I'd Rather Be Lucky
Than Good
Fishing Journal
February, 2020 Issue
Copyright 2020 James Marsh
by Christopher Tobias
Another one he helped his buddy get
A moose he helped another friend get
             After helping a good friend harvest his first Dall sheep during the opening days of the season, on a very nice 40”
ram, I was left with a tag in my pocket. We had hiked over seventy miles in six days, crossed multiple drainages, and ended
up two airstrips away, by the time it was all said and done. It had been a hot August in Alaska and after getting his ram
down we called in the pilot so the meat didn’t spoil.
       I had some ideas about some walk in areas that I could go to, but I just wasn’t sure. Some good friends had filled their
tags and we exchanged ideas. Never any true specifics of course. Very few sheep hunters, if any, will actually give you
specifics when it comes to locating legal rams in harvest tag areas. Luckily I have some very good friends who will spoon
feed me some very legitimate information if the need arises.
       I met up with my good friend Eric to look over some maps, and after a few more discussions with my small circle of
sheep hunting friends, I decided to stick with my original plan. I was all set to hunt somewhere on a mountain between
Homer and Deadhorse. I made my final gear checks, kissed the wife and kids goodbye, and headed out the door for a
week of hunting in the mountains of Alaska.
       After a short drive I was at the trailhead and ready to begin my trek in. My friend had told me that once I got to the
base of the mountains, and headed up the drainage, that I would see sheep in no time. Well, I didn’t see any sheep on the
first day. I had gotten to the trailhead a little later than I had planned on, so I ended up camping along the creek at the
base of the mountains.
       I had brought a bear fence with me just in case I had to camp down low. But, I left it in the truck, because I really didn’t
feel like carrying an extra three pounds in my pack. Luckily I hadn’t seen any fresh sign on my way in, so I wasn’t terribly
worried about it. Besides, I’d be more of a snack than a meal for a bear. Especially after all the weight I had lost from my
first sheep hunt.
       The next morning came fast, as they always seem to do when you’re in the mountains, and I was up before the sun. I
ate a quick breakfast and had camp packed up and ready to go. I looked around for other tents and hunters, but it
seemed I was the only one in the area. For now.
       I had been told the walking in this area would be a little easier than where I had been in the Talkeetna mountains, and
so far, it was. I was taking my time since I was solo, and soaking in all the new scenery. Then, like clockwork, I spotted my
first sheep. As I looked closer I could see that the sheep had some headgear. I could tell through the binos that the ram
wasn’t even close to legal. But, hey, I wasn’t in a hurry, so I pulled out my Maven spotting scope and watched as he fed
along the mountain side.
       I must have watched him for a good twenty minutes before I decided to put the glass away and keep moving up the
drainage. I didn’t make it very far before I spotted some more rams bedded on the left side of the drainage. It was a group
of five rams and two looked like they had some heavy bases. At the rate I was seeing sheep, it was going to take me three
days before I got to the drainage I really wanted to check out. But, you don’t just pass up potential legal rams in a harvest
tag area.
       I made my way to the left side of the drainage and headed up the mountain so I could get to a better vantage point.
The young ram I had first spotted was still feeding across the mountain side to my right, and didn’t seem to have a care in
the world, as I fully exposed myself to him from across the creek.
       Once I made it to the small spine I had picked out, I peeked over and saw the rams had stood up and began feeding. I
only spotted the three young rams feeding, and didn’t see the other two I was really interested in getting a closer look at.
Eventually they popped out from behind a small spine in the mountain and I could see they just weren’t quite legal. Then,
out of no where, the biggest group of lambs and ewes I had ever seen in person, appeared on the saddle I intended to go
over. So, I settled in and began glassing as far as I could see.
       This summer was tough for some parts of Alaska. Wildfires were burning in a few places around the state, and it just
so happens that the winds blew some of that smoke into the valley I was sitting in. This made picking out potential shooters
from a distance a little difficult at times.
       As I scanned the drainages dumping into the main valley I was in, I spotted a group of six rams in the same drainage
as the young ram I had first spotted. They were further up that valley, but still accessible. So, with the lambs and ewes still
feeding on the pass, I packed up my spotter and headed back the direction I came to head into that drainage.
       I couldn’t believe how many sheep I was seeing, especially after the first sheep hunt I had been on. We had covered
over seventy miles in the Talkeetna Mountains and spotted two lambs, two ewes, and two rams. One of those being the
legal ram that my buddy was fortunate enough to harvest. I felt like I was in sheep heaven seeing all of these sheep. Well,
sub legal sheep heaven at least.
       I made my way towards the rams and used the terrain to hide my movements as best as I could. This wasn’t very hard
since there were some really nice cut banks and some decent fingers coming off the mountains that I could weave around.
I figured I was doing a good job since that young ram I had spotted early in the morning felt comfortable enough to come
all the way down to the creek for a drink one hundred yards in front of me.
       Eventually I made it to an area I should have been able to see the rams. I slowly popped my head over the top of the
hill. Gone. The rams were gone. No matter how hard I looked I could only find the lambs and ewes that were just below
them. The rams had fed up and over a nearby pass and headed into the next drainage.
       It was early afternoon and the sun was beating down on my pretty good. I glanced over at the lambs and ewes and
saw them bedded down and figured they had the right idea. I settled into the nice soft tundra, closed my eyes, and began
counting sheep.
       I don’t know why I woke up so fast, maybe it was my spider senses going off, but when I opened my eyes and looked
up on the mountain side in front of me, I spotted two people side hilling well above me towards the pass I wanted to go
over. I pulled out my binos and my worst fears had been realized. I was being passed by two sheep hunters. Well, that’s
what I get for taking a nap. The lead hunter stopped and pulled his binos out, clearly looking at me, then he waved. I
waved back, and was trying to figure out what I was going to do now.
