An Alaska Dall Sheep Hunt Story: In the remote and unforgiving landscape of Alaska’s mountains, a couple’s determination and teamwork led them to achieve their goal of hunting a prized ram together.

Preparing for the Dream Alaska Dall Sheep Hunt

Our dream of hunting Alaskan Dall sheep started in late March over five years ago on a clear, cold, crisp day at the southern end of Kodiak. Carri Ann and I were packing up our frozen gear, staging our two mountain goats on the beach, and listening for our float plane. We cherished our time on “the Rock” after harvesting two billies.

As the morning silence was broken by the sound of the De Havilland Beaver splashing through the gentle waves slapping on the surf, Carri Ann turned and looked at me to say, “You need to get your sheep!” I chuckled and smiled, as these last few days had really tested my ability to be on the mountain. You see, I am afraid of heights. Carri Ann gracefully maneuvered along the high, snow-capped ridges like a gymnast on a balance beam. I clung to life and prayed. I was extremely shaken while crawling on all fours as she patiently waited for me to make my way.

Navigating Regulations and Challenges

This day would start an adventure that would take five years to realize. Carri Ann would do her homework like a schoolgirl writing an essay on sheep hunting. She spoke with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game (ADF&G) biologists. She reached out to her friends in the guiding community and fellow sheep hunters. We studied maps to plot routes for scouting with our airplane, read every article we could find, and watched sheep hunting YouTube videos.

Alaska Dall Sheep Hunt

A beautiful sunrise at spike camp.

Gear Checks and Mental Preparation

Our reluctance in hunting Dall sheep was due to the difficulty in determining a legal ram. We were very cautious and apprehensive about harvesting a sublegal ram. The last several winters have been hard on sheep. The sheep herd is in decline due to winter-kill and a variety of other reasons. Horn growth would be especially less in harsh winters.

The hunting regulations require a sheep to be eight years old, or full-curl. Determining a sheep’s age is not easy. A ram’s age can be determined by counting the annuli or rings in the horn; thus, a ram must have eight rings. Imagine counting annuli, about the width of a shoe string, from hundreds of yards away or even a mile, with the wind, rain, snow and dirt blowing in your face.

As the days counted down to our dream hunt, we checked gear, hiked with loaded packs, and verified the rifle. Eska, our chocolate lab, encouraged me each day to get out and walk; she was ready to go, rain or shine. She trotted along as I carried my pack with 5- or 10 gallons of water around the mostly level streets of the subdivision. Like Carri Ann, she always looked back and waited patiently for the old man to catch up.

Alaska Dall Sheep Hunt

A caribou visiting our base camp.

The Journey Begins

The weekend finally arrived for the adventure to begin. Carri Ann was hosting a women’s flyfishing event for silver salmon and rainbows on the Kenai River. We were in constant contact, verifying weather, gear, etc. Sunday morning, I patiently waited for Carri Ann to swing into the driveway, but my anxiety was building.

Sheep hunting is a young hunter’s game. Most sheep hunters are in their mid-20s to mid-40s. This hunt becomes more and more physically and mentally challenging as we age.

Challenges: Weather, Terrain, and Endurance

With sheep hunting there is a given: You will be cold, wet, tired, and sore. Often success requires walking 50- to 60 miles in the mountains and a cumulative change in elevation exceeding 50,000 feet. Sheep hunters often must cross streams, fight through brush and alders well over their heads, and traverse shale rockslides. Shooting distances can be several hundred yards with high winds.

She arrived with a big smile and bubbling full of excitement. My mind was racing, and I trembled. Was I physically and mentally prepared? I began to really question, at 54 years old, if I could accomplish this goal. This was our first time hunting Dall sheep.

We made our final gear checks. Our adventure would start with a clear-blue, late-August day. As we drove, Carri Ann played inspirational music, and took pictures of some of the most scenic and vibrant fall colors the mountains ever offered.

Anticipation of the Hunt

Carri Ann would travel over 700 miles from the Kenai Peninsula to northwest Alaska that day. We arrived at the dimly lit homestead lodge well after the day’s light had faded and settled in but our sleep was restless with the anticipation of the hunt.

We rose early to a cool, crisp, frosty morning. The river valley was filled with fog limiting our visibility to just a few hundred feet. We would have to wait for the fog to lift before we could set a base camp.

Our morning was amazing as we enjoyed small talk with the guides, family, and one hunter over coffee. It was truly fascinating to listen to our transporter talk about growing up and homesteading. We were like children intently listening to a bedtime story. We were eager to hear more as we walked and talked about the various taxidermy, old equipment, and family belongings from yesteryear.

By mid-morning, the coffee pot was empty, and the sun had broken through the clouds. The fog had lifted. Our bush-pilot burst through the front door and said, “It’s time to go! Get your gear.”

Embracing the Challenge and Overcoming Apprehension

Alaska Dall Sheep Hunt

A sheep hunter’s dream: carrying a heavy pack filled with delicious Dall sheep meat, beautiful white cape, and the trophy horns.

