I have added a new photo page to the blog titled AAA Outfitters Guides and Packers to highlight the many outstanding guides and packers that worked for us over the years. They are mainly the ones before my retirement. Also, AAA’s marketing video is back on the blog so if you haven’t watched it you may find it interesting. Hope you enjoy the story, video and photos of our staff.
AAA’s 40 Inch Rams
When Brent and I formed AAA Alaskan Outfitters we had more combined sheep hunting experience than any other guide operation in Alaska. Pair that with our newly acquired Wrangell Mountain sheep area and we had just the right recipe for success. During our first season Brent and I were 100% successful guiding six sheep hunters with the first two hunters taking a 40 ¼” and a 39 incher. We had an overall average of 38”. Over the next twenty-one years we harvested 106 rams with an average horn length of 37”. Fourteen of those rams were over 40” and another thirteen over 39” which was just a little over 25% of our rams. There was no other guide operation in Alaska with a record like that. I doubt if anyone nowadays could take an average of 5 rams and have a 37” average horn length.
Dan Schwarzer guided his first sheep client for us in ’85 and become a partner in ’86. Dan had hunted sheep six or seven times including a couple of times with me as a resident hunter and harvested his first ram in ’81. I’m sure Dan’s sheep experience level was higher than most starting out sheep guides during those days. Dan became an outstanding sheep guide and passed both Brent and I by guiding the largest sheep in ’88, a 41 6/8 incher. We might have guided the 1st and 2nd 40 inch rams for AAA but Dan ended up guiding six hunters to 40+ inch rams over his twenty years. In ’90 Dan guided Pete Seda to a 43” ram, scoring 168 5/8 B&C points and then topped that in 2001 guiding Bob Shearer, Jr. to a 42 2/8 incher that green scored 169 4/8th B&C. Bob’s ram was AAA’s all-time record for score.
In 1990, Demitrious Deoudes or better known as Dee came on board as a permanent sheep guide and guided for us for the next ten years in the Wrangell’s. He had taken two rams for himself as a resident and had really good sheep hunting experience. He ended up guiding three clients to 40” rams. We were very fortunate to have him as a sheep guide. He became Dan’s number one guide since Brent and I were only there during the first sheep hunts of the season after ’88. I had to open up our Western Alaska camp the last week of August and Brent had to open the Alaska Peninsula camp around the same time. Dan became the guide of record for the Wrangell area in ‘89. Brent was the guide of record for our Alaska Peninsula area and I was the guide of record for our Western Alaska area. This worked great for AAA allowing us to legally have nine different assigned use areas.
A 40” ram to a sheep hunter is like a 10’ brown bear to a bear hunter. Also it is one thing to take a 40” ram for yourself, which both Brent and I had, but to guide a client to a 40 incher you are limited by their capabilities. I have always said that being in the right place at the right time is critical in taking any big game trophy, however it is asking a lot in the rugged mountain conditions experienced while hunting sheep. As a guide you really have to go the extra mile. Here are a few of the stories of AAA’s 40 inchers.
Brent guided Mike Dobransky from Anchorage to our first 40 incher. It was a beautiful deep 40 ¼” full curl. Brent used horses for Mike’s hunt and hunted in both Young and Canyon Creeks before they harvested his ram in Cave Creek. That was the only ram that AAA ever took out of Cave Creek.
I was guiding Bob Gourley from Arizona. We used horses to set up our camp in Canyon Creek and then hiked into the Canyon Creek glacier and camped on the white ice. We spotted two really nice rams on a rugged, almost unclimbable, cliffy mountainside. One I thought would go 40” for sure. After a day or so of watching and waiting for them to get into a good position we climbed high in the rocks above a small green grass slope. Later that evening the smaller of the two fed out into the grass. We waited about a half hour for the big guy to show himself. That never happened so we decided this guy was big enough. Bob made a great shot at 300 yards using an attached bi-pod. That was the first time that I had been involved with anyone using a bi-pod. Bob’s ram turned out to be a super nice 39 incher so I knew the other one was at least 40”.
I really wanted that ram so I brought my next client Kurt Jaeger from Liechtenstein back to the same area. This time Troy Smith, our wrangler, stayed with me. We left the horses hobbled in the high pasture by our spike camp and backpacked into the glacier area. After a day of glassing, the ram finally showed himself. I studied the rocky mountainside for a good and somewhat safe way to get above the ram. Once the winds were right and he was out of sight, we made the climb. There were many dangerous areas where we were using our finger nails to crawl up the mountain. Once above where we had last seen him we worked our way down, all the way down to the lip of the glacier but never spotted the ram again. Just like that, he vanished.
