Giant Dall Double
Apr/May 2011 EHJ (Issue 124)
Alaska, 2010, DIY, Public Land
- Four days earlier, we were blanketed in fog and snow and I would have loved to see just a glimpse of the sun. Now, as it hung barely above the opposite ridge in a cloudless sky, it couldn’t disappear soon enough. More than 150 miles north of the Arctic Circle, I was high on a ridge in the Brooks Range, and banking heavily on the prospect of three Dall rams being somewhere in the valley below me.
If I looked over the ridge, it would be difficult for me to see, but if the sheep were indeed there, I would be fully lit up and exposed. I decided to wait it out, but as far north as I was, the sun’s track was as much horizontal as it was vertical. An hour and a half later it was finally gone, and I began my belly-crawl over the jagged rocks. We had seen these same rams on the first two days of the hunt, and then they disappeared. Since then, we had put on 40 miles in five days without seeing any sheep, until I stumbled into them entering this valley earlier in the day.
I had been in and out of Alaska with seasonal work for years, but now had legal residency – a legal requirement to hunt sheep, goat, and brown/grizzly bear unguided in Alaska. An exception is made for certain nonresident relatives, and my dad, Gary, came up from Minnesota for the hunt. At almost 62, he trained hard, faithfully heading up and down the neighbors’ hill, adding weight to his pack as the trip date approached.
Our ride into the mountains was in a small Cessna on tundra tires. I was confident in our pilot and the ride, but the weather looked less than promising. Shortly after takeoff, we were above billowy white clouds. When we came upon a window to the earth below, the pilot took advantage of it, ducking beneath the clouds while we still had a chance. We bobbed and wove around fog banks and even flew through a snow squall. Just when the valley ahead looked completely socked in, the pilot cut the power and we glided toward what he called “the runway”.
We made a bouncy touchdown on the tundra, and in less than ten minutes the plane was unloaded. As the whine of the engine faded, the realization set in that we were very alone amongst complete silence, with nothing to do for the next ten days but enjoy the rugged solitude of the mountains and search for the rams we had been dreaming about for so long.
We loaded enough food in our packs to last six days and then headed up the drainage over a dry riverbed. We passed a grizzly feeding on berries, which I had a tag for, but it was day one and Alaska does not allow sameday- airborne hunting. The valley was covered with the tracks from thousands of caribou, but not an animal was in sight. As we put on miles, the valley walls transformed from lifeless gray rocks to patches of life-sustaining green.
We set up camp on a flat bench above the river in a central location that would allow us to hunt the surrounding valleys for the next few days. It was past 7 p.m., but at our current latitude, it would remain light until around midnight. That evening, Dad ran into four rams above camp, and we hit the tent physically exhausted but with high hopes.
For a full account of Jed & Gary's adventure, go to page 22 in the April/May 2011 issue of Eastmans' Hunting Journal.