The sheep scouting trip was a huge success and no rams were spotted. What? Yes, you read that right. Let me explain.
Steve and I had an initial plan for access on this hunt and with the newbie kiddo at home, scouting opportunities were going to be limited this summer. A prior attempt with Paisley and me hitting the ATV trail ended abruptly with me swamping my ATV, underwater, miles from the trailhead. Sheesh, talk about an ordeal. It only took me five hours of freezing my toes off in waist deep water to get that thing muscled around and started again. All that with a 1.5 year old sitting on the grassy slope constantly wanting to slide down and play in the water kept me going back and forth between kid and atv duties. A submerged cell phone not working for the drive home added to Liz's worry about us until we finally showed up, mud everywhere, just after midnight. That was a great Father's Day, one for the books for sure!
Okay, now the success part. I hit the same trail again, this time just me, the dog, the ATV (renewed after 6 oil changes), with my pack ready for some hiking and finding those rams. For various reasons, even with getting past the water successfully, this trail wasn't going to work out for us to hike. I called it the trail from hell. It was swampy, buggy, wet, brushy, nasty, filthy, get mud on your lips kind of horribleness. Probably a normal 4 wheeler's dream but not for this ORV amateur. And since we would be hiking in on the hunt, all I could think of was "this is really going to suck and we're going to need waders." A Sat phone call to Steve over a midday coffee break had me figuring out what to do next since I didn't have my notes for alternate access with me. We soon had it figured out and I was ready to get out of there. I picked whitesocks out of my coffee, gulped it down before any new bugs could dive in, and turned the mechanized transportation around to head back to the truck.
July is a great month with the countdown to opening day of sheep season only one flip of the calander away. This is the month that sheep hunters in Alaska really start to amp up their summer training. Folks can be seen early morning and late evening hiking the neighborhoods with backpacks weighted packs. For me, it's looking a little different this year as I've had to get a bit creative with it. I've still hit a few of the local mountains, including a 45 min hike up Flattop with the 60lb pack...not too shabby, and a buddy and I even dumped our water jugs out on Wolverine Peak after an evening hike. 6.5 gallons of water in the backpack makes for about the perfect training hike and being able to unload all that weight up high, saves the knees on the decent. I'm liking this a lot more than the bag of dirt I used to haul up and down mountains.
I killed my first ram in 1998 on my very first sheep hunt. Miraculously, I drew the premier tag in the entire state the first time I applied. Despite a paucity of Alaskan hunting experience and appropriate gear, I was successful. Honestly, I hadn’t a clue what I was doing. I’d never killed anything bigger than a spike buck up to that point. I know that ram was a gift from God that helped set me on a path I didn’t know I needed to walk.
My next serious attempt at sheep was in 2001. A couple more years of Alaskan wilderness experience and sheep knowledge gave me more confidence heading into the mountains, but I knew I was still a newbie. I managed to take my second ram and felt like I halfway knew what I was doing. Maybe I could be a sheep hunter…
In 2002 I hunted the Kenai Mountains. I couldn’t find a legal ram and the momentum from the year prior began to wane. Little did I know at the time the role the Kenai Mountains would play in my journey.
2003 was the turning point of my hunting career and in some respects, my life. I received a sure-fire tip about a spot in the White Mountains that held legal rams. The kicker -- I’d have to walk over 30 miles to get there. It would be a test. Did I have what it would take? If I could succeed on this hunt, I could truly place myself among the ranks of accomplished sheep hunters. The hunt for that ram was the toughest thing I’d done to this point. I was now fully on this sheep hunting path, the wheels were in motion for an awesome friendship, and a unique sheep hunting goal was brewing.