I booked a 10-day Dall sheep hunt through my good friend Nick Frederick at Ameri-Cana Expeditions http://ameri-cana.com. With cabin accommodations and spike camping optional, this seemed to be an ideal choice for me, since I’m getting too old for the rigors of spike camping.
I flew via a small charter with Sound Aviation from Merrill Field in Anchorage, AK to meet my outfitter, Alaska’s River Wild Adventures in an area 180 miles northwest Anchorage.
The area where we were going to hunt was previously owned and operated by San Diego SCI’s good friend and regular donor, John Latham who sold the operation to the current owners about five years prior.
When we landed I was met by Jon, who was to be my guide and camp chef, with 11 years’ experience. Also meeting me was Jacob, a packer and guide-in-training. This was Jacob’s first year at this camp and, freshly graduated from college and in his early 20’s, he was clearly young, strong, friendly and eager.
I was amazed to learn that our transportation consisted of a pair of 1942 Dodge Power Wagons that the U.S. Army had brought to the area during WW II when they had a camp there. They had been upgraded from 6 to 12 volt electrical systems and had a few other cosmetic changes, but were otherwise fairly original. Oh by the way , neither vehicle had any brakes and one didn’t even have a brake petal… the reason supplied was that because they were required to traverse so many creeks that the brakes would rust so badly as to become useless. Besides I was assured, if you stay in gear you should be able to stay in control. Just don’t forget to leave it in gear when you park.
The landing strip was several miles from the two hunting camps: Moose Camp and Sheep Camp. Before we got to the first camp (Moose Camp) we came to a place called Road House where various supplies are kept and a couple of carpenters were in the process of adding on to the single garage and living quarters building. Next, we drove on to first Moose Camp where we ate lunch and then finally drove to Sheep Camp. Evening was setting in by the time that we reached Sheep Camp so we unpacked, had dinner and went to bed.
It started raining in the middle of the night but quit by morning. As we were eating breakfast the thick fog rolled in and so we decided to hike up a steep hill next to camp to look for bears, rather than look for sheep in the fog. After scaling the 45 degree incline for about 300 yards we sat down and started glassing. After a couple of hours, the temperature dropped precipitously and we headed back to camp. The rain started again by the time we reached camp so we hunkered down to wait it out. We could see snow starting to accumulate higher up in the mountains. Noon came and went and we knew that this was going to be a day of reading books and magazines rather than hunting. Hopefully, the weather would be better tomorrow.
Day – 2
The rain cleared so we decided to go up a creek called Sheep Creek to a place called Cathedral Valley. We hiked 3.5 miles upstream crisscrossing the creek bed and spotted three rams, but also the fresh boot print of another hunter. Jon got out the spotting scope and went up the bank to evaluate the rams and reported back that at least one of the rams was definitely a ‘shooter’. He also said that he could see another hunter but doubted that the hunter could see the rams, given their relative locations.
We were wearing Neos over boot hip waders so that we could crisscross the ankle to knee deep stream as terrain dictated. We also used trekking poles as an aid in climbing and descending steep terrain and to probe the creek bottom when crossing.
We put a stalk on three bedded rams, one of which Jon said was a shooter. We had to scale a steep 50 foot waterfall in order to get out of the streambed. Having done that, we needed to cut some alders to hold in front of us to keep the rams from spotting us as we began our uphill stalk. When we finally got to where we thought would be our setup position, we discovered that the rams were still over 600 yards away so we had to retreat to a lower elevation and move to a new location that we thought would perhaps be closer to the rams.
We slowly made our way to the new location and peered over a pile of rocks that hid us from the bedded rams. It was going to be a steep uphill shot that we ranged at 450 elevation adjusted yards. I was in a prone shooting position on a pile of jagged rocks and was in the process of making a bench rest with my bipod in front and using some flat rocks to support the rifle butt. Because the rams were bedded and the one that I wanted had another smaller ram behind him, I knew that we had to wait for them to stand. Therefore, I was taking my time and moving slowly, making my shooting setup.
Just as I was almost finished, we heard a gunshot and the rams stood and started to move. I hadn’t yet set the scope’s parallax but I had dialed in the range. Panicked that the rams were suddenly on the move, I rushed my shot and missed.
Jon left Jacob and me at our setup location while he set off to find and talk to the other hunter. When he returned he said that we and the other hunter were both allowed to hunt in the area where we were, even though the other hunter had likely trespassed on our property to get there. There wasn’t much we could do about the situation so we headed back to camp. Obviously, I wasn’t a happy hunter, having worked so hard to make a great stalk only to have it ruined by another hunter.
I tried to keep everything in perspective but it still bothered me that another hunter had screwed up my chance at a really nice ram. Not only that, but he had shot at a bedded animal (not a good move because when bedded most of the vitals are difficult to hit) and he missed his shot as well. The ram won that round and I was glad for him.
