By Stephen B. Owen
Can there be any greater dream for a southern boy than to hunt the wilds of Alaska? That is exactly where I found myself recently when my best friend Chris invited me to go on a moose hunt with him southeast of Fairbanks. While in Fairbanks buying a new scope at Sportsman’s Wharehouse (I just love airline baggage handlers) I picked up a copy of the Sportsman’s News. On my return trip to Tennessee from the moose hunt I began reading my copy of the Sportsman’s News. The articles led me to thinking about my greatest hunts of all time. The hunt I had just completed had to rank right at the top. After re-sighting my rifle, Chris and I flew into base camp on August 31, 2010 the day before the season opener. We awoke to fresh coffee and blue berry pancakes on what looked to be a very promising day as moose were spotted from camp. Four days of at a spike camp, 13 miles of up, over and around mountains and tundra, I returned to base camp with a really magnificent moose on my first moose-hunting attempt. Everything from spotting the moose, to stalking him, to standing for three and a half hours waiting for him to move into position, to pulling the trigger was dream perfect. Definitely a fabulous hunt to remember, but could it compare with my Dall sheep hunt from the previous year?Due to an unusual set of circumstances I ended up as the fourth shooter on a Dall sheep hunt in the Wrangell Mountains of Alaska. Although I was enjoying the scenery and fresh air I could not get excited about my prospect for a sheep, since each of the other hunters would have to get a shot at a full-curl before I could begin my hunt. One of the guides knowing my apprehension came to me and said he knew where we might find a sheep if I was willing to go where the other guys were not willing or able to go. The hunt would include climbing extreme mountains and sleeping in the bush. Due mostly to ignorance and an overestimation of my body’s abilities I said “absolutely”. I really began to question my sanity after miles of trudging through tundra and climbing up 4,000 feet of elevation. However the trip became immediately worth it as we topped the mountain and immediately encountered sheep. There was not a shooter in the first group so we began walking ridge after ridge glassing for that ever elusive full-curl. On the third day we spotted two really nice sheep. As the guide set up the spotting scope I removed my rifle from the scabbard of my backpack. Noticing I had forgot to tape the end of my barrel I looked down the unloaded barrel and sure enough there was something obstructing the barrel. When you are at the top of the mountain above the tree line there is not even a twig to use as a cleaning rod. I tried everything I could find to remove the debris including match sticks, the last of my drinking water, the wiring out of my headlamp and even a bird feather I found nearby (I plead the fifth on the type of bird). After several hours of trying there was nothing to do but walk the treacherous trail back to base camp and clean the rifle. That was a harder trip than the one up the mountain but for a different reason, facing my buddies. After the torment I received back in camp the guide reluctantly asked me what I wanted to do the next day. He had seen my determination on the first attempt so I knew he was dreading my answer. I said I wanted to climb back up that mountain and kill that sheep. The next day after searching the mountains, lying in the snow for five hours waiting for the sheep to get within range and then getting enough separation between the different sheep to insure a safe shot at the full-curl I had my Dall sheep. Wow, Definitely a hard fought successful hunt to remember, but then again, could it compare to a great whitetail deer hunt back on our farm in Shelby, North Carolina a few years earlier?
Several months prior to the opening day of deer season 2006 my youngest daughter, and top hunting buddy, was riding with me in my truck when she said, “Dad, I need my own gun”. I asked her what kind of gun she wanted. She said, “I want one of those .30-30’s. Those .270’s can’t hit nuthin”. The first deer she ever shot was the year before. It was a doe at about 30 yards with my first gun, a Marlin 30-30. It dropped like a rock. The second doe she attempted to shoot, several weeks later at about 100 yards, she missed with her mother’s .270 Browning A-bolt. So, in her 12 year-old mind a .30-30 must be a better gun than a 270. Oh well, I know some old timers that just might agree. Being Daddy’s little girl she was starting this season with her own Marlin 336C .30-30.
On opening morning we climbed our box stand overlooking a clover patch on the backside of the farm. By mid morning we had seen a number of does but no bucks. When the next couple of does walked into the field I asked her if she wanted to shoot a doe, knowing a shot may scare off any potential bucks, or wait. Seeing how the freezer was empty and she really wanted to try out that new gun she said she wanted to go ahead and shoot a doe. She eased up, got her gun into position and squeezed the trigger. The doe fell in its tracks. Before long three more does entered the field. Again I asked her what she wanted to do. I really wanted her to kill a buck but I knew according to our QDM plan we needed to kill a number of does this season and it was getting late in the morning. I told her to go ahead and shoot the biggest doe. She steadied herself and fired. The doe stood for a second and then took off running with no signs of injury. I told her “Baby, you missed it” she said no I didn’t. I said what do you mean, I saw that big one in the middle of the field run off. She was quick to inform me that the biggest one was standing in the woods at the edge of the field. Oh for young eyes again. I told her I would go look to see if she hit the deer but do not shoot again until I made sure she had missed this one. Legally she could kill two does and a buck but two deer is all I wanted to handle in one day. At the last second I changed my mind and told her if a really big buck walks out and only if he walks out at the other end of the field could she shoot. While I was looking for the second deer, three more does walked by me headed in her direction. About the time I thought the does would have reached her I heard her shoot. I was ticked because I was afraid she had shot another doe. As I turned to go to her I spotted blood and sure enough within 20 yards I found that second doe I thought she had missed. I left that doe lying and headed to the stand. When I got there she was hanging out the door saying “It was a big’un daddy, it was a big’un. My leg is shaking like a dog scratching his ear”. She could barely climb down the stand she was shaking so bad. I let her take the lead on tracking the buck. After about 100 yards I looked ahead down toward the creek and I could see the deer lying dead with the antlers sticking out above the grass. I was about to explode as she intently stared at the ground following the blood trail. Finally within about ten feet of the deer she looked up and her face broke into a huge grin as she saw her beautiful 11-point, split brow tine, 175 pound first buck. I could not contain my self any longer. I tackled her in a big bear hug and we rolled around on the ground with me patting her back telling her how proud I was of her. The years we had shared in the stand had paid off. She had learned to watch the woods closely seeing the buck before he stepped into the field and before he saw her. She was able to stand quietly and undetected, get the gun into position, get the scope on it and then make the shot at eighty yards. What a thrill. I do not believe she will understand how I felt that day until her own child fulfills his/her dream. Yes, this is without a doubt the day I will cherish as my greatest hunt ever and I never pulled a trigger.
The local paper ran her picture with her buck and I told her “ Many old men are sitting around the breakfast table mad at you this morning. Saying, I’ve been hunting all my life and I have never even seen a deer this big and she gets one for her first buck”. I was picking at her, but my real hope is every time we hear or see where a young person has been successful on a hunt we can truly be happy for them and know this is the spark that can ignite them for a lifetime of hunting and enjoying the outdoors.