As I said in another thread, sheep hunting has been the passion of my hunting life. In spite of that focus, the only sheep I have been fortunate enough to hunt have been dall sheep (or Dahl’s sheep as some write it). By the time the events in this story occurred, I had been sheep hunting about 15 years. I’d shot a lot of nice sheep, but the elusive “40-incher” had evaded me. I’d gotten close – 39 on one side – but I just hadn’t been able to find a 40-incher at the ‘right’ time.
In light of the above comments, I should probably point out that I’m not a “trophy” hunter per se. At the same time, it seems silly to me to shoot “small” animals on purpose. In defense of shooting small animals I often hear the likes of, “I’m a meat hunter”, and “You can’t eat horns”, or “The young ones taste better”. Far be it from me to question a fellow hunter’s veracity, but… I am not averse to challenging what I consider to be faulty logic.
The reason I always shoot the biggest animal I can find is because I’m a meat hunter. In my opinion, if you really are a “meat hunter”, you’ll have to acknowledge that the most meat comes from the biggest animals, and the biggest bodies usually have big antlers/horns attached to them. Also, unless the male is in full-blown rut, I really don’t find “big” bulls (or rams) that different in taste from “small” ones. I think the fact that in 15 years of hunting sheep I had yet to shoot a 40-incher illustrates what kind of “trophy hunter” I am. I simply always shoot the first, biggest ram/bull/buck I can find in the time I have to hunt.
However, as I said, I’d been at this ‘game’ for 15 years, and still didn’t have that 40-incher. It was getting a little embarrassing to call myself a “serious” sheep hunter and yet have no “40-incher” to show for it. Sheep aren’t difficult (stalking–wise) to take. Get above them and you’ve ‘won’. Since I was young and healthy, getting above your run-of-the-mill dall sheep ram wasn't that much of a challenge. If I didn’t have a 40-incher, it could be argued that it was because I really wasn’t that good of a sheep hunter. I set about to remedy what was clearly simply a case of 15 years of "bad luck".
Starting at the end of the then current sheep season – another one without a 40-incher – I decided it was time for me to quit ‘fooling around’ and get serious about finding a 'big' ram. The first thing I did, was study the state’s records on 1) where ‘big’ rams were taken, and 2) where access was ‘tough’. A record of big rams and tough access should increase the likelihood that a 40-inch ram was even present. That research revealed several places, but the one that was most available to me, and the toughest to get to, was the drainage of the Yanert glacier.
Next, I went to the University of Alaska’s Geophysical Institute to look at the U2 photo library. This was a library of photographs of every inch of Alaska taken from the former U2 “spy” planes. The images were actually 11” x 11” color films – essentially color slides. Being a library, I could check them out, and I did. I got all the slides of the Yanert glacier and of the surrounding areas with appropriate sheep habitat.
With some 20 of these ‘slides’ under my arm I proceeded to a local photo-lab where I printed blowups of each slide. I took the ‘slides’ back to the UofA, and the black-and-white prints home, where I covered a wall in my basement with an aerial view of where I was going to get my “40-incher”. (If you want to see where the Yanert glacier is, on google earth enter “Yanert glacier, Cantwell, Alaska”.)
In general, I was looking at an area of about 150 square miles from which to choose a place to hunt. After pouring over the “sheep wall” for about a month, even using a magnifying glass on occasion, I had several places chosen as potential hunting areas. Now the ‘problem’ was getting there.
I had a neighbor ‘down the street’ that had a Cessna 185 and was a professed ‘avid hunter’. He was an Air Force A-10 pilot, and I had flown with him a few times and trusted his piloting skills. He was from Montana and was in Alaska assigned to Eielson AFB. He was always admiring my sheep horns, and ‘hinting’ that he would like me to take him sheep hunting. I’m kind of particular about the folks I hunt with, and he, (I’ll call him “Dan”), wasn’t the ‘kind’ I would normally go hunting with. But this trip wasn’t “normal”. I was on a mission, and he had something I needed in order to complete that mission - a plane. A plane (or a week on horses) was the only way to access the Yanert glacier. Once again I found myself compromising my standards in trade for “transportation”. (Kinda suggests what profession I might have chosen had I been born a woman, doesn’t it?. ) I would come to seriously regret that compromise.
When I discussed the hunt with Dan, he liked the whole idea, and was of course enthused about it. I told him that the only task he had to perform in the next 11 months was do a little recon and find a place to land from among the several hunting sites I had selected. I would take care of everything else.
As the winter progressed, I continued my research, talking to people that knew the area and knew what guides hunted the area in general. It was pretty clear that the locale chosen was both “good” sheep country and “tough” country to access. My anticipation grew with each passing day. Periodically I would ask Dan if he had scouted for landing sites. Through the winter, he responded “No”.
