Sheep Hunt in Alaska Part 3
by Luke Moffat
Just then something clicked, in a similar way to when I spotted the wolf earlier in the trip. One time in my teens I had spooked a band of rams that ended up going up and over some nasty crags, into which I followed. As I crested the ridge line I found them bedded down, apparently feeling safe, as they had never had anything chase after them before. I figured why not try this now, “what do I have to lose?”. We were leaving that day either way, so it didn’t matter if I spooked every sheep out of this valley. The rams were moving into terrain Becca did not feel comfortable following into, and I needed to move much faster than I knew she could pursue. The mountain side was so steep that the rams couldn’t see me once I was on the hill, but they certainly would be able to see Becca in the bottom of the bowl. I hoped this might reassure the rams with the illusion that the foreign creatures in the bowl didn’t dare chase after them in the crags, snow, and ice.
I grabbed my rifle and began my climb at 5200’ and raced up as fast as my lungs would take me. Soon I was nearing the top of the 6400’ ridge and I could hear sheep hooves crunching in the snow. I knew I was close. I rounded a cliff face and saw all three rams staring at me dumbfounded less than 150 yards away.
I picked out the light horned ram that I knew was legal and he was already broadside, so I fired. He humped over and took a couple steps, so I fired another shot and the ram fell. It was an incredible feeling knowing that after 27 years in Alaska I finally bagged my first ram. A feeling that was amplified, knowing that Becca was diligently watching the whole thing unfold through her binoculars 1000’ below me.
Again my novice sheep hunting prowess shined through, as I was now above 6200’ without a pack, knife, or game bags. In my haste to chase the rams, I had left my pack a mile away and 1500’ below me. This meant climbing back down the snow covered boulders and shelves, retrieving my pack, and climbing back up. I suspect I won’t be making that mistake twice!
Becca was still uncomfortable following me up into the icy crags to cape and break down the sheep, so I grabbed my pack and headed back up alone. Back at the kill site I took a couple timer shots of me with the sheep, and then quickly got down to the business of preparing the sheep to be hauled off the mountain. Nearly two hours later I was done and had the sheep loaded up in my pack for the 1,000’ snowy rocky descent.
It took the better part of an hour for me to safely get back down to where Becca waited. She nervously watched my every step down the mountain through the spotter. When I reached the bottom we hugged and I pulled the ram out of my pack. Though it isn’t the world’s largest sheep by any means, this animal meant more to me than any other animal I have taken to date.
We made the remaining three miles and 2,000’ back down to camp in relatively good time. Back at the tent we made a quick dinner and I setup a bivy shelter to keep the meat and cape out of the weather. I also cut down some alders on which to rest the meat, ensuring ample airflow.
Sleep came easy that night and we slept late the following morning. After breakfast we loaded our packs with the essentials and began a brisk pace to cover the 18+ miles back to the truck. That afternoon we got back to the truck and headed into the nearest town for a much needed dinner, that was not out of a Mountain House bag. A greasy cheeseburger is always a welcomed change after that many days afield subsisting on dehydrated food and Cliff Bars. We retired to a motel room for much needed hot showers and an evening of well-deserved rest and relaxation with wine and ice cream.
The next morning we checked out early and returned once again to the trailhead, where we rode the 18 miles back on our six-wheeler to retrieve our camp and sheep. After hiking over 85 miles during the previous 10 days, covering those last miles by wheeler was certainly pleasant. Before we knew it we were back at the camp, and we quickly packed up our camp, retrieved Becca’s caribou antlers we had stashed and were on our way back home.
Some may believe that I wasted my trophy sheep tag by taking a smaller sheep, and while they entitled to their opinion, I certainly don’t feel that way. Granted I could have returned with my buddies and likely taken a much larger ram. However, if I were given the chance to do it over again and had to choose between a shot at ol’ Corkscrew with my buddies or shooting the smaller sheep I took with Becca, I wouldn’t change a thing. Lord willing, there will be more sheep to chase in the future. There was something special about taking my first sheep on a hunt where Becca could join me. Especially as just six months prior, if you would have told me she’d be well enough to be there watching when as I pulled the trigger, I wouldn’t have believed you. That is something a few extra inches of horn will never have over our first sheep.