Becoming a Sheep Hunter

Over the years many friends and acquaintances told me that I should write a book.  My wife has always been my biggest supporter and was always telling me to write it down, keep a journal, but that didn’t happen.  The problem is, I’m a good story teller but not a good writer.  English and writing have never been strong points for me.  My oldest granddaughter Jaime Rapp, who has her Master’s Degree in 20th Century American Literature and has taught English at Cal State, volunteered to be my ghost writer.  Man, I should have taken her up on that offer.  I have written a few short stories for the Alaska Professional Hunter Association so maybe one of these days I’ll get that book written.  My grandson Jared told me after writing my blog for a few years I will have my book.  Again we will see.

This story has been laying on my desk for at least 15 years.  I occasionally worked on it and even told numerous people that I was working on a book.  This was to be my first story.  One of my decisions I had to make was whether to write about Alaska hunting in general or write a sheep hunting book.  I choose sheep hunting because sheep have always been my real passion.  Once I began guiding I wasn’t able to devote the time needed to become the sheep hunter that I wanted to be.

It’s crazy how sheep hunting can get into your blood.  It is the hardest hunt physically and because of the terrain which is beautiful, can also be the most dangerous.  I guess it’s the challenge!  It is hard for me to explain but every year when I start to see that little shade of red on the beautiful mountains and the weather starts to cool, my thoughts are always about those big rams. 

Becoming a Sheep Hunter is the first of at least six stories that will follow this next year.  Follow along as I climb after those beautiful Dall rams.

 

Becoming a Sheep Hunter

Alaska, land of the midnight sun, a game rich far away country with beautiful unforgiving mountains was only a dream to this West Virginia hillbilly.

This is what you see every morning when you wake up in Anchorage.  This was taken a few days ago.  The only real difference in the last 50 years is the number of homes on the mountains.

This is what you see every morning when you wake up in Anchorage.  This was taken a few days ago.  The only real difference in the last 50 years is the number of homes on the mountains.

The Air Force brought me to Anchorage, Alaska in February 1965.  I was excited about hunting in the “Great Land.”  The mountains were so close to Anchorage.  I loved that fact and love it even more now.  As I looked around at various sporting good stores, displays, wildlife museums and taxidermy shops I was intrigued by those white animals with long spiraled horns.  I knew I had to hunt the elusive Dall sheep. 

You must live in Alaska for 365 consecutive days to qualify as a resident.  That is still the requirement today.  By the time my first year of residency came to an end I had become good friends with Chuck Berry, a co-worker from Michigan who also loved to hunt.  Chuck had some Alaska hunting experience taking mountain goat, black bear, caribou and moose but no sheep. He had hunted sheep unsuccessfully in the past and needed a partner for the fall hunts.  In the spring we chased black bear, around the mountains so I felt more than ready to tackle sheep hunting.  I could hardly wait.  As a twenty-two year old military man working out often I thought I was in sheep shape.  Little did I know, but boy did I learn!  As I celebrated my 22nd birthday on August 10th opening day of sheep season, I never gave it a thought that both days were the same.  After hunting sheep for over 40 years, I have always thought it was a great way to celebrate my birthday climbing mountains in the most beautiful country God has created.  Being in the military money was always a problem so we hunted on the weekends going to wherever we could drive.  On August 12, 1966, my first sheep hunt, I killed a mountain goat.  It was a great hunt in the Kenai Mountains.  It was my first animal in Alaska.  I couldn’t believe I had taken a goat.  Many hunters hunt forever before they score on a goat.  We never even saw a sheep.  I now know that there where never any sheep where we were hunting. We had not done our research which I now know is one of the most important parts of a sheep hunt.  It doesn’t do you any good to hunt sheep in an area void of sheep.  I started my research by going to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game and talking to a biologist.  He showed me on a map a few places that he thought I might see sheep.  It was now my third weekend hunt for sheep.

My good hunting buddies from (L to R) Chuck Berry, Gary Wadkins and Phil Sun with my Billy and Phil's Nanny.  I hunted with Chuck and Gary many times but this was Phil's first and last hunt.  He said hunting wasn't for him.

My good hunting buddies from (L to R) Chuck Berry, Gary Wadkins and Phil Sun with my Billy and Phil's Nanny.  I hunted with Chuck and Gary many times but this was Phil's first and last hunt.  He said hunting wasn't for him.

