Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Sheep Hunt Bonus Post

This is what several hours and many miles under a 100+ pound pack will do to you.

You couldn't ask for a better sheep hunting partner than Scott, but this guy is my favorite to hunt with.

This sheep hunting really gets into your blood, to the core of your DNA, and you leave the mountains a changed man.

Lagniappe (Lan-yap) Caribou

Means something extra, an unexpected gift or benefit. Like when you buy a dozen doughnuts and later find out the baker threw in a few extra for free. Well, Scott and I were so efficient on our sheep hunt that we had a few extra days left to fill before I headed home. So we grabbed our buddy Joel and took off for the Nelchina country to help him fill his subsistence caribou tag. It was an unexpected treat to get to spend some quality time in the field and around the campfire with good friend Joel and super cool to help him provide for his family. Like Scott, Joel's another man to ride the river with. It was supposed to be an easy hunt, road hunting and ATV involved. But we soon discovered that we suck at road hunting. When we finally just laced up our boots and strapped on our backpacks like we normally do, we did just fine. We had a great time chasing caribou for miles across the tundra and finally got Joel connected with this fat, tasty cow. And a caribou split between three guys makes a mighty pleasant pack out.

Sheep Country Beauty

A few more pictures of some of the amazing things we were privileged to see during the sheep hunt.

Mission Impossible 2011

The Kenai Mountains have been my nemesis. Low numbers of sheep, high hunter pressure, and lots of poaching have left this range chronically devoid of legal rams. No other mountain range has been so reluctant to give up a ram to me. There are many better places to go, but in order to fulfill a goal of taking a ram from all seven of Alaska's mountain ranges, I needed to get one from the Kenai's. Not only did I want one, but my partner Scott is also on the mountain ranges quest. So in a unit that historically sees zero harvest some years, we were attempting mission impossible: double up on a walk-in, do-it-yourself hunt. This year would be my fourth attempt in this location and second year in a row. Scott and I have been keeping tabs on the same group of rams for three years now and hoped desperately that this year there would finally be a legal one and hopefully two. A July scouting trip by Scott revealed three legal rams, but would they still be there? Would we have to compete with other hunters? Would the weather allow us to hunt this year (last year we spent an inordinate amount of time tent bound by heavy fog and rains)? So it was with a lot of anxiety that we headed for the mountains.

We began with a two hour drive south out of Anchorage on August 7th. On the trail it soon started to rain. Oh no, was this going to be a repeat of last year? We carried on and made the big climb past treeline before dark. August 8 greeted us with scattered clouds, but fairly good hiking weather for the approximately 10 mile hike we had ahead of us. Every time we stopped for a rest though we were glassing our back trail, anxious of other hunters. When we reached the pass the rams were right where they were in July. We made a beeline for some cover in the form of a small rock gully and spent the rest of the day glassing them,trying to stay out of sight, and trying to stay warm in the spitting snow (we considered crawling into sleeping bags but feared the rams would see us "Giant Blue Slugs! Run for your lives!!). There were 13 rams and three appeared full-curl. We were in great position. Legal rams found, no other hunters, but still a day before the season opens. By evening the fog and clouds enveloped us, which actually was perfect because it gave us cover to move to a good camping sight out of sight of all the sheep. We dove into our tent just as a full-on storm struck. August 9, the rain continued and visibility was near zero. Tent bound again! August 10th, opening day, 4am: drat! Still socked in with fog, but at 8am it started to break, the hunt was on! And amazingly, miraculously, no other hunters had shown up. We had the valley and the rams all to ourselves for the time being. With just a little searching we found the rams on the side of a mountain that was a jumble of gullies and rock slides. Our stalk had us climb to the top and begin edging our way over the rim trying to locate the rams below. We peeked over several places before we found them. The biggest full-curl lay bedded at 250 yards. Several other rams fed far below, including the second largest full-curl. We decided we better at least get one, so I lined up the shot and sent a bullet through the big guys shoulders. At the sound, the other rams began working their way to escape cover. The problem with that for them was that meant they were working up the mountain closer to us. The other big full-curl topped a small plateau at 280 yards and Scott shot his Kenai ram. We'd done it. Doubled up in the Kenai Mountains. It was now evening. We finished butchering by the light of headlamps and set off for camp at 12:30 in the morning. Scott and I can't seem to do a sheep hunt together without one good hike in the dark. It was treacherous and steep, but God directed our path in the dark through the crags. With moon and stars shining overhead and heavy loads on our backs it was glorious. We finally crawled into sleeping bags at 3:30 am. Tired, but content. The weigh of anxiety lifted off our shoulders, replaced by an overflowing sense of accomplishment.

Normally we are so far in on our hunt, that it takes several days to pack our rams home. This location was only a days hike to the truck so instead of busting for home we spent the next day hanging out in the pass. It was perhaps my favorite day in the sheep mountains, ever. The best since who flung the chunk. With two rams down, there was no more worry about finding rams, eluding other hunters or staying hidden from sheep. It was a perfect bluebird day spent reading, napping, journaling, taking pictures, frying sheep meat (thanks to the cache of wood left 42 years ago!) and walking with Jesus. That evening on "the glassing nob" God gave us a spectacular send-off as the moon rose over the mountain peaks and animals of every kind were spotted on the surrounding hills. We were the proverbial kids in a candy store. It was a perfect day and a perfect way to put my nemesis behind me. Hope you enjoy the pictures (in chronological order).