After dinner that evening Jon was glassing from camp and thought that he could see what appeared to be five rams on a mountainside about five miles away. He decided that we should go after them tomorrow and I agreed.
In pursuit of the rams that Jon had seen the evening before, we hiked up a creek that they refer to as ‘Airplane’ because there had previously been two airplane crashes there. We went about four miles in distance and 3,000 feet in elevation, mostly walking up and crisscrossing a stream. Stream walking is difficult because it’s pretty much all rocks that want to roll when you step on them and an ankle sprain would ruin everything.
A high pressure weather system had moved in and the wind was horrible, gusting to 30 mph. Jon left Jacob and me creek side and scaled up one of the steep drainages feeding the creek to scout for the sheep. He returned in about an hour and said that he had spotted the group of five rams and one appeared to be a ‘shooter’. The problem was that they were in a position to see our approach if we went upstream to get under them. Therefore, we were going to need to hug the steep creek bank closest to them and also cut and hold alders in front of each of us for concealment. Off we went upstream on a slow stalk.
When we got to a point where we thought that we were beneath them, Jon went up the bank alone to scout. When he returned he reported that the rams were above us and about 450 yards away and all five were bedded down. We would have to belly crawl slowly up the bank and then the hill, keeping whatever terrain we could between us and them.
When we finally got into position about 45 minutes later, three of the rams were standing and feeding and another was still bedded down. We couldn’t see the fifth ram so we assumed that he was concealed behind the fourth bedded ram. We were about 375 yards beneath the group, with an elevation corrected distance of 350 yards. The wind was in our faces (luckily) with a steady blow of 20 mph and gusts of 30 mph.
Jon setup the spotting scope and after a few minutes gave a frown and said that none of the four rams that we could see was the shooter. So we had to wait and see if the sheep that we wanted was beyond our line of sight and behind the fourth bedded ram. If not, it was ‘game over’ because he likely moved off while we were getting into position.
After about a 30 minute agonizing wait, the fourth ram stood up and moved slightly to the right. Now we could see part of the fifth ram that was still bedded down and Jon confirmed that he was indeed the one that we were looking for. Now we just had to wait for him to stand and give me a clear broadside shot. The pressure was on me now and I was becoming concerned about the wind that continued to gust. Even though it was directly in our faces where we were, because of the mountains all around us, I was concerned about the wind direction where the sheep were. I was shooting a brand new 6.5 Creedmoor that ACRW in Ringgold Georgia had recently built for me and with a light 140 gr. Nosler AccuBond bullet I knew that a strong crosswind could be a problem.
The shooter ram stood and started to move to the right. I had already dialed in the elevation into the Swarovski 2.5-15 x 56 scope so now I put the crosshairs on his right shoulder and squeezed the trigger. My shot hit about two feet in front of him, confirming my fear of a strong local crosswind. The sheep realized that something was amiss and start moving forward at a fast walk. I worked the action and aimed three feet left of his shoulder to compensate for the crosswind. The rifle only clicked and that’s when I discovered that the magazine wasn’t feeding correctly so I had to manually load one round at a time from that point on. Having done so, I again aimed three feet left of his shoulder to compensate for the crosswind. The wind gusts had apparently diminished because my second shot hit him in his butt, exactly where I had aimed. I cursed the unpredictable wind and reloaded while watching the ram limp to a stop. My third shot was directly on the shoulder target and the ram was down for good.
Okay, the good news was that the ram was dead. The bad news was that he went down on a small horizontal ledge that was the only level spot on a steep (45 – 60 degree) shale mountain side.
Getting to him, skinning, caping and boning him out took the next four hours. Getting down that steep mountain of shale and packing everything back to the vehicle took another three hours, the last hour of which was in total darkness. Wading across streams in waders in the dark is bad enough but doing it with a full pack load and when you’re already completely exhausted is something else again. It was midnight when we finally got back to camp and we all went immediately to bed to dream about the adventure.
The ram turned out to be the biggest one taken at that camp all year so far. He measured a very respectable 38″ with 14″ bases and was 10 years old.
We decided to take the next day or two off to work at camp salting the cape, cleaning the skull and finishing butchering the meat. With a few days of hunting left after that, we’d be looking to take a Grizzly or Black bear, should we spot one. I also had a tag for a wolf or wolverine.
This article is already too long so if you want to know how this hunt ends, then track me down at one of the many San Diego SCI events and I’ll share.
Postscript thoughts on sheep hunting:
- The only easy day is yesterday.
- I do this because I still can, just barely.
- Pain is temporary, pride is forever.
Jim serves as the Immediate Past Chair and Public Relations Chair of the San Diego Chapter of Safari Club International
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