Thicker Than Water
By Chandler D’Agostino | DS-AK-DIY-PL
“Spending 11 days and countless miles with my brothers in some of the most wild, elegant, and remote country was truly a blessing.”
ABOUT THE AUTHOR | I am an Alaska resident, born and raised in Montana. I grew up hunting in Montana and wanted to experience the Alaskan wilderness, so I moved.
The sheep hunt began in March, as we started looking at the logistics of a successful sheep hunt, specifically mountain range, drainage, food, equipment, etc. I had moved to Alaska two years prior, in pursuit of adventures only the 49th State can offer – specifically a Dall’s sheep hunt with my brothers.
The preparation for the trip was demanding. Friends and family who successfully hunted sheep provided valuable insight on the critical areas of the hunt and the type of preparation required. Our main emphasis in preparing was on the conditioning of our feet and legs, along with having the appropriate gear and quantity of food. This led to countless hours spent hiking, walking, and training with weighted packs. Due to busy schedules, this meant anything from walking around the neighborhood with 90 lb. packs after work to hiking 11 miles on a mediocre trail with a 70 lb. pack to Montana mountain lakes. Serious consideration was also given to our food and equipment. After consultation with the same family and friends and copious amounts of YouTube videos, the gear list and food bags were made. Our gear was made up of all items we believed could be relied on in the toughest of conditions and that were tested prior to being in the field. Food bags exceeding 3,000 calories were packed separately for each day and were weighed to ensure they were all under 2 lbs. Failure of gear or insufficient food could lead to a miserable, unsuccessful trip, or even the trip ending early.
Finally, the day had come. We boarded the airplane with butterflies and a nervous energy that we were unfamiliar with. As we sat in the plane, we anxiously took in the incredible views and awaited our landing at the strip. We couldn’t help but constantly smile as the hunt and trip of a lifetime were beginning.
At the strip, we verified the rifles were sighted in, stored our extra food in the trees, and mounted our 70 lb. packs on our backs. The packs felt light to start as a second round of energy and adrenaline overwhelmed us. The first two days of the trip were designated as travel days, as we worked to get into the precipitous sheep country. While traversing the 15 miles upstream, the caribou numbers were plentiful. Caribou appeared around each bend – some herds ran, while others slowly meandered downstream. The bulls, with their majestic and exotic antlers, were still in velvet and mainly traveled in bachelor herds. The abundance of caribou shined light on the remoteness of the trip; we were in the Alaskan wilderness.
On the evening of day two, with camp set up in the hills below sheep country, we started glassing for rams. The views from our vantage were uncanny, but serene. The peaks were jagged and towering amongst the vast and ominous landscape; it sent shivers down my spine. Surrounded by the overwhelming beauty, we spotted two groups of sheep, but they only yielded one “banana ram.” We made plans for the morning and called it early that night, exhaustion setting in after a long day of hiking.
My 5:30 a.m. alarm went off and a chill swept over me as I opened the vestibule. A thin blanket of snow laid over us and the high country. We piled on the puffies and ate a warm breakfast in an attempt to relieve us of the morning chills. Eagerly, we packed up camp and started following the line made from the previous night. While trudging below a promising face with deep gorges hidden from plain view, Chase mentioned that some country is undetected due to knolls laid before the cuts in the mountain. Not wanting to miss any opportunities to find rams, we dropped our packs and Chase and Ryan went up the knoll before us, while I went up one to the east. Upon cresting the knoll, I glanced up and spotted a white object. I threw up my binos as fast as I could for a closer examination. It was a ram!
Instinctually, I slowly backed out of view to digest. I whirled my hands around my head in exhilaration to signal to Chase and Ryan, who were a few hundred yards away, that I saw a ram. Excited by the sight of the ram, I neglected to consider common aspects of hunting. Was it legal? How far away was it? What was the wind doing? I went back uphill to gauge these details and then descended to our packs, where I impatiently waited for Ryan and Chase to return. Little did I know, Chase and Ryan saw five rams. Upon discussion, we confirmed that we saw the same sheep, but were uncertain if there was a legal ram. Our plan was to empty the unnecessary items from our packs and go inspect the rams.
Prior to creeping over the roll of the hill, I thought about how this moment could be the moment we had been working for and how it could come together, right here, right now. Moving along a sheer side hill, we slowly inched into a lull, where three sublegal rams were visible. Each ram was between a quarter and half curl. We were positioned slightly below, but within range of an ethical shot of the three spotted sheep. We started to grow anxious, wondering where the other two rams were. We contemplated moving higher up the mountain to get a better vantage; however, we determined that patience was key in our circumstance. A few minutes later, Ryan softly, but emphatically, told Chase to get to the spotter. A fourth ram was cresting the hill and moving towards the other sheep. Chase immediately declared the ram was legal based on the shape of the right horn reaching full curl. This was evident once I was able to view the ram through my scope. As the ram worked along the face, Ryan whispered to me the key shooting techniques – wait until he is broadside, do not shoot until you’re steady, and be ready to shoot again. The ram stopped broadside. I was steadying my scope and managing the immense excitement. I didn’t shoot. I wasn’t ready. Internally, I could hear my brothers question why I did not shoot. The ram began moving once again. After a few steps, another broadside opportunity. I took a deep breath, with a pounding heart, and pulled the trigger. Hit! I worked to find the sheep in the scope and heard Chase announce, “You got him, but shoot again”. One more quick shot and the ram was down.
