Ever since I was a young kid, I had my heart set on a Dall Sheep from the Alaska Range. I went to an Outdoor/Hunt Show in Harrisburg in February of 2012 and after talking with a number of outfitters, I was only left with my homework (i.e., calling references and doing some additional research). After numerous hours of research, phone calls, etc, I found myself on the phone with Mike ‘Buck’ Bowden from Hidden Alaska Guides and Outfitters. Based on my research and the references, Mike’s outfit and area had been shown to produce very good/top quality rams. I told ‘Buck’ that I was interested in a true backpack sheep hunt, sleeping in a tent on a different side of the mountain each night. He told me he could certainly deliver and that he did. Fast forward to August of 2013, as indicated during our logistics call, I met Mike at the hotel in Anchorage for breakfast and then to the airport to fly into Farewell,Alaska. From Farewell, we took a super cub into my spike camp. The flight into camp was amazing due to the breathtaking scenary.
Since this was a remote backpack hunt, it was only myself and my guide in camp. We check my rifle for zero and then readied our gear for our first trek as we were going to glass for sheep on the day before season. As we were eating dinner the first night, a ½ curl and ¾ curl broomed (on one side) was spotted about ¼ mile from our base camp. We finished dinner, glassed some more then hit the sack. Morning came early (due to the plentiful sunshine in August), and we set out to find the ¾ curl ram and see if any others joined him overnight. We found him along with another ¾ curl ram and the ½ curl we spotted the day before. We confirmed that the ram that was broomed, was only broomed on one side though he would surely have been a great trophy as his bases were heavy, likely topping the 14 inch mark. We set up camp and on opening day, saw 6 rams total, none legal but surely promising for the area as the smallest was a ½ curl. While eating dinner (Mountain House) on the opening day, I spotted two bull Caribou (both shooters) but since my primary target was sheep, I maintained my discipline and opted not to chase after them. Which I immediately started doubting my decision but come morning, as we broke camp and hiked about a mile up the Windy Creek, my guide and I spotted 8 white dots more than a mile away. After we set up spike camp, we climbed up on the point above camp and glassed the 8 sheep. To my delight, all 8 were rams and 3 of the 8 looked to shooter rams (though a closer inspection was in order). As we lightened our packs for the days adventure, rain looked to be in the forecast along with cooler weather.
We worked up the valley, beating through the alders until we were within 800 yards of the 8 rams. As my guide Matt was surveying the 3 larger rams, he asked me if I was interested in a tighter curled ram or one that was more flared, I mentioned I was more interested in taking a ram that was flared, typical of an Alaska Range Dall sheep. Our first stalk ended in failure as we side hilled on an adjacent ridge, finally running out of cover before closing the distance. We then backtracked, formulated a second attempt at the shooter rams. Our second attempt, we took a lower approach, hugging the inside bank of the stream, while using alders we cut to help mask our movements. As we approached, 5 of the 8 rams (the 3 older rams stayed bedded) jumped to their feet and started moving off slowly but waiting patiently for some guidance from the older rams. At that time, we slowly backed back out hoping that they would settle back down and not bold out of the area. To our surprise, when we made it back into position to glass, all 8 rams were still within 200 yards of where we left them. They like to say, 3rd times the charm, will on day two it certainly rang true. Our 3rd attempt we circled to the left of them, staying out of sight and downwind, then headed up as high as we could climb in order to get above the rams. This plan worked beautifully. As we got into position, we dropped our packs, belly crawled to the edge the ridge and peeked over. It was as if God was shinning down on me as two rams were in site, a ¾ curl and the wide flaring full curl ram. As I set my gun up on its bipods, I couldn’t help but be amazed in the beauty of this animal, the challenges of the hunt, and the awe of the surroundings. Matt whispered, I am counting more than 8 rings, so his is a legal shooter, take him when your ready. I asked Matt for a range, he said 200 yds. It was like the sheep knew something was up as he turned completely away from me and started walking away. I told Matt to keep reading off ranges and at 226 yds, the ram decided to turn broadside and that’s when my 338 win mag roared. The ram dropped in his tracks and started tumbling down the ridge. He finally arrested himself when his horn got hung up on a large bolder.
