I met Lance Kronberger of Freelance Outdoor Adventures in 1994 while in Idaho on an elk hunt in the “Frank Church.” Lance was right out of guide school, and was the packer on his first elk hunt. Over the years, we have become enduring friends, and annually for the past five years, I have booked Alaska salmon fishing trips with him. Lance also offers float fishing camping, salmon fishing, and hunting for grizzly and brown bear, Dall sheep, and moose.
My son, James, started fishing for trout near our home in Stanley, Idaho, when he was three years old, and has wanted to fish every day since. In 2010, when he was nine years old, was the fourth year James went fly-fishing for salmon with Lance. During those years, they’ve become fast friends and James has become a remarkably driven and skilled salmon fisherman, quickly developing the necessary techniques. In 2009, he even landed a 50-pound king salmon on an 8-weight fly rod and was a very proud eight-year-old. By the time he was nine years old, James had caught seven sailfish, a stripped marlin, fifteen tarpon and hundreds of salmon.
James started shooting when he was four years old and has accompanied me on many shooting and hunting adventures. He’s determined and loves to hear about hunting and fishing and had developed a passion for both by the time he was seven when I bought a .243 Ruger M77 Mark II Rifle with a 3-9 power Nikon scope for his birthday. The rifle was set up for a youngster, and James quickly became proficient with the rifle. In less than a month, he could a hold a six-inch group at a hundred yards.
My brother, David, and I have hunted since we were little tykes ourselves and grew up on hunting stories from our Grandpa. David and I have hunted big game in Idaho, Alaska, Siberia, and Mexico, and especially enjoy expedition-type hunting trips in the backcountry of Idaho and Alaska. David is also James’s God Father and fishing partner.
Three weeks before our annual fishing trip with Lance, David learned that a client of Lance’s had purchased the Governors’ Dall sheep tag for the TOK River Range in Alaska, but was unable to go on the hunt. Lance informed his clients that the tag was available, and David quickly decided that he should get the tag and see if it was possible to take James on the hunt.
We decided that we could take James as an observer, or possibly even as the shooter, so Lance checked the Alaska Fish and Game regulations to confirm that James could legally be the shooter on David’s hunting license and sheep tag. Lance indicated that the TOK River Range presented a serious expedition-type hunt, but felt James was up to the challenge.
So, in short order, we organized two adventures. Adventure Number One was salmon fishing—Jim; Kellie; James; his twin sister, Catherine; my brother, David; my niece, Robin; Kellie’s sister, Kerry; and our friend Nelson, planned on six days, many wonderful meals, and hundreds of salmon.
Adventure Number Two was Dall sheep hunting–David, James and Jim would complete the fishing trip and set out for the TOK two days later.
I had less than three weeks to get James up to shooting speed and also get him geared-up to the weather conditions of the TOK. Every day we went out and I had him shoot six to eight shots. On those range trips, I’d have him fire two shots, we would go downrange to the target, and then go back and talk about concentration and trigger pull before firing the next two shots. We started shooting at 100 yards and worked out to 170 and, during that period, James was shooting 90-percent kill shots and 75-percent in an 8-inch diameter.
James is small for his age — 62 pounds and 4 foot, 4 inches—and I had to scramble to get my hands on gear for such a little guy. We got most of the gear in Boise, but Anchorage filled in the hard-to-find gear that would cope with the cold and rain we expected. Our packer for the trip was Talbot who had just graduated from high school that year and arrived in Alaska from Idaho that day.
August 7, 2010:
We were off on a six-hour drive to TOK Alaska. At 6:00 p.m. Lance, Talbot, James, David and I rode with 50 pounds of gear each on five Super Cub trips to a riverbed in the TOK River Range. Lance promptly instructed James on spotting sheep and determining if they were mamas, lambs or rams. James was up to speed quickly, and did more than his share of spotting game for the rest of the trip.
August 8, 2010:
Lance and Talbot got up early for a scouting mission to determine if there were any sheep at our landing zone we should check out before taking off for the summits. After Lance and Talbot returned, we geared up with our backpacks and left later that day for the high country. We hiked about five miles on the riverbed, and then started for the summit. In short order, James displayed that he was sure-footed, nibble and locked onto the heels of Lance like a sheep dog. From the first morning to the end of the trip, James was serious, determined and all business.
Late that evening, Lance found two spots that would accommodate dome tents. After a half-hour of preparation, we got the two spots level enough so the dome tents would not slide off the hill. We set up camp, had dinner and drifted off to sleep–then the rain came.
August 9, 2010:
Temperatures were brisk and rain fell on and off all day. Two hours up the hill, Lance and James spotted seven Dall sheep at 700 yards. Lance and James were together and we were spread out about 50 yards apart in a shallow creek that provided minimal protection from the view of the sheep. Lance studied the sheep and determined they were all rams, two of which were shooters, and that one of the two shooters was heavier with longer horns. From 700 yards, Lance sized the ram at 39 inches. That was the Dall sheep for James.
