A Bow hunter's Dream

The challenge of taking a record book animal normally takes skill, perseverance and for many species lots of money and sometimes just a little luck.  I personally have never taken a Boone & Crockett record book animal.  I have come close on Dall sheep, caribou and Sitka Black Tailed deer.  I have guided on two B&C record book brown bears and five B&C record book caribou but again none of my own.  I guess I consider taking the number 3 Pope & Young record book Dall sheep with my recurve bow my highest accomplishment as a hunter.  Now that I’m getting older my chances at a B&C are pretty slim but like most hunters I keep hoping.  Follow along as I chase those elusive Dall sheep with my Kodiak Magnum bow.

  The majestic Wrangell Mountains in glacier country.

The majestic Wrangell Mountains in glacier country.

As I approached the hogback my mind was going crazy thinking about how I was going to get to the ram with the goats laying right above him.  Just before I reached the grassy area I pulled my white hood over my head and got down on all fours.  I slowly crawled pushing my bow in front of me.  Now that I am in the grass I see that the goats have moved down to the grass to feed and are on both sides of me, some as close as fifteen yards.  A few stare at me while others continue to feed.  No one seems to mind this white object moving slowing in their midst.  The ram is still feeding on the far side of the hogback about 30 yards from me.  He raises his head and turns it toward me.  I freeze with my head slightly down not wanting to make full eye contact.  I almost panicked.  For what seemed to be a lifetime he stares and then turns his head looking out toward the spectacular glacier valley then back at me and finally lowers his head and starts to feed again.  The climax of this successful stalk would truly be a bow hunter’s dream.

Right after I killed my first 40 incher I began my mission to kill the world record Dall sheep with a bow.  I felt that the Chugach Mountains held that ram but I just couldn’t find him especially hunting only on weekends or on three day hunts.  I had to do something different, either change areas or hunt longer.

It’s August 1972.  My good friend and taxidermist, Brent Jones, had just returned from a successful sheep hunt in the Wrangell Mountains.  He took a beautiful 42” ram that scored 177 2/8 B&C points.  What a ram!!  That was exactly what I was looking for.  He showed me a couple of places on his map where I should go so I contacted Andy Whah, a friend who along with Skip Phillips had just purchased a Cessna 170 and asked him if he could drop us off for a Labor Day weekend hunt.  He said no problem so I started making plans.  I went with my hunting buddy Doug Simmons.  We took Friday afternoon off from work knowing our flight into the Wrangell’s from Anchorage would take four or five hours.   That would give us a full three days to hunt.  Andy had to fly to the Gulkana Airport for fuel so he would have enough to get in and out of the Wrangell mountain strip.  He was going to drop us off at a small bush strip on the Chitina River called Hubert’s strip.  Because of the fuel stop we were pushing nightfall when we flew over the strip.  Brent had told me there was an old collapsed tent at the west end of the strip.  We could barely see the tent but it gave Andy a touch down point.  The problem was we only had the one reference point so as he flared on the tent, we were not lined up on what was the main strip.  This made for a rough landing or maybe a controlled crash.  Whatever it was we were safely on the ground.  As we all quickly evacuated the plane I told Andy that at least he didn’t need to taxi off the strip.  We used my tarp and slept under the wing of the airplane that night.  The next morning when we got up we could see how Andy had missed the strip.  The plane was setting twenty-five feet off the left side of the strip.  But looking around where he had landed, it wasn’t much rougher than the strip itself so it really wasn’t a big deal just a little scary.

  Andy leaning against the strut of his Cessna 170 at Hubert's strip.

Andy leaning against the strut of his Cessna 170 at Hubert's strip.