Our food supply was short, hunting time was running out and Kurt couldn’t care less about a 40 incher. He just wanted a full curl ram so we headed back to our Canyon Creek camp and the horses. Two days later Kurt killed a heavy based 37 5/8” ram in Young Creek. He was a happy camper.
I decided that I was going to get that 40” ram in ’85. We booked Tim Orton from Minnesota to come on the third hunt of the season just to hunt that ram. Tim had previously taken a 40 incher with a Yukon Outfitter and I already had two first time sheep hunters booked to hunt with me on my first and second hunts. I would really be in great shape when Tim arrived.
Tim showed up ready to go on August 31. My first two hunters were successful taking a 36 incher and a heavy based 37 ½ incher that scored 160 4/8th B&C points. I was pumped to go after the big ram. That year we had Paul Claus drop me off on a small 400’ long grass spot where I set up a permanent spike camp. I hunted my first two hunters out of that camp and AAA used that camp for the next 20 years. It earned the name of “swamp camp” after it rained 48 hours straight and it ended up with two to three inches of water on it that year.
Tim and I backpacked in on a gorgeous first day of September. After being outwitted or maybe the big ram was just lucky on those two previous stalks, I knew that I had something to prove. I knew how the winds normally blew down the glacier valley until things heated and then they would rise. I spotted the ram the first afternoon. He laid on a rock shelf close to the 7,000’ level with a sheer rock face behind him and plenty of cliffs in front of him. He was always looking out of the valley and for four days he only got up two or three times to relieve himself and eat whatever was on the rocks. He was always in full view. Then on day five, late in the afternoon he got up and fed out of sight. We waited for about fifteen minutes and then I said, “Let’s go!” I had really studied that mountain and had climbed it twice before so I knew exactly which way to go. Once we made it to where he had been laying the last four days we started slowly working our way down the cliffy mountain face. After about forty-five minutes of looking everywhere I was beside myself. Where did he go? Not again! Then just as I was thinking he foxed me again he appeared about two hundred yards below us, close to the lip of the glacier. Tim got set up using my pack. Once the ram got into a good position Tim opened up. The sheep ran climbing to our left. Tim emptied his Brown Precision .264 Winchester rifle and then I gave him my old .300 Winchester Magnum. He emptied that one while I was reloading his rifle. By then the sheep had moved out of sight. We moved further down the mountain and finally spotted the sheep climbing a small gully between two sheer cliffs. Tim opened up again with another volley. He shot a total of fourteen times and I could only see one hit in his left horn. He disappeared high into the crags.
The following morning I knew the ram would be high and most likely out of sight so I suggested we cross the glacier and see if we could find the mountain goat that we had spotted a couple of days earlier. As we were crossing the glacier, every time we stopped to rest I glassed high on the rugged mountainside hoping to see the big ram. About two thirds of the way across the glacier I spotted him just below a hanging glacier close to the 8,000’ level and he was slowly working his way down the rugged mountain. I said, “I can’t believe he is coming back down. We have to get back to the moraine before he sees us!” We hustled as fast as we could on the ice to get to cover. Once out of sight behind some big boulders we stopped and waited until he was about 400 yards from us. Tim got set-up with a good rest and I told him to shoot when he was ready. When the shooting started the sheep headed to our left going across the area we had climbed the day before and then dropped into a small valley out of sight. I yelled, “Let’s go, so you will be ready when he comes out of the valley.” We had to get across the moraine and up on the lip of the glacier before he worked his way down and around the back of the small valley. It was a real steep valley and I knew he would need to take his time.
Once on the lip we only had about 25 yards to go before we could see into the valley. We were crawling up a small rocky mound when we spotted him. He had just climbed up a steep face and had turned to look back. I said, “This is your last chance so make it count. Tim emptied his rifle again and all I remember is seeing those beautiful flaring horns as he disappeared over the rise. Tim had shot a total of 24 times and no ram. We never saw that ram again on his hunt. Tim did take a goat and promised to return to redeem himself.
Later that winter Paul Claus was in town and gave me a call. He said, “I have a set of sheep horns I want to show you.” I told him to come on over to the house. He showed up with a beautiful set of sheep horns with a bullet hole in the left horn. It was the ram that Tim had shot at that fall. A wolverine had killed the ram in a deep snow slide. It was a 41 incher that scored 165 B&C points just like I thought. That was the largest scoring ram in the area at that time.
