Redemption

“Redemption”
A Quest for Dall sheep
by
Brian Watkins
Sheep hunters that write stories often try to articulate a gorgeous environment, or a life changing hunt through descriptive language. Those stories often play out the same; Crisp air, serene mountains, and personal feat. I want to tell the story of the raw emotion that often encompasses sheep hunting. The background of this story starts in 2015. I was fortunate enough to draw a bow only, any ram sheep tag. I spent 17 days chasing the mountain monarch. Opening day, I missed a full curl ram at 82 yards. On day 9, I was forced to say a prayer for safety as I clung to the side of a mountain, sliding on fresh ice. It was two weeks later that Roy Roth would die 7 miles away dealing with the same conditions. I blew two stalks between day 10 and 17. My frustration took over and I quit with two days left in season. I was mentally and physically drained. After enduring the hardships of hunting in Alaska; Extreme terrain, terrible weather, thick alders, and sheer cliffs; I quit. Quitting was my ultimate defeat. It caused me to hate the area. I would see pictures of the unit (Eklutna lake) from hikers on social media and cringe. I vowed to never be there again. To hell with hunting sheep with a bow and to hell with Eklutna lake. As the years passed, that hate evolved into a drive. In 2016, I successfully harvested a ram in the wrangle mountains on a solo expedition with the rifle. It allowed me to drop the monkey off my back of harvesting a ram, but didn’t mend the pain and animosity, I had towards the Chugach Mountains and taking a ram with a bow. I had to go back. I needed redemption.
After two years, I decided to apply for the tag again and when the results came back in February, I was awarded my redemption tag. The preparation for this hunt was different. I already knew the area and the sheep. I wasn’t preparing by scouting, I was preparing by putting myself through tough physical work. I’d lift heavier, hike longer and work harder at the gym. I’d put myself through mental tests by starving myself for a day and hiking in miserable conditions throughout the year. I was preparing as much mentally as physically. This time, I was two years the wiser and prepared to be patient. Patience was my main focus. I even went as far as to write “patience to kill” on my hand as a reminder.
I got in to my unit 3 days early to watch and note where the sheep’s habitual paths took them. I had two groups figured out and had a definitive plan. Frustration would Emerge again as other hunters pushed out group 1 within the first hour of daylight opening morning. Not a ram in sight. My focus had to shift to group 2. Getting in 3 days early allowed me to see their progression through each day. They would bed high and feed North to a patch of dark grass. I watched as they rose from their beds and started the migration each day. With that knowledge, I knew where to be. The issue was getting there. I had to move across a 2 mile stretch of open terrain below the sheep. I would have to use features to navigate without alerting the sheep. Rocks and glacial crevasses would be my navigation tools. Passing below sheep requires patience, skill and time. At one point of my stalk, I had to move across 200 yards of land that was as flat as a football field. Under the watchful eye of sheep, I was forced to move at a snail’s pace. I crab crawled across the flats to cover distance. I balled up between movements to appear as a rock. It took two hours to cross just 600 feet. After the success of moving in plain view, I was able to cover ground at a brisk pace. At some points I was in a sprint trying to beat the sheep to their final grazing destination. I got into position with the wind in my face just as the sheep were coming into view. They were feeding my direction at 120 yards. As the sheep were closing distance, they suddenly went on high alert. I couldn’t figure out what had happened as I was out of sight, had the wind in my favor and hadn’t made a sound. The sheep took off back to their bedding area in the high ground. As I assessed the situation, I saw the culprit. My stalk had been compromised by another hunter. Fury flowed through my veins. Rage filled my chest. I can’t explain the anger I felt as I watched this hunter carelessly ruin my opportunity. Every feeling I had in 2015 rushed back and crippled my state of mind. I was crushed. As the following day progressed I’d realize that I had actually succeeded. I was minutes away from out-smarting these rams and only lost due to another hunter’s inexperience. I had come to terms with what happened and felt accomplished. As my mood changed, I realized the 4 sheep were still in their bedding area. My plan was to wait them out for the day and see if They’d feed down again. I waited all day, glancing at the “patience to kill” written on my hand frequently. I was astonished as the rams eventually started the same path across the valley. I set out to duplicate the stalk from the day prior. I had to cut the rams off closer to their bedding area in case other hunters were still in the area. I was able to close the distance to 140 yards of a feeding ram. I kept the thought of patience and would let him make a mistake instead of me making the move. He fed out of sight so I crawled into a position where I expected his path to cross. When the ram came back into my sight, he was 22 yards way. I drew back my Mission Ballistic bow and let my rage hypothermic find the vitals of the ram. As the sheep took off, I knew it was a great shot. The depression of my morning had evolved into exhilaration. The bipolar emotions of sheep hunting had come full circle in one day. My entire body was filled with adrenaline as I shook uncontrollably. After 3 years of frustration and defeat, my redemption tag was filled. I had accomplished the ultimate hunt. Since I was determined to fill my redemption tag solo, I was stuck carrying a 98-pound pack out on my back. I had 10.5 miles of pain to get to my truck. That pain never felt so good.

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