Blue Skies, White Rams

The rams were situated on the very top of the mountain. From their vantage point, they could see for miles. We were hunkered down and observing them through the spotting scope over a mile away. When they finally wandered off the other side of the peak, we made our move.

We covered as much ground as possible, hoping they wouldn’t reappear and catch us out in the open. The horrendous wind was a concern. Luckily, as we worked our way to the other side of the mountain, we escaped the 40 mph gusts. As we approached the opposite side of the peak, we began moving slowly, anticipating the rams at any moment. The further along, the slower we eased forward.

They had to be close. Brad was directly ahead of me. Since I am slightly taller, I spotted the rams first and forced Brad to the ground. The rams were just below the peak. Quickly Brad laid his pack on the ground and looked through his binos for the biggest ram.

I rested the handgun on Brad’s backpack and tried to get in position to shoot. The nearly vertical slope made it difficult to get comfortable. Brad whispered, “They are 245 yards. Wait until I find the legal ram.”

Peering through the Leupold scope, I could see the old, double-broomed guy in the mix. Brad and I communicated and made certain I was looking at the right one. All of a sudden the rams spooked, or appeared as if something frightened them, and ran toward us. They slowed and immediately put their heads down and started feeding.

Now I had to reposition and find our ram in the group. There were eleven rams feeding casually 200 yards away. It was a beautiful sight to any sheep hunter. When Brad told me our ram was the closest one to us, I put the crosshairs on him and waited for the perfect broadside opportunity. I thought to myself – don’t screw this up!

            It was the second day of season but not my second day of hunting sheep in this area. Two years prior I was one of the unluckiest hunters in Alaska. If something could go wrong — it certainly did. The nine-day hunt turned into a 12-day mountain climbing marathon. I was keeping up with a 27-year-old guide while my body was telling me I’m in the AARP category. An opportunity for a legal ram never materialized, but I did come home with a hernia! That’s the way sheep hunting goes at times — nothing is guaranteed.

            I didn’t accept this defeat well and vowed to return with plans of redemption. The outfitter flew me out to a secluded location in the western Alaska Range late one evening. After landing the Super Cub on a riverbed, my guide, Brad, was waiting. We spent the night in a large tent and swapped hunting stories past bedtime. Brad was an experienced sheep hunter. He had been guiding in this area for 18 years and had many successful sheep hunts under his belt.

            The following day we loaded our gear in our packs and hiked further up the mountain near a stream where a small, two-man tent was set-up. When they say two-man tent — surely, they were referring to a couple of pygmies! Trying to keep our gear dry during periods of rain, plus sleeping bags and all our other gear made for tight quarters.

            We woke up long before daylight on opening morning and after coffee and instant oatmeal, loaded our packs for the day. Two steps out of the tent, we immediately began our ascent. The mountain was steep, and it took over two hours to see the peak. Once on top we could work our way down a long, knife-like ridge, glassing on both sides.

Brad had taken rams from this location in years past and was confident we would find sheep. For once in three days the skies were clear, and you could see forever — a perfect day for sheep hunting. We spotted sheep early on but nothing legal. During one glassing session, Brad spotted four rams on another mountain. While he set up the spotting scope, I found a group of rams another mountain range over.

Brad put the scope on the four rams and noted one of these could be legal. When he directed the spotting scope on the larger group — one particular ram caught his attention. There were nine sheep we could see situated on the very top of a rocky crest — two mountain ranges over. One of these sheep was heavy but we couldn’t see any tips. Little did we know this ram would be in the crosshairs within 24 hours.

            As we worked our way farther down the ridge, more rams were located. It was a most welcome sight even though many were not legal, or they were in an area not accessible. Late in the day we were almost to the end of our ridgeline when we found three rams, one of which could be a worthy candidate. After a long climb, almost to the very bottom, we observed this ram for over an hour. Unfortunately, he wasn’t old enough and just shy of a full curl. After the long haul back to camp — Mountain House tasted pretty good.

            Over dinner Brad suggested we take a hike over to the mountain range where we had spotted the nine rams. So early the following morning we set out to cover some ground in hopes we could find this group again. Once we reached a vantage point where we could see the same peak the rams were spotted from the day before, Brad looked through his binoculars. The group was in the exact same spot.

We set-up the spotting scope and scrutinized them. There were actually 11 rams now. The ram that caught Brad’s attention yesterday — gained his attention again. The reason we couldn’t see tips from the day before was because he didn’t have any. He was double-broomed. Brad said, “He’s got some age and he’s heavy.” But we couldn’t move on them because they were on the very top, looking in all directions. After an hour or so, the rams finally disappeared over the top. That’s when we made our move.

            With the frustration and disappointment from my previous attempt still fresh in my mind, I was overly anxious to locate these rams. To make matters even more challenging, I was hunting with a handgun. Nosler had just introduced a new, single-shot, bolt-action handgun, and I was hoping to break it in right. A quality Leupold scope was a welcome addition to this super accurate handgun chambered in 6.5 Creedmoor. After shooting this new addition to the Nosler lineup all summer, I was confident the gun was a true performer. Now if I could only hold up my end of the deal.

            As the gun settled in the backpack, several other rams started feeding directly behind our target ram. Brad whispered, “Wait until they clear.” We wanted to make certain another sheep would not be hit with the possibility of a pass-through. It was a nerve-wracking few moments. A quick peek through the rangefinder revealed 210 yards separated us from the oldest ram. When the coast was clear I settled the crosshairs slightly behind his shoulder and tugged the trigger. The ram couldn’t have dropped quicker if he’d been struck by a bolt of lightning. Brad slapped me on the back and yelled, “That ram is stone dead!” I was both thrilled and relieved.

            There is something special about sheep hunting. It can be the most challenging and difficult hunting endeavor imaginable, yet the rewards are monumental. The ram was determined 11 years old by Brad, who has seen more than his share of mature rams, and by a biologist in Anchorage where the sheep was documented and plugged. The old warrior was broomed on both sides. He was definitely the oldest guy on the mountain — just like me. — Mark Hampton

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