As I approached my trophy, all my childhood dreams had come to fruition. I was about to put my hands on the one animal that I had dreamt my whole life about hunting, my Alaska Range Dall sheep. The ram was beautiful with his dark colored wide flaring horns and stained cape from the many years he laid perched up above this landscape. I couldn’t have been more happy with the outcome. We spent the 2 and half hours, taking photos and caping/harvesting the meat from my trophy and packing it back to spike camp. We spent the entire 3rd day packing the meat, cape, and horns back to base camp where we were able to sample the most tasty of wild game meat, Dall Sheep backstrap. That evening, as we readied our packs to pursue Caribou and Black Bear, ‘Buck’ Bowden flew into camp, picked up my cape, horns and meat and transported them back to Anchorage for me.
I spent the remaining 7 days of my hunt, chasing Caribou and Black Bear. Though I did not see those two shooter bulls again, I did glass several Grizzly Bears and well over 8 Black Bears in the Windy Creek drainage. I chose to pass on 3 Black Bears as I was looking for a monster. We did see this monster black bear but he was on the move on day 9 of my hunt. Having been run out of the area by a big Grizzly Bear. On everyday of my hunt, I saw sheep, mostly rams. The two largest groups of rams were 8 (group where I shot my ram from) and 10 rams. The group of 10 rams stayed up on the ridge above our base camp for several days feeding over the ridge and then back again. That particular group had at least 2 shooters in it and a lot of up an comers (1/2 and ¾ curls). My hunt gave me a wonderful experience, by challenging me both physically and mentally, with the ultimate trophy taken, an Alaska Range Dall Sheep. This truly was a hunt of a lifetime for me and fulfilled my childhood dream.
A little bit about the accommodations, as I mentioned this was a remote backpack hunt where we had a base camp with a large dome tent (sleeps two comfortably) and food/supplies in storage boxes. Fresh water was never an issue as the Windy Creek was flowing full of nice snowpack/glacier water. Food consisted of various packet based foods (ie., Oatmeal, Mountain House, Granola bars, Candy Bars, Crackers, etc). Additionally, we had loaves of bread, peanut butter, jelly, cheese in camp for making sandwiches. On our excursions, we packed enough food for 3-4 days along with a bivy type tent (single person), sleeping pad, bag, etc. Mike instructed me to purchase the plastic mountaineering boots as Gortex and Leather boots will stay water logged due the number of water crossing you make in a given day. I would highly recommend them along with the glacier socks. These boots offer a lot of stability, especially when side hilling on the loose rock or when working along an edge. I never felt like my footing was going to slip while wearing these boots. I personally purchased, Scarpa Omega’s but know that Asolo and Lowa’s are good alternatives as well. These require quite a bit of time breaking them in and getting yourself used to using the boots. This was also conveyed by Buck, as he instructed me to begin my fitness regime at least 6 months prior to my hunt. I started training, with my pack on my back, in January of 2013 and it paid off as I moved over the terrain with ease. For my hunt, the only true gear in camp was the base tent and our spike tents which were of very good quality.
From a shooters perspective, I shot every weekend for 6 mths straight. I practiced out to 500 yards and was quite comfortable shooting steep upward/downward angles. I would highly recommend anyone considering this hunt to invest in time at the range as well as a tactical scope, albeit my shot was not overly far, it certainly could have been if we weren’t able to close the distance and get on top of the sheep.
About the outfitter:
I consider Mike ‘Buck’ Bowden to be a honest, straight shooting man. Everything we talked about and discussed about camp life, the hunt, was true. His guide was knowledgeable about the area and a hard worker. I don’t feel he embellished anything. This hunt was everything he said it would be and then some. If anything, he undersold the hunt as I had one of the best hunts of my life.
Take home note: if ‘Buck’ recommends something, heed his advice and do it. Whether it is your physical fitness, boots, gear, whatever, listen to him as this will certainly make life much easier and help to improve your odds for a successful hunt.
Every year, my wife and I head to Harrisburg for the annual hunt show and spend a day with ‘Buck’ in his booth. My wife and I are very fortunate to consider ‘Buck’ Bowden our friend.
– Jason Southall