Hunting Sheep In Glacier Country

It’s August 10th and again I’m not celebrating my birthday on the mountain chasing sheep.  This is getting to be a bad habit and unlike last year I didn’t even get drawn for a late sheep permit.  So, I guess the next best thing is to write about two special hunts in the majestic Wrangell Mountains hunting around glaciers.  Both were very tough hunts and at my age now I don’t think I could make the trip out with a full sheep.  Carrying a 100 pound pack in rough country for fifteen miles is a tough go, so I guess those days are over.  With that let’s go sheep hunting!!

(L to R) Chuck Berry, double broomed 36", Ron Watts, 36 1/2", me, 40" and Charles James, 40".  This is the photo that the hunter from Wisconsin took of us.  Great hunt!! 

(L to R) Chuck Berry, double broomed 36", Ron Watts, 36 1/2", me, 40" and Charles James, 40".  This is the photo that the hunter from Wisconsin took of us.  Great hunt!! 

After I took my Pope and Young record book ram I went back to hunting with my rifle.  I really wanted a giant ram and I didn’t want to miss out because I couldn’t close the distance.  However, I was sold on hunting in the majestic Wrangell Mountains on and around their rugged glaciers.  Two hunts in particular stand out.

The first one was in 1974, the year after I took my sheep with a bow.  That summer I was reassigned to Langley Air Force Base in VA.  I left my hunting gear with Brent Jones who later became my partner in the guide business.  I returned to Alaska in August for the hunt.  I was going to hunt with Brent, George Elledge and Dick Hettinga.  This was the first time that I wouldn’t be hunting with my GI friends.  We flew into Middle Mountain Lake with Ken Bunch of Gulkana Air Service.  Most of you will remember that name because Brent and I purchased our Wrangell Mountain guide area from him.  He used a Widgeon, an amphibious 6-seater aircraft, which gave the four of us a 1000-pound payload perfect for coming out with four rams. 

Ken Bunch taxiing the Widgeon for take-off from Middle Mountain Lake.

Ken Bunch taxiing the Widgeon for take-off from Middle Mountain Lake.

The first part of our journey was hiking between Middle Mountain and the lip of the Chitina Glacier.  It was much better walking on this side of the glacier compared to the trip where I killed my record book bow sheep.  This easier walking lasted about ten miles then we dropped down into the glacier and made our way out to the white ice.  We stayed on the ice for two or three miles then worked our way off the glacier to the grass field where Brent had air-dropped our tents and some food.  It was the spot that I used for my air-drop the previous year.  Unlike my previous experience, everything made it just fine this time. 

We gathered everything together and set up camp.  It was a great area for base camp.  We used the next day to glass the surrounding area.  We didn’t see any big rams but were still optimistic.  This was Brent’s first sheep hunt after he broke his ankle so he decided to just hunt around base camp.  George said he would hunt with Brent so Dick and I chose to hunt up Anderson Glacier.

The next morning Dick and I worked our way up the glacier then made a right turn on a small glacier going into Canada.  We went three or four miles up that glacier, about a mile into Canada, stopping at approximately the 7,000’ level.  We had run out of any sign of grass and hadn’t seen any sheep for the last three miles so we decided to go back down the glacier and check out Tittmann Glacier. 

Dick with his big based 36 1/2" ram.  Canada is back and to the left of Dick.

Dick with his big based 36 1/2" ram.  Canada is back and to the left of Dick.

We spotted a few nice rams at the head of Tittmann’s but no giants.  Dick had taken a liking to a really heavy based full curl ram so we decided to make a stalk.  We slipped to within a couple hundred yards and he made a perfect shot.  The ram was down and we had our first sheep.  The ram was only a 36 ½ incher but he had 15 ¼ inch bases which was as big as Brent’s 177 pointer.  This ram was going to be a monster!  That night after coming off the mountain, we camped on the ice at the mouth of Tittmann’s.

As we were hunting back to base camp the next morning, I spotted a ram on Anderson Mountain where Brent had taken his B&C ram back in ‘72.  I had spotted this ram the previous year.  I really didn’t think he would make it another year because I had watched him for four different days and he laid with his head down most of the time and never moved over ten feet. This year however he was feeding normally.  We set the 60 power Bausch and Lomb spotting scope up about a mile from him and could see that he was “double broomed” and looked heavy.  We thought he might go 38” and with good bases would score well.  I decided to go for him.  It was a tough climb since he was hanging out in the crags around the 7,500’ level.  I made it up to his level but couldn’t find him.  I headed back down to see what he had done.  Dick said he was still there but had fed out of sight while I was up there.  I headed up again and this time I spotted him looking down at me at about 150 yards above.  My old .300 Winchester Magnum did it again and down he came into the draw where I was.  As he rolled by me I could see we had made a mistake.  He was a small bodied ram with tight horns.  Once we recovered him we discovered that he was fifteen years old.  They say this is the maximum age for a wild sheep to live.  He was broomed back to the fifth year on one side and the fourth year on the other.  His bases were smaller than his second quarter reading and he had chunks broken out of his horns on the front at the twelve and thirteen-year age rings.  He was only 33” but a real war horse.  After pictures and skinning we loaded up and headed for base camp.

My old beat up war horse.  You can see the big chunks out of his horn.

My old beat up war horse.  You can see the big chunks out of his horn.

When we arrived we found that Brent and George had both taken sheep right above base camp.  Brent had taken another 40 incher, his third, and George a 37 ½ incher.  Both were larger than mine and Dick’s and they took them right out of base camp.  We had hiked about fifteen miles in three days and killed smaller sheep.  As they say, “that’s hunting!”

