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Alaska Sheep Hunting

Chris Conway, Alaska Chapter,
Foundation for North American Wild Sheep

CONDITIONING:

The single biggest reason for an unsuccessful mountain hunt is poor physical condition.

Combinations of aerobic conditioning and walking with and without weight on your back will benefit you most during hunting season. Aerobics builds up your heart muscle and "wind," while walking with weight on your back strengthens your legs and back.

Dall sheep horns against the white peaks of Alaska(Sheep horns in the Alaska Range by Ralph Miller, Deltana Outfitters)

A step aerobics class, racquetball, basketball are good examples of exercises that will build up your endurance. Step aerobics has the added value of building up the muscles in your legs necessary for climbing 5,000 feet of mountain, or an 8-mile slog up Hawkins Glacier.

Stair Master machines are also excellent, but they do not prepare your ankles for uneven terrain. But, since you are already at the club doing aerobics, start off with 10 minutes on a low setting on the Stair Master, and increase both tension and time as you become more fit.

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Walking uneven terrain with a light pack cannot be beat. Start light, about 25-35 pounds, and walk briskly for 45 minutes. Push yourself up the hills and ease off coming down. You cannot afford to get shin splints or a knee injury. As you become in better shape increase your weight. I feel 65 pounds is about the maximum you should train with. Others feel you should experiment with over 100 pounds as this could be the weight of a boned out sheep, cape and horns if you bring it out in one load.

KEEP TRACK OF YOUR EXERCISE PROGRAM, AND DO IT REGULARLY!

SHEEP KNOWLEDGE:

Getting to know your quarry is a lifelong class. Every time you hunt you will learn something new, or be painfully reminded of a lesson learned before.

Sheep Hunting in Alaska ~ click for more informationRead everything you can about sheep behavior and sheep hunts. Two books I recommend highly are "Sheep & Sheep Hunting," by Jack O’Connor and "Sheep Hunting in Alaska," by Tony Russ. If you only buy one, get Tony’s. It covers everything I cover here in greater detail, and it is Alaska specific.

Join the AK Chapter of the Foundation for North American Wild Sheep (AK FNAWS- pronounced Fu - nahs. PO Box 240065, Anchorage, AK 99524. Tel. (907) 248-9010). This group supports sheep conservation and education throughout the world. Its members are very knowledgeable about sheep and sheep hunting. Don’t be put off by people not telling you where the sheep are. Secret hunting spots are more closely guarded than a nuclear missile site. However, as your friendships grow, along your involvement in FNAWS projects, other members will share some of their stories and favorite spots to hunt.

View lots of sheep. Go into the Regal Alaskan Hotel and look at the sheep on the walls from various angles. What makes a full-curl sheep? What makes a "Boomer" sheep? Go to your taxidermist (and if you don’t have one, ask FNAWS members who are the best) and ask about sheep. These guys put our sheep back together after we cut them apart. They will point out the finer points of judging sheep, and usually share some hunting stories of sheep hunts from other customers.

HUNTING SKILLS:

If you have even hunted a little you know about keeping the wind in your face, not having metallic items clanking on your pack, and keeping out of Click for book informationsight. These are basics, but if you fail any one of these on a sheep hunting you will not be successful.

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The books I mentioned above give you the details you need to spot and stalk sheep so I will not go into detail here. However, here are some skills you need to work on:

Patience- a lot of your time should be spent spotting, NOT WALKING. Two items you should spend a little extra money on are binoculars and spotting scope. Hours behind the lenses will cause severe headaches with cheap glasses.

Shooting- be sure you can hit what you aim at. If you cannot make a clean kill, do not take the shot. Practice prone, offhand and resting on your pack or a rock. These are what you will use in the field. (Hint- go to the range and set up your position, then walk off the line, run for 300 yards as hard as you can, walk back onto the line, pick up your weapon and take 3 quick shots at a large target at 100 yards.) Zero your weapon so the maximum rise and fall of the bullet is 3 inches. Usually that is about 225 yards. When you shoot at any animal out to about 250 yards, hold the sights center mass and you will increase your odds of not over or undershooting.

Map & Compass- you need to be able to read maps well enough to know the various terrain features and what they mean. I recommend you stop in The Map Place (near C Street and Northern Lights) and talk to Joan Tovsen or one of her staff. They are knowledgeable and can help you get started.

SAFETY:

This needs to remain first and foremost on your hunt. If you see a sheep that you can shoot in some vertical rock, ask yourself whether you can SAFELY retrieve that animal before you shoot. Never climb up what you can’t climb down!

Always carry a good first aid kit, and take care of your body. That means drinking lots of water, eating well, and treating blisters early. Whenever you venture out of your camp you should carry everything you need to stay out overnight. Freezing rain, snow or an injury can change your plans very quickly and you must be prepared.

I recommend you carry a sleeping bag, bivy sack, pad, small stove or heat tabs and cup, bouillon cubes or cocoa, and 1-2 freeze dried meals. This total is about 4 pounds, and will save your life.

ETHICS:

Make a commitment to Fair Chase. Hunting is a tradition handed down generation after generation. What you teach your children is what they will believe to be the "right way." When you follow the guidelines of Fair Chase you will always be proud of the animals you took because you did so on even ground.

Never shoot at an animal you cannot kill cleanly. If in doubt, don’t shoot.

Always be sure the animal is legal. If in doubt, don’t shoot.

Harvest as much meat as absolutely possible and pack it out first. It’s The Law!

