2016 dall hunt

Bambistew

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Jan 5, 2013
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262
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Alaska
I posted this in another form last fall, but read through it again today... I'm sure some of you have seen it, but thought I would share. I've been dreaming of August and thinking I should probably start getting in shape and shoot the rifle. :)

I've drawn some fun tags over the years, but didn't expect to pull this one. I was heading into jury duty this spring when i got a text stating that I was a lucky SOB, love it when someone else breaks the good news to me. :) The trailhead is about 2 miles, as a crow flies, from my house.

I spent a bit of time this summer prepping and talking to a few people about the tag, but didn't do any scouting. I rarely scout, and for sheep it would be pretty much useless as the rams will move a long ways between summer and early fall, coupled with hunting pressure it was going to be an effort of perseverance and persistence. I wasn't too worried about finding sheep, I "hired" the best guide (AKDrifter) in the business.

The unit is divided into a couple major areas, one is pretty accessible by car/road, but still requires a lot of vertical to get to the sheep, the other is buried a couple drainages deep, or a long slog up the bottom. My main point of focus was the core area buried deep, and if we struck-out I would hit some of the fringe areas of the more road accessible areas. The worst part of this trip is the weather in September, its our wet season, so fog/clouds/rain would likely hamper the success potential.

The area is broken into 3 separate seasons with no split between, so going in early may ruin someone else's hunt, and really, I didn't think it would give us any real advantage. I would much rather spend my time "scouting" with a rifle in my hand. There are 18 permits issued for all seasons, and about 4 sheep killed a year, about half of them by non-residents. I felt my odds were pretty good considering that most of the people that draw this tag are usually first time sheep hunters, or really don't know what it takes to put a ram on the ground. Going into the season, the tally was up to 3 for the first 2 seasons, with only one coming from the area we intended to hunt.

The wife dropped us off in the morning, and up the hill we went towards the pass.
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I may have gotten a bit greedy with the amount of country I wanted to cover, but more miles = more chance to find a ram. We reach out first base camp the afternoon before the season opened. We set up camp and took off for a back canyon a few miles away to check on sheep. In the mean time a storm was starting to roll in and the clouds were descending, not good. We glassed between clouds but in the end couldn't see anything, so headed back to camp. The next two days were a bust due to low clouds and rain, we hung around camp and burned up all the wood we could find...

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The third day the weather broke. We packed up our gear and headed for the next pass.

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As we approached, blotchy clouds gave us a glimpse of our first sheep, then more, and more. Seemed like everywhere we looked we spotted sheep. We circled the skyline and looked into another drainage and finally found a good ram. He was about 3 miles away, and required us to drop to the valley floor and climb the opposite wall.

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We were losing daylight by the minute, and made camp just at dark. We had a game plan, a sheep to chase and the clouds were behaving, sorta.
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Bambistew

Bambistew

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262
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Alaska
The next morning we woke to mostly cloudy skies, with lingering "hangers" throughout the valley. First time we'd seen peaks in 5 days. Things where looking up.

We crossed the main stream and headed towards the hanging glacier bowl we'd seen the ram the evening before. as we crested the edge we spotted a group of ewes right in our path. We waited and watched hoping to find the ram. Finally he and a partner grazed out from behind a moraine pile (moraine is the gravel/rock deposited by a glacier, usually referring to the edges of the ice/rock. Usually quite difficult to traverse as every rock is lose), but where moving with a purpose. I think they may have smelled us or were alerted by the ewes or something. The wind had switched, and we thought we were far enough down wind and down hill that it wouldn't matter, but not sure. A quick look through the spotter, and confirmed it was the same ram. He didn't look quite as big from the close distance, but was still a nice ram. Heavy, black horns.

We played a game of cat and mouse for a bit with the ewes trying to catch up to the rams. In the meantime the "hanger" clouds drifted back into the valley.

We skirted the base of the small moraine in the valley, to where we thought the rams may be feeding if they weren't too spooked. As we moved up the valley, we started noticing some birds, including ravens, magpies and golden eagles. We were thinking that maybe someone had killed a ram in there earlier, and maybe that was what spooked the sheep? After traveling a bit further, AK spotted a dead sheep on the floor of the valley. We looked at it through the binos, and noticed it was a ewe, and about half eaten, and looked pretty fresh. Animals die, sometimes you find them fresh, sometimes not so much, and we didn't go investigate. It was a bit odd though.

