By Michael Deming
My feet were throbbing from the last night’s hike back to camp. We had sealed the deal on a great Dall sheep late in the afternoon and it had taken until nearly 1am to get the cape, horns and all the meat back to camp. I had expected to sleep in much longer on this morning, but the cramps in my legs said that I needed more water and to stretch out my sore muscles. Just as I was getting some coffee going, I saw some movement far across the valley floor. We had seen numerous caribou over the past day, but this just didn’t fit the stride of a caribou. I grabbed my Vortex 15’s and immediately saw one of the most beautiful Arctic grizzlies that I have ever had the opportunity to view. I yelled at the crew to “Get Rolling, we’ve got a shooter bear! Everyone was fumbling for boots, clothes, camera’s and guns to make a move on our second target species of the trip in less than twenty four hours. But first, let’s catch all of you up to this point in the trip.
Planning a sheep hunt is a special experience. The world of sheep and sheep hunters is a very small group of folks and most of the outfitters that guide for these magnificent creatures have a waiting list for years. I wasn’t interested in waiting for years and neither was my good friend Kevin Sloan, who is the President of Sitka Gear. We had talked at the Shooting Hunting and Outdoor Trade Show about possibly teaming up for a Dall sheep hunt in the future and the early fall of 2012 would be ideal if we could get it done prior to the elk rut kicking in down in the lower 48. One of our endorsed outfitters, Wade Renfro of Renfro’s Alaskan Adventures recommended that I give Joe Miller of Alaska Statewide Guides a ring. He thought that he had an opening and since he had done some guiding for Wade in the past and came highly recommended, I immediately gave Joe a call. He indeed had one opening available for the last hunt in the fall of 2012 due to a cancellation, but unfortunately not two. The dates he had available would put us into the hunt area the last ten days of August, but I would have to be satisfied with hunting with a camera instead of tagging my own ram. Kevin said that he would for sure be willing to go if I was okay with just filming.
It was time to get serious about vetting this outfitter and finding out what this hunt was all about prior to committing. Joe provided us with references as well as a good understanding about the hunt. This available opening would be for a “Foot” hunt. Most sheep hunts are expected to be grueling, but they usually drop you into the hunt area by plane and then the work starts. Joe said that this area wasn’t easily accessible by plane, which would make competition in the area non-existent. Base camp would be 11 miles from the trailhead and we would have to ascend a good pass to get there. From there, we would be able to do two to three day hikes up other drainages looking for shooter rams and grizzlies. This hunt would not be for the faint at heart, nor the weak. Joe said, “We have a great chance of getting both trophies if you show up in good shape and with a good attitude.” The reference checks went very well and everyone successful or not said they had the time of their life, but should have conditioned more. With the glowing words from the past clients, we booked the trip and started training.
August came all too quickly and I’m sure that I wasn’t in good enough shape to pull this trip off. Kevin and I felt the same when it came to our conditioning. We had trained hard and just hoped we could pull it off without dying on the mountain.
Looking up at the mountains of the Brooks Range, I could feel my calves already starting to burn before I took my first step. As we settled into our pace, the hike seemed to get easier and easier. It was a slow incline to the base of the pass, four miles from the trucks, which we covered in just a few hours. The pass was intimidating, but I was starting to believe that my training was paying off for me and Kevin confirmed that he was on the same program and felt good. The view of the valley that held the main camp looked like paradise and sheep started to appear in nearly every drainage we could see. After that, it was all downhill to the main camp and we were high stepping with excitement. With several hours of daylight still left, I spent the evening looking for a shooter ram as Joe prepared some dinner.
Just as the last of our light was fading, I found one lone ram moving into a drainage several miles from camp. He looked legal, but with minimal light and the far distance, we couldn’t be sure. We did, however know where we would be headed in the morning to hunt.