It’s generally wise to have a back-up plan when it comes to planning a sheep hunt. This was certainly called for in this case. First, I had never been in this country before. Second, I didn’t even know if you could get a plane close enough to the areas I wanted to hunt. Third, weather can easily knock out your first plan. The back-up plan for this trip was an alternate site that I knew from previous scouting was both reachable by plane, and contained legal (full curl) rams. They weren’t 40-inchers, but they’d do for “back-up”.
As Spring rolled around my queries about the recon being accomplished got increasingly ‘pointed’. Finally, I was insistent, and finally Dan told me he had done the recon, and that he had found a place to land among the places I had chosen. Whew!
Normally I plan 10 days for a sheep hunt. The primary reason is that in the mountains it is very easy to have to spend 7 days in a tent due to weather. If you don’t plan on 10 days you could get completely weathered out. Furthermore, this was 'vacation'. I loved spending time in the mountains. If I shot a ram on the first day of a 10-day hunt, I loved it. I had 9 days left to explore and just 'laze about'.
Let me talk briefly about what I pack for a 10-day sheep hunt. First, you've got to carry everything you need on your back. I never went on any “gentleman’s” sheep hunts. There would be no guide providing sleeping tents, cook tents and packing horses. Second, you've got to get whatever you take into a small plane, AND you have to plan for what you’ll be bringing out, meaning sheep meat and the cape and horns. (By law you have to bring out the horns to have them “sealed”. “Sealed” just means checked by Fish and Game.) Traveling light isn't just the watchword, it's the "law".
My “sheep pack” with rifle and ammo weighed in right at 55 lbs. Included were:
1) A 4-man tent - A “4-man” tent is the perfect size for two people, just as a “4-man” raft is the perfect size for two rafters,
2) Sleeping bag and pad,
3) Camping stove and pan,
4) One cup,
5) One spoon,
6) Matches AND “fire kit” – it’s never wise to go into the Alaskan wilderness without a reliable fire kit, (I have another story about a caribou hunt, this same “Dan”, and the need for a fire kit.)
7) Small battery-powered flash-light (that'd be "torch" if you’re ‘not from around here’),
8) A change of clothes (wool shirt and pants) in case you get soaked – most of the time you didn’t need the extra clothes.
9) 5 pair of socks and skivvies. (Those get changed every other day.)
10) One pair of ‘long underwear’. This in case you had to bivouac over-night away from your tent or a snow-storm blows in.
11) Ten dehydrated meals,
12) 20 Instant oatmeal packets,
13) 20 “granola” bars
14) 30 tea bags, and sugar to taste,
15) “Hunting knife” – mine was a CaseXX Folding Hunter. (I just lost that knife this month in a boating “accident” floating down a remote river – but that’s another story.)
16) Four game bags,
17) 5 lbs of salt for the cape,
19) Toilet paper,
20) Binos – mine are cheap - $25 - 10x25s
21) Good, light weight, spotting scope – at least 25 power - and small tripod,
22) Rifle and ammo - I always bring at least 20 rounds. Sometimes 40.
A day’s ‘rations’ went like this:
Breakfast was two packets of instant oatmeal. The cup is used as the bowl. When the oatmeal was finished, hot water for tea is poured in the cup and one tea bag used - sugar to taste. The tea cleans the cup of any residual oatmeal. The cup goes in the pocket of six-pocket pants for opportunistic drinking the rest of the day.
Lunch is two granola bars.
Supper is the dehydrated meal (always Mountain House stroganoff for me) eaten from its own container. Two tea bags for after supper.
For this hunt, I would be bringing a rifle I had made specifically to be my “sheep gun”. (At the time, I called it the “Ultimate Weapon”. After a later and ‘exiting’ coastal brown bear hunt, it is now referred to as the “Sissy Gun”.) It is a Remington Model 700 chambered in a cartridge with a 7mm bullet on a 300Weatherby case. I can, to this day, still shoot tiny little 3-shot, half-inch clover-leafs at 100 yds. And by the way, it also wasn’t a so-called “mountain rifle”. What a bunch of marketing hoohah. If you can’t carry an extra pound or two around the mountains all day, you shouldn’t be in the mountains in the first place. The "Sissy Gun", sporting a myrtle thumb-hole and a beaver-tail forearm, weighs over 9 lbs. It’s NEVER been a ‘burden’ to carry. My other "sheep gun" is another Remington Model 700 chambered in 7mm Mag and sporting another thumb-hole stock with beaver-tail forearm in ROSEWOOD. It weighs 10 lbs.
My preferred bullet – one proven repeatedly on game – was the 115-grain Speer HP. For this bullet on the 300 Weatherby case, I had my handloads doing about 3500 f/s at the muzzle. And “No”, it doesn’t “destroy meat”, but “Yes” it does “flatten” game "dead right there". How I came to appreciate this bullet and ALL HPS with large-meplats is yet another sheep story.
Now that everything was 'set', all that was left was the dreaded "wait” before the long-anticipated hunt. It was tough to sleep even though it was ‘sheep’ I was counting each night as I lay in bed.
"The Hunt" and pictures will follow after you've had a chance to masticate on this a for a few hours.