Peaking up over the moraine we found no rams. We dropped back down and ascended the side wall of the valley. Up into the clouds we went. We planned to peak over the backside to see if we could locate the rams. We were nearing the top, and I glanced down in the valley and saw something moving. Black and small... a wolverine. I mentioned to AK there was a wolverine in the valley headed toward that sheep carcass. As I swung the glass to the carcass, I couldn't believe it, there was 3 more on it already! We usually see a few wolverines each year, but I've never seen more than 3 together. Looked like a mama and 3 cubs. Putting 2 and 2 together, we figured they probably killed that ewe in the moraine.

We watched them for a bit, then continued to the top.

The pictures are hard to show the scale of this area. Its quite immense, raising 3-5000+ from the valley floors in a mile or two. We spent a lot of time going up just to come down after spotting something.

The white spec in the bottom center of the rock is the dead sheep
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Looking back down to the valley floor
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View from where we spotted the rams the day before.
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We sat in the fog for a few hours, and finally found the rams. They were bedded on this face, about 500' off the deck below. We watched them for a few hours, but decided they were probably not coming down anytime soon, so headed back to camp, getting in just at dark.

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Bambistew

Bambistew

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Knowing the weather was going to break, and wanting to maximize our chances at finding rams, we decided the next day we would pack up camp and head in a bit deeper. We had tons of high quality ram habitat to scour, and had one in our back pocket should we not find something else. It was hard not going back, but knowing what this area could hold, we had high hopes of finding an equal or better ram.

We packed up camp and headed up the drainage the following morning. We wanted to focus on a couple hanging bowls on one side of the canyon, but to see the back we had to climb the opposite ridge. Around noon or so we were in a position to see one bowl and I spotted two rams bedded in the shale at the base of a wall. The more we looked at them, the more we were sure they were legal, but the distance was too far to be 100% sure. One looked heavy, wide and broomed, the other looked tight but FC. We formulated a plan to chase these guys, but the wind would have to be right. That meant waiting until the next morning and heading in before daylight to beat the thermals. We watched the rams for a few hours and in the mean time spotted dozens of ewes, in about 5-6 different groups scattered throughout the valley. We were sure there had to be more rams somewhere, as well. Too much good looking country for there not to be. I spotted the ram we dubbed "grampa" on the back wall of this pic. He was about 2/3 of the way up and completely inaccessible. We weren't completely sure what this ram was, but knew he was big and chunky. Hard to tell from 4 miles away, just how big...

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Around 4 maybe, we headed down and around the corner to find a camp spot. We planned on hiking up the drainage a bit further to see what we could see that evening, never know what might show up come dinner time.

We set up camp, and headed out.
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We made it about 1/2 a mile maybe, and I glanced up into the lip of the bowl where the rams where earlier, and couldn't believe it... they were feeding right above the tent (1000 up). Being well up wind, and hoping they'd hang out, we quickly changed plans and charged up the mountain out of sight.

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As we approached the lip of the bowl, things got a bit tense. This bowl was the terminus of a glacier eons ago, but the terrain was rolling moguls and large boulders. We would have to carefully crawl up and over, each little fold to see what was below. After looking into a half dozen pockets at close range, we determined the rams must have circled around the face and headed to the next basin. This one was dry, so they were likely headed for water. With dusk quickly approaching the race was on against the fading light. We had to cover about a mile or so across a steep face to the next bowl. Luckily the sheep trails made life pretty easy.

Bowl 1 to bowl 2 traverse.
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As we approached the next lip, I had a good feeling we'd catch the rams. Ever so slowly we inched, looking for white backs. As we crested a small ridge, I peered around a boulder, and there was ram, maybe 300 yards away. His buddy was likely near by. We approached slowly using a small ridge to conceal us another 100 yards to so. At 180 yards or so, we had two rams feeding in the fading light. Through the binos, the ram that looked FC was obviously a young ram, but still appeared to be FC or close. The one we thought was broomed, and appeared to be only 7-8. Upon inspection with the spotter, and had fat lamb tips rather than broomed, and was in the upper 30's. We determined the first ram to be full-curl, but only 6. With only 2 days left to hunt on the initial launch, I elected to pass. We watched them for a few minutes, then quietly backed out and headed back to camp.

It cleared off during the day, and we figured it would get pretty cold that night. We were only a few miles form a huge ice field, and you could feel the katabatic winds kicking down the valley. I wasn't wrong, and the frozen boots in the morning were not much fun, but on the bright side, it pulled the water out of the leather.
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Bambistew

Bambistew

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Jan 5, 2013
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Alaska
We had one full day of hunting before we had to pack it in and head out. I still had a week left on my permit, but we only planned for an 8 day trip. With the remainder of the canyon left to explore, we set out the next morning in search of more rams. Hard to not feel greedy. 2 days of actual hunting and 2 legal rams. Its usually 1 legal ram in a week of hunting in an OTC area...