Tim came back the following season. We hiked out of Big Bend Lakes and made a spike camp above the cliffs of Canyon Creek. On opening day he harvested a super 40 incher with one shot from the same rifle he had used the year before. As I turned to congratulate him he looked at me and said jokingly, “Did you think I was going to miss?” We had a good laugh. We never figured out why he missed the other ram so many times, as he was an avid hunter and really a good shot. His current ram was taken in an area that we named “the Canyon Creek breaks.” It was a series of cliffs intermingled with areas choked with alder and spruce trees. It was a tough place to hunt with many hiding spots. This was the first 40” ram taken in that area. Dan later guided two different clients to 40”+ rams in this area.
Our largest ram in ’87 was only a 39 ½ incher so as ’88 rolled around we hoped to find a few 40’s. That fall we were filming our marketing video and it was decided that I would work out of swamp camp with cameraman and producer Wade Nolan. I guided Leonard Anderson from West Virginia to the ram in our video which was a 40 incher but he splintered off a ¼ inch of his right horn so he ended up only being 39 ¾”. I also guided Warren Hylton from West Virginia in that video to his 37 ½” ram.
That same season we asked Paul Claus about the possibility of flying Dan and Peter Burchfield, a young in-shape hunter from Maryland into Hawkins Glacier. Paul at that time was working with his dad John and was not taking many hunters especially in the really rugged areas of the Hawkins Glacier. Paul did land Dan and Peter at a strip in the Hawkins Glacier area. He told Dan about a big wide flaring ram with a broken or broomed horn. Dan and Peter were successful in harvesting the beautiful 41 6/8” ram. It had broken off about eight inches of its right horn. That was our longest horned ram at that time.
Our next big ram was taken in 1990. Dan guided Peter Seda from Washington to a giant 43 incher that scored 168 5/8 B&C points to claim AAA’s longest of all time. They hunted in Erickson Creek and Dan really showed his skills as a sheep guide. After watching the ram early in the morning climb high on three different days in a row, they got up at 3:00 AM and intercepted him on his way up just as it was turning daylight. That was the last ram that we harvested out of Erickson Creek.
The following year it was Brent’s turn to guide Mike Martin from Pennsylvania to nice 40” ram in Young Creek. It scored 163 B&C points. Brent also got Mike’s dad a nice ram during their father/son hunt. Later in the season, Dee guided Nolan Cox from West Virginia to his 40 incher. That was Dee’s first guided 40 inch ram. Anytime you take two 40’s in one season you have had a great year.
In ’93, Pete Seda returned to try and take a bigger ram. We for sure knew we didn’t have any in our area so we talked to Paul again and he agreed to drop Dan and Pete off up in the left fork of Barnard Glacier. He landed Dan on a small side glacier and Dan was able to find a super 41 incher for Pete, which I thought was unbelievable. For a client to take two big rams back to back was amazing.
In ’95, Dee scored again guiding Ron Lilly from West Virginia to his 40” ram, which scored 164 3/8 B&C points. The ram was taken in the small valley above swamp camp, my favorite camp.
We had a three year dry spell of no 40 inchers. In ’98 I took my wife into Young Creek and we attempted a stalk during a snow storm, read “Hunting With My Wife”, on a dandy ram and were so close to a dream come true, but we had to pull off. The following year Dan guided Greg Stevenson from Alaska to that ram which was a 40 ¼ incher. Dee also guided Bart Yenna from New York to a 40 1/8” ram that year. This was Dee’s third guided 40 incher.
In 2000, both Dan and I were guiding in the Canyon Creek breaks. I camped at the bottom close to the Chitina River and climbed up through the brush and trees and Dan, Scott Herbert, a young packer, and their client Greg Horsley from Washington hiked up from Big Bend Lakes. Greg took a 40 ½ incher in the trees at close range, less than 50 yards. My hunter took a 37 incher.
When 2001 rolled around our ewe population had taken a giant dive. It had been going down for years. We never really figured out what truly was going on but that year we still had a good number of rams. Dan and our other guides, Thor Stacey and Mark Glaser, teamed up on the third hunt of the season with our only client, Bob Sherarer, Jr. from Pennsylvania. He harvested a giant based 42 2/8” ram that green scored 169 4/8 B&C points. That sheep was taken in trees down in the breaks. That was our largest scoring ram ever and it was AAA’s last 40” ram. That year we harvested five rams with an overall average horn length of 38 3/8”. I thought that was amazing after hunting the area for eighteen years. That is what I call good farming.
However, we continued to lose both ewes and rams and our last three years in the Wrangell’s, we only harvested eight rams. During those years most areas in the State saw similar results and in some areas even worse. I know the population hasn’t recovered in the Wrangell’s, even to this day, as well as many other areas in the State. I sure hated to see that. I really miss the good old days!