Well another August has passed and I didn’t make it into those majestic Alaska mountains to hunt sheep and to celebrate my 75th birthday which was August 10, the opening day of sheep season. The rains and mudslides kept us out. Hopefully next year. Hope you enjoy another special sheep hunting story.
Over the years many people have asked if I have a favorite hunt. I have often thought about that but always come up with the same answer, “I have many favorite hunts.” I truly don’t even know how many hundreds of hunts that I have taken in Alaska over the last 53 years. So, to narrow it down to one hunt would be impossible.
What makes a hunt special or a favorite anyway? I would say everyone has their own criteria for answering that question. For me it starts with the area that you are hunting. My favorite is in the majestic mountains of Alaska, especially in the high glacier country or as I call it “God’s country.” Those rugged mountains hold so much beauty including my favorite animal, the elusive Dall sheep.
I personally don’t like to hunt by myself so next thing would be your selection of hunting partners. For me my wife takes top honors followed by my kids and grandkids. There is just something special about hunting with those you love. If your family members don’t hunt, good friends make great hunting partners. I have been fortunate to have had many great hunting partners over the years. Many of my clients have become good friends and we share many memorable hunts.
It’s true that you don’t have to harvest an animal to have a successful hunt and I, like many of you, have had those hunts. Many were very special, but let’s face it the main reason we are hunting is to harvest an animal so when we achieve success it makes the hunt even more amazing. So, as a hunter I would say harvesting the animal that I was hunting for is important when thinking about a favorite hunt. I’m sure clients who have paid big bucks to harvest their animal, it is very much a part of their having a successful hunt.
I have posted many of my favorite hunts with family and friends on my blog. Since it is sheep season it brings to mind one of my favorite sheep hunts. I have mentioned it in a couple of stories and it was my last hunt on the Chitina Glacier.
The hunt started on a beautiful August day when Ken Bunch of Gulkana Air dropped Ron Watts and me off at Middle Mountain Lake. Ron and I have been friends since 1968 and started hunting together in the early to mid-70’s. He is someone that I could always count on being in great shape and always up for a challenge. It was our fourth sheep hunt together.
The hike in went smoothly and we decided to camp closer to the lake than on our previous hunts. We set up our base camp across from what we called “Rotten Mountain.” I had taken my largest ram, a heavy 40 incher that scored 167 B&C points, on that mountain a few years earlier. See the post, “The 40 Incher.”
The first couple of days we hunted a small glacier valley coming out of Middle Mountain. We spotted a group of 10 or 12 rams, made a great stalk and looked them over from above. One was a nice heavy ram that I thought was at least 38” but it was early in the hunt and we were looking for special rams over 40”. I told Ron that if this is what we find and see on the first day just think of what we will find way back up in the glacier, so we passed on them.
The following insert is how Ron distinctly remembers day 3 of our sheep hunt.
“Roger and I took a side detour up this adjoining smaller glacier and, on the way up, we climbed into a large crevasse area that was in the shape of a very large funnel, with a big black hole at the bottom where water, rocks, gravel, dirt and ice were sliding down the edge into it. The diameter distance across the top of this steep funnel shaped, large open ice pit of slick ice, must have been at least a couple hundred feet, if not larger. When a large rock or ice chunk fell and slid down the edge of this large funnel and into the big black hole at the bottom, you could hear it rumble for what seemed like a minute or two as it fell toward the bottom of the glacier. We looked up and found that it was too steep to climb directly around or by it. I told Roger that we would have to climb back down and then climb back up the mountain beside and above it. He looked around and said, “I think we can climb around this small ledge of ice near the top edge above us.” We did have on our ice crampons and had our ice axes to assist in climbing on ice but that was it. This ice ledge was 4-5” to maybe 10’’ at the widest for a distance of at least 40 feet or more around the edge of this steep, wet, slick chunk of blue ice. I said, “there is no way.” Typical “mountain goat Roger” said we could do it. Being a praying man, I prayed as he started around this thin ledge of slick ice with a full pack, rifle in one hand and ice axe in the other. Miraculously, Roger made it. When he got to the other side, I was still standing there “frozen”. He said, “Come on you can do it.” I was literally scared to death (almost anyway), but started and prayed all the way and by God’s grace made it in spite of myself. I remember when I got to the other side, I had to sit down because I was so weak and drained mentally and physically. To Roger it just seemed like another day on a glacier, but for me it was almost life altering. After several miles up that side glacier, we only found a few goats. We then had to come back down the same glacier. Before we got to the “big funnel”, I said, “I am not going to take a chance of falling into the big black hole in that glacier and being frozen into it for eternity.” Roger said, “I am not going to climb up the side of this mountain and around to avoid that hole.” As I started up the mountain I asked, “Roger, what are your last words you want me to tell Karen?” I had not gone too far, when I looked back and saw him coming up the side of the mountain behind me. That was a tough day on the glacier.”