Andy told us he would see us around 1:00 PM Monday and then he was off to Anchorage.  Doug and I strapped on our packs and were on our way.  The country was so big and beautiful, really magnificent.  The mountains were so much taller and rougher looking than I was used to, but I loved them.  We were only about six miles from Ram Glacier where Harry Swank had taken the current World Record Dall Ram.  We hunted hard the next two days seeing at least six different rams, one was around 40”.  He was laying high in some bad cliffs.  As I attempted the climb, I broke my bow string.  It was basically straight up so I backed off and as I was coming down I spotted another hunter and what looked like his guide at the bottom watching me and the sheep.  I knew then why the sheep was so high.  It turned out to be one of Dennis Harm’s hunters and guide.  Dennis was the main outfitter in this area.  I would find out later that the guide was impressed with my climbing ability but pissed that I had tried to get the sheep that they were waiting on.  When you are on a short hunt you can’t wait for things to happen, you have to make them happen.  That was our only attempt at a sheep on the hunt but now not only was I hooked on sheep hunting but I was now hooked on the majestic Wrangell Mountains.  I couldn’t wait to get back for a much longer hunt.

  The rugged Ram Glacier area where Harry Swank took the World Record Dall Sheep.

The rugged Ram Glacier area where Harry Swank took the World Record Dall Sheep.

In October I contacted Jim Edwards of Chitina Air Service to get on his schedule for August 7th of the following year to be flown into a smaller strip close to Hubert’s.

That winter seemed to be extra-long but summer finally arrived.  Around the third week of July, Doug and I flew up to the Chitina Glacier in a Cessna 172 and did an airdrop of a case of c-rations.  That would be our extra food.  This was the first and last airdrop that I did from a plane where the door opened into the wind.  That was so much harder to do than using a “super cub.”  We dropped them in an open meadow right above the glacier lip.  We made a circle and the orange painted c-rations stood out like a sore thumb.  With the mission completed we headed back to McCarthy Airport to spend the night sleeping under the wing of the Cessna.  Since I was working toward my commercial pilot’s license I logged that flight as my required long solo X-country.

  Jim Edwards of Chitina Air Service in the Cessna 180 as he takes off from the small bush strip.

Jim Edwards of Chitina Air Service in the Cessna 180 as he takes off from the small bush strip.

On August 7th Doug and I left Anchorage early so we could make our scheduled flight.  When we arrived at the Chitina Airport it was raining with low hanging clouds.  We checked in with Jim and he said it was supposed to clear later that afternoon.  There were two other hunting parties waiting to get flown in but they had not made reservations so when it lifted we would be first.  About an hour later Jim said he thought we could make it so we loaded the Cessna 180 and were on our way.  Most of the way in we flew about 300 to 400 feet above the ground.  Jim was a true bush pilot, the first that I had flown with.  We had quite a discussion about bush flying.  Little did I know then that I would fly this same route hundreds of times in my “super cub” starting in 1985.  Our final destination was a 600 foot gravel bar beside the Chitina Glacier.  It was about a mile and a half further in from Hubert’s strip.  Jim looked it over and thought it best if he dropped us off one at a time so he landed at Hubert’s and made two trips into the smaller strip.  At three o’clock, Doug and I stood on the strip watching the 180 disappear and we knew before the aircraft returned on August 16, we had our work cut out for us.  Our air-drop was seventeen miles in and that was where we would set up our base camp.  We made it just past Ram Glacier the first day and set up our tarp for the night.  I had upgraded from the visqueen to a 9x12 waterproof nylon tarp that my wife Karen had bought me for my birthday. 

  The area we dropped into after we got off of the lip of the glacier.  Ugly stuff to walk in!!

The area we dropped into after we got off of the lip of the glacier.  Ugly stuff to walk in!!

The following morning we were up bright and early eating that wonderful instant oatmeal and drinking hot chocolate.  We glassed and spotted a band of six rams.  One looked to be around 40”.  It was nice to see rams of that class so early in our hunt.  We started our hike that morning walking on what I call the lip of the glacier.  That lasted about a mile and it gave way to thick brush and giant piles of rocks from avalanches.  We found a small chute that dropped down about a hundred feet to the glacier itself.  Initially, it was fairly flat but that was short lived.  As we walked along we had a hundred foot shear wall that was like dry concrete to our left and the glacier itself on our right.  Some places where the wall ended were like wet concrete.  We tried to stay out of that stuff as we would get totally bogged down.  My way of describing the moraine of the glacier is a place where thousands of dump trucks dumped ten ton loads of random piles of rocks on top of the ice.  We had to constantly zig zag or go up and over or around these piles of crushed rocks.  This was the most difficult terrain that I had ever walked in especially carrying a 50 to 60 pound pack.  It was slow going and we wouldn’t hit the white ice until the last two or three miles of the hike.   After about seven miles we stopped for a well-deserved break and glassed.  We spotted twelve rams in three different bands.  We broke out Doug’s “60” power Bausch & Lomb spotting scope.  Two rams in two of the bands were spectacular.  We felt that one would go at least 44” and the other close to 42”.  Both of these rams were what we were looking for, but we figured if they were this big here they would be even bigger the further in we went and besides we had another day before season opened.  We found out this area was called “rotten mountain.”  A few years later I took a heavy 40” ram, my largest, off of that mountain.  We felt we could always come back and hunt these big guys since we only had about four miles to go to our airdrop.  So we continued our journey.

