It was a strange feeling to not be in the sheep mountains on August 10th. I was anxious to get after some rams. I arrived in Anchorage on August 29th ready for Sheep Hunt 2013, Plan B. With Scott having already filled his tag, we adjusted our plans. We didn’t want to risk the possibility of me killing Scott’s 2014 ram that will complete his seven mountain ranges quest and we each had a Tier 1 Nelchina caribou tag this year. So we decided to try to accomplish a “quick” sheep hunt so we could get in a caribou hunt as well during my stay.
Ram Gulch was our best bet. It would be like going back to see an old friend. Ram Gulch is one of our favorite places in Alaska. It has been a consistent producer for us and for several friends and family members we’ve escorted there (blind folded and sworn to secrecy of course) for their first rams. The rams don’t get big there but we’ve always come home with one. If there ever was a super-secret ram honey hole, this is it.
Even though we know how to hunt this spot, it is not a gimme. It’s still a real sheep hunt. The 16 mile approach took us a full day. It started out pleasant but a light drizzle greeted us a few miles in and got progressively harder as we hiked. We were in a full on rain storm as we set up camp that evening in the high mountain valley. It was almost dark, too dark to see horns, but not dark enough to hide the sheep above us. We went to bed anxious for first light.
We awoke to a grey fog. Zero visibility. Back to sleep. Scott and I were getting used to this pattern and I was mourning the exchange of rare sunny southeast weather for crappy southcentral weather. Mid-morning the sun emerged. It was a great time for drying gear and we had stuff strewn on every rock and tree we could find. But the clouds persisted and hung low on the mountain most of the day. I was frustrated that where we were it was nice and sunny, but that we still couldn’t see the mountains. Without being able to glass and find rams we did not know the best approach or if we should even stay in this valley or press on further into new sheep country.
Finally the clouds revealed the peaks and rams. We had been smart to wait. But the day was largely gone. We elected to hike another mile or so up the valley to peak into a hidden bowl that sometimes holds rams. Then we would know best which way to ascend the mountain. As luck would have it, sure enough there was another large group of rams. Now we were getting giddy with anticipation. We had 20+ rams in two separate groups to choose from. Daylight was fading though as we debated the merits of trying a dash up the mountain. Our better judgment prevailed and we elected to camp and get an early start the next morning
We hiked for an hour in the dark the next morning on a dim moose trail to the base of the mountain. At first light we could see rams scattered in loose bands across the mountainside.
The hunt was on! We began our climb. We reached the top and began working the ridgeline, glassing occasionally below us. We picked out a ram here and there, but nothing legal and it seemed like they were on high alert and moving out like they had already winded us. So we pressed on to an area we had never looked into before. We spotted a half dozen rams and one looked like a full curl. We were back in business. Unfortunately he was near the bottom of the valley and three sub legal rams and the wind direction blocked our approach. We decided to wait him out and see if he would feed up to us. His buddies were moving the right direction and within range. He fed out of sight in a fold of the mountainside, but we felt sure he would come into view for a shot.
The full curl never showed that night so we made camp near the ridge top. The next morning we got more aggressive and headed straight for where we had last seen him. We hiked down almost to the bottom and worked our way across the gullies and ravines we felt sure harbored the full curl. But he was gone. Houdini ram.
We were feeling low. The wind was howling and wearing on us and the only full-curl we had seen had given us the slip. We started to head back knowing we didn’t have enough time to press any further in. Maybe we would see some new rams on our way back. We hiked along the backside of the ridge, trying to stay out of the wind, peeking over occasionally and getting blasted by the wind when we did so. Somehow thru the gale we spotted a group of 11 rams below us.
One needed closer investigation. The wind was too strong to view him steadily through the spotting scope. We hiked around them and then began descending. The wind was fierce, so much that it would almost knock us off our feet. It was pretty intense. When we thought we had descended to their level, we began inching across the face.
It was exciting to peek into each gully thinking that was where they were only to find we needed to go further. Finally we peeked over the last finger into the gully they were in. They had chosen one of the few wind-free areas on the mountain. They were only 100 yards away and no one had a clue except for the biggest ram. He was on alert. Eventually he calmed and bedded, but facing us. His horns were such that I knew he was legal, but I needed to get that perfect view to confirm. We watched for 2 hours from under 100 yard and he wouldn’t turn just right. I needed to get closer. I snuck in so that I was in front and slightly below him. Just 50 yards away now, but I could clearly see the perfect 360 degree circle. I motioned to Scott and let him know he was good and that we were going to take him. Scott got the camera set and I readied for the shot. By now the ram was up and about 100 yards away. At the shot I had my ram and the discouragement we had felt earlier was dispelled.
I was anxious to get my hands on him, but it was getting late in the evening and we knew it would be well after dark by the time we had completed the butchering. At Scott’s insistence we found a campsite first, about 600 yards down the slope. Our camp hadn’t seemed so far away in the daylight, but it was with great relief when we finally stumbled onto it in the pitch black with heavy packs. We didn’t get much sleep on that 30 degree slope. It’s hard to relax when you’re trying to hold yourself up by your feet. The wind roared most of the night like a freight train. We were right on the edge of a deep ravine. The wind would come barreling up and then roar over us, just barely ruffling the tent.
The next day was a typical pack out. First the sketchy descent, then alder infested jungle, then a long hike through a mountain valley, then timber, tussocks and deep stream crossings.
We made camp just a couple miles from the trailhead. We could have pushed on to the road, but decided instead to enjoy a relaxing camp with a roaring campfire, roasted sheep meat and a good western. It was a beautiful crisp fall night. The autumn colors were in full splendor, snow dusted the top of the peaks and a set of sheep horns hung near the tent. It was a good way to wrap up sheep season.