Most hunters have a goal when looking for a trophy animal. Everyone would like a Boone and Crockett but that is hard to achieve. However, looking for a special trophy that might or might not make the record book is still a goal that is obtainable. Like a 10 foot brown bear, 9 inch Billy goat or a 60 inch moose. For Dall sheep it is a 40 incher. That was my goal after I took my second ram in 1967. I ended up taking three sheep 40” or better. Follow along on my quest for the magic 40 incher.
The 40 Incher
My Alaskan assignment came to an end in June, 1968. I wasn’t sure if I would ever get back to Alaska and after taking two Dall rams, I was really hooked on sheep hunting. I was truly bummed.
After a whirlwind year at two different duty stations (Charleston, SC and Hampton, VA) and a six month TDY to Okinawa, I was back in Alaska on a remote assignment to Galena AFB. I spent two months at Galena and then was assigned to King Salmon AFB. After a total of 10 months at the two remotes sites, I was re-assigned to Elmendorf AFB in Anchorage. My quest for a 40 inch ram was back on track.
I needed to find new hunting partners as Chuck and Gary had left Alaska. I had many friends who wanted to go but because of the ruggedness of sheep hunting I needed to be very selective. For my first hunt I asked Dennis Bush, Doug Simmons and Dick Millem. I decided we would hike from the Girdwood area as I had done on my last sheep hunt before I left Alaska. It was long and difficult to reach prime sheep country. We had to go over two different passes, a total of ten scale miles which included three miles or so of side-hilling in and three miles side-hilling out. These were three day hunts so it was critical to make it in in one day so we could have one day to hunt and hike out the last day.
Our first hunt in August 1970 went well and Dick took a ¾ curl ram which was legal in the 60’s and early 70’s. I had spotted two big rams high on the ridge running off of Organ Mountain but after taking Dick’s sheep we didn’t have time to go after them. I for sure would be coming back. I decided to come back on Labor Day weekend. This time I invited Russ Ludke and Dick Millem to come with me. We were able to get a half day off from work so we had more time to get in which would be a great help. After the long hike in that evening I spotted only one big ram on the ridge between Organ Mountain and Polar Bear Peak. The next morning the ram had moved closer to Polar Bear Peak so we devised a plan. We would cross the small valley between our camp and the ridge and climb through one of the chutes that lead to the top of the ridge. After a great deal of fingernail climbing in the chute, we made it. Once on the ridge we lost most of our cover. The ram had gotten up and was feeding on Polar Bear Peak. This allowed us to move closer for a shot. He spooked and started moving around the side of the peak. I got a shot off before he got out of sight and hit him too far back. He disappeared around the right side of Polar Bear. We slowly continued to work our way around the side of the mountain. All of a sudden the sheep stood up about 75 yards from me. This time he was broadsided looking straight at me. I made a good off-hand shot with my .300 Winchester Magnum and down the mountain he rolled. We couldn’t get down to him from where we were so we backed off a little and then went lower so we could work our way around the numerous cliffs to find the chute where he ended up. He had rolled about 1000 feet and had wedged himself between a snow slide and the rocks. After a dicey climb down, I had my big ram. Now to get him out of here. We were only about 2000 feet above Eagle River but we had to go back around the mountain and cross the small valley then climb back up to camp. It was going to be a difficult task. We took photos, loaded up and started climbing. It took us about four hours. When we got back to camp I taped him at 40 ¼”. The walk out was hard but what’s new, it’s a sheep hunt. I have never understood why we do it, but I still keep going back. Back home we scored him at 160 6/8 B&C. It met the minimum score for the old Boone and Crockett Record book but the minimum now had been raised to 170. He was still a super ram.
The following year we went back to the same area and my good friend Russ Langston took his heavy based 7/8 curl ram. We would hunt this area in future years coming up the Eagle River trail. The homesteaders now allowed us to drive through their land. This was not the case in the late 60’s and early 70’s. The new route cut the distance in half with no side-hilling.
I’m a guy who is always looking for a challenge especially when it comes to hunting. Now my challenge was to take the Pope & Young world record Dall ram with a bow. It would take a sheep just a little larger than the one I had just killed. I had been doing a lot of research on where the record book rams were coming from and had concluded the Wrangell Mountains would give me the best shot. I ended up killing the number three Pope and Young Record Book ram, which will be an upcoming story.
My next 40 incher came after I had taken two sheep with a bow. After I went four years without taking another sheep with my bow, it was time to switch back to gun hunting. It was 1977 and I decided to fly into the Wrangell’s for an opening day nine day hunt. I was joined by Ron Watts, Charles James and Chuck Berry. Chuck had also ended up back in Alaska for another tour of duty. Hunting the Wrangell area was way different than the area we hunted in the Chugach Mountains. We would be walking on a glacier going in. This can be very changeling at times with the moraine and ice itself. After the trip in, we camped right on the ice using a blue fly for our shelter. At this time we felt it was best to partnered up. Charles and I hunted on the left side of the glacier and Ron and Chuck hunted on the right side of the glacier. I had hunted this area on three previous hunts so I knew there were some really big rams on both sides.