We arrived at our destination, the grassy meadow, around 6 PM so that gave us ample time to set up camp.  I started looking around for the air-drop.  Not seeing it in the open I decided to climb up the mountain to get a better view.  I couldn’t find it anywhere.  I couldn’t believe someone would take it especially since it was just August 8th and we hadn’t seen any other hunters.  Brent had told me that when he flew in to do his air-drop he could see ours right in the open field.  I learned later that two acquaintances of mine had hidden them.  They had been hunting in this area for years and were pissed that other hunters were hunting in there.  We had plenty of freeze dried food but I was looking forward to a variety.

Day 2 we slept in since the season didn’t open for another day.  After breakfast we looked a little more for the c-rations with no luck.  We spent most of the day just glassing trying to find a big ram close to camp.  We spotted fourteen rams but the largest was only around 40”.  Some big guys had to be around somewhere.  Brent had taken his 177 B&C right across the glacier from us.  

  August 10, opening day.  Doug trying to keep things dry.

August 10, opening day.  Doug trying to keep things dry.

Opening day …… what happened to our beautiful weather?  The clouds were on the deck but moving quickly.  We stayed around camp for an hour or so waiting for the clouds to lift.  We decided to climb to the crest of the mountain behind camp.  At the 7,700 foot level we were in the clouds with rain and snow.  Not a great way to celebrate my birthday or the opening day of sheep season.  After a couple of hours just sitting around and only hearing what we thought might be a couple of shots and having a ewe and lamb almost run over us, we decided to head back down to the camp.  The next morning the weather wasn’t much better so we decided to move and set up a spike camp about five miles up the glacier.  After a day and a half of spotting around there and not seeing many rams or any big rams we decided that maybe they didn’t get bigger the further you hiked in.  That just didn’t make sense.  We were twenty miles in and hadn’t seen any other hunters so there was no hunting pressure.  We decided to pack up and head back to our base camp and come morning move camp back to where we had spotted the big sheep on our way in. 

A couple of miles before camp Doug said, “There’s a nice ram, we haven’t seen him before!”  We broke out the spotting scope to check him out.  He was a good full curl with flaring horns, maybe 40+”.  Doug said he would like to try for him.  We were at least a mile across the glacier so we needed to hustle.  He was joined by another ram and they were moving down to the bottom of a small glacier that ran into the Anderson Glacier where we were.  As they were crossing the glacier we heard what we thought was a shot or maybe just the glacier cracking.  We heard the sound of the glacier cracking quite often.  We made it to the other side of the glacier about the same time as the sheep.  We were climbing the lip of the glacier when we heard the “crack” again, it was louder and we knew then it was a shot.  As we crested the lip about 500 yards from the sheep there laid the big ram and sitting beside him was Brent Jones.   This ram was nice but nothing like the one Brent had taken the year before.  This one taped 40 ½”.  We had judged him perfect.  We talked to Brent about not seeing any big sheep back this far.  He said he was also disappointed about not seeing any big guys like the year before.  He told us this ram was the largest that he and his partner had seen and that they were leaving the next day.  We told him about the two big ones we spotted coming in and we were going after them.  He wished us luck and we went our separate ways.

  Brent with his beautiful flaring 40 1/2" ram.

Brent with his beautiful flaring 40 1/2" ram.