       I decided to try and catch up with them and quickly threw my pack together and headed up after them. They were
about one hundred and fifty yards ahead of me, plus another two hundred vertical feet. The second hunter looked like he
was walking with lead ankle weights with every step he took, so I figured I could at least get close enough to flag them
down.
       I headed up after them and for the life of me could not figure out why they had not started heading up towards the
pass. Anyone who has gone hunting with me in the mountains will probably tell you to never go hunting with me in the
mountains. I don’t know why, but I like to just go straight up. I figure you might as well just get it over with instead of side
hilling all over the mountain.
       The pass was close and I was above the two hunters. By the time they saw me again I was well above them and less
than one hundred feet from the pass. I don’t know why, but they didn’t come up. The lead hunter saw me, said something
to the hunter behind him, and disappeared back down the mountain. I wasn’t about to drop down to talk to them, so I kept
on heading to the pass.
       On the other side of the pass was everything I had come to expect. Sheep, sheep, and more sheep. I spotted one
ram about a mile away that deserved a closer look. Of course there was no way I could just pop over the pass and go after
them with where they were feeding. I waited for them to feed away and made my way down the pass, using the terrain to
conceal as much movement as possible.
       It was getting late by the time I had made it to the bottom and I had to find a spot to set up camp. There were some
lambs and ewes feeding a good ways down below me, but they didn’t seem to care that I was there, although they were
curious as to what I was. I found a spot and began to setup camp.
       Just as I finished setting up I spotted two rams on the mountain behind me in the cliffs. I took a quick look with the
binos and saw they weren’t even close to legal and went back to what I was doing. I casually glanced back up at the cliffs
and spotted two sheep on a different part of the mountain. Were these the two young rams I had spotted a few minutes
ago? There is no way they could have moved that fast. I pulled out the binos and took a look. The first ram was clearly not
legal. Then I glanced at the ram in front and saw he was broomed off on his right side. Then he turned his head and I saw
he was broomed on his left side. My heart began to race and I quickly pulled out my range finder. Six hundred and fifty
yards away.
       I slowly moved to my tent and pulled my rifle off my pack. I went over plans in my head and decided to just go straight
at them. They were high and I was low. They would still feel safe even with me walking at them. I moved as fast as I could
without running towards a small hill I had picked out. I popped my head over the hill and ranged them. Three hundred and
fifty yards.
       I knew my rifle and I knew my load. I figured this wouldn’t be too bad of a shot at all. Heck, I wasn’t even hunting for
twenty four hours and I was about ready to head to the barn. I was wrong. I had tried to shoot off my bino harness by
standing it on end instead of laying it flat. I was worried about shooting a rock. I should have laid it flat.
       Needless to say, these sheep had definitely been shot at before, because as soon as shot, they started running and
bobbing and weaving. I’d never seen sheep bob and weave like that before. I hung my head and made my way back to the
tent. I was certain I would not get a shot at that double broomed ram again.
       I got on my InReach once I made it back to camp and told all of my buddies how much I sucked. Then I glanced up in
the cliffs and saw the young ram he had been with. Where was he? Certainly they would be moving together after what
had just happened. No more than a minute later he popped out on the same mountain he was on when I missed him. He
was limping badly though and I could see he was bleeding from the inside of his front left leg. Did I shoot him in the foot?
There is no way. He definitely didn’t act like he was shot with all that bobbing and weaving.
       I watched him as he slowly made his way across the face of the mountain. He didn’t go very far and ended up bedding
down about fifteen hundred yards above my tent. I couldn’t believe it, and thought there is no way I am getting this lucky. I
knew if he was there in the morning, I had to go after him. Especially with his current condition.
       The alarm on my phone never went off. That was probably because I forgot to set it, and was more concerned with
watching what the ram was doing as the light faded. Luckily he was still bedded and I still had time to make a move. I sat at
the tent eating breakfast and watching him through the spotter, hoping he would just get up and feed down towards me.
Yeah right. I wasn’t that lucky. I decided to head away from him and come up the backside of the ridge he was on.
       I lightened up my pack and headed up after him, looking over the ridge as I made my way up to make sure he was still
there. I made it to the spine I had picked out and got my rifle ready. I peeked over and didn’t see him. He had to be close, I
thought to myself. He was not moving fast by any means, and we were not on some easy terrain. Then I caught a glimpse
of the top of his horns. They were very distinct since he was missing a chunk about midway down his left horn.
       I didn’t have much time. I knew he was trying to get out of the area and would be all but gone if he made it up and
over the spine he was on. I quickly ranged him and dialed in my scope.   One hundred and forty yards is all that stood
between me and him. He moved up the spine and turned broadside to his left. I dropped the crosshair behind his shoulder
and squeezed the trigger. Solid hit! I had seen him jerk his left leg before he disappeared over the spine. He had to be
down.
       I made my way across the face of the mountain to the spine he was on, just to be certain he didn’t try to go up. I got to
where he was and looked up. Nothing there. Then I glanced down, and there he was, at the bottom.
       When I got to him I inspected the injury to his leg. He had a puncture wound right above his hoof that stopped at the
bone. A sharp rock must have gotten him as he bobbed and weaved his way back up the mountain the day prior.
       I got him cleaned up and gathered camp. I had a decent walk ahead of me and plenty of time to get it done. With a
heavy load on my back, and the truck no where in sight, plans of next years sheep hunt were already beginning to swirl in
my head.
Chris Tobias