Utter disbelief came over us. We could not believe what just happened; we were able to notch a Dall’s sheep tag. Thrilled, we came together and celebrated the moment. inReach messages were sent to the loved ones who knew how hard we worked for this moment. The responses were one of my favorite parts of the trip – “Way to Go”, “Awesome”, “PROUD OF YOU GUYS!” They represented all of our emotions in the moment. Even now, capturing this moment in words gives me butterflies. I hope it is a feeling I do not forget.
That night, as we set up camp, we relived the moment and the details of how it exactly unfolded. Relishing in the moment, I admired the rugged beauty of the horns. I could not get over their distinct characteristics and the magnificence they embodied. For the remainder of the trip, I studied them, noticing new details held within their impressiveness.
With eight more days until pickup and two more sheep tags, the hunt continued. Exhausting the face where I harvested my ram, we packed up camp, sheep included, and moved into a new drainage. I cached my harvested sheep into bushes, hoping for no bear encounters. The new area had promising terrain with green hillsides that looked sheepy.
As the clouds cleared with the evening of day four, morning came with a clear, crisp chill. With frozen boots, we marched up the eastern draw of the drainage. Periodically, we stopped to glass the surrounding areas and catch our breath.
The western draw was starting to disappear when Ryan excitedly voiced, “Sheep, sheep! No, no! Ram, ram!”
I threw up my glass and saw the ram perched in the snow 800 yards away staring directly at us. Pinned, we backed out of view, assessed our position, and slightly moved to evaluate the ram’s legality.
A few minutes behind the spotter provided that the ram had good mass and was full curl. Game on! With the ram spooked, we had to make a sure-fire game plan to capitalize on this opportunity. Considering all of the knowledge gathered, we knew we had to get above the ram. We picked a line up the mountain, escaping the ram’s view, and started hoofing the near vertical face, or that is at least what it felt like. Nearing 45 minutes of difficult hiking up a snow-covered, shale face, we cut the track heading up. As we summited the mountain, the terrain leveled out, turning into a slightly rising ridgeline. While glassing, I caught a glimpse of the ram disappearing behind a rise on the ridge. In my quick glimpse, I could tell the ram was no longer bounding, as his tracks told farther down the mountain. I told Ryan I saw the ram and he would be back out momentarily.
Ryan set up prone on the snowcapped ridge calmly waiting for the ram to reappear. Within a few moments, the ram grazed into sight further along the ridge. Ryan adjusted his turret for the distance and smoothly pulled the trigger. The ram swiftly collapsed. Overwhelmed with emotions, we celebrated the second ram on a pristine, snowcapped mountain, high above everything. After pictures and processing, we returned to camp feeling fortunate for the second mature ram we had harvested. Later, after the hunt concluded, Ryan told me it was the most incredible trip he had ever done and one that would be tough to beat.
The remaining days of the trip were spent looking for a third ram, one for Chase, and moving the two harvested sheep to the strip. After countless miles and new camp spots, only sublegal rams surfaced. We were disappointed that Chase was not able to harvest a ram but felt grateful for the two we got. With a few days remaining, we descended out of sheep country with our camps and sheep. Our GPS told us it was six miles to the strip, but the trek felt much longer as we traversed through the difficult, pitted tundra with packs exceeding 100 lbs. Arriving at the strip with a day and a half to spare, we enjoyed sheep backstrap over the fire and reminisced on the stories of the hunt we just endured.
Spending 11 days and countless miles with my brothers in some of the most wild, elegant, and remote country was truly a blessing. The mature rams were simply a cherry on top to an experience that is irreplaceable. As the plane circled high above and approached the strip, the three of us could not help but smile as we recognized that we just experienced a once in a lifetime hunt.
GEAR LIST | Firearm 300 Remington Ultra Mag | Scope Leupold VX-5HD 3-15x44mm | Ammo Norma Brass – Berger 215 gr. | Binoculars Leica Geovid 10×42 | Spotting scope Swarovski 20-60 | Clothing Stone Glacier merino shirt, Helio hoodie, M5 rain gear, SQ2 gaiters, De Havilland pants | Boots Crispi Nevada | Pack Stone Glacier Sky Guide 7900s | Knife Havalon Baracuta | GPS Garmin 66i, mini inReach and onX | Tent Stone Glacier Skyscraper 2Ps | Sleeping bag Stone Glacier Chilkoot 0 degree
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