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Bryce's Sheep Hunt

Bryce’s Sheep Hunt

By Bryce McGough

Getting a Tok Management Area Sheep permit is difficult, and depending on how you want to get into the Tok management area, it can be even tougher. You have two choices, walk in or fly in. We decided on the more traditional hunt. The details on getting there are less important than the hunt so I’ll skip that part altogether. Anyone who’s ever been sheep hunting will tell you this is one tough hunt.

Bryce's Sheep Hunt

After glassing miles of ridges and draws, locating a couple hundred white rocks, we finally located an actual live sheep. It had to be some five to six miles away but at least we could tell it was a ram. We set up the spotting scope and saw it was a nice full-curl ram. As we were setting up base camp, now something past 8:00 at night, a quick glance through the spotting scope was enough for some serious excitement. Out from behind a rock, right next to this full curl ram comes this “way past” full curl ram. Our best guess at that distance was 41/42”. That discovery was not helpful in trying to get a good night’s sleep.

We got up at daybreak, coffee’d up, packed up and took off. We guessed by the direction the sheep took the night before that they went over the top and we might find them in the next valley. It wasn’t that they were simply five miles back, these rams were up there, as in way up there and over some of the steepest terrain I’ve ever encountered.

On the way up, we came face to face with a grizzly about 50’ away. At first, all we could see was his behind but eventually he turned to look at us. We thought we might be close enough to the rams that a shot meant to chase him off would be all the rams needed to leave the area. Even though we had a tag, our goal was not a grizzly. Fortunately, not particularly interested in each other, he ran off.

We topped the ridge at about 2:00pm. Nothing. A couple ewes and lambs was about it. The rams were gone. We took lunch and patrolled the ridge top for a while but couldn’t find the rams and, even equally as disappointing, couldn’t figure where they might have gone. On our second ridge patrol and totally exposed, we spotted them. They hadn’t gone over the ridge as we anticipated. In fact, they came down the mountain toward us. Although a few ridges over, we had walked past them. Both were sitting out in the open on top of a long sloping ridge ending on a 50’ cliff with a 360 degree view. The closest we could get to them without being seen was about 8 to 900 yards away. At least now we were able to study this ram at a much closer distance. Our new estimate has him around 42/43“. Trust me, when you see a world class animal like this one, patience is not easily acquired.

It was 4:00pm, still early, and we elected to wait them out until they moved. By 5:30 they were still there and from all indications, they were going to stay there. We decided to split up. My dad would go down below the rams and try to push them up toward me. About an hour later the rams finally moved. It looked like this plan was going to work! Of course they took off in a direction away from me so I had to change positions. I raced around the backside of a ridge and move in for a closer shot. I'm maybe 500 yards away now but still too far for a shot. I take off behind another ridge and come out what I thought was going to be closer. They were still traveling away from me so I didn't gain much ground. They disappeared behind a small draw so I backed off again and ran around another ridge and just said this is it, I have to take a shot. So I reached the other side of the ridge and found a perfect rock bench to lay my gun on. I focused on the other end of the draw and waited.. My hands covered in perspiration, all I could hear was my heartbeat. I could hardly take the anticipation. So I waited.. and waited.. and waited. About 5 minutes went by and I couldn't figure out why they were taking so long, but I elected to wait some more. Well about 15 minutes went by before I figured out that as I ran around my last ridge they must have turned and ran straight up the adjacent mountain and ran over the back side. My opportunity was lost.

7:30. I'm at the top of this mountain and I have maybe an hour and a half left of daylight. I look for the quickest route down and go for it. In short, I end up in a canyon with a 10' waterfall behind me and a 15' waterfall in front of me, 20' walls on either side of me made up of shale and moss. I can't go back up the 10' waterfall behind me because that was a one-way ticket dropping down that and I certainly can't make it down the 15' waterfall without a following helicopter ride out of there. So I take the lesser of the evils and go for the vertical wall. In order to climb I have to kick and punch to create steps and handles. Now that I am exhausting so much energy, exactly half way up my body lets me know right away that I have forgotten to eat anything in hours. I get a hunger attack so bad that my kneecaps start bouncing like crazy and I realize I have to eat something or I am going to lose footing and take a dive on the rocks. I plant my whole body against the rocks, grab 2 trail mix bars and eat them in record time. Now with some energy regained I finish the ascent.

With about a half an hour of daylight left I book it down the mountain. Keep in mind, after chasing off a grizzly earlier that day on our way up and knowing he was in our area, coming down the mountain through tangled alders in the dark will raise your blood pressure substantially.

Drenched in sweat, I reached base camp around 11:00. To my surprise, my dad was not back yet. I expected him to be there and worried about where I've been. Now I'm worried. We lost daylight hours ago. Knowing what I just went though I feared the worst, thinking he got into a similar situation as me and fell and injured himself. At 11:30, he shows up. As it turns out he just took a much more difficult route through the alders. We washed up and hit the bags.

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