Our Once in a Lifetime Sheep Hunt
by Adina Holbrook
It all began when my husband, Ben, put in sheep permits for us both in Dec. ’08. I was 7 mos. pregnant at the time and we figured that by the following August I’d be ready to go hunting when our children were 6 months and 2 years old.
Ben was ecstatic when I drew a sheep tag! He immediately began planning. Our little girl was born February 14 and at 9 days old needed open heart surgery. Whenever I thought about the upcoming sheep hunt it seemed impossible. At her one month checkup her cardiologist cleared her for wilderness camping. We realized it wasn’t very realistic for me to sheep hunt alone while Ben stayed with our babies in the tent. I needed either a guide or a babysitter so we asked my sister, Audrey, to watch the children.
On a gorgeous, sunny day we rode 4 wheelers 25 miles to our first camp. Two days before the season opened, we hiked 3 ½ miles higher. Each of us carried a baby and as much gear as we could. Audrey carried the rest. It took us 7 hours. When we got there, the fog lifted briefly so we could find our cache and set up camp before it rolled back in.
Opening day dawned clear and mostly sunny with a stunning view of the large mountains to the west of us. Ben and I left the babies sleeping peacefully. We hiked up and peeked over the ridge into the valley we wanted to hunt. After glassing for a couple hours we moved on up the ridge line. We saw a group of 5 rams bedded at the base of the cliffs about a mile and a half across the valley. Two of them were good, but we wanted to look a bit more.
As we worked our way up the mountain, fog rolled in and it began to snow, hiding the whole valley. Ben and I found a large boulder and huddled next to it while he heated some water for cocoa. Fortunately the fog lifted before dark and we headed back to camp.
The next day there was 2 inches of snow on our tent and we were fogged in. While hunting later in the day we saw the 5 rams again, but there wasn’t enough daylight to go after them. The rams were still there the next day, so we kept the ridge line between us as we hiked toward them. One time when we checked to see if they were still there, we couldn’t find them! Ben glassed about 8 hours while I roamed in search of blueberries, but we never saw them again.
Day 4 we saw lots of sheep, so it was just a matter of getting close enough to a legal one to shoot. Later in the day we spotted a legal ram, but we were a long way from camp. As we were discussing my options, a beautiful ram came dancing its way down the mountain. It was a real dandy. Some people like the gnarly busted off horns, but I think those lamb tips really make them look sharp. This one not only had the lamb tips, but he had by far the widest spread that we’d seen. He was very squirrelly and nervous and we hunkered down, hoping he would come near us, but he went deeper into the valley.
The next day we located that beautiful ram on a rock outcropping, low in the cliffs where he had a good view up and down the valley. To keep from being seen, we would have to hike around him and avoid the sharp eyes of the flock of ewes and lambs in the valley. This was a harder hunt than I had realized it would be and I was getting discouraged. I was sure that while we were hiking, the ram would take off.
As we neared the rock chute where our ram had been, Ben carefully crawled out to look for him. I almost didn’t believe him when he said the ram was still there! I followed Ben around the rock face and watched the ram standing in a beam of sunlight. It was 10:15 PM and the sun was low.
I tried several positions, but finally chose to lay down and brace myself on the rocks. I kept expecting the ram to run off. The ram was at least 300 yards off across a couple of rock chutes. It was very windy and the ram dropped when I shot, but he popped up again. Two more shots and the ram disappeared up into the steep crags above.
Rain and fog moved in and we watched the ram on and off for 3 days. He was definitely hit and moved very little. Finally the weather cleared and we were able to locate the ram and finish the hunt. The ram was better than I could have hoped for. He measured 38 ¾ in curls each side with 13 15/16in bases with 31in spread. from tip to tip. He hangs on our wall and reminds us of our family sheep hunting.
Ben and Adina Holbrook are the owners and operators of Clearwater Alaska Outfitters. They offer high quality Alaskan hunts for moose, grizzly and black bear. For information on their hunts call 907-803-3552 or see their website at www.clearwateralaskaoutfitters.com