My 2005 Brooks Range, Alaska Dall Sheep Hunt
by Jim Speaks
[floatright][/floatright]This hunt had been a dream of mine for many years. The allure of Alaska was something I couldn’t get out of my mind. After years of saving, I booked a hunt with an outfitter from Anchorage. The hunt was to take place in mid-August, 2005. Starting in January of 2005, I stepped up my workouts to prepare for the rigors of sheep hunting. I had read somewhere that the average distance traveled per day sheep hunting was 5-6 miles (ha). My workouts consisted of free weights, running, stair-stepper w/80-100 lb backpack, plus I had an 8 mile trek I would make regularly with a loaded pack.
Well, August finally arrived and on the morning of the 17th I arrived at Fort Yukon, Alaska. There I met a guy from Oregon, we were to catch a bush plane to our hunt area. The flight in was great, although there was a lot of smoke obscuring the view, due to some large fires burning in the area. As we neared the Brooks Range the smoke disappeared revealing a beautiful landscape.
When we landed we met the two previous hunters, one who had harvested a sheep and the other had gone on a float hunt for sheep and Arctic grizzly. He managed to get both in the same drainage. The ram was a heavily broomed 11 year-old. As soon as we got our gear out of the plane, one of the guides informed us that a young female grizzly had made a few appearances at that particular campsite…so beware.
About 3 hours after we turned in that night we heard the guide yelling “Bear! Bear! Talk about getting your adrenaline going. The guy whom I flew in with had a bear tag but in Alaska you can’t hunt for 24 hours after flying. So everyone began yelling and throwing rocks with rifles in hand, of course. The bear decided that was enough, but only after she had bitten several holes in the bottom of a brand new raft. It must have looked tasty.
Well the next morning the outfitter arrived in his super cub and flew me up river about 14 miles to meet up with my guide, Gary. With the 24 hour wait after flying my hunt would begin the following day. Later that evening probably about 9 o’clock (it really never would get dark) a large boar Arctic grizzly decided to pay us a visit. When we started yelling and throwing rocks, he became really annoyed. The guide decided a stronger measure was in order, so he blasted a rock in front of him with his 375 H&H. That sent the bear up the mountain in a hurry.
[floatleft][/floatleft]Time to sheep hunt the following day. We headed up a drainage to the North about 5 miles to set up a spike camp. On the way in we stopped to glass 9 rams in a basin, but there were no shooters. After camp was set we preceded East to look for sheep the remainder of the day. The higher we climbed the more the clouds thickened, it soon started to spit rain which turned to sleet. Although we didn’t see any sheep that afternoon it was a good day.
The following morning we headed west. We covered a lot of territory and around 2:30 p.m. we came upon two rams, one which was legal, but he was thin on his tips so I decided to pass on him. Although, we didn’t find any sheep after these two, we covered some fantastic sheep habitat before we made it back to our spike camp late that night.
Day 3 we headed northeast to check out some new country. As we gained elevation we looked back in the direction of camp to see a band of sheep high in a grassy saddle. Even though these sheep were 2.5 to 3 miles away the spotting scope confirmed them to be ewes and lambs. Mid-afternoon we finally made it to a good vantage point to glass some awesome country. We located 5 rams after 20-30 minutes of glassing and two looked really nice. The only problem was that they were bedded on a spine with a 360 degree field of view 1.5 miles away. We decided to wait for the rams to make a move, several hours later they dropped off the backside of the ridge. This is just what we hoped they would do, so we set off expecting to catch them feeding in a near by basin. We descended to the valley as quickly as possible, then down river about .5 miles to the next valley and started to climb again. We eventually made it to the basin but found no sheep. We then proceeded to the next ridge to check for the rams, but no such luck. They had simply vanished.
Up until now we had enjoyed great weather, with the exception of a few hours the first afternoon. When we awoke on the 4th morning the wind had switched and was now coming from the south and with it came smoke from some large forest fires burning in east-central Alaska. Around noon with the mountains obscured we decided it would be a good day to trek back to the main camp to replenish our food supply. Later that afternoon back at our spike camp we decided to eat early and turn-in for some much needed rest and pray the wind would shift and take the smoke elsewhere.
When we awoke on day 5 our prayers were answered with the smoke having gone, although there was some fog present. We decided to head north to check out some un-hunted country. We traveled about 2 miles up river and started to encounter heavier fog, but we thought it would burn off before long. While the fog had the peaks engulfed we decided to make a slight detour to the east and work our way up a drainage to see if we might be able to relocate the 5 rams we had found on the third day. We were hoping the fog would give us cover as we approached the general area we believed the rams were hanging out in. We ascended the mountain as far as we dare until we were in the fog ourselves. Hopefully, we hadn’t spooked anything.
About 45 minutes later the fog started to dissipate somewhat. A few minutes later we spotted a ram about 800 yards to the east. It’s good we didn’t proceed further up the drainage as we probably would have spooked him. We checked him out quite awhile and decided that he wasn’t either of the two larger rams. We held our ground to see what else the receding fog might reveal. Several minutes had passed and to my surprise I located a ram above us but slightly to the left of our position. He was standing on a rock out-cropping and peering down right at us, he definitely looked like one of the larger rams. He looked good in my 15x58 Minox binoculars. My guide Gary confirmed that he was 8+ years old. (Alaska law states a legal ram as one being 8 years or older or one possessing a full curl.) I pulled out my range finder to get a reading on him. Try as I may I couldn’t seem to get a reading; finally I decided to range the rock he is standing on, bingo 434yards. I guess the remaining fog wasn’t allowing a precise reading aiming at the ram. The ram is still looking down at us, although he doesn’t seem to be alarmed. I then tell Gary that when he turns broadside I’m going to punch a hole in him.
[floatright][/floatright]The ram finally turns and I decide to wait until he gets on a grassy patch before I shoot. The gun I’m packing on this hunt is pretty much a factory Remington, although I own a couple custom long range hunting rifles. It’s a 300 Win Mag, HS stock and a Vias muzzle brake. The scope is a 3.5-15x56mm Nightforce w/ the NP1-RR reticle. My load is a 180 Nosler BT moly-coated, propelled by IMR 4831 and a Fed 215M primer.
[floatleft][/floatleft]I had previously told my guide that anything 650 yards and under was a done deal. The ram was now completely broadside at 450 yards and feeding. Due to the angle I held low on his heart and gently applied pressure to the trigger. The bullet struck him a couple of inches above the heart. It was all over but the tumble down. Thank goodness the grassy patch he was in when I shot was a large one as it cushioned his fall. When he came to rest he didn’t have a scratch except for the hole the BT left. He was 9+ years old and past full curl, what a beautiful animal…a dream come true.
After we made it back to the main camp the weather changed for the worse with rain turning to snow. Two days later the outfitter got enough of a break in the weather to fly in, but no sooner had he landed than the wind picked back up, which prevented us from flying out. Finally, late the following afternoon the wind subsided long enough to get airborne. A few hours later we arrived at the village of Fort Yukon. WHAT AN ADVENTURE!!!
************Jim lives in SW Mississippi. He is an avid big game hunter. He especially enjoys hunting out West. Long range shooting and varmint hunting are also favorite past-times. On this forum he uses the name jimbo300.