Why Hunt Sheep
© 1994 by Tony Russ
Webmaster's note: This chapter from Sheep Hunting in Alaska is used by permission of the author.
The Dall ram was totally involved in his feeding. I peered down at him from a rocky spine less than 50 yards away -- waiting for the best opportunity to shoot. During the past 30 minutes his feeding had brought him in from 150 yards to within bow range.
He appeared confident in his location. He never looked up for danger. In fact, I shouldn't have clawed my way up the cliffs after him. However, like too many sheep hunters, I have more drive than caution.
When the ram turned his back toward me, I stood up on the ridge and sent an arrow on its way. The hit was good. The ram traveled downhill immediately. I slowly followed and found him bedded, near death. I put another arrow into him at close range. I didn't want to risk him getting up and then falling down the 2,500 vertical feet of steep cliffs and slides.
My second shot, although good, was a mistake. The ram stood up, stumbled a few steps, and died. he was only 50 yards away but I couldn't catch up before he started to roll. The dead ram picked up speed. I watched in horror as he slid, bounced, and free-fell seven hundred feet before stopping. Agonizing over his possible condition, I carefully climbed down to the ram.
The ram lay precariously at the bottom of a steep slope, just above a cliff. I held onto the rock face with one hand while I skinned, boned, and loaded him with the other. When I finished, daylight was fading and it had started to rain.
I considered going back up, over, and down the way I came. However, I knew darkness would catch me on a cliff, with little water, in the rain. I decided to go down.
I had about 1,500 feet of unfamiliar rock to negotiate with a loaded pack. I was very apprehensive, but felt it was my best option.
Picking the route was very difficult because I could only see the closest 100 feet below me. The curve of the slope hid the rest of the mountain from view.
I meticulously picked my way down to avoid a fatal slip. I had to descend several 70° faces, clambering like a cliff monkey. I was only 200 feet short of the bottom at dusk. I was just beginning toe think I had made it when my route disappeared. Broken cliffs and slides below me offered no path unless I descended 85° to 90° cliffs.
My anxiety level soared. I considered throwing my pack over a cliff to make my descent less risky, but then I would be without any gear if I didn't get down. I had to go for it with my pack.
The 20 feet of rope I carried was just long enough to lower my pack down the shortest cliff. Luckily, the pack didn't roll away when I let go of the rope. I descended using two-inch ledges for handholds. I made it. Then, there was only one more frightening ten-foot drop before the bottom.
I reached my tent ten minutes before dark and rejoiced. When I noticed a bear had slashed my tent and there was rainwater inside, I didn't much care. I was relieved to be alive.
Events like these occur frequently while sheep hunting. It is sometimes hard to justify our reasons for hunting sheep; especially to someone who is not hooked, like many of us are. However, some of the reasons to hunt sheep are understandable.
One basic reason we hunt is to provide food for ourselves, families and friends. Regardless of how sophisticated our world becomes and abstract our occupations seem, we still have a basic drive to provide. Hunting gives us an opportunity to feel satisfaction in our physical abilities -- a rare thing in our increasingly sedentary society. Also, wild sheep meat is low-fat, high-protein, unmatched table fare.
A Dall sheep trophy is magnificent. This is reason enough for many of us to continue hunting them. With their white coats and dark, curling horns, they stand out in any trophy display. Some sheep populations in Alaska tend to produce larger horns than others. And some populations have other horn characteristics which make them more-desirable trophies. However, any Dall ram is a trophy the hunter should be proud to display.
They physical challenge compels many of us to hunt these white sheep. The physical demands of sheep hunting are extreme. The quantify and quality of physical conditioning a hunter invests in the hunt often determine the outcome. A successful Dall sheep hunt is recognized as a significant accomplishment -- and justifiably so.
Sheep hunters must also meet a mental challenge. They must commit to sufficient preparation as well as the demands of an actual hunt. Hunters should plan on being cold, wet, tired, hungry, thirsty and sore -- maybe all at the same time! The rigors of a sheep hunt have beaten many hunters. Mental preparation and toughness are crucial to success.
One less-tangible reason we hunt sheep is to escape. During a hunt, we can focus our entire being on one objective -- and put aside the worries of our everyday lives. We often return from a hunt with renewed enthusiasm, appreciation, and satisfaction with our lives.
There is also adventure, beautiful scenery, and the magnificence of the animals themselves. Every hunter will have a unique mix of reasons to hunt Dall sheep. The reasons I have listed have only partially explained the fascination we have for hunting them.
A casual conversation I had during a recent medical appointment may help illustrate the allure of hunting these animals. While drawing my blood, a female staff member recalled her first sheep hunt. This young woman had been coaxed into accompanying her fiancé on a hunt. Halfway up the mountain she questioned the sanity of continuing. At this critical moment, they spotted a full-curl ram silhouetted on the skyline above. She said that's all it took. She never questioned why again and is anxiously waiting for her next sheep hunt.
Your reasons for hunting will affect your approach to the next phase of preparation -- physical conditioning.
Continued in Chapter Two of Sheep Hunting in Alaska available for online purchase on this site. Click here for additional information about the book.
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