Member's Hunt: Alaska Birthday Combo Hunt

posted on October 2, 2015

By Ernie Hedrick, Collegeville, Pa.

“He is the third ram from the left ... facing us and well past full curl. That is the one we want,” whispered my guide, Brad Patterson, on a brisk and bright beautiful morning in the Alaska Range west of Denali National Park. I was lying prone on a patch of lichen with a group of seven Dall rams feeding contently 400 yards away. Two of the rams were at least full curl with one appearing to go far past that. The wind was steady and in my face as I glassed the bright white rams against a backdrop of snowcapped peaks arching high into the fall sky. I was ready to take the longest and most important shot of my hunting lifetime, and I took a few deep breaths in a failed effort to slow down my rapidly beating heart.

I was hunting with Litzen Guide Service out of McGrath, Alaska, for sheep, black bear and grizzly. I had met Mike Litzen during an earlier hunt in Southeast Alaska and kept in touch with him, finally booking the combo hunt in March of 2014.

August came fast and I felt prepared. I had worked out my 57-year-old body intensely all summer and also shot my Browning 300 magnum at distances out to 300 yards. Being a whitetail hunter from Pennsylvania, shots over 100 yards at big game were rare, though I knew I needed to be prepared to accurately shoot longer distances for sheep in Alaska.

After arriving at camp I found out that Mike, our pilot, was weathered in near Kenai so we decided to hunt black bear and wolves right out of the main camp. We had glassed some nice-size bears from our airstrip that day and listened to wolves howl around our camp all night so we knew the animals were there. On the second day of my hunt, we were calling to some wolves and spotted a nice-size bear a good distance away and began a stalk. After several miles and some intense glassing, we located the bruin feeding in a depression next to an alder patch. We stalked up to within 80 yards and I shot the beautiful 6-foot, 10-inch black bear as he emerged from the brush. 

While we were skinning the bear Mike’s plane landed at camp. We hiked back quickly to pack up and head into sheep country. The flight on the Super Cub was picturesque and before I knew it, we were landing on a saddle between two snowcapped peaks. The next morning we crossed a stream, climbed an adjacent mountain and sat down to glass for the ram of my dreams. Little did I know he was just 3 miles away. We had sheep spotted in three different directions with one visible legal ram to our west. We were hesitant because of the wind, but when the sun broke through, the wind changed, allowing us to begin our stalk.

After we traversed a few shale slopes and depressions, we came upon the band of seven Dall rams. I readied for my shot, compensating for the range, and held slightly over the monster ram as he quartered away. I slowly squeezed off the first shot and immediately saw that I had hit the ram hard.

“Great shot, shoot him again,” said Brad as I racked another round and shot a second time at the now broadside Dall. With the sound of the second shot, I saw the ram crumple and I realized that one of my hunting dreams had just come true. Little did I know that upon reaching the ram he would have horns that stretched the tape to 39¾ inches with a 29-inch spread! I was truly in awe of this magnificent specimen.

Brad and I spent the next nine days, including my 58th birthday, chasing around a huge mountain grizzly that seemed to be lucky or just plain smarter than we were. But as I boarded the plane to fly back to the main camp and then civilization, I knew that I was both fortunate and lucky to have experienced the beauty and wilderness that is the western Alaska Range.

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