Gear For Dall Sheep Backpack Hunting
By Michael Eichele
"This was supposed to be my first backpack sheep hunt and I swore it would be my last."
I woke up from my 5 minute nap when one of the only two tent pegs keeping my tent from tumbling down the mountain pulled out of the ground. My heart about stopped when my body weight pulled the tent I was sleeping in down the steep slope. I bolted out of that tent like shot out of a cannon, heart pounding, breathing hard from the adrenaline and nerves. I was beat, feet so sore I couldn't take another step up the mountain. I had been soaked from the deluge during the day before.
I had never backpack hunted the remote high country before. I had never even backpacked into the high country in my life.
"Wow! Was I in for a rude awakening. "
I started out the day before opening day from the highway with a 70# backpack. I had just bought a new set of hiking boots a few days prior. I had no idea what a backpack adventure I was in for.
The bottom line is to be successful at sheep hunting, you must have incredible will. You must accept that you will be wet, cold, tired, sore, hungry, thirsty and lonely for a back country sheep hunt to be successful. I have learned a lot since that 1st attempt to backpack hunt the high country. Hopefully I can pass on some useful info to you.
My 70# pack could have easily been 45-55 pounds. I had way too much unnecessary backpack junk. I had hip waders, hiking boots, tennis shoes, a day pack, a hard back book, cans of food, way too much water, 4 knives, a hatchet, 3 fuel bottles, and too much to mention.
"I cannot stress enough the importance of using the lightest backpack gear available."
Let's start with some backpack gear you will need. Ounces add up to pounds and excess pounds wear you down when backpack hunting. There is an abundance of titanium products available these days. Granted they are a bit more expensive than traditional backpack gear but well worth the price when every step costs you valuable strength and energy. Remember, the end goal when backpack hunting is to harvest a ram. You will need all the strength available to you in order to do this. You will need clothing, shelter, food, water, cooking utensils, hunting gear, survival gear and hunting gear.
I will start with the shelter. A one man backpack tent is all you will need for this adventure. One man tents can be bought in the 3 pound range. Remember, the lighter and more compact the backpack gear, the better. It should have a good rain fly as you will be in lots of rain. Clothes are key to your success when backpack hunting. You will want to leave ALL cotton items at home. Cotton clothes in sheep country can kill you. Good synthetics are much better. Wool is too heavy and absorbs too much moisture for this application. Leave them home as well. Polyester sheds moisture fast and will keep you warm when wet. Fleece is an awesome body warmer as well as a good wind blocker, something you will encounter regularly on a backpack hunting trip.
Gore Tex type rain gear is light, compact and very effective. Rain will also be a regular companion during your backpack quest. Make sure you pack your best rain gear. Good synthetic socks such as Thor-Lo's are a must as well as warm insulated waterproof boots. Aside from warm and water proof, boots should be sturdy with semi aggressive soles for hiking in the snot. A good base layer is a must for the cold mornings and brisk evenings on a backpack hunting trip. Under Armor and other moisture wicking type thermals are a must. These can be shed if the day warms up. A down vest compresses nicely, weighs little and keeps you very warm while sitting in a windy saddle looking for game. Be sure and pack one.
A lot of heat can be lost through your head. A quality head sock or beanie can not only keep you comfortable, it can help prevent hypothermia in an emergency. Sleeping in a head insulator will also keep more heat in your body. If your body is using energy staying warm, it is not applying energy into recovering burned out muscles and you will suffer physically the next day. Use them. Insulated gloves are useful during the cold glassing sessions as well.
Your sleeping bag is one of the most important backpack items you will take. Make sure it is light, compact and effective. Down bags are spendy but compress well, and are very warm for the weight. The only draw back is that if it gets wet, it will make you cold. Simple solutions are to transport them and store them in the tent in a garbage bag. Another part of your sleeping quality is to be off the ground for warmth. There are a variety of pads available. Some include compact inflatable pads and others are closed cell foam pads. Don't underestimate quality sleep for your recovery from long days of up and down hill hiking. To sum up your sleep needs. Stay warm and stay dry and stay comfortable.
Now that we have gone over backpack tents, sleeping bags and clothes, let's talk about rifles, calibers and other hunting gear. Starting with the high country long-range rifle, a sheep rig should be of manageable weight. Manageable may mean different things for different hunters. The bottom line is that it is up to you as to how heavy you want your rifle. I prefer an 11# rig. Scoped and loaded. I prefer a varmint style taper and a short action. Dall sheep are not tough to dispatch, so use your most accurate rifle as they are a smallish big game target usually shot at longer than average ranges. .243 Winchesters, 308?s, 6.5x284's all make excellent long range sheep calibers as they are highly accurate, multiple loads don't add up into pounds, and have sufficient energy for up to 600+ yards.
Scopes should be extremely well built and ready for potential abuse. Trips and spills can test the finest equipment. Make sure you are using very sturdy rings and bases along with a sturdy scope. I like using the original Leupold Mark 4's and the NF NXS scopes as well. Both models are very sheep hunting worthy. Remember, in this country there is a high probability that lots of rain and moisture will be a close companion.