Kevin and I were chomping at the bit to get going, but Joe assured us that these long days would wear on us as the week went on. “Enjoy a good breakfast and some coffee” Joe told us, because we would be getting a solid 12 plus hours of hunting in each day. By 10 am, we were finally headed towards the drainage that we had seen our ram in the night before. It took over an hour to get to the entrance of the drainage. We slowed to a crawl as we looked into every nook and cranny the canyon held. We had taken nearly three hours to cover half a mile and climb 1,500 vertical feet as we glassed. Kevin struck pay dirt when he looked as high upon the ridge top as you could see. Three rams were feeding along the edge of the skyline and two of them looked really good through our binos. Spotting scopes were flying out of packs and getting set-up as I settled the long range camera lens onto the brutes. Sure enough, two full curl rams and one half curl. Kevin would gladly put his tag on either one of the two legal rams.
Another 1,500 vertical feel stood between us and a shot. We loaded up with water and started climbing. My thighs and calves burned beyond belief and now I was sure I hadn’t trained hard enough. We could occasionally see the rams as we climbed, but looking through my binos was impossible since my heart was pounding out of my chest. The rams had bedded and the wind was in our favor, so we were able to slow our pace down a bit. After climbing for an hour, we were finally getting to where we could find a shooting position, when all of the sudden the rams stood up. Kevin and Joe both spotted another ram in a snow shoot which was now below us in the adjoining drainage. It was the single ram from the night before and a full curl stud as well. Kevin said, “I’m taking that one”. I set up the camera for the shot just and Kevin squeezed the trigger and crumbled the big ram. Wow, our sheep hunt was over nearly as fast as it got started. Everyone sat in silence enjoying the moment as we absorbed the beauty and the bounty the good Lord had provided to us.
It took nearly as long to get down to the sheep as it did to get up there for the shot. A ram is a majestic creature and a true trophy because of what you have to do to get success, regardless of what is on his head. This ram had no shortage of bone on his head, which made it even more enjoyable. We spent the next few hours taking photos, caping, butchering and preparing to get the trophy off the hill. The hike back to camp was slow as we all had heavy packs and tired legs. Now, let’s get back to where this story began.
I couldn’t believe that we were on another trophy this quick in the hunt. Joe’s feet were so swollen that he chose to make this stalk in his water sandals instead of his boots. We were all hurting from the lactic acid buildup in our muscles as well as the minimal amount of sleep, but a bear of this quality was worth every bit of pain our bodies could throw at us.
This bear was moving fairly quickly and I was pretty sure that we wouldn’t ever catch up with him. Him having four legs and us only having two and being sore gave him a definite advantage. We kept pushing on and closing the gap as we angled across the valley to intercept him. As the sun peaked up over the mountains and lit up the valley floor, Mr. Bear soon found a sunny knob loaded with berries to enjoy a relaxing morning. We were once again getting a major break which allowed us to catch up to the big boar. We closed the gap to 200 yards, giving us a great view of the bear. I was having a hard time believing that this was coming together so fast without anything going wrong. The crack of Kevin’s 280 threw me back into reality as the big boar whirled from the shot. “Hit him again, hit him again” was rolling out of my mouth as Kevin strategically pounded him with solid shots one after another. He was down and no longer moving. When I swung the camera over to see the reaction on Kevin’s face, no words needed to be said. We both knew that we had experienced a hunt of a lifetime, which had taken place in a 24 hour period of time.
Joe Miller and Alaska Statewide Guides had delivered on everything they had promised and then some. I’m not sure anyone can expect to go to Alaska and get two trophies of this quality within 24 hours, but I’m pretty sure Joe and his team can get it done for you during the time allotted on your hunt as long as you show up in shape and with a good attitude. Not all sheep hunts are of the foot hunt variety, but it was what we wanted. Alaska Statewide Guides also offer fly-in hunts and also specializes in archery sheep hunting in the “Bow Only Zones” of the Brooks Range. To book a hunt of your own with Joe and his team, give him a call at 907-978-1148 or visit them on the web at www.alaskastatewideguides.com . To see this hunt unfold on video, pick up volume 8, 2012 of the Sportsman’s News Television DVD on sale right now at the cash register of every Sportsman’s Warehouse.