Epic Hunt for Alaskan Dall Ram

epicdallramlandscapeRocks were falling toward my face, my heart was racing and I had already been climbing rocky, mountainous terrain for thirteen hours. I wasn’t thinking about the ram, wasn’t thinking about the rush of pulling the trigger; I only cared that I made it to the peak alive. My grandfather had always told me that a sheep hunt was the epitome of toughness, but I didn’t truly understand until now.
He had planned this inaugural Dall sheep hunt in Alaska. My grandfather was to join me on the ten-day hunt within the Alaskan Range outfitted by Mike Cowan, owner of Crosshairs Outfitters of Alaska. I was excited for the hunt, the rush and my chance at a ram. However,  as we flew into our campsite with our guide, John Gray, the only things I could focus on were the steep mountains, the beautiful terrain,  and the glassy lake on which our Otter plane landed.
The first two days came and went without getting a chance at a ram, but the third day was ours. As we entered a snow-covered saddle around noon, we prayed that the same “century ram” we saw days before would be there again, and, as we glassed the mountainside, there he stood. This time, two shooters were with him.
We waited. We knew that they had to go to the other side of the mountain for us to start our stalk. Around 3 p.m., we saw the two shooters cross over and out of sight, quickly followed by the century. John looked at me and asked, “Are you ready to do this?” My heart beating faster by the second, I looked back and said, “Let’s do this.”
We headed for the rams, knowing that the first part of the stalk was steep, dangerous and rocky. We reached a point where John mutely commenced climbing. I looked up at the loose rock sliding down an almost vertical cliff,swallowed hard and took my first step. Soon, fatigue began to set in, the sun beat down until my tongue stuck to the roof of my mouth, and sweat poured over my brow. My hiking stick hung loosely around my wrist, useless in the face of a cliff so sheer that I was clinging to it with bloody knuckles and weary feet. epicramhuntWe took frequent breaks,leaning our shoulders into the mountain and whispering hushed encouragement to each other,and I started praying that we would make it to the summit safely. In the middle of that prayer, John looked at me and said, “And we have to come down this thing, too.”
We pressed further until we were within a few hundred yards of the top. My mentality changed.Instead of merely hoping to survive, I thought, “This ram better be up here, and I better get a shot.”We got to the top and collapsed, clinging to the top of a cliff less than five yards across. John suddenly whispered, “Ram! Ram!” and pulled me down. We sat unmoving and saw the three rams 600 yards away. As the shooters drifted off over a ridgeline and out of sight, the century ram continued to stare, pinning us in place. After what seemed like an eternity, the century ram followed the others, and we quickly side-hilled 300 yards closer. I took off my pack, turned to John, and asked if I should rack one in.
I had no idea where the shooters were or if they were in range, but as soon as John replied,“Yes!” I knew that I had a shot. I laid my 7mm Magnum rifle over my pack and looked through the scope to get my first look at the scene below. I saw both shooters grazing as John whispered,“255 yards.” He told me to take the one on the left, but I couldn’t shoot because there was a juvenile standing behind him, and he wasn’t broadside. After waiting and waiting, the ram finally turned broadside, and the juvenile moved away. I asked John if I could take him, and he whispered “Take him; take him.” I calmed myself and slowly squeezed the trigger. “He’s down; he’s down!” John and I embraced, nearly shaking each other off the mountain in our excitement. All the money, time, sweat and effort had not been wasted.I had bagged my Dall ram. To our amazement, it was even epicdallramtriolarger than we thought. “Kasey, that’s a ram of a lifetime,” John said. I couldn’t have been more thrilled as I grabbed ahold of the ram’s 40-inch horns and posed for pictures.
John worked on the ram while we talked about the incredible stalk that led to the monster in front of us. It was around 9 p.m. by the time we finished packing the last of the meat. I secured the horns to my pack and stood up. My quadriceps tightened,and my knees felt the new weight of my pack. “Now is the hard part,”John said.
We started side-hilling back toward the saddle, a much easier route than the rock face we had climbed. With every step, the weight of the pack caused my feet to pound hard against the rocky terrain and my knees to strain. I started to realize what we had ahead of us, knowing it was many miles back to basecamp.
It was around 11:30 p.m. when we made it to the saddle, where we took a much needed break. After a quick bite to eat, we headed toward the river below. Suddenly, I saw John fall, gaining momentum as he slid down the snowy slope. He soon came clear of the snow and dug his legs into the rocks beneath him in an effort to stop. The snow had turned to ice in the cool night, so I cautiously took my next few steps. The weight of our packs was taking its toll, as cramps,fatigue and exhaustion became permanent issues. After reaching the river and taking another long break,we moved along the river until we were forced to climb.
It was steep. Of our entire journey back, this was the toughest challenge yet. We climbed no more than five yards at a time before the burning in our legs forced us to stop. During one of the breaks, it got eerily quiet. I looked back at John and saw that his eyes were shut. He opened them and mumbled, “Man, I can’t afford to fall asleep, not on the side of this mountain.” We tiredly made the last stretch over the steep ridge and collapsed at the top for another break.
We hiked over many smaller ridges that carved through the valley and were disappointed as we crested each rise without a glimpse of camp. Half-jokingly, John tiredly questioned, “Is this even the same epicdallramcaseyandgrampsvalley?” We moved slower and slower, our bodies beaten and drained. Then, after hiking up what seemed to be the twentieth ridge, we finally saw the lake. In a moment of pure relief I yelled, “I see water!”  Filled with new hope, we took fewer breaks and made it closer and closer until we could see tents.
We made it. Our hunt lasted 24 hours and 15 minutes; we returned at 5:15 a.m. It had been the most physically demanding ordeal of my life. I threw down my pack and eagerly shouted for my grandpa to get up. He came out of the tent,saw the horns, and his face said it all. We embraced in a hug that I will always remember. I couldn’t have been happier, telling my grandpa every detail of the hunt, and he couldn’t have been more proud. Sharing this with my grand-father was the best, most memorable part of the trip.
I was blessed to have bagged a SCI Gold Medal ram scoring 166 2/8, I owe many thanks to Mike, to John, and of course to my grandfather, who I look up to in many ways. It was an unforgettable experience that I will always cherish.—Casey Hixson

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