We were pinned down in the rain for four hours that afternoon until the sheep got up and fed out of sight. Promptly, we were up out of the creek bed and headed to the summit, but the going was steep, muddy, rainy and windy. We made the summit in about two hours, made camp, got some hot food and got ready for sheep hunting in the morning. James snuggled into his sleeping bag, talking about going after the “Dall ram” in the morning. Every comment from James was deliberate, mature and focused. Tomorrow we would get the “Dall ram.”
August 10, 2010:
It was opening day of the Dall sheep hunting season and Lance was up early spotting sheep about 1,600 yards below us. Lance determined the best approach would be off to our left, down the face of the slope, keeping a ridge between the sheep and us. We got about 400 yards down the face of the slope when the sheep reversed their course and started toward us. That was bad news since we were exposed with very little cover, but soon the sheep changed course and we were able to scurry back to the summit.
Back on the summit, Lance studied the sheep for a while and determined that the rams were heading back down the hill to feed and bed down on a grassy area on the opposite side of the creek that we had come up the prior day. That would allow us to move to the right and drop off the slope to set up an ambush for them. Two hours later, we were in position and moving slowly to find the sheep. We set up a shooting position in anticipation of the sheep feeding within range for a shot.
All of a sudden, Lance spotted the sheep at 340 yards across the canyon looking nervous and traveling away from us, so we hunkered down and watched. Soon the sheep calmed down and started feeding and slowly moving away from us. We moved 30 yards down the hill and behind a rock that was maybe five feet wide and two feet high that provided cover for us to observe the sheep. The rams fed up the hill and bedded down 700 yards from us. They had us pinned down, so we lay there in the rain and cold for nine hours enduring serious rain, light rain, and spells of no rain. At one point, Lance was shivering so hard I could hear his teeth chatter.
Lance set up his video camera on his 60-power spotting scope and got some great still and movie shots of “James’s ram.” James and I sat and watched the sheep in the spotting scope, planned the strategy, ate lunch, sized the horns, and mostly took naps. James snuggled up with me on my backpack and never once complained. Every hour I asked him how he was doing and he replied, “Fine.” Over the entire nine hours, James made no complaints and didn’t whine. He was totally tuned into studying the rams and thinking about setting up to get to them.
The rain stopped and the sheep started to move a little ,slowly working their way down the hill to a position below us. As soon as the sheep were out of our sight, we moved to a position to ambush them. The move was perfect; the sheep came out 110 yards below us and moved slowly in position for the shot — then the sheep stopped cooperating. The rams milled around feeding in a group and didn’t provide a very good opportunity to identify the correct ram. Then one of the rams spotted us, and off they went down the hill, across the creek, and up the steep rock face of the hill. At that point they stopped and looked back.
“James, shoot the last ram, 184 yards!” Lance said.
James turned to me and asked, “Daddy, is it the bottom ram?”
I asked Lance, “Is it the bottom ram?”
“Yes!” Lance replied.
“It’s the bottom ram,” I said to James, and one second latter–Bang!–six rams bolted up the rock face of the hill. “James’s ram” was mortally wounded by a great shot, and traveled slowly down and around the hill for 150 yards, then collapsed dead. James and Lance were off to the ram, arriving in short order while David and I moved our gear to the ram. James had gotten his ram and was thrilled and proud. It was the one Lance picked and measured 38 ¼ inches with 13 ½-inch bases–155 2/8 SCI.
The photo opportunity for any trophy big game is only once, so Lance and I both like to take our time and try to get those pictures to reinforce the memory of the hunt. Hunting is all about great adventures and memories. The weather cooperated, offering good light and no rain, so we spent 45 minutes taking lots of pictures. James was all smiles, and so were his daddy and the rest of the crew.
After the photos, James, David and I headed for the summit while Lance and Talbot caped the ram — then the weather weighed in with rain and a cold wind. We arrived at the summit at 10:30, grabbed some snacks, crawled into the dome tent, got out of our wet clothes and talked about our adventure. Lance and Talbot arrived with the cape and horns at 12:30.
August 11, 2010:
We had a late morning getting out of the tent. Everyone was still thrilled about the ram and reliving the whole hunt. The weather had cleared, so we broke camp and started down the hill with James dogging Lance all the way, nipping at his heels. By that time, James and Talbot had become life-long buddies and were having a great hang. We made good time and called on the satellite phone for an air taxi pickup at 5:30. We had to keep up a good pace to make it to the airstrip on time, and the first plane landed just as we got to the gravel bar at 5:35.
Boone & Crockett official measurer, Bruce Penske, measured the ram on October 21, 2010. It has a B&C gross score of 152 4/8 and a net score of 152 2/8. Safari Club International official measurer, Lance Kronberger, also measured the ram. The ram has an SCI score of 155 2/8.
I have hunted elk, grizzly bear and desert sheep with Lance. I am 64 years old and have hunted with many outfitters on many terrific hunting adventures over the past 40 years. Lance is the best outfitter I have ever hunted with. Without a doubt, Lance is James’s buddy and favorite outfitter. Upon refection, the 2010 TOK hunt was the best hunting adventure of my life.– James A. DeBlasio