A Flatlander's First Dall Sheep Hunt
by Bob Lewis
|“Wait for him to stand up” urged my guide, Sean. We had just topped a
small ridge and once again spotted the ram we had located two hours earlier
as we walked across the valley. He was bedded on a prominent knoll on the
north side of the bowl, 307 yards away presenting an almost dead on shot,
quartering slightly to our left. As I lay prone with a solid rock rest, I
responded, “I can take him”…
This sure shot was the culmination of my first sheep hunt that had been planned for well over one year. I had arrived in Alaska three days earlier, flying into Prudhoe Bay from Anchorage.
At Deadhorse Airport I met my outfitter for a two-hour ride south to the small airstrip at Happy Valley. From there I was flown by an experienced bush pilot, Kurt Beddingfield, to meet Sean Donnovan, my guide from Deltana Outfitters. Knowing that I too was a pilot, Kurt warned me that the landing at this 400’ strip at 3000’ elevation could get a bit hairy, but he made it look easy as we touched down and rolled to a stop with 150’ to spare!
After exchanging handshakes, Sean let me know that he had been out for two days prior to my arrival and was confident that there should be quite a few rams in the area I was to hunt. Named “Spanish” by Deltana owner Ralph Miller I arrived at our base camp late Wednesday afternoon, a day earlier than planned. We departed early Thursday morning to set up a spike camp halfway up the mountain in order to be that much closer to the area we would hunt on opening day as well as to do a bit of scouting. Though the packs were relatively light, loaded only with provisions for three days, I was glad that my exercise program at home had been a rigorous one and I felt prepared for the exacting nature of these hunts. Mississippi, my home state, offers no terrain amenable to train for sheep hunts, so most of my workouts were on an incline trainer or stair climber with a 50-70# pack.
I gained confidence as I was able to make my 50 year old body keep pace with my lithe 27 year old guide from Montana. We made it to the spike camp site and there paused for a bite of lunch. Soon after, we headed up the valley to scout. After 5 hours we had only seen two ewes and one small ram, but we did get to observe what was certainly a record-book caribou on a ridge about 1500 yards to our east. His main beams spread to nearly three times his body width, and the height from their tops to the top of his head was just as high as from the ground to the top of his head! I wanted to go after him (I had a tag), but Sean felt that since this was primarily a sheep hunt, we should just stay put for fear of blowing out any unseen rams from the area. We returned to camp at 6:00 pm, ate and retired for the evening. The continuous light of the far north added to the anticipation of the upcoming day made sleep come uneasily. “I am finally here!” was my mind’s oft repeated refrain and the overworked phrase, “I felt like a kid on Christmas Eve” could not have been more appropriate as I settled into an agitated rest.
I wrested Sean from slumber at 4:00 am and we ate breakfast quickly, packed enough for a snack lunch and headed off up to an area where he had seen rams on opening day for the past three years. It was difficult for me not to race ahead, overly eager for my first sheep. About a mile out of camp, we did spook a small one, probably the three-quarter curl that we had spotted the day before. Thankfully, he ran back the way that we had come and not ahead into the bowl where we planned to hunt. We made our way more cautiously and reached the ridge that led east into a larger valley. Sean had seen rams in the area regularly, but that was not to be today.
After about twenty minutes, we headed west to sit on a vantage point that
would allow us to inspect the entire bowl, especially the north face, which
was where Sean voiced that our next best chance would be. Before we reached
our western lookout though, Sean halted, excitedly saying that he had
spotted a lone ram on a knob on the north face. Through the spotting scope,
we determined that he was clearly legal. Ducking behind a western hill, we
hiked into the valley and headed for what we thought would be a good
shooting vantage point; however, when we got there, the ram had vanished and
we realized that we had misjudged distance as we were still 600+ yards from
where the ram had been!
Sean urged me to wait quickly, edgy and anxious, I declared that I would take the shot. With that decision made, I calmed down, exhaled slightly, and settled the crosshairs of my Swarovski AV 4-12x50 on the midline chest. Sighted in 3” high at 100 yards; it was about 3” low at 300. The Barnes MRX custom load by Superior Ammunition executed perfectly, and with a resounding THUMP, the old boy simply lay his head down as if to sleep! It was 8:10 am on the first day of my first sheep hunt; I was lightheaded with excitement. As Sean’s “Congratulations!” rang in my ears, I applauded him for having had a ram taken in this area on opening morning for four consecutive years.
When we reached my trophy, he was better than I had hoped for. Almost perfectly symmetrical, he gross scored 158 5/8, and his lengths were 39 3/8 and 39 5/8, with bases of 12 6/8 and 12 2/8 respectively. His net score was 157 1/8. We aged him at thirteen years; he had no top teeth and had only four remaining on the bottom. This old man likely would not have survived another harsh Alaskan winter. We snapped pictures for what seemed an eternity, and then we stretched out for a bit to savor this moment, to revel in the memory. The day was gorgeous, and we had no pressure (or desire) to rush back down to base camp.
Later, the cleaning and caping was done without incident, and we loaded
up for the jaunt to spike camp, broke camp, and hiked down to base. The trip
downhill involved “crick” crossing numerous times, and we finally staggered
into “Spanish” at 8:00 pm. First order of business was to fire up the stove,
to grab the tenderloin, a few potatoes, and an onion and then sit back as a
perfect meal cooked to perfection ended a perfect day.
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