It was August 9th the day before opening day of sheep season when we spotted four rams on what some call “Rotten Mountain”. There is always a cloud of dust around it from the numerous rock slides that occur almost daily. I had selected a chute to climb that seemed to be clear of most of the rock slides. We took sleeping bags, a space blank but no stove. Our “meals” consisted of nuts, cheese and sausage, granola and candy bars. Our plan was to stay only two days. Right after we got off of the glacier and were starting to climb we ran into two hunters. They were from Anchorage, a father with his teenage son. He was an optometrist, in fact he was my good friend and soon to be my partner, Brent Jones’ optometrist. I had met him at Brent’s taxidermy shop. They wanted to know our plan and said that they hadn’t seen any sheep on the mountain that we were going to climb. We knew there were sheep on the mountain but didn’t say anything. They could have also known and were trying to discourage us so they could hunt the area. I wasn’t sure but didn’t care at the time. We continued our climb. We were probably close to 2000 feet into the climb when I heard something sounding like a helicopter, whoop, whoop. I turned toward the glacier to look into the sky but saw nothing. As I turned around to look up where we were climbing I saw hundreds of rocks rolling down the mountain. Some as large as 55-gallon drums but most were the size of basketballs. I shouted, “Run”!!! It is hard to run in a rock slide on the side of the mountain with a 30 pound pack on your back but we did it. I got my back pressed against the side of a cliff that gave me some protection but Charles could only make it to a large rock that covered about half of his body. Because of the way the mountain was crowned I would say two-thirds of the rocks rolled on the opposite side of us. Many however, were rolling or flying by us. I saw a few just miss Charles by inches. None came that close to me. Because of the way we climbed with me in front and the others following if there had been a third or fourth person they wouldn’t have had time to make it to the side of the chute. They would have been seriously injured or possibly lost their life. Thank you Lord!! Saved again!! We waited until it was over and got into a smaller chute and climbed another 1000 feet. About fifteen feet from the top we found a place where we could sit. There was enough room to lean against our packs and sleep. Our legs would hang over the ledge at our knees. This would do for a night or so.
We ate a small supper and went to sleep. Needless to say, it wasn’t my best night of rest but I have had worse. We woke up around 5:00 AM and were eating a couple of granolas bars when all of a sudden we heard rifle shots. We grabbed our guns, jumped into the chute and headed to the top. As soon as we made it to the grass, two sheep were coming straight at us. I knew what all four sheep looked like and the two I wanted were not in view. I yelled for Charles to shoot the wide flared one. He did and it went down. I got up and moved further up the slope and could see the other two rams going up the mountain away from us. They were over a 1000 yards away and getting out of the country. We went down to recover Charles’ ram and could see the other two hunters down the mountain. The other hunters had been shooting from anywhere from 800 to 1000 yards and hadn’t hit a thing. They had the nerve to come up to see Charles’ ram. It was a beautiful 40” ram with wide flaring horns. They congratulated us and said they didn’t think they were shooting that far away and didn’t see us so they thought we didn’t make it up the chute. I figured they had seen the sheep before and decided to just shoot from the bottom. That had never been in my plan. I always climb above or come from the windward side.
After Charles and I took pictures and finished the skinning and quartering process we climbed back to where we were sleeping. I told Charles that I felt the other two rams would come back in a day or two since the whole back of the mountain was hanging glaciers. They had no other place to feed. We sat and spotted in a little grassy area right above the chute we were sleeping in. Day two and nothing showed up. It was pretty boring but the majestic surroundings kept us in awe. Day three was the same and we were now running short of food. I said, “Let’s stay one more day!”
We woke early and split our last granola bar. Charles said, “Are we going to leave today?” I told him we didn’t have a choice. We climbed out of the chute and started glassing. I looked down below us in the grass and saw a small white object. It was the back-side of a sheep. I kept my eyes glued to my binoculars. Then he raised his head. It was a ram but was not one of the “big boys”. I continued staring and another white object fed out from behind a little grass knoll. He raised his head and I said, “That’s him!” We were above him, the warming wind was starting to rise and I knew we had this guy. We waited as they continued to feed. The slope was very steep and there were cliffs below them so I wanted to wait to see if he would get into a better area. I didn’t want him to roll down the cliffs. They fed underneath us and then laid down in a rocky area. It was basically about a 100 yards straight down. After waiting for two hours for him to lay down I told Charles I was going to shoot. I was in the sitting position and rested my .300 Winchester between my knees while looking straight down. I slowly squeezed the trigger and saw the bullet explode in the rocks two inches over him. He jumped up as I slide another round into the chamber. The second shot drilled him in the spine going through his heart, instant death. I couldn’t believe I had waited all that time before I shot so he wouldn’t roll and then missed. Charles laughed. He was a beautiful eleven year old ram. A 40 incher scoring 167 B&C points. If I had shot him with a bow he would have been the new Pope & Young World Record. I think I could have done it. After pictures we loaded our packs and climbed up to get Charles’ sheep and our sleeping bags. With both packs heavily loaded we slowly made it back to our camp on the ice.
Chuck had taken a “broomed “ 36 incher while Charles and I were on the mountain. With two more days to hunt I went with Ron and he took a 36” ram also. What a fantastic hunt.
A couple years later, Ron and I came back to hunt this area. He took his first 40 incher, which green scored 170 B&C points. I took a 41 incher which was my longest horned ram but he only scored 165 B&C points. God is good. I have many more sheep hunting stories about the Chugach and Wrangell Mountains to come.