Steve and I were planning for a typical 10 day expedition sheep hunt in September. But with only one scouting trip under the belt this summer I was itching to get back into the mountains and decided to go check a place out over the weekend. With Saturday being the sheep season opener I’d also take the rifle. My expectations were to see if I couldn’t spot any rams that might be potentials for next year’s hunt.
The weather was far from favorable when I left Anchorage, nor was it much better when I left the truck and started my hike. I was halfway to treeline and taking a breather underneath some alder branches when the drizzle turned to a deluge. A mental battle ensued of deciding whether or not this was worth it. Mental struggles included; in just a matter of hours I could be back home and spend the weekend with the wife and kids, I already have a major sheep hunt planned, weather is supposed to be worse tomorrow, this sucks! Thinking and praying it over I decided to go for it since I was already this close to the mountains. It can be hard to gain the high country on a walk-in hunt, I couldn’t turn back at this point. When I stepped out to continue the climb, the rain turned back to a drizzle and I took that as confirmation.
11pm that night, I found a flat spot halfway up a narrow valley and set up my tent. I was exhausted, wet, and while definitely in sheep country, I was still 5 miles from where I hoped to be in order to see where the rams normally hang out.
It was a fitful night’s rest, compounded by heavy rainfall all night. It didn’t feel like I slept much. When I unzipped the tent in the morning to go get my food for breakfast, I instantly spotted sheep on the slopes up the valley. Binoculars revealed rams; are you serious! Spotting scope , there’s 2 full curls in the bunch! An hour later I had a plan and I left camp to climb the mountain and get above everything. Visibility was great even though the rain showed no sign of letting up. I gained the ridge, and worked my way along the backside till I was in a favorable position. Several groups of lambs and ewes were staged in-between me and the bedded rams, preventing any descent for the moment. The larger of the two full curls was easily distinguished from the other rams as his coat had a dark dingy color to it from the rain and a dirty bed. The younger full curl, while more past full curl than the larger ram, didn’t have the mass nor the mature look that the dingy ram had.
In waiting, I wore a cold wet trail back and forth on the shale slope staying patient for the sheep to get up from their beds and show me my options for a stalk. Hope for better weather was on the horizon as well with the daunting black clouds forming a definite line of conclusion and sunshine on its way. The sunshine and my opportunity to move arrived at the same time. Seems the rams get were just as excited about the improved weather and celebrated by playing head butt as they went down to feed in the bottom of the valley. My approach had me descend the entire face of the mountain ridge in the wide open and I did so by letting myself quietly slide 3-4 feet at a time down the shale slope. After every slide, I’d stop and glass to see if anyone was paying me any mind. After most of an hour later of this, the dingy ram lined everyone out and headed into a cut behind a ridge and out of sight. I immediately ran into a position that had me within range should they come back up to their bedding area from earlier in the day.
After waiting and having most of all the other sheep travel up and bed up behind me, I began to get anxious. The deep cutting creek in the bottom of the valley allowed a hidden access to a back saddle that I was afraid the rams would be traveling towards. If they choose this route, I wouldn’t see them till they headed up the far slope and any opportunity for success would have been over.
I decided to stalk down the tier ledges, working carefully to where I could see where I’d last seen those rams go. Of course the last ledge I crept to the edge of had the rams working their way up to me only 30 yrds away! Drat, it was now a blown stalk. I ran up to a high point and guessed correctly the way they’d gone. Frustrated that I’d totally blown a gifted opportunity, I was back in action when they came out of a draw 363 yrds away. I ran forward to a shooting position knowing I’d have a shot at less range than what I’d just marked.
It was a nip and tuck moment trying to get a shot. The big ram stayed shielded by two smaller rams and in short time I was going to loose them due to the terrain so I switched over to the smaller full curl in the lead. Just as I got him covered with the rifle, he turned the group at a quartering away angle, up a hill. Everyone lined out behind him with the big ram second in line. A moment was frozen in time, then he dropped at my shot and belief mixed with unbelief settled in.
After taking care of the butchering and watching the skies change color in the glorious transition of light to night, I loaded up and headed back to camp. That hour long walk in the dim light of dusk was one full of thankfulness for God’s favor on this trip. I actually wished my tent was further along once I arrived. It was a short weekend trip, and I still had to work pretty hard for this ram, but sometimes in hunting it's just about putting yourself in a position to be successful and accepting the gifts when God chooses to give them.
We’re calling him the Bueno Suerte Ram. Knowing that a sheep on opening day would totally mess up our year’s worth of planning for a late season hunt, Steve told me just before heading out, “That’d be a good problem to have, bueno suerte.”
He’s only 36” on the length, but has a deep drop and with 13.5” bases he is solidly the second best ram I’ve taken. This guy is big! Pretty fun to be the first ram checked in Monday morning at the Anchorage F&G office.
Talkeetna Mountian’s Walk-In Ram….check.
- Scott Luber
Sheep Hunting Gear List
All the gear and food used in the Lace'em Up video listed in a free download.
The Keys to Success
What it takes to be successful as a dedicated backpack sheep hunter.
7 Rams, 7 Mountains
Steve completed the first ever walk-in Alaska sheep slam this past August 2012. Read about his journey here.