As we started to load the planes, I felt a twitch in my stomach. This is real, this it. There’s no turning back. The anxiety and apprehension were starting over again. Can I do this? I will be 54 years old in a few days. I found peace and confidence in knowing that I had Carri Ann at my side. We had been hunting together in the Alaskan wilderness and Kodiak for six years. We were prepared. Although we may not have had everything we’d need, we would improvise. We have overcome many challenges in the field and often found a way to be successful.

With headsets on and strapped in, the bush plane roared and started to roll down the grassy, uneven airstrip. I was focused on the trees at the end of the strip. The strip was shorter than your average runway. One, two, and three bounces, then the plane leaped into the air over the treetops.

Our pilot shared stories about the various drainages and mountains from his trapping, flying, and hunting days. Not all those stories were about success, but rather, what didn’t go as planned. These were meant to be words of wisdom; words of caution.

Before long we circled a section of rocky river drainage. Carri Ann started taking pictures of the drainage, documenting trails through brush and alders, rockslides, fresh water sources, and any meaningful landmark. We would use these as we planned our ascent and descent on the mountain.

As the pilot departed, we quickly realized we were alone. Just us in the beautiful Alaskan wilderness. We were in a new place. There was no way to walk back to the lodge.

Scouting and Discovery

With sleeping pads blown up and camp organized, we set out with our spotting scope and a rifle. Carri Ann began scouring the mountainside. Every shale slide and bush were examined as if she had it under a microscope. She was searching for a clue on where the sheep might be hiding or moving. Before long, she turned and said, “Sheep, I have them!” However, we couldn’t pursue them because we flew that day.

We were filled with joy and anticipation. We went back and forth several times about whether they were legal. From our vantage point, they were legal. Carri Ann quickly started studying photos and pointing out landmarks. She had plotted an ascent up the mountain, traversing through the brush and across the rockslides, keeping us out of the sheep’s sight just as if she was plotting a flight plan.

Carri Ann making Peak Protein at our spike camp.

Sheep and Unexpected Guests

Moments later, Carri Ann turned to me while pointing up the ridge and said, “What is that yellow-green thing?” We set the spotting scope to that faint lime-green reflective spot. Our hearts sank as it was the one of the few things another sheep hunter wants to see: another hunter coming over the ridge.

For the next several minutes, it was like we were watching a hunting TV show. We sat quietly watching, not speaking a word. Deep inside, we wanted to yell, “Run!” The hunters were above the sheep, and the sheep had started to feed across the face of the mountain with no idea what danger was nearby.

As we watched the drama unfold, Carri Ann and I were confident that at least one of the two rams was legal. After five clean misses, we had a glimmer of hope that just maybe these two rams would survive the night. In the faint light of dusk, the sixth shot harvested the ram we had just spent two hours watching with eagerness and hope.

Adjusting Our Alaska Dall Sheep Hunt Plans

We sent an inReach message to the bush pilot about what had just transpired. He quickly responded with a message to be ready to move by late afternoon tomorrow. Our plan was still to climb the mountain in the morning and look for the second, potentially legal ram.

Once high on the mountain, we found the second ram. We studied the horns and by our estimates, he was sublegal. He needed one more year. We sat in the sun, laughed about what we had witnessed the night before. What luck.

A quick descent back down the mountain and we packed up our camp. We needed to be ready to go as the daylight was waning.

Navigating Wilderness: Alone and Together

The pilot arrived and shared that I would be leaving with half the gear, and he would bring Carri Ann in on a second flight. We quickly divided the gear so that we both had survival gear and a rifle in case she didn’t make it to our new base camp that night.

As we took off, I recall looking out the window and seeing Carri Ann. There was no reason why she shouldn’t make it, but you never know. I was looking forward to the new drainage but was apprehensive because we would be separated for about two hours with no communications.

The pilot flew through various drainages and picked a landing spot. I looked at his reference and thought, those are basketball-size rocks, and the runway is less than a football-field long. Confident that we would be fine as I reflected on a comment from our friend that this pilot could land in places most bush pilots should not ever think about trying, but held my breath as we bobbled over the rocky wilderness strip.

Alaska Dall Sheep Hunt

Carri Ann and Andy high on the mountain looking for a legal ram.

Preparing Camp and Ensuring Safety

I quickly found a place in the alders to set camp, dug out some rocks, and set the tent. It seemed that it was just minutes when I heard the airplane heading back up the valley.

Carri Ann jumped out and we quickly finished our base camp. Rifles were loaded and staged because Carri Ann flew over a sow brown bear and three cubs a half-mile downstream of our camp. Seeing bear tracks is one thing, but to see a sow with cubs nearby…The hair on your neck stands up and your senses are heightened as you listen for any sound or strain to see any movement in the brush.

We woke to a beautiful, cool, frosty morning with the snowcapped mountains sparkling in the morning sun. The hillsides were full of vibrant yellows, oranges, and reds of high alpine foliage. A quick cup of cowboy coffee from the Jetboil and we would start scouting for sheep.