We planned to scope out the upper end of the valley and find the rams that had to be in there. We scaled one side of the valley looking into a couple different bowls. while sitting eating lunch, we noticed a ram walking around a nasty piece of rock across the way. We put the spotter on him and determined him to be 3/4 curl. We'd seen 3 rams perched at near the top of this same mountain the day before but couldn't tell what they were at the distance. We were thinking this may be one of them. We watched him for a few minutes and another ram popped out. This one was clearly legal. We watched them for a while and formulated a plan. The wind sucked for their location, but between the shade and sun in the valley, it was blowing down instead of up in some areas.

We decided to head back down to the valley floor and up the other side, hang out and see what the wind would do, then slip around the side and into the bowl and try to kill this ram. The only problem was the 25 ewes that were bedded at the head of the canyon. We'd have to skirt around them, hope they didn't spook and slip in on the rams.

As we circled above everything seemed to be going as planned. We crested a small ridge at the lip of the bowl and headed in. The wind seemed ok, but suddenly started swirling... we kept on, too close at this point. We figured the rams would come down to feed and be about 250-400 yards below us as we topped out. As we carefully crept around the face, the ewes spooked. We were about 3/4 of a mile away from them and well above. This was odd... Looking back we think the rams smelled us and split...

As we crested the ridge, the ram mecca opened up to an barren field of green. Where did they go? We carefully inspected the surroundings and AK motioned above, just in time to see 5 or 6 rams walk across the back wall of the bowl about 800 yards away. Three where legal rams, the one we'd seen, another similar and an absolute whopper ram... They gave us the one finger salute and walked into oblivion. They spot they were going was a full days hike away, we would have to go around the mountain and up through a nasty glacier moraine... we didn't have the time to go.

I would say the walk back to camp was despairing, but quite the contrary. We'd spent just 3 days hunting and had made 3 stalks on legal rams. This was an incredible hunt so far. I had half a day left to hunt, and was content with not filling a tag at this point. We'd had quite a trip thus far.

The next day we hiked up and out a pass and back to civilization. We saw a pile of sheep on the way out, but they were outside the hunt area. As I plodded along down a worn trail, I contemplated with myself if I was going back or not. I was pretty soaked, completely worn out, and the wind was pelting my face with rain.... down, down, down we went.

I went home and regrouped for a day or two, watching the weather as the sun shone and the long term forecast started getting worse and worse. I decided on Monday that I was going back on Thursday for at least the last 3 days of the season, I would give it all I could, and have no regrets. I made a few phone calls and sent some messages looking for someone willing to tag along, but got no bites. Its hard to find someone to go on a trip like this short notice. I figured 8 days would be enough to find a ram...

I went to work Wednesday morning, for all of about 2 hours and couldn't take it anymore, called in with sheep fever and left... I headed home and packed up gear and readied for the trip in. The wife dropped me at the trail head, wished me luck, told me to not get eaten by the bear as I walked by the "bear on a moose carcass along the trail sign," and off I went. I went in a different way this time, far less vertical, no passes, but a long ass grind to sheep country. I think it was about 15-16 miles. I walked until dark, then walked another hour or more looking for a good camp spot. I woke the next morning, and continued up the drainage, stopping to glass the area where we'd spotted and chased the first legal ram the week before. Only spotting ewes, I made the decision to head up a bit further, the weather was holding and I had 3 full days of hunting left.

I made it to the spot I planned to camp, dropped gear, ate and headed up over a low ridge to investigate the area where the giant ram had disappeared into a few days earlier. I spotted a ram about a mile off, putting the spotter on him, I noticed that he looked very similar to first ram we'd found a week before. Further glassing turned up another ram, in a much more accessible spot. Both rams were solo, no stupid ewes, the wind was perfect, weather was holding and my luck was building.

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It was around noon or so, both were bedded for the day, so I sat and watched them for a while formulating a plan. The far ram looked pretty nice, but at 2 miles its hard to tell just how nice. The close ram was in accessible about 1200' up a cliff face. The far ram was approachable, but the best route was no go with wind. The secondary route would put me in plain sight of him for about 2/3 of the way. I could use some low vegetation and the edge of the moraine as cover, but I would have to take it slow the closer I got.

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I started making my way up the valley to the ram. While taking a break I noticed yet another pair of sheep on the back wall. I figured one was Grampa ram, but upon looking it turns out it was one of the rams from the giant ram group, and a small chrony. They were down low, but across 2 miles of moraine. They might as well been on the moon. No way to approach them unseen, or within the time that day... backup rams.

