“The wild ram embodies the mystery and magic of the mountains, the rocky canyons, the snowy peaks, the fragrant alpine meadows, the gray slide rock, the icy, dancing rills fed by snowbank and glacier, the sweet, clean air of the high places, and the sense of being alone on the top of the world with the eagles, the marmots, and the wild sheep themselves.” –Jack O’Connor
Dall sheep hunting in Alaska is—in my humble opinion—one of the hardest North American hunts there is. Sure, everyone’s experience is different and I’ve had a few “easy hunts” before, but the more people I talk to and the more stories I hear, the more I believe this to be true. Even hunting legend, Jack O’Connor agreed:
"A sportsman may have hunted deer, turkey, elk, and bear for years with greatest success; but until he has taken his sheep, until he has matched his brains, his endurance, and his skill with those inhabitants of the rocky peaks, he is still but a sophomore. A big ram on the wall of his den is the diploma of the graduated big game hunter."
All sheep hunts are tough—even the easier ones. Rarely do you just walk into the mountains and kill a sheep. From the preparation to the right gear, good guides, hunt-able herds, location, weather, shot placement, miles of hiking and packing it all out at the end—a lot goes into getting a ram on the wall. There is a reason why a Grand Slam is so coveted among sportsmen. But that doesn’t even take into account the danger associated with mountain hunting, especially in Alaska.
It’s never safe when you leave civilization behind and venture into the wilderness. Alaska is untamed and Mother Nature is fickle, you can never be fully prepared for the unknown that awaits you. Every time you head out to “the bush” it’s a gamble, there are a lot of variables that could go wrong. But, when it all works out—when it comes together—and you are standing over a majestic white ram, it’s worth every step. That’s when you forget all that could go wrong—all the risks, the danger, the hardships—and you’re left with nothing but the thrill of the hunt; it’s what keeps us returning to the mountains.
Even the unsuccessful hunts are rewarding. When you return home tired and sore—knowing you gave it your all—there can be little doubt, it was a job well done, a battle well fought. This time you might not have won the trophy, but you can leave with pride knowing you left it all on the mountain. In the end, it matters little, you’ll be returning to fight another day, to chase the majestic creatures that inhabit those rocky peaks. You have to return, you have no choice. For when you left that mountainside, something remained behind—a part of yourself— and you must return to reclaim it.
Even the worst days spent in the mountains are better that most days anywhere else. Sitting there overlooking the vastness of God’s creation is overwhelming and extraordinary. There is nothing like it and it cannot be found elsewhere. But the challenge of the hunt is what keeps you returning to the mountains time and time again. It’s the testing of your endurance, the battle of your resolve, the matching of your wits that draws the sportsman to the mountains in search of the elusive white ram. It’s the experience that draws us back, not the kill or lack thereof. Because, you never know what can happen when you enter the mountains in search of the white sheep!
“There is no half way. After his first exposure, a man is either a sheep hunter or he isn’t. He either falls under the spell of sheep hunting and sheep country or he won’t be caught dead on another sheep mountain.” –Jack O’Connor
From my desk to you,