Sit. Read… Allow yourself to try to put yourself there with us, in this moment. Can you understand how it felt to be me? This was the moment I lost a bit of the innocence Alaska had traded me for my heart.
The sky is that amazing Alaska-blue. The sun was very warm but the breeze coming down the glacier was a gentle but icy cold.
It is a wonderful spot. For a lunch or rest break as well as an incredible spot with the kind of visibility to sit and glass for Dall sheep or Grizzly bear for hours. It is one of the few spots that even I can be content to be still in for long afternoons, waiting for that opportunity that brings so many people to us here in the Wrangell Mountains.
It was our fourth day hunting for a Dall sheep and since the previous day’s encounter with the young ram that surprised us suddenly with his appearance, my hunter “Jack” had been broody and seemed to have lost some of his excitement and interest in the amazing wilderness and experience that surrounded him.
The young ram that had surprised us appeared suddenly from less than 50 yards away on a jagged outcropping below us. He looked quite promising in those first moments of our encounter as we “Jack”, Jeff (my Trainee) and I dropped as silently to our bellies in as much haste as the declining shale allowed for.
Because the ram was below us looking up, I knew the curl of his horns were not to be trusted, that I would have to look much closer with my binoculars. As we laid there in strangely bent positions, waiting for the ram to turn his head again for a better look, I could hear “Jack” shifting and moving as he readied his rifle.
“Shh… be still, he may not be the one.” I whispered to “Jack”. I slowly turned until I could reach my spotting scope and continued whispering to our hunter, “I don’t think he is curl-legal. He is very pretty though, I will age him and see what I can see.”
“Jack” became agitated at the not hearing what he so hoped to hear and began to fidget and shift attracting the young ram’s attention again. I sighed to myself and focused on the ram who was steadily coming towards us, curious as the breeze was at our backs and he obviously couldn’t figure out what the lumps were that were partly hidden by the deceptively gentle slope of the mountain side.
I began counting under my breath, “One, two, three, four… one, two, three, four, five, six, … one, two, three…. Stop moving! One, two, three, four, five, … one two, three, four, five, six, seven…? One, two, three, four, five, … one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, … one, two, three, four, five, six, … one, two, three, four, five, six, seven…” And so on, for more than an hour, I counted, “Jack” shifted and fidgeted, Jeff watched through his own binos and the ram grazed and munched looking up towards us as he meandered closer with each step.
The ram was so close to us by then, that I could see the darkest of the rings on his horns with my bare eyes and yet as often as I counted, I could never see more than seven rings.
“He’s not old enough, “Jack”. He is only seven and he is not through full curl. There are only three ways a Dall sheep is legal. He must be eight years old, his horns must be broomed (broken, not rubbed) on both sides or his horns must be through his full curl.
We took photos of him standing so proudly on the rock he decided was a good place to watch us from and slowly backed away to continue our descent from the mountain and back to our horses.
“I could just shoot him and hope for the best.” “Jack” muttered loud enough for both Jeff and I to hear. “Jack”, I said gently, “if you took him, Fish and Game would simply take him from you when you left, and then they would fine you.”
“How much would the fine be?” He asked me, startling me. “Well, I don’t know for sure. It has been many, many years since one of us has had a hunter fined… I think it was something like $300.00, almost 20 years ago.”
“It would be worth it. I would have the pictures, pay the fine and have plenty to tip my guide with generously for getting me a sheep.”
My heart fell. I actually felt a piece of it break off and just fall away. I looked over at Jeff who was studying us with a thoughtful look on his face.
“That isn’t how we operate. Our jobs as Professional Guides working for an Outfitter and the State of Alaska is to make sure those big game animals that are taken, are done so ethically and legally. This ram isn’t legal. There are others, we will just keep hunting.”
“Climbing these mountains every day isn’t what I imagined when I paid 20 grand for a Dall sheep and Grizzly Bear hunt. It isn’t as easy for us hunters as it is for you guides to run up and down chasing sheep that aren’t even legal.”
Alaska you have a problem.
The changes in the regulations for harvesting sheep have made things very difficult for everyone. I am sure I am not the only guide to hear things like this in the field.
It only takes a minute. Just a couple small words, “Take him” and I have a happy hunter and a great tip that will assure that I can take my little girl to the dentist this fall.
The thing is, I have worked really hard to become a Professional Guide and a representative of this great state and a wonderful industry. I have worked hard to become a part of Pioneer Outfitters, and to be a trusted and experienced trainer. More than even any of that, my word, my integrity and my honor would be all worth nothing in the moment it took to say “take him” when I knew beyond any doubt it was wrong.
Alaska you have a problem.
Alaska, you have made it much too easy to give in to easy money. Oh sure, there are Outfitters who say, “Oh yes, we still take 20 Rams every year!” But what they don’t tell the prospective clients is that 15 of them are confiscated when they are taken in for sealing.
Alaska has Registered Guides that take the easy money, give us all a very bad name and sully your name as well. Registered Guides who are legally permitted to contract Big Game Hunts, that can’t keep a proper camp, cook a proper meal or properly care for a client in the field. Assistant Guides that are lazy and unprepared but arrogant in the fact that each and every respectable Outfitter needs Assistant Guides for his or her clients.
Alaska you have a problem.
- Is it the Game Regulations?
- Is it the requirements for licensing Alaska Guides?
- Is it the generation of Big Game Hunters that are coming into Alaska and going home to tell their stories?
Alaska, you have a problem and that problem is making it very hard to stay the path of righteousness and to keep the faith for all we stand for.