Camp High, Hunt Hard

By Jim Loomis
Alaska, Guided, Public Land
Camp High, Hunt HardDec/Jan 2011 EHJ (Issue 122) - As the drone of the 1957 De Havilland Beaver hummed off in the distance, I was left with the solitude of the Alaska Brooks Range. At this moment, I realized I was living my lifelong dream of hunting Alaska!

Growing up in Montana, I’ve hunted most of my life, with elk and deer being a dinner staple. I love the challenge of hunting and the memories you gain while hunting with friends and family. Yearning for something new, however, I had always wanted to hunt Alaska. After 11 years of trying to convince my wife that this was something I needed to do, she relented. The next day I was making phone calls and getting information. Unfortunately, what I wanted to hunt was Dall’s sheep or grizzly bear, both of which require a guide. After watching a Dall’s sheep hunt in the Brooks Range on TV, I decided this was exactly the type of hunt I wanted.

I contacted Rick French of Alaska Alpine Outfitters and started making plans. I also called my longtime hunting buddy, Randy Reed, and invited him to go with me. Randy and I had always talked about going to Alaska, but that’s about as far as it went. This time it was for real and he said he was going if I was! We booked the hunt, giving us just over a year to prepare.

One thing I needed to do was get in shape. I cut back drastically on eating and started riding my exercise bike. The going was slow at first but I noticed improvements weekly. By the time the hunt came, I had lost 45 pounds and was riding 30 miles a shot on my bike. I was in my best shape of 20 years.

Rick sent down a detailed information packet of things we would have to have for gear and some helpful suggestions. I read the suggestions about gear and being in shape - all of which were useful. The anticipation and preparation for this hunt was almost as fun as the hunt itself.

The 160-mile bush plane ride was one of many highlights for me; being my first time in a small aircraft and flying through such a spectacular mountain range was breathtaking. Our pilot, Kurt, had flown for 33 years and had a vast knowledge of the area and its history. Any reservations I had about flying were at ease.

Kurt dropped us off and Rick was waiting. His first hunter had just been successful in taking a 36-inch ram and a big interior grizzly. Our adrenaline level was through the roof when we finally reached base camp.

Our base camp was way more than I expected. It was outfitted with wall tents, cots, a cooking area, latrine, and even a tent with a hot shower in it. I must say, I didn’t expect to get a shower until the hunt was over!

The next day, we stuffed our backpacks with four days’ worth of food. We packed freeze-dried dinners, bagels, rice, jerky, oatmeal and granola bars. It doesn’t sound like much, but it gets you by just fine.

Our hunt started the same as any backpack hunt, with lots of hiking; straight up tough vertical hiking. We hiked a full day just to make it to spike camp. From there, Rick figured we would be hunting within a mile or two, as his scouting had revealed some sheep just over the next ridge. I can’t say that I slept very well that first night; I was way too excited.

The morning sun finally crept up and the cool damp night air began to settle. We shook the frost off our sleeping bags and looked forward to a hot bowl of Malt-o-Meal. As we started to look for a water source, I spotted a large grizzly less than 1,000 yards from camp. Almost instantly, the bear bolted in the other direction. I’m glad he didn’t come visit us in our sleeping bags, because Rick told us that a grizzly can smell the color of your eyes!

After we all settled down from our first grizzly sighting, we got camp loaded up and started looking for rams. When we reached the top of any ridgeline, Rick would peek over with his spotting scope and scan the drainage. After an hour of hiking, Rick peeked over a rock outcropping and ducked back down. There were 40 sheep in the next drainage, two of which were legal rams.

Jim Loomis

For a full account of Jim's adventure, go to page 42 in the December/January 2011 issue of Eastmans' Hunting Journal.