Brent in the field where we camped with his 40" ram.  The area in the far background is where Dick and I hunted.

Brent in the field where we camped with his 40" ram.  The area in the far background is where Dick and I hunted.

The next day we headed back to the lake, our pickup point.  It was a grueling trip on the glacier with each of us carrying a 100-pound pack, but when you are young and dumb, who cares.  It took us two long sweaty days.  The weather was hot and sunny so we decided to take a dip in the glacier pond.  I don’t do well with cold water and instantly got a freeze headache.  Brent and George however hung in there much longer than Dick and I.  Another great memory of a successful sheep hunt.

Taking the cold plunge.  Nothing but melted ice.  Brent is the one without an air mattress.

Taking the cold plunge.  Nothing but melted ice.  Brent is the one without an air mattress.

(L to R) Dick, George, Brent and myself with our four rams, plus four pick-ups. Great hunt!!

(L to R) Dick, George, Brent and myself with our four rams, plus four pick-ups. Great hunt!!

Me holding a dream sheep, two sets of horns put together.  A 50 incher.!!

Me holding a dream sheep, two sets of horns put together.  A 50 incher.!!

The next hunt was when I harvested my largest ram, a beautiful 40 incher that scored 167 B&C, just shy of that magic 170 to make it into the record book.  I wrote about the stalk in the “The 40 Incher” story but didn’t write much about the hunt.

It was 1977 when we headed back to the rugged but beautiful Wrangell Mountains.  This time I went with three of my GI hunting friends, Chuck Berry, Charles James and Ron Watts.  We had gone the previous year without shooting a ram.  I don’t remember all the particulars but things didn’t go well.  Our mission was to change that.  We flew into Middle Mountain Lake again with Ken Bunch.  We hiked the same trail if you could call it a trail for the first ten miles and then dropped into the Chitina Glacier.  We went about four miles and stopped about a mile up into Anderson Glacier.  We decided to camp there on the white ice.  We used Ron’s blue nylon tarp.  It was large enough for all of us to sleep under when we were at what we called base camp.  We spent most of the time split into two groups.  Being in the middle of the glacier was great for spotting since we could see most everything around us.  We spotted rams on the mountains on both sides of us.  I knew I was going after the rams on “rotten mountain!”  I don’t remember exactly how we decided who was going with me but it ended up being Charles.  Chuck and Ron would hunt the rams on Anderson Mountain.

Me with my 40", a 167 point B&C ram.

Me with my 40", a 167 point B&C ram.

As I wrote in “The 40 Incher” Charles and I almost lost our lives in a rock slide climbing in a chute that allowed us to get above the rams.  Both of us took 40 inchers with mine scoring 167 B&C and Charles’ scoring 163.

Charles with his wide 40 inch ram.

Charles with his wide 40 inch ram.

When Charles and I returned to the blue fly we found out that Chuck had taken a heavy “double broomed” 36 incher.  What a difference a year makes.  Ron had spotted a nice full curl ram laying above a hanging glacier at about the 7,000’ level.  It was a mile or so up the Chitina Glacier.  The following morning, we took off after him.  On the way over we came upon another hunter taking a bath in a small glacier ice pool.  He said, “I can’t believe I’m twelve miles up a glacier in the wilderness and get caught skinny dipping!” He was one of Dennis Harms’ hunters from Appleton, WI.  He said, “Are you guys the ones in the blue fly on the ice?”  We said we were.  We apologized for interrupting his bath, wished him luck and moved on.

Chuck back at base camp with his "double broomed" 36" ram.

Chuck back at base camp with his "double broomed" 36" ram.

The climb was pretty difficult.  We made two different attempts and finally made it to the hanging glacier.  We were able to work our way around so Ron could take a 200 yard shot.  He made a clean kill using his .300 Weatherby Magnum and scored with another 36 ½” ram.  By the time we had taken pictures and taken care of the meat it was almost dark so we found a somewhat flat place to lay in our sleeping bags at the end of the hanging glacier.  It was a cool night with the Northern Lights giving us a spectacular show.  The cold wind was blowing down the little glacier so we were glad we had our sleeping bags.  Another night to remember!   We made it back to camp that day and that night celebrated our success.  Four super rams.

Ron with his 36 1/2" ram.  Rough country.

Ron with his 36 1/2" ram.  Rough country.

The next morning, we started our long trip out.  Each of us had around 100 pounds or so but being young makes it bearable.  I don’t think I could carry a heavy pack that far today.  I’m just too old and I don’t think I could convince my body to do so.  On our way out we ran into the Wisconsin sheep hunter again who was making his second trip in.  He hadn’t killed a sheep.  He couldn’t believe that all four of us had sheep and wanted to take a picture of us.  That picture is in this story. 

I made it back to this area one more time hunting with Ron Watts.  I took a 41 incher and Ron took his first 40 incher, a 170 point Boone & Crockett ram.  It just doesn’t get any better than that!

Ron and me with our two big rams.  His 40", a 170 B&C and mine a 41" 165 B&C.

Ron and me with our two big rams.  His 40", a 170 B&C and mine a 41" 165 B&C.

In 1980, President Jimmy Carter locked up all of this great sheep country with his D-2 Lands Act.  This area will never be legally hunted by the general public and because it is so rugged and so expensive to access, these great sheep will die never too be seen.  What a waste!  Thanks Mr. President!