The next morning right after we broke camp and packed up we heard someone yelling my name.  It was Bob Porter, Brent’s hunting partner.  He told us they were about a mile from their camp and Brent had slipped and fallen on the ice and it looked like he had broken his leg.  He said he had made him comfortable and Brent had taken some pain pills so he was doing fine.  Bob was walking out to get help and wanted to know if we could go and stay with Brent until the helicopter came to pick him up.  I told him no problem and he gave me directions on how to find him on the glacier and then was on his way.  Doug decided that he would just walk out and wait for the plane at the pickup point.  I took off to find Brent, which was fairly easy.

  What a difference a day makes!  Brent's broken ankle.

What a difference a day makes!  Brent's broken ankle.

Brent was in good spirits and had his boot off and his ankle was swollen badly.  He had taken a couple of Darvon, a 1950’s pain killer that has since been banned.  He told me how he slipped on the rock covered ice with his foot getting caught in a crack and the 100 pound plus pack pushed him down.  He said he heard a bone snap.  I thought it was amazing that he wasn’t in any pain.  Bob had set the tent up for Brent and had left most of his gear from his pack for Brent.  That way Bob could move faster.  Bob was going back to the lake where they had been dropped off and hoped someone with a plane would be there with a radio to notify Anchorage to set up a rescue.  We weren’t sure how long it would take.  Brent told me that they had buried some food and a sleeping bag by their camp and that maybe I should go get it.  He said, “By the way, there is a nice 38”ram right above camp and since you’re not going to get to hunt on the way out maybe you should try for him.”  I told him I couldn’t leave him there while I was chasing a sheep.  He laughed and said no big deal; he was in no pain and couldn’t go anywhere, so I should go for it.  I fixed us a freeze dried dinner and made sure Brent would be okay.  I emptied my pack of everything but my spotting scope, grabbed my bow and took off for his spike camp.  I wasn’t sure what I was going to do when I got there.  As I got closer to their camp I spotted the sheep.  He was feeding on a grassy hogback.  There were six goats lying above him and I thought that might be a problem.  I looked at him in the spotting scope.  His horns looked nice and heavy but didn’t flare.  He could be 38”but it would be close.  Their cache was easy to find and I dug everything out and then looked up at the mountain.  The ram was still feeding on the top about 2,500 feet above the glacier.  It looked like there was a sheep trail all the way up so it should be an easy climb.  It was only 6 o’clock so I decided to try.  The trail was actually under the ridge out of sight and the wind was in my favor.  I made it close to the top in about 45 minutes. 

As I said in the beginning of my story my mind was going crazy thinking about how to get to the ram without spooking the goats, but I’m now passed them and the ram began to feed again.  I wanted to get five yards closer.  I took it slow and he stays put but I can see he is getting nervous.  I think I’m close enough but he needs to be looking the other way before I draw on him.  He raises his head, looks at me for a few seconds then turns his head towards the glacier and as he starts to turn his body in that direction I full draw and let the aluminum shaft arrow fly.  It passes completely through the sheep clipping the liver and one lung.  He goes over the ridge.  I wait a few seconds and nock another arrow.  As I go over the ridge he is laying about 40 yards below and to the right of the ridge looking my way.  As I got closer, he slowly rises and I release another arrow into his chest and he drops and rolls down the mountain about 100 feet.  It is over; I have my ram with a bow.  My 46# Kodiak Magnum has done the job.  A Dall sheep with a bow that was this bow hunter’s dream.  The horns measured 36” with 14” bases.  A fine trophy!

  My 157 P&Y record book Dall ram.

My 157 P&Y record book Dall ram.

It has been over two hours since I left Brent so I hurriedly take a few pictures of the ram, then skin and bone out the meat.  I load my pack and I’m on my way.  When I returned to Brent’s cache I loaded his items in my pack and headed back to Brent.  When I got back, Brent found it hard to believe that I had killed the sheep and had gotten back so quickly.  It was around 10:30 PM.  I was tired, happy and ready for some sleep.

  The three rams taken on this hunt. My ram is the closest with the heavier based horns.

The three rams taken on this hunt. My ram is the closest with the heavier based horns.

