Featured photo: Bob Robb
I have a confession to make. When I moved to Alaska in 1991 I got lazy. “Heckfire,” I thought, “it’s Alaska, for Pete’s sake. There’s game everywhere. All I have to do is leave the house and the arrows and bullets will start flying.” I had forgotten the wisdom of the famous Roman statesman, lawyer, scholar and writer, Marcus Tullius Cicero (106-43 B.C.): “Before beginning, plan carefully.”
One of Alaska’s most coveted limited entry hunts is for Dall sheep inside Chugach State Park, a massive area just outside Anchorage. After several years, I finally drew a tag for the first hunt in mid-August and was now wise enough to know that — to maximize my chances — I needed to do a lot of research and make a plan.
And so I got to work. I bought topographic maps of the area. I went to the game department and, not only got harvest statistics for the previous five year’s hunts in my unit, but I obtained the names of everyone who had drawn the previous two seasons. A bit more research and I had their contact information. I called every one of them up; 90 percent of them were willing to chat with me about their hunts. The state’s harvest stats told me the drainages in which every ram had been harvested and how old they were. I talked to the state biologist in charge of the area; he was very helpful.
This all began several months prior to opening day. Then in summer, I made two four-day backpack scouting trips into the area. This gave me a feel for the available trails and terrain, and showed me where I’d possibly need to ford deep, wide creeks. I glassed some sheep up, too. Finally a week before my hunt, I flew the area with a friend who was also a serious sheep hunter.
On that flight we found my ram. In fact, Ethan — who has taken several giant rams and knows what he’s talking about — told me with a grin, “there’s your 40-incher!”
I’m not sure I slept the rest of the week but, two days before the opener, I backpacked eight hours into the drainage where we’d seen the big ram. That evening I found him again, but instead of just two rams there were now 16 sheep total, four good rams and the rest ewes and lambs. I lived with them. And as the sun started to illuminate the eastern sky on opening morning, I was in position above them and I killed that ram. But when I walked over to him, I was stunned.
He was a beautiful, full-curl ram, 8 ½ years old, but he had a midget’s body. A mature Dall sheep ram will weigh over 200 lbs. on the hoof, but this guy maybe weighed 150. My “40-incher” was, in reality, a 37-incher! But who cared? I’d done it! I’d drawn the tag, made a plan, did the legwork, killed a super ram — and didn’t even need to go to Plan B.
Well, that’s not exactly true.
After caping and butchering the ram, my buddy Mike and I decided we’d take a shortcut back to the tent. In a nutshell, we ended up on a cliff face that changed everything. We could not get to the tent in a straight line. In fact, we decided it was probably easier and shorter to climb up and out of the drainage, drop down to the access trail, and simply hike back to the truck. That added 10 miles to a day that had already seen us put six hard miles in. We had no food to speak of; I just had some Carbo-Fuel that I could mix with water for an energy bump.
When we got to my truck, we were so tired we could hardly move. So we drove through a McDonald’s in Anchorage and each got two super-sized McSomethings, wolfed them down, and went to a buddy’s apartment and passed out. Next morning we got up and hit The Village Inn for the lumberjack breakfast, then I dropped Mike at the airport for his flight back to Valdez before hiking back into the mountains. I crashed in camp, and packed everything out the next day.
But first, I sat under the stars in camp, alone with my thoughts. I remembered a story about an athlete from the University of Arizona, George Young, who won a bronze medal in the 1968 Olympic 3,000-meter steeplechase. He later coached seven sports at Central Arizona College.
Young was once asked how he could wake up before the sun came up and train for miles out into the desert, even in the heat of summer. “The reason I did it every day is I knew, every time the alarm rang … the Russian was getting up,” Young said. “And he was going to beat me.”
How do you plan? Drop me a note at firstname.lastname@example.org and share it with me. I’d love to hear from you!