As a die-hard believer in preparation with a healthy dose of luck thrown in for flavor, it may seem just a bit odd that I always have a plan. (I do!) There are no life threatening attachments to any given plan, but it always seems best for safety and results. Alaska, hunting and a plan.
We had a plan.
We did! It really was quite simple. It wasn’t a secret and it made perfect, proven sense.
We hadn’t spotted a Grizzly that day. We spotted a butt-load of sheep that day, but they were bands of ewes and lambs (always good to see!) and bands of rams that just weren’t what we were looking for. No moose spotted, but then, we weren’t precisely where I would be looking for moose!
The plan was made. It covered all bases. It is one of my favorite routes, destinations, rides and best of all, a perfect place to come across a Grizzly Bear, Dall Sheep and Alaska-Yukon Moose!
We woke the next morning to a gorgeous Alaska-blue-blue sky day. It was lovely. (All I could think was how beautiful the pictures that I took would turn out!)
As we crested the bench behind camp, the wind came up. No biggie. What many people don’t know or believe is how incredibly hot the Alaska sun can be. A nice fall wind is just what we would need for a comfortable day in the bright sun. A convenient wind would be a bonus, to help in any stalk we may have the opportunity to make.
However. That is not what we had. Oh, yes, the sun was shining. The wind was also blowing an icy, full-gale-force wind straight off of the Chisana Glacier.
The horses, walking into it, struggling, the rocks being blown off the mountain peaks, tumbling, us struggling to breathe as the wind steals the air and to put enough gear on not to freeze. But hey! We’re all game, onward we went.
Until it was just ridiculous.
We turned away, so at least the wind was blowing at our backs, lifting our saddles with us sitting in them, but it was still cold. We found shelter in an ancient stand of thick willows in a creek bottom, stopped and built a fire.
We warmed up, had lunch and a rest because we all, the horses too, needed it.
All was not lost. We were still hunting Grizzly and Alaska-Yukon Moose. We would just hold off on sheep for the day.
Ok, it’s ok. Alrighty ~ we have a plan. (Yes, another one.) This is the spot. It’s a great plan. I wouldn’t count on a moose there either, but it is another proven place for Dall Sheep, Grizzly Bears and Timber Wolves. Cool. Alrighty, good-night.
The wind blew like a demon all night. Luckily, all the tents were staked and tied down. Master Guide Terry Overly, also guiding, went down to the camp’s airstrip during the night to put more ropes on Cubby (The black Piper Super Cub.) to tie it down more securely.
Morning came and it didn’t look like sunshine would be an issue, with the nasty dark clouds gathering (right above where we intended to be) and the wind had died down considerably.
Typically speaking, certainly not all inclusively, if a client reaches the half-way point in his or her hunt, the tension in camp rises notably.
Oh, they don’t all get cranky, but some do. Even when they don’t, even when your client is still enjoying themselves, you can see and feel a change.
Knowing and understanding this, also having had a couple questioning conversations previously, we decided to stick with the plan.
The wind was with us again as we neared our destination, but after the previous day’s ass-kicking we took from Mother Nature, it was a tropical breeze.
Until it wasn’t.
We spotted three different groups of rams. Each group had interesting possibilities.
Until the snowstorm hit. Completely obliterating all hopes of being able to see anything.
But hey! Remember, we’re game.
So, once again, we hunkered down, hiding from the weather as best we could, around the fire, huddling to stay warm.
A client asked me, “Can we get closer?” “No” I responded and went on to explain why. “We don’t want to ruin our chance at them by spooking them, them being able to see us while we are blind. They are so low, they will know they are vulnerable, and being able to get close and still staying out of their sight will be next to impossible while we can’t see them.”
So, we huddled and hunkered some more, were soaked by the wet snow, and hunkered and huddled some more.
Terry performed his Indian blood-brother’s “hole in the sky” dance and wa-la(!) We had a slight lifting and shifting of the storm. (Yeah really.)
Master Guide Terry Overly leaned towards me and in a quiet voice said, “I’m going to take a look.” I nodded and leaned closer to my 15 (almost 16!) year old client and said to him, “Go with Terry.” He grinned and was off after Terry like a shot.
We all watched as Terry and our young client crossed the open glacier merrain to take a closer peak.
We huddled and hunkered and fed our little fire, watching when we could, through the snow and blowing wind as they crept up the final swell. If the sheep hand’t moved when we couldn’t see them, they would be within yards for the guys to look at and make a call on whether to hunt one (or two!) or not.
Wiping the Nikon spotting scope lens off again, we saw them head back…. wait! They dropped to the ground and while we wondered what was happening, above the two barely visible forms, the first ram top the rise directly above them, only a few yards away from where they lay!
One, two, three… six, seven! Rams! And boy, three of them were indeed due for a nice close up look. Studying them, as I am sure the guys were from only feet away, I saw them clearly for a moment, three, no two, no, one looked like he was a maybe-maybe.
With the new state of Alaska Big Game Hunting Regulations, changes, we were no longer looking for “full-curl.” We needed a “no-shitter” past-full-curl-ram. No mistakes. We had to be right.
We studied (well, I did, with a huddle of people around me looking through their binos) the ram as he fed his way up the ridge slowly.
We waited. We watched and hunkered around the fire some more and the rams simply fed around and up, so slowly, so un-bothered and unconcerned by the two laying in plain sight in the shale and rock.
Back the two came, no shot fired. With a negative shake of his head, Terry told me the ram I was counting on just wasn’t it. He wasn’t legal.
We huddled around the fire in the now again blowing snow and listened to the two tell us all how surprised they were when that first biggest ram came out from above them, not 10 yards away.
Well, so there you have it. Two days in a row, Mother Nature beat us silly with a stick, but we plowed through it. We came back to camp, built up our big camp fire, had a hot and delicious dinner and hit the sack. The wind and weather had taken the fight out of everyone by the end of the night.
But! Never fear! We have a PLAN.