desire to be in the mountains hunting sheep. However, I no longer have a burning desire to personally take a sheep. I just enjoy being in those majestic mountains with the special people in my life. Hopefully, next year.
The following story is about a truly tough sheep hunt with my good friend and hunting partner, Lyle Thompson. I know that at my age now I physically or mentally couldn’t repeat this particular hunt. I wouldn’t even want to try. I hope you enjoy “The Tonsina Glacier Area.”
Most of you that follow my blog know that for the past twelve years I have been hunting the Sitka black-tailed deer in hopes of taking a buck that scores high enough to make the Boone & Crockett Record Book. I have taken two super bucks that have come close but none have hit the mark.
I was sitting at my desk on a beautiful April day in Alaska when I heard the chime of a new Email coming in. It was Brent. He was at a sports show in Wisconsin. Matt Caldwell from Illinois had dropped by Brent’s booth. Matt is a good friend of ours who had hunted with AAA on eight different occasions. Brent had told Matt about a really big brown bear that one of his guides had taken a photo of through his spotting scope during the spring season in 2016. He also told him about a couple of openings he had for the late spring hunt at a discounted price and if Matt wanted to come on one of those he could hunt for that bear. Matt had already taken three brown bears including a 10’1” that I had guided him on in 1992 in our Cold Bay area. Matt asked, “Does Roger still have his guide license.” Brent wasn’t sure so that was why he had sent me the email. I emailed Brent saying that I had let my license lapse after I turned 70. The State has a special deal for retirees to keep their license in an “in-active status” for $200 a year but that was too expensive just to say you were a Master Guide but couldn’t guide. I told him to tell Matt that I would love to come down just to hang out if he wanted. Matt is just one of those guys that is fun to be around. I told Brent to give me a call once they decided.
Nathan my youngest grandchild of 7 grandchildren is quite a young man, a jokester and really fun to be around. While I think Nathan liked hunting in general he especially enjoyed our family hunting trips. Nathan and his big brother Jared have always had a special bond. On our hunting trips, Nathan was always by Jared’s side. After everyone left for collage, however, he was on his own. In 2013, (Nathan had just turned 14), he ended up taking a super 386 point B&C caribou and his first moose, a 46 incher. He was also drawn for a mountain goat permit in an area on the Kenai Peninsula. It was an area that I had hunted in the late 70’s. I was excited since I knew the area so well and was looking forward to hunting it again. I hoped Nathan was as excited as I was. We made plans for a mid to late September hunt.
All of my hunting friends as well as most of my sheep clients knew that August 10th, opening day of sheep season in Alaska, was my birthday. When I first arrived in Alaska and discovered this fact I thought that it was kind of cool but after sheep hunting became my obsession then I felt it was pretty special. During my first few years as a resident I only hunted sheep on the weekends so I really wasn’t in the mountains on my birthday, but in later years I would take leave and always celebrate my birthday in the majestic Alaska mountains chasing sheep.
Airplanes are a necessity for most guide businesses in Alaska. Whether it be getting clients into camp by using a flying service or as many guides do, use them to set-up and check on spike camps, fly-in supplies or for the numerous things needed done on a daily basis. You really get dependent on them. Operating in the bush in Alaska with the extreme weather conditions and bad or just short landing strips sooner or later you are going to have an accident. You may remember my first job as a guide working for Tony Lee in the story “I Can Do This” he had an accident on my first day. Another case in point is Gary Bishop, our chief pilot at the Dog Salmon River camp, was talking to one of our newly hired pilots about his personal safety record and the guy said with a cocky attitude, “I’ve never had an accident.” Gary said, “If you work off airport in the bush it’s just a matter of time.” The very next day the guy had an accident. AAA was no different than any other guide operation. On any given day during our season we would have two or three “super cubs” performing a wide variety of different tasks. We also had flying services flying our clients in or out of base camps so there was a wide range of exposure.