With my 50th birthday looming in November, I contacted outfitter Tom Shankster of Alaska Trophy Hunts and scheduled a 10-day Dall sheep hunt to begin on Aug. 10. It was to be my last attempt. I was 60 pounds lighter than I was on my earlier, failed attempt, and I was spending an hour each morning on the elliptical while watching sheep hunting videos. I noticed that shots in excess of 400 yards were common. I had never shot 400 yards. I purchased a Swarovski Z5 scope with a ballistic turret, and I attended the NRA Outdoors Long Range Shooting School (Level I) at the Peacemaker National Training Center in West Virginia. Although I have been shooting a rifle for more than 30 years, I am amazed how much I learned, and I became quite comfortable with 500-yard shots. I highly recommend it.
After the first two days of following my guide, Spencer, up mountains, I questioned whether I was capable of surviving the hunt. We walked many miles over the 10 days in every direction, all of them up, and spent a couple of days weathered inside our tents. Virtually all of the sheep were on the ridges. The two largest rams I have ever seen eluded us on day eight, and on the way back to camp, I fell in a stream. Tanks to the rain, I remained wet for the next three days.
On the 10th day, we crossed the Jones River (which had been dry three days earlier and was now raging), and a short distance up a valley Spencer spotted seven rams bedded on the back side of a knoll. After two hours, they got up but fed without leaving the knoll. When they bedded back down out of sight, we moved about 300 yards up the mountain to a small rise. One older ram was lying so that we could see one horn, and Spencer could, through his spotting scope, tell that the ram was 9 years old by counting its growth rings. Thus, this was a legal ram regardless of the other horn length. We anticipated that when the ram got up, he would stand tall enough to provide a clear broadside shot. He didn’t.
A couple hours later when the ram stood, due to the ridge between us only the top 5 inches of his back were visible. A spine shot, I reasoned, would be either a good hit or a clean miss. I felt good about the shot and expected him to fall, but my first shot at 310 yards did not strike its intended target. I took the walk of shame to confirm that it was a clean miss. The hardest 10 days I have ever spent . . . and I missed.
Remarkably, when we crawled up to the crest, all seven rams were between 150 and 225 yards in front of us, grazing and milling about. Now, Spencer again had to confirm which of the three largest rams was legal before another shot could be attempted. Spencer started with the one farthest away. Seconds seemed like minutes. It wasn’t him. I tried to be patient. Spencer was deep in the process of elimination and contending with incoming fog obscuring his view.
My Swarovski EL Range binocular provided precise ranges and gave me something to do besides pester Spencer. I ranged the other two big rams—180 yards. I adjusted my turret and waited. They grazed. I ranged—205 yards—adjusted and waited. He told me not to shoot but to focus on a particular ram. I ranged—240—adjusted and waited. The rams continued to graze away from us. Minutes seemed like hours. I ranged—260 yards.
At 275 yards, I told Spencer, “We can walk away if you are uncomfortable making the call. I’ve proven that I can do this, and that is what I came for.” In part, I lied. I wanted to kill a ram. The proof that I was capable of sheep hunting was standing 275 yards away.
After minutes more of silence, Spencer told me, “Don’t shoot, but focus on the one with the hitch in his step, quartering away with his head down.”
I ranged—275 yards—adjusted and focused.
“Take him,” Spencer said.
Bang, replied my Ruger .30-06.
I saw the ram fall. It was 6:45 p.m. on the 10th day of the most physically and mentally challenging hunt of my life.
I owe thanks to a lot of people, but most of all I thank my wife, who supported, encouraged and put up with me. I am thinking that our 30th anniversary next year is going to involve a big trip that doesn’t include hunting.
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