This is no place for a solid wood stock and it helps to use stainless steel barrels and actions. If using blued steel, regular care is needed to prevent it from rusting and pitting. SS equipment can still rust, but it does so much slower and cleans up very easily. Laminated wood stocks or preferably full synthetic stocks are a very wise choice over solid one piece wood stocks. A bipod will also be your best friend when you finally set up on your shot of a lifetime.
Now on to hunting gear. You will need at minimum, a GPS, map, knife, knife sharpener, waterproof matches, magnesium block with spark striker, 50' parachute cord, toilet paper, zip loc bags, trash bags, headlamp, batteries, satellite phone and instructions, roll of electrician's tape, binoculars, spotting scope, tri-pod, rangefinder, pocket calculator, ballistics card or PDA with ballistic software, water purifying tablets or filter, thermometer or weather station, wind meter, compass, optic lens cleaning kit and multi purpose tool. Optional gear could include a camera, and/or video camera, book, lightweight stool, bone saw and rope. Keep in mind the above items should be of quality lightweight materials. GPS's should be compact, simple, lightweight and waterproof.
Optics should be of premium quality as sheep in the rocks or shale can be some of the most difficult critters on earth to spot. They roll around in the dirt and then lay in it. They become the dirt and can be near impossible to spot. Quality 10x binoculars mounted on a tripod is one of the best ways to spend hours looking for sheep. This method will help you spot more game and give you less of a headache. The spotting scope can be used for sizing up rams once they have been located for legality or trophy quality. The tips of ram's horns can be tough to see at 2+ miles even with a good scope. It would be a shame to pass up a legal ram thinking he is not yet legal because the scope used was of low quality.
A simple hunting knife and a leatherman type multi tool is all you will need for gutting, skinning, boning and caping your trophy. Remember, the lighter and more compact your gear is, the more successful you will be.
As far as food and water is concerned, you should pack enough water to hike up to your base camp and water should be reasonably close to your base camp. Parasites can live in the most pristine waters and care must be taken. Water purifying tablets are cheep, light and effective. Filters are effective as well but are heavy, bulky and expensive.
You should have a small pot and lid for boiling water and cooking and a compact stove for heating the pot. MSR makes a "pocket rocket" and Brunton makes a "raptor". Both are ultra compact, light and effective. They use small disposable propane fuel cells. The other option is a slightly bigger backpacking stove that uses white gas. These are effective and the fuel lasts much longer but the gas bottle and stoves are bigger and heavier and have hoses to fail, and will at some point. Titanium spoons are easy to come by at your local outdoor shop. They cost more but weigh little.
Food should be light, compact and nutritious. In this day and age, we have never had it so good. Freeze dried meals are very tasty these days, light, nutritious and easy to prepare. These make for a good dinner at the end of a long day of climbing and descending. Breakfast should include lots of carbs as well as protein for good energy. An example of breakfast might be some oatmeal and a few pieces of jerky and maybe a powerbar. Lunch is usually a compilation of snacks. Jerky, trail mixes, berries, balance bars, powerbars and such.
The bottom line is that you should eat lots of protein and carbs with heavy portions of protein at night. This will replace critical muscles that you burned the day before while you sleep. Also, it will help prevent muscle cramps in the middle of the night. Another key to preventing midnight cramps is lots of water consumption. Stay hydrated during the day and guzzle water before bed with you protein. Freeze dried food typically has lots of protein per serving and I like to supplement these portions with jerky and powerbars. All of which is high in protein.
Eating right, drinking right and sleeping right will greatly improve your odds of success. In another up and coming article, there will be more information on how to hunt these magnificent rams, where to hunt, how to find and stalk rams, regulations and long range shooting in the high country. For now, if you?re planning a sheep hunt in the near future, go through your gear, see where you can improve in this area and make the needed adjustments. By following these guidelines for gear, food, water and sleep, there will be a fine ram mounted on your wall soon. Good hunting to you!
A few helpful tips:
To dry wet clothes, put them into your sleeping bag at night. Your body heat will evaporate the moisture while you sleep
Eat high energy food at the day?s beginning and lots of protein at night for muscle replenishment.
Cut your toenails before you leave for the first hike.
When leaving a high country water supply take the time to stop and fill all your water containers and drink until you feel sick.
Always sleep with your head covered to prevent heat loss. Your body will recover faster when warm.
Always stay hydrated. It is common thought that a sheep hunter?s highest risk for serious injury or death is a bad fall. The fact is a sheep hunter is many times more likely to die or suffer serious injury from hypothermia. Adequate hydration is key to helping prevent hypothermia.
Always carry a reliable GPS on you even if the weather is clear and you can see landmarks. Fog can roll in very fast and ridges turn into mazes. Mark lots of waypoints and use it.
If you must leave your base camp for several days, always place your sleeping bag in a water proof bag, even if you have a reliable rain proof tent.
To prevent late night muscle cramps, eat lots of protein before bed and drink lots of water as well.
Michael has lived in Alaska for 10 years. He has killed 4 Dall rams. The largest was 38" long with 14 1/2" bases. The longest was 763 yards.