Have you ever had that hunt where you deemed some little piece of gear “lucky” for no other reason than you were just hoping it will bring you luck?
Well, we had that experience up north Dall sheep hunting this fall and lucky we were!
I have the unique pleasure of working for Alaska Outfitters Unlimited as an Assistant Big Game guide in my backyard, here in Alaska. Hunting has always been in my blood, and the year my partner had to stay home recovering from knee surgery was the year I packed up and had to find another one! Well, sort of. It just so happened my friends at AOU were looking for a fill in sheep guide last year, and well, the rest is history.
This year our season started off great. Perfectly positioned in the eastern Brooks Range, with cooperative weather, our first day could not have gone any better. My first client for the year came for Dall Sheep, but he also had a grizzly and a caribou tag with him. Quite the endeavor to get all three, but we were hopeful.
The first night in camp was perfect, we had several small groups of caribou in sight with a number of big bulls nearby. Since we had flown in that day, we could not yet hunt although caribou season was open. We had high hopes a few would still be around the next morning as we headed off to bed.
Unfortunately, morning brought barren hillsides, go figure. The caribou had moved on, and we had a choice to make. Over breakfast we talked about our options and decided to start our float.
We had a big drainage we wanted to check out just downriver, so we packed up and down we went. A couple hours later we had our packs on and we headed up the first wide drainage where we were hoping to find something of interest. After hiking a good 3-4 miles up through rough wet terrain, tundra tussocks (not fun if you have ever had the pleasure), we ate a little lunch in the rain and decided to turn back. Even though we had covered some gorgeous country, it was looking like we were going to strike out on Day 1. We had turned up a few cow and calf caribou, but nothing we wanted to harvest.
I noticed my hunter Chris had a black muzzle cover on his rifle barrel. Pleased he was taking care of his rifle to keep water and debris out, I couldn’t help but to ask if he would be willing to put on one of my blaze orange Talarik Safety Muzzle Covers. I said “you never know, it might bring us some luck!” He laughed and said after that grueling hike with little to show for it, he was game for anything. Off the black cover went, and on with the orange.
We didn’t get a mile back down the draw, and I spotted a nice group of bull caribou. Without hesitation, we took off across the creek and up the other side pushing through the wet brush until we were within 250 yards. They never knew we were there. Perfect shot, right behind the shoulders! Success! The pack out of there back to the raft was less than exciting, but what a great day!
Well, since the muzzle cover blew off with the shot, Chris quietly replaced it with another black muzzle cover he had along. The next day we floated down a little further and decided to head up another drainage to continue our hunt. We spent a day and a half up in there, putting in the miles and the vertical feet, but again, no luck finding a ram or a grizzly.
Before we headed back down I said “you know, maybe we better swap out that black muzzle cover for a lucky orange one”, we all laughed a little. With a twinge of intrigue, off came the black cover, on with the orange.
That night things were pretty quiet, until I walked down to the creek to fill my water bottles. I glassed up the creek and put eyes on a nice blond grizzly up on the hillside. I only saw it for a few seconds before it disappeared in the brush, but we knew it was up there. We hiked up the creek a ways even though it was pushing 11pm (gotta love the Alaska midnight sun), glassed and even tried the predator call for a bit. No luck getting the bear to show itself again, but a good night none the less.
The next morning as we hiked passed that spot, we all took a moment to glass up on the hillside. Sure enough, the bear was still up there right where I saw it the night before. After a long discussion about how high on the hill it was, the short hair on its rump and the potential of it being a sow, we decided to pass it up for the time being. We really wanted to find a sheep that day, so up the creek we went.
During our lunch break later that afternoon, I couldn’t believe my eyes as a gorgeous dark grizzly fed into view in front of us less than 200 yards away. No hesitation, Chris was on it. One perfectly placed shot behind the shoulder sent the bear whirling around a few times. As it stretched out to run, a second shot sent the bear end over end. Spot on marksmanship, and just like that, we had a beautiful dark Arctic grizzly tagged. Somehow the rain found us again, but there were smiles all around.
Maybe we were on to something with those orange Safety Muzzle Covers! We got a good laugh out of it, and quickly got another one put on.
The hunt was shaping up pretty nice, and at that point all we needed was a Dall Sheep and we would be extremely happy campers!
We spent the next couple days working the country, glassing hard with little to show for it. The rain and fog moved in and obscured a good number of mountain tops we were hoping to get a good look at. We were thankfully surrounded by good company and extremely tasty grizzly backstrap niblets. Honestly, it was some of the sweetest meat I’ve had in a long time, crazy good!
I won’t tell you this hunt was easy by any stretch. We were thankful to be able to put on some creek miles, but between the ups and downs and all the draws we checked out, we felt more like fitness junkies than hunters a few days.
Without knowing what the next few days would hold, we kept our spirits up and hunted as hard as we could. We covered a lot of ground and we looked at a good number of sheep trails and picture perfect escape terrain. Then it happened, 4 rams high up in a draw, perched out on an overlook for the world to see.
Even with a nice Swarovski 60 power scope, we couldn’t quite see enough to know how big they were. Up the draw we went, quickly as to get a good position as they began to feed down. We got within 800 yards when we just couldn’t risk it any further. We got out the scope and studied the rams. We had one legal ram in front of us, with one just under full curl, and two half curls. Unfortunately the legal ram was fairly young, we aged him at 6 or 7 years old. It really wasn’t the type of ram we were looking for. In an area such as the Brooks Range, we generally look for rams 9 and over with horns well past full curl. As we sat there, we pondered our luck. Rooting through my pack, I found a package of bacon bits and decided I was the lucky one that day. Maybe 45 minutes into our snack break, I turned around to glass down the valley. Oh damn, “turn around boys” I muttered.
We had an older ram, well past full curl down the draw from us feeding up towards the top of the ridge. I couldn’t have planned it any better if I had devised the whole plan! Unreal actually. We had a nice little cut right next to us that we decided to start up. The ram fed right up and over. Given the afternoon timeline, there was little doubt he would be bedded up high on the other side.
With adrenaline pumping, we slowly worked our way up and along the backside of the ridge, careful to stay out of sight. I would be lying if I didn’t do a double take, just to make sure my client had his orange muzzle cover on.
There he was, bedded at just 138 yards.
Just unreal. We carefully looked him over in the scope, determined it was indeed the ram we had been looking at. He was over 8 years old and well past full curl. It was go time.
Again, taking his time and putting his skills to the test, Chris squeezed off a round. One shot was all it took, beautifully placed just behind the shoulder.
Trifecta baby! Unbelievable. How blessed.
With a few days left in the hunt, I admit we had more than enough time to reflect on our luck. We kept coming back to the lucky Safety Muzzle Covers.
Who knows why things happen the way they do.
But this time, we’ll take it.
As I get ready to head out on a family moose hunt, I can assure you we have a nice fresh stack of Safety Muzzle Covers ready to go!
Good luck out there. You never know when you might need that little something.