April/May 2013 EHJ (Issue 136) - This sheep hunt started as other hunts begin: a remote possibility with potential for greatness. Any legal ram is a trophy, but my heart was set on a true adventure with giant full-curl potential. Statistics suggested that only a few giant rams are taken every couple years outside of "draw areas.” I wanted to hunt on public land with an over-the-counter tag, just like other resident sheep hunters.
Sheep hunting is often associated with big money. Individuals pay insane amounts for a tag or even save their entire life for a guided hunt. One of the luxuries about living in Alaska is the FREE, over-thecounter Dall’s sheep tags!
The Area Selection
For months I pored over topos, talked with biologists and pilots, and conferred with a consortium of successful sheep hunters and guides. I came away with a notepad full of unlikely leads. Sheep hunters are tight-lipped when it comes to the honey holes that big rams frequent. It wasn’t until I decided on a partner for this hunt that my intel grew stronger and my plan started to materialize. When I asked one of my best friends, Larry Bartlett, who is also an Alaska Adventure Planner, if he would be interested in going after sheep, he just smiled and asked when we were leaving.
After some research, Larry said he’d narrowed our options and had some leads on a mountain drainage with the potential of taking a nice ram but the distance to this area would make the trip somewhat arduous.
It was subtle, but Larry’s definition of "arduous” was concerning. When he says an adventure is difficult, he really means that most mortals would quit or potentially harm themselves during the pursuit. I was in.
Larry mentioned that a few of his friends had hunted this area and they all reported shooting their rams around ten miles from the drop off. However, they also recalled a sheep that sported what looked like 4-wheeler tires on its head, a massive ram roughly four to six miles further up the drainage. None of these hunters felt this ram was accessible do to the extremely rugged terrain. A pilot had also mentioned that he’d seen a monster ram nearly 20 miles into this area that would likely live and die without being hunted due to its proximity to inaccessible terrain. A smart old ram of mythical proportion…could these reports be true?
Confirm the Intel
A month before the trip, Larry and I met with the old bush pilot that mentioned the big ram. He pulled out his map and drew his calloused, leathery finger across the page, pushed his glasses up his nose and circled the spot where he’d seen the bruiser. He said, "Boys, if I were 30 years younger we wouldn’t be having this conversation. But if you want "Epic,” you’ll have to work for him.”
The last tip came from an unexpected source, a university-funded geologist. He had been working all summer studying shale formations and collecting rock and soil samples across the Brooks Range, from Canada to the Dalton Highway. I only smiled as he described a huge ram he’d seen cross the river channel, roughly 18 miles from our intended drop off. I don’t take stock in word of mouth, especially when sheep hunting is discussed, but Larry and I had enough unrelated sources of fresh information to feel comfortable with our selected area. The final 72 hours before stepping out was spent preparing for our 10-day, 40 mile round-trip pursuit for Epic.
Stay Focused on Target
Sheep season started on August 10. We flew in on the 7th and landed on the only tundra strip in the valley, some 12+ miles from sheep country. We quickly set up camp to cache our salt for capes and some comfort items. On day one we made our way up the U-shaped river valley to access our area. For the first six miles we traversed tundra and traversed numerous braids of an ancient glacial tributary. We passed bachelor herds of trophy bull caribou along the ridgelines, tempting us to sway from our goal. By day two, we had seen a dozen or so shooter caribou and a big grizzly, but we stayed focused on a big ram.
Dismayed, we had hiked fourteen miles and still hadn’t located a ram. As we glassed the surroundings, we noticed a plane flying a straight-line course suddenly turn for a mountain about six miles away. He spent ten minutes or so circling this massive chunk of granite and shale, and then continued on. A few hours later, another plane f lying from a different direction executed the same maneuver. Larry and I both thought these pilots were scouting and there was undoubtedly a ram on this large chunk of terrain we called "Vortex Mountain.” When a third plane repeated the actions of the first two, we were confident.
For a full account of Butch's adventure, go to page 32 in the April/May 2013 issue of Eastmans' Hunting Journal.