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A Flatlander's First Dall Sheep Hunt

by Bob Lewis

“Wait for him to stand up” urged my guide, Sean. We had just topped a small ridge and once again spotted the ram we had located two hours earlier as we walked across the valley. He was bedded on a prominent knoll on the north side of the bowl, 307 yards away presenting an almost dead on shot, quartering slightly to our left. As I lay prone with a solid rock rest, I responded, “I can take him”…
sheep
Bob Lewis and his Brooks Range Dall ram. Courtesy of Deltana Outfitters

This sure shot was the culmination of my first sheep hunt that had been planned for well over one year. I had arrived in Alaska three days earlier, flying into Prudhoe Bay from Anchorage.

At Deadhorse Airport I met my outfitter for a two-hour ride south to the small airstrip at Happy Valley. From there I was flown by an experienced bush pilot, Kurt Beddingfield, to meet Sean Donnovan, my guide from Deltana Outfitters. Knowing that I too was a pilot, Kurt warned me that the landing at this 400’ strip at 3000’ elevation could get a bit hairy, but he made it look easy as we touched down and rolled to a stop with 150’ to spare!

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After exchanging handshakes, Sean let me know that he had been out for two days prior to my arrival and was confident that there should be quite a few rams in the area I was to hunt. Named “Spanish” by Deltana owner Ralph Miller I arrived at our base camp late Wednesday afternoon, a day earlier than planned. We departed early Thursday morning to set up a spike camp halfway up the mountain in order to be that much closer to the area we would hunt on opening day as well as to do a bit of scouting. Though the packs were relatively light, loaded only with provisions for three days, I was glad that my exercise program at home had been a rigorous one and I felt prepared for the exacting nature of these hunts. Mississippi, my home state, offers no terrain amenable to train for sheep hunts, so most of my workouts were on an incline trainer or stair climber with a 50-70# pack.

This area of the Brooks Range is lightly hunted, and there is a good population of sheep as well.  Still, sheep hunting is hard work, no matter how many sheep there are in the country. Courtesy of Deltana Outfitters

I gained confidence as I was able to make my 50 year old body keep pace with my lithe 27 year old guide from Montana. We made it to the spike camp site and there paused for a bite of lunch. Soon after, we headed up the valley to scout. After 5 hours we had only seen two ewes and one small ram, but we did get to observe what was certainly a record-book caribou on a ridge about 1500 yards to our east. His main beams spread to nearly three times his body width, and the height from their tops to the top of his head was just as high as from the ground to the top of his head! I wanted to go after him (I had a tag), but Sean felt that since this was primarily a sheep hunt, we should just stay put for fear of blowing out any unseen rams from the area. We returned to camp at 6:00 pm, ate and retired for the evening. The continuous light of the far north added to the anticipation of the upcoming day made sleep come uneasily. “I am finally here!” was my mind’s oft repeated refrain and the overworked phrase, “I felt like a kid on Christmas Eve” could not have been more appropriate as I settled into an agitated rest.

I wrested Sean from slumber at 4:00 am and we ate breakfast quickly, packed enough for a snack lunch and headed off up to an area where he had seen rams on opening day for the past three years. It was difficult for me not to race ahead, overly eager for my first sheep. About a mile out of camp, we did spook a small one, probably the three-quarter curl that we had spotted the day before. Thankfully, he ran back the way that we had come and not ahead into the bowl where we planned to hunt. We made our way more cautiously and reached the ridge that led east into a larger valley. Sean had seen rams in the area regularly, but that was not to be today.

Coming down the hill with the big boy's horns in tow.  Trekking poles make up and down hill easier going, especially in rough terrain. Courtesy of Deltana Outfitters

After about twenty minutes, we headed west to sit on a vantage point that would allow us to inspect the entire bowl, especially the north face, which was where Sean voiced that our next best chance would be. Before we reached our western lookout though, Sean halted, excitedly saying that he had spotted a lone ram on a knob on the north face. Through the spotting scope, we determined that he was clearly legal. Ducking behind a western hill, we hiked into the valley and headed for what we thought would be a good shooting vantage point; however, when we got there, the ram had vanished and we realized that we had misjudged distance as we were still 600+ yards from where the ram had been!

After about five minutes of searching, we sighted him once again, feeding slowly northeast and gaining altitude. We retreated rapidly, figuring we had time to make it to a rise to our east that would offer a shot before the ram would make itr to the north rim and this time disappear forever! After slipping behind the hill we had just scaled, and almost at a full run, we made it to that rise, but the ram was no longer grazing where we had last seen him…he had returned to the exact spot that he had been when we first sighted him. He had bedded again and was calmly chewing his cud.

At 307 yards, he presented an almost dead-on shot, quartering slightly to the left. I belly crawled to the peak of the knob to his east, and with the early morning sun rising behind me, I felt confident that he had not seen us. I had practiced many times with my Rifles, Inc. Titanium lightweight in .270 Win at 100 and 300 yards, and with no wind, I was convinced that I could make the shot, but Sean wanted me to wait for him to stand. I worried that my ram would rise, turn away, and in only a few steps drop behind a hill and vanish!

Sean urged me to wait quickly, edgy and anxious, I declared that I would take the shot. With that decision made, I calmed down, exhaled slightly, and settled the crosshairs of my Swarovski AV 4-12x50 on the midline chest. Sighted in 3” high at 100 yards; it was about 3” low at 300. The Barnes MRX custom load by Superior Ammunition executed perfectly, and with a resounding THUMP, the old boy simply lay his head down as if to sleep! It was 8:10 am on the first day of my first sheep hunt; I was lightheaded with excitement. As Sean’s “Congratulations!” rang in my ears, I applauded him for having had a ram taken in this area on opening morning for four consecutive years.

Bob took a little extra time on his trip to find a nice looking Brooks Range caribou. Courtesy of Deltana Outfitters

When we reached my trophy, he was better than I had hoped for. Almost perfectly symmetrical, he gross scored 158 5/8, and his lengths were 39 3/8 and 39 5/8, with bases of 12 6/8 and 12 2/8 respectively. His net score was 157 1/8. We aged him at thirteen years; he had no top teeth and had only four remaining on the bottom. This old man likely would not have survived another harsh Alaskan winter. We snapped pictures for what seemed an eternity, and then we stretched out for a bit to savor this moment, to revel in the memory. The day was gorgeous, and we had no pressure (or desire) to rush back down to base camp.

Later, the cleaning and caping was done without incident, and we loaded up for the jaunt to spike camp, broke camp, and hiked down to base. The trip downhill involved “crick” crossing numerous times, and we finally staggered into “Spanish” at 8:00 pm. First order of business was to fire up the stove, to grab the tenderloin, a few potatoes, and an onion and then sit back as a perfect meal cooked to perfection ended a perfect day.

What could have been better…fresh tenderloin, a cloudless evening sky, good fellowship, and the quiet trickle of the Ivishak River in the distance? Though it may be a while, I WILL be back!
 

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