We had selected an area in the Kenai Mountains.  We drove down late Friday evening after work and camped in Chuck’s truck camper along the Seward Highway.  Early Saturday morning we started walking carrying our camp on our backs.  It was a beautiful bluebird day. We had only spotted a few sheep, but no legal rams.  In the sixty’s a ¾ curl was legal and that was fine with me.  What a great day of hunting.  We had made camp close to a crystal clear stream.  Camp consisted of a piece of visquean (plastic) pulled over stacked rocks in the corners.  Rocks were used to anchor down the sides and one end.  This was pretty primitive by now-a-days standards.  I left our small shelter to get some water out of the creek for hot chocolate.  I just happened to look up on one of the side hills about a mile away and spotted a single sheep.  I used a small 18 power Mayflower spotting scope to decide if he was legal.  I knew he was at least that.  I was joined by Chuck who had seen me looking at the ram.  It was about eight p.m. on September 6th and the sun had gone behind the mountains so we knew we didn’t have a lot of light left.  Hopefully enough light for a quick stalk.  The rule was whoever spotted the animal had first shot but, I told Chuck since he hadn’t taken a sheep I would give him first shot. 

We used the wind, stayed out of sight and climbed above the ram.  It must have taken us about an hour and we were on the west side of the mountain so we were losing light.  The sheep was feeding somewhere below in some rock outcrops.  The way the mountain was rounded our spotting distance was very limited.  We initially stayed together but after some very intense looking we were afraid we would miss him so we split up.

My First Ram.  You can still see where we cut him in half.  Check out my rubber boots.

My First Ram.  You can still see where we cut him in half.  Check out my rubber boots.

As I dropped further over the mountain the rocks seem to be getting bigger.  Not only couldn’t I see over the rocks but the light continued to dim.  Crunch! Crunch! All of a sudden I heard rocks rolling below.  My heart was pounding and there he stood less than 20 yards away staring at me.  He was a full curl.  I froze.  What was I to do?  I raised my 300 Winchester Magnum.  I knew Chuck was somewhere around the mountain to my right.  My heart was now beating in my head.  The sheep dropped to my left and I fired.  At the same time I shouted, he is going downhill.  I started down and I heard Chuck shout you got him; he is rolling down the hill.  The 180 grain Winchester Power Point did the job.

As we made it further down the mountain the darker it became.  Being white made it easier to find him.  What a thrill, my first ram.  I was shaking like crazy.  Chuck was all smiles.  It was a beautiful full curl.  I couldn’t believe it.  He had rolled within 100 foot or so of the valley floor.  We each grabbed a horn and dragged him or he dragged us to the bottom where we gutted him.

A happy young kid right before I tied him to my G.I. pack board.

A happy young kid right before I tied him to my G.I. pack board.

It was now flashlight time but we had no flashlights.  I had to get pictures so we decided we would drag him.  This lasted for about 25 yards and we had about a mile to go.  This wasn’t going to work.  I decided I would carry him whole.  Being a strong 22 year old guy, I thought no big deal.  I kneeled down and had Chuck roll him over my head and on my shoulders.  I struggled up and took two or three steps.  No way was this going work so down I went.  What were we going to do?  We had thought about just leaving him until morning but a pack of coyotes was on the ridge howling and I was afraid they would get on him.  So I took my knife and cut him in half right behind the ribs.  I took the half with the horns and Chuck took the back half.   It was September 6, 1966 and I had my first ram.  As we were walking back we could hear the pack of coyotes howling above us.  I could feel the cold chills running up my spine.  What an eerie feeling it gave this young adventurer.  We made it back to spike camp about 11:30 p.m.  What a night!  Early the next morning we took pictures and I was able to kneel in front of the sheep so you couldn’t see where we had cut him in two.  Then we skinned him and boned out the meat.   He was a beautiful 38” full curl that scored 156 B&C points.  It was now in my blood.  What a great way to start. 

We hunted hard that day seeing only four other rams, none of them were legal.  We left late that evening going down a valley to the highway.  It was not the way that we had come in and there was no trail.  What a mistake.  I have learned so many things from my mistakes.  After fighting the alder for four hours in the dark we hit the road at 2:30 a.m, five miles from the truck.  We sat on the road side for a few minutes resting deciding what to do.  In the distance we could hear a semi-trailer rig coming up the hill.  Chuck flagged him down.  An hour later, Chuck was back with the truck and we were on the road.  We rolled into Anchorage at 6:00 a.m. and had to be at work at 7:00.  What a hunt.  I lost 10 pounds and was physically exhausted but hooked.  Since then I have been in on 64 different sheep kills all with stories of their own and I will be sharing some of the more memorable ones with you.  

              

Here I am celebrating my 71st birthday with my grandsons, Jared on the left and Nathan on the right.  I'm teaching these two fine young men to become sheep hunters which is a real joy for me.   

Here I am celebrating my 71st birthday with my grandsons, Jared on the left and Nathan on the right.  I'm teaching these two fine young men to become sheep hunters which is a real joy for me.