The next morning Brent was in good spirits.  We celebrated by frying up some back strap from my ram.  Fresh sheep back strap is hard to beat.  We were still cooking when we heard the sound of a plane, or maybe a helicopter.  As it got closer we knew it was a chopper.  The Air Rescue Squadron from Elmendorf AFB was on the scene.  I don’t know how many hunters they rescue a year, but it’s quite a few.  It took them longer to land than it did for us to load Brent on the stretcher and move him into the chopper.  They loaded all of Brent’s and Bob’s gear along with Bob and they were on their way.  Brent would soon be in the hospital.  As I watched the chopper leave I thought about the long journey ahead of me.

  The chopper landing on the glacier.

The chopper landing on the glacier.

  Carrying Brent to the chopper.  I'm in my white sheep hunting clothing.

Carrying Brent to the chopper.  I'm in my white sheep hunting clothing.

I loaded all of my gear along with the meat and horns.  I knew it was close to a hundred pounds.  It took me parts of three days, nineteen hours of walking to be exact, to reach the strip.  It was 20 scale miles of unforgiving terrain.  I think that was the hardest pack of my life.  The little strip was a welcome sight.

  Some of the rugged glacier walking area on my trip out. It is such a mind defeating country.

Some of the rugged glacier walking area on my trip out. It is such a mind defeating country.

There was another camp at the strip.  Dr. Tony Oney, a well know dentist, guide and sheep hunter.  He invited me over for supper.  We had bison meatballs, goat heart (his ten year old daughter had shot the goat), smoked oysters, cheese, wine and homemade cookies prepared by his wife, Rita.  That was quite a meal to prepare in the wilderness.

  My camp on the little strip waiting on the plane.

My camp on the little strip waiting on the plane.

The next morning, the sound of the 180 told me my trip would soon be over.  Jim told me Doug had walked out to Hubert’s to be picked up.  He looked at my sheep and said, “That is a fine animal, I really didn’t think you would get one with a bow.”  It took us both to load the pack in to the plane.  The takeoff cut it close to the trees at the end of the strip with him manually popping the flaps to clear them.  One of the many bush take-offs that I would experience.

When Doug and I arrived in Anchorage, we visited Brent in the hospital.  He had broken his ankle and leg.  Both had to be pinned or screwed together, but he was doing fine.  He still has a few of those screws in his ankle.

My pack weighed in at 99 ½ pounds after my two day trip out.  Twenty air miles in that type of country is a long way to carry such a load.  A beautiful trophy and great memories have been added to my life.  That, along with the hardships, are what makes a sheep hunter.  I also found out that those were shots fired on opening day at “rotten mountain.”  A friend of Brent’s killed a 44 ½” ram and one of Dennis Harm’s clients killed a 41” both making the Boone & Crockett Record Book.  Those were the two big rams we had spotted going in.

My ram scored 157 Pope & Young points.  It was the largest Dall ram taken during the ninth record period and number three overall in the Pope & Young Record Book.   At that time there were only seventeen listed in the record book.  Currently, after forty three years, even with all the new modern type bows with sights and fast and flat flying arrows, my ram is still in the top 40’s in the record book with over 300 rams listed.

  The single page of Dall Sheep listed in the first printed Pope & Young Record Book.

The single page of Dall Sheep listed in the first printed Pope & Young Record Book.

A few days after I got home, articles appeared in the Air Force Times and the Elmendorf AFB newspaper about the helicopter rescue.  A reporter interviewed me about my role in the rescue and my hunt.  That was the first time I had been involved in a “Fake News” story.  I have a picture of the headlines from four different papers making me some kind of hero, which of course I wasn’t.  All I did was stay with Brent until he was rescued.  I did shoot a big sheep with my bow, but the reporter even got most of that wrong also.  To this day I still don’t believe most news stories.  It is always slanted some way or another.

  Old days "Fake News" stories.  Headlines from four different newspapers.  Don't believe most of what you read.

Old days "Fake News" stories.  Headlines from four different newspapers.  Don't believe most of what you read.

I did a couple more bow hunts for sheep but finally went back to my rifle.  I took two rams that both would have been the new Pope and Young world records if I had taken them with my bow.  But as they say, “That’s hunting!!”