PLANNING:

Terrain Navigator for AlaskaLike any hunt you need to plan well in advance. I recommend you try to pick 1-2 drainage’s that you think will be the best for that year. Get maps and study them closely. Fly the area if you can. Get an idea of how the valleys and ridges lay. Once you are on the ground you will be glad you have a memory of what it looks like from above.

You will also get an idea of where the sheep lay up and feed if you fly or hike the area. Although they move into a different drainage, I find that sheep seem to like the same kind of terrain. Those that move out will likely be replaced by others moving in.

Get your air charter laid on as early as possible. They are sometimes booked 6 months in advance. It is also critical that you know where you are going. Most air charters will not give you recommendations on where you should go-- it borders on "guiding."

Remember, the later you go the more risky the weather--

TAKE EXTRA FOOD AND WARM CLOTHES!!!

GEAR:

There is gear you cannot do without, and gear that sure is nice to have. Here are some of things that I have found over the years.

Optics- My preference is 8x30 Swarovski Bino’s and Leupold 15x45 variable spotting scope. Neither have ever failed me and have superior optics.

Water Filter- Personally, I have learned that this is the American Express of camping-- Don’t Leave Home Without One! A friend who came down with Beaver Fever told me how painful it was, and that it can recur later years. There are also cysts that can lodge in your digestive tract and hatch later. I now ALWAYS carry a filter.

There are several on the market, but whichever one you buy be sure it has a silt pre-filter. You will clog a pump quickly without one. First Need is inexpensive, a little bulky, but very reliable. Katadyn Pocket Filter is very expensive (about $150) but has a ceramic filter that is easy to clean. The only downside is it pumps very slowly due to its small size.

Sleeping Bag- as small, light and warm as possible. I now use a Primaloft bag by Caribou that is rated at 0 degrees. I also bought one for my wife that allows us to mate the zippers. Since I hunt with her a lot, it is one more safety feature of beating hypothermia. Combined body heat is better for reheating someone whose core temperature is down.

Walking Staff- anything from a willow staff to the high-tech aluminum jobs. I have used a willow staff for years, but cracked it on a hunt last year. I am switching to an aluminum ski pole that collapses this year. My only caution here is that wood makes less noise when picking your way through rocks. Wrap the bottom 10 inches in friction tape to cut the noise and protect the aluminum shaft.

Flashlights- I found one by Pelican that clips on your shirt or hat and is as bright as a Mini- Maglite. Remember to carry spare batteries. Mine has a red filter that I like because I can use it on a pre-dawn approach without having the light flash alert animals.

First Aid Kit- I have two; one that I carry EVERYWHERE and one that stays in base camp. I use the nylon pouch the Army uses, but have the most important items in 2 small ziplocks. Here is my brief list, but yours may differ:

Small Band-Aids Butterfly Closures Moleskin
New Skin
Antacid Aspirin
Motrin
Dimetapp 
Benadryl
Pepto-Bismol tabs

Knives- small is best. Again, my personal preferences have grown out of years of trying different ones out. On sheep you need a stout blade to push the skin away from the base of the horn. A screwdriver works well, but I use a Stirred Sharp Finger skinning knife. I also use an exchange-blade which has a saw, boning and drop point blade I carry. I am also fond of my Swiss army knife which is corded to my belt AT ALL TIMES. Be sure to carry a steel or small stone to touch up the blade.

Tents- BOMBPROOF! I will never again scrimp on a tent. I have spent days playing cribbage waiting for storms to blow over, and nearly exploded a tent on the Harding Icefield that I had used one season too many. I recommend two types of tents-- dome and self-supporting A-frame. I have used a Sierra Design Clip Flashlight for years, and at about 4 pounds I don’t know of a better mountain tent for under $200. This year I bought a larger modified A-frame tent from Mtn Hardware. This one is 7 pounds and will become my new base camp tent. Previously I used a Wild Country dome at 15 pounds. For a late season hunt, or one where 3 hunters go instead of 2, I will still use the dome.

When you look at them be sure they are sturdy, and that the fly goes to the ground. Don’t go cheap on your tent. THIS IS YOUR HOUSE!

Packs- There is always great debate over internal vs. external frames. Here is the rule of thumb that I use.

If you are:

packing heavy and not climbing or balancing a lot-- External

climbing, have tricky footing and keeping the weight under 65-- Internal

I have carried both at over 100 pounds and personally prefer internal for all situations. You need to try both and see what fits you. If you can, borrow various ones from friends, load them up, and carry them a while.

Be sure to carry extra clevis pins and rings with the externals, and tape all the rattles.

Guns- sheep are easy to kill. A .243 will do nicely until you meet Yogi Bear on the trail. The most common rifles used are .270, .30-’06 and .300 magnums. Use bullets between 140 and 180 grains. For pistols, just about any centerfire pistol will take a sheep. The .44 magnum and various TC Contenders are the most popular. Most shots are under 200 yards so practice out that far the majority of your time. Be sure to practice with the same bullets you will use in the field.

CONCLUSION:

Most people find that after going sheep hunting they are infected with a need to keep going back -- even when they are unsuccessful in getting a sheep.

I think most of us that have hunted sheep any length of time all agree that killing the sheep is not the important part. Seeing a herd of 50 ewes and lambs scampering along a mountain meadow or being 10 feet away from a 3 year old ram eating dirt at a mineral lick, create images in mind that we can relive for years.

Webmaster’s note: These are notes from the Alaska Hunting Clinic Series program on sheep and goat hunting presented in Anchorage on July 13, 1996.

For more information on sheep hunting in Alaska read Chapter 1 of Tony Russ's book Sheep Hunting in Alaska.

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