As I was watching the far rams I swung the spotter back over to the ram I was after. About then he got up and turned around facing away from me. Unbelievable luck... I was just getting to a very exposed area too! As he turned I got a much better look at his horns, this ram was growing... I was beginning to think it was the Grampa ram, but at still a mile, it was hard to tell exactly how big he was.

I picked my way around the creek/moraine until I reach the final 8-900 yard open creek bottom. Really no way I want to chance going across this open field at that range. I decided to sit and wait to see what he would do. I had a few hours before dark, he would likely get up to feed shortly. If my hunch was right, he'd feed down behind a small bench, I could hustle up and meet him nearly head on for a short-ish 200 yard shot or less.

As I was watching him, he laid his head down and looked like he was going to sleep. I slowly inched along using twigs, small boulders, and whatever cover I could find to close the gap to just over 600 yards. My dash would only be 200 yards to the rendezvous point once he rose for the evening feed.

I pulled out the spotter, and dialed him in, and about shit myself... it was Grampa ram, and unless I totally screw this up, I have a legit shot at taking him.

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I watched him for about 45 min, and in that time he got up stretched, and turned around looking direly towards me. I knew he was going to bust me if I moved. After what seemed like hours, he got up and started down the hill closer, then picked up speed a bit and was out of sight. All in the matter of about a min. I scrambled to get up the dry creek bed to intercept. As I neared the spot, I noticed a ptarmigan, oh great... then another, and another, and about 15 more. They all started doing the chicken chuckle and it was a matter of time before they flushed. The ram was maybe 200 yards away at this point, I knew was about to get hosed by a flock of chickens...

They flushed and I sprinted another 100 yards to a vantage spot. The ram was missing... then I saw him standing up on the rockslide in front of me. Looking over his shoulder. I got a quick range, 380 yards... I found a suitable rock and lined up for the shot. The shot was true, but in the melee I lost track of him in the scope. I found him again in the scope, trying to climb, but not having much luck. He was coming closer but moving quickly. I fired again and missed, seeing the rock fly high above. I loaded another round, lined up just as he stopped, squeezed and click... bad load? I hastily cycled another round, as he continued to get closer. I hit the range, 300 yards... lined up for shot and squeezed. At the report I knew it was a solid hit. The ram dove into an avalanche chute, then reappeared, only to wobble and fall down the cliff and into the rocks.

I lost a bit of composure at that point. I was in a total state of disbelief. I'd left the house about 24hrs earlier, walked approximately 17 miles and had just shot the biggest ram of my life. I sat for a moment soaking up the moment, then made my way up to the ram. He got bigger the closer I got.

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He ties age with my first ram at 13 years, but beats everything for mass. I'm unsure how much horn is missing, but likely around 6 inches.

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I took a few pics, then got to work, slicing and dicing. Took him all apart and packed up the first load for the ride back to camp. I got in about midnight, thankful that the return was easy with very little brush.

I returned the following morning to finish caping and pack out the rest of the meat, horns and cape.

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I sent AK a message, and he headed up to help pack out. I am grateful for his help. It would have been a miserable couple days had I packed it out solo.

All in all an amazing trip and I'm glad I made the most of it.
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adventure907

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Jan 6, 2014
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717
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AK
Excellent write up man.....glad to see a resident get a hammer of a Ram in there.
 

AZinAK

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Mar 19, 2013
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96
Location
Alaska
What a great write up and awesome pics. There is nothing like sheep country. Congrats on an awesome ram! Getting more and more pumped to get back into the mountains.
 

jwatts

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Dec 27, 2014
Messages
458
Stories like this keep me focused on training and getting ready for my hunt. It's not til 2019 so it's easy to lose track of time or sight of what I need to do before then. Awesome ram and great story.
 

Becca

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Feb 26, 2012
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Wasilla, Alaska
Great stuff! Way to keep after it and come home with a dandy ram! I am likely sitting out a couple sheep seasons until the baby is a little bigger...thanks for letting me live vicariously :)
 

MT_Wyatt

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Aug 20, 2014
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Montana
I REALLY enjoyed your story and pictures. Thanks for taking the time to share, it was a great read. The pictures alone were amazing. Nice work grinding that one out, what a reward!


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SLDMTN

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Palmer, AK
Like everyone else said, great ram and great writeup, thank you for sharing!
 

Wingshooter

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May 21, 2017
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Location
OH
Awesome write up it makes me wish I were a resident of Alaska. Sheep haunt me but I don't believe they are in the cards for me thanks for the great recap congratulations on a awesome trophy.
 
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