Ron and I were back at camp the evening of the fourth hunting day when we spotted a “super cub” circling a band of rams about five miles back toward the lake. It looked like the rams had come over Middle Mountain. The cub left and we got out the spotting scope to check out the rams. They were a long way off but even at that distance one looked like his horns were deep and flipped back. We hoped they would come our way. The next morning we couldn’t see the rams but the cub showed up again and started circling. The rams came out of a small draw and started up the mountain, coming our way. However, they were still a long way off. We watched them off and on all day long as they continued moving our way. Around 4 PM they were still high but they had made their way to within a mile of us. Looking at the big ram in the spotting scope with the blue sky in the background he looked spectacular. His horns were heavy and came down deep and flared out wide, I was sure he was at least 42”.
Around 6 PM they started feeding and working their way down the mountain toward us. We had our whites on and were getting set up. It couldn’t have gone any better. They actually came down into the sparse alder and at about a 150 yards my old .300 Winchester Magnum put him down. Once I made it over to him, I could see that he was a beautiful ram but his body was smaller than a sheep of that size so it made his horns look larger than they were. He was a 41 incher, my longest horned ram, but he only scored 165 B&C points. A super ram just not a record book ram.
We spent a few days hunting further up the glacier but couldn’t find another big ram so we returned back to base camp. That night as we were eating supper Ron asked, “What are you going to do with your ram, get it mounted or do a horn mount?” I told him that since it wasn’t larger than my 167 B&C, I would probably just do a horn mount. He said, “It’s such a nice sheep, if I don’t take one would you mind if I got it mounted.” I told him I wouldn’t mind at all as long as I could keep the horns for a couple weeks to show friends but hey, you’re going to get your sheep tomorrow.
It was our last day that we were going to hunt before we started our hike out. We spotted from around camp which had a 360-degree view of the best sheep country in Alaska. Early that afternoon we spotted a good looking ram down by the glacier ice in the small valley that we hunted the first day. We climbed the left side of the valley and got above the ram. It took us three or four hours but the ram wasn’t in a hurry to climb out of the bottom so it worked out great. I set up my old 60 power Bausch and Lomb spotting scope and we watched him slowly feed up the side of the mountain. He had really heavy bases but not overly long for the size of his bases. I’m pretty sure we had seen him earlier in the hunt. Ron and I took turns watching him. Ron kept asking if I thought he would go 40”. I said, “He is heavy and at least 38”. Ron said, “I’m afraid he is only 36-37 and I have four of them!” I told him I know he is bigger than that but I just don’t think he is quite 40”. By now he is only 100 or so yards from us and we are looking at him with our binoculars. We are also starting to lose light. I say, “you need to shoot him!” Ron says, “I’m just afraid he’s not 38” or better. I’m just going to mount yours.” I said, “Ok, it’s up to you.” As we were slowly walking away, the sheep is now watching us and I say one more time, “you need to shoot this ram!” Ron turned around, takes a knee rest and pulls the trigger on his .300 Weatherby Magnum. The ram drops and rolls about a hundred yards down the steep slope. I take off and start working my way down to the ram. The closer I got the bigger the horns looked. As I grabbed hold of the horns, I yelled to Ron, “Wait until you see this guy, you’re going to be surprised!!” Once Ron was there you could see he was really surprised because he knew he had a big ram. He was a magnificent ram with great bases and a deep curl with at least two inches worn off on each horn and taped a perfect 40 inches and a final score of 170 2/8 B&C. Our first and only B&C sheep and to think we were going to pass this ram up. Man was I glad he shot that ram.
It was dark and late when we made it back to our base camp and we were really tired but were happy campers.
The following morning, we took many photos of the two rams and us together. Then we packed up for the twelve-mile trip out. We didn’t get started until around 3 PM and with each of us having over a 100-pound pack it was a tough go. We arrived at the lake the next afternoon.
What a great hunt with a great friend. Memories to last a lifetime! One of my many favorite hunts.