Our packs would be heavy. Carri Ann would be carrying about 50 pounds and my pack would be slightly heavier. We would be setting our spike camp farther up the drainage. The day was spent glassing sheep, meeting a resident caribou, and rock ptarmigan. Our day ended with the two of us snuggled in like two peas in a pod in our spike tent. As I unzipped the tent fly at dawn to a frost-covered landscape, Carri Ann reached for the binos. “Sheep!” she exclaimed. Quickly, we dressed and began to glass. We would start our stalk by crossing the glacial-melt stream and up the far side of the drainage we had a band of seven sheep about two miles away.

Adverse Weather and Terrain

Our path would take us up the adjacent drainage to where the sheep were feeding. After three hours of hiking and our final ascent, the wind started to blow. At one point, Carri Ann dropped face down on the slope as a wind funnel came racing at us. I was picked up and dumped like a bucket of rocks. Uninjured, we found a small depression and crawled to shelter, out of the wind. I peered over the ridge to confirm what we thought would be ewes and lambs. To my amazement, rams—seven of them! We quickly set up the spotting scope and confirmed. We were 715 yards across the valley.

Somehow, we closed the gap from 715 yards to 524 yards with no cover. One piece of advice given to us was, “If you can see sheep, they can see you!” I set the rifle on my pack and set the turret. It was a waiting game. We laid on the ridge shivering in the snow flurries and wind. The wind measured thirty mph with the occasional gust in the mid-40s. Our plan was to wait for one of the two legal rams to present a shot with no wind. This would be a tough order as we had seven sets of eyes watching and variable wind conditions on either side of the drainage.

A Missed Opportunity: Dealing with Disappointment

Finally, a legal ram stood and slowly walked to where we needed him. Carri Ann whispered, wait for the wind. With my heart racing and beating outside of my chest, I held steady. Finally, she said, “Now”. The rifle rang out. Through the scope, I could see a puff of smoke, I had missed high and hit the rock face. The sheep ran across the face of mountain and out of sight. Carri Ann quickly got to her feet and grabbed gear. We needed to descend the rockslide and waterfall and up to the ledge where they sheep were resting. We confirmed no blood, a clean miss. Good news but bad news.

I was emotional. I blew it. What I thought was my one chance. It was very humbling for me. Carri Ann was upbeat though. We still had three days to hunt.

At this point, I came to accept that I was in the wildest, most unforgiving land. It was beautiful beyond belief, but maybe it wasn’t meant to be. No picture or movie will ever replace the solitude, peace, and love we shared as husband and wife up there in the rocky peaks. We spent the next day at base camp resting, reading a book on marriage, and reflecting on the days so far. These is much comfort in fresh, dry socks and hot coffee. The weather had turned to snow flurries and our visibility dropped to less than a hundred feet. We just settled in.

Seizing the Last Opportunity

Our dreams came true on our last full day of the hunt. Persistence and patience paid off! Carri Ann spotted our sheep at 8:20 in the morning from our spike camp. She told me to grab the rifle and pack. We had to bust a move up the mountain without being seen. At one point, the sheep had eyes on me while Carri Ann hid behind a small rock. I stood motionless in a yoga-like position. When the time was right, I found a small rock for my shooting position. Carri Ann called out the distance. I dialed the scope and let one go. I felt rock-solid but I missed. Fired again. And missed again!

Triumph Over Adversity: Success on the Final Attempt

Carri Ann checked the range and reset turret for 369 yards. This was it! The ram had started to walk up and over the ridge. I sent a third round his way. This time, we heard the thud of the bullet connecting. The Best of the West carbon-fiber rifle chambered in 7mm delivered. I scrambled to reload, and Carri Ann shouted, “He’s going down! We got him!” It took us about 30 minutes to hike over to the next ridge where he was laying. We were shaking and I had tears in my eyes as I took in the moment.

Alaska Dall Sheep Hunt

Andy with his first Dall sheep after five years of research. during which Carri Ann talked to ADF&G biologists, AK wildlife troopers, transporters, and fellow sheep hunters.

As we packed the sheep off the mountain, we descended into the wrong slide. I slid to within about two feet of going over a cliff. My pack was about 100 pounds. Carri Ann had all our hunting gear and rifle, which topped 50 pounds. With fear in our eyes and scared, we clawed our way back up the rockslide, inch by inch, grasping at any nugget or foothold we could find. After 45 minutes of crawling and sliding back down, we reached the top and embraced! Not only did we have a sheep, but we also didn’t die on the mountain. Back on the correct route, we continued our descent back to spike camp, rested, ate, and loaded spike-camp gear in our packs. We had two miles to go to base camp! We each added about 20 more pounds to our packs.

Alaska Dall Sheep Hunt

Celebrating Success: Sharing the Moment

At base camp, we hung the meat 75 yards from camp and enjoyed a wonderful evening sharing the highs and lows. There were big smiles and tears.

This trip made us stronger and love a little deeper. We helped each other reach higher as husband and wife, to accomplish more together than either one could individually. We did it!

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