Justin Shaffer | KUIU Guide & Outfitter Director
As I eased up to peek over the ledge the sheep had disappeared behind, I caught a glimpse of a white patch through the mix of spruce and willows. It took nearly 2 miles and dropping 4,000 vertical feet for Matty and I to catch the band of rams. Now positioned above them, unaware of our presence, I could only see 2 of the original 8 sheep feeding below me. When the last mature ram in the group lifted his head, it was easy to see that he tipped out well past full curl. My focus shifted solely on him now as I struggled to contain my nerves and get an accurate range to him.
With an arrow on the string, I slowly rolled up off my belly onto my knees, drew back and settled the 60-yard pin a little high behind his shoulder. Once the sight bubble rolled level, I instinctively cut the shot. Before I knew it, the arrow had zipped cleaned through the ram burying into the hillside beyond him. Minutes later as I walked up on my trophy ram, it quickly became evident just how big of a sheep he was. When it was all said and done, he taped out at 38 inches long and carried 9 distinct growth rings on his old battered horns.
There are many factors that go into having a successful Dall sheep hunt. Obviously physical and mental preparation are at the top of the list, but I feel having the right gear selected for the time of year and area you’re going to hunt in can be just as important, if not more. You can be in the best physical shape of your life but being wet and cold can force even the most fit sheep hunters off the mountain with their tail tucked between their legs. Being wet and cold is never fun in any conditions, but on a mountain in the middle of nowhere it can be dangerous. Don’t let poor gear selection ruin all the time and hard work put into the hunt of a lifetime.
For those of us lucky enough to have a sheep tag in our pockets this year, the right gear selection is critical to your comfort and success. When I’m choosing my gear, it’s based mostly on two factors. The first and most important is the time of year I’ll be mountain hunting, and the second is the length of the hunt.
The time of year is more important because it’ll dictate the potential weather and temperatures that you’ll encounter thus driving your clothing selection. With any mountain backpack type hunt, weight should always be in the forefront of your mind. Grams equals ounces, ounces equal pounds and pounds equal pain when its attached to your back for a week or more. Balancing weight versus need versus want is always tough in these types of hunts. It’s important to have a system in place that breaks this balance versus reward down for you to get the most bang for your buck out of your gear in sheep country.
Below is the breakdown of what my gear choices consisted of on my 2019 Alaska Dall sheep hunt. My hunt was conducted in the far north of the State in the Brooks Range. I hunted in mid-September and temperatures ranged from the mid 20’s at night into the mid 50’s during the day. Although I didn’t see any inclement weather on this hunt, I was prepared to meet any mix of snow and rain if it showed up.
What’s great about this set up, is the versatility of the KUIU skin-to-shell layering system and its utility across a wide range of weather conditions and big game hunting areas. This is my same go-to set up on my September elk hunt in Utah, as well as when I’m chasing deer and goats on Kodiak Island this November. This gear list has been tested and proven in the worst conditions mother nature can throw at you, and I know with confidence it’ll work anywhere I hunt this fall.