Sheep Hunting in Alaska Tony Russ
... is the new reference book for Dall sheep hunters. In addition to the material from the first edition, this edition also contains extensive instruction on getting into "sheep shape," advice on the newest footwear, clothing, gear and food for the weight-conscious hunter. The latest adaptations of sheep to increased hunting pressure and the newest strategies for achieving hunting success are discussed. A new section with some of the author's most memorable hunts had been added, including the story of the World Record Pope & Young Dall sheep. Anyone who hunts or wants to hunt Dall sheep should read this classic. Your safety, comfort and success will be improved by reading what this renowned author/hunter/professional guide has to say. -256 pages, 112 photos, 3 illustrations, 3 charts,
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Table of Contents
Chapter 1... WHY HUNT SHEEP 11 The Ram. Providing. A Trophy. The Challenge. Escape.
Chapter 2... SHEEP SHAPE 17 Cardio Respiratory Conditioning. Strength. Flexibility and Agility. Stamina. Pain, Injuries and Therapy. You Are What You Eat. Water Requirements. Water Quality. Testing Gear.
Chapter 3... FOOTWEAR AND CLOTHING 43 Footwear. Socks. Foot Medicine. Clothing. Raingear. Tony’s Brand-Name Footwear and Clothing.
Chapter 4... BACKPACKING GEAR 69 Backpacks. Tents. Sleeping Bags. Stoves. Cookware. Water Containers. Climbing Poles. First Aid. Etc. Organization. Camouflage. Tony’s Brand-Name Gear.
Chapter 5... WEAPONS AND OPTICS 91 Firearms. Archery Equipment. Optics.
Chapter 6... FOOD FOR THE HIGH COUNTRY 103 Nutritional Needs. Calories per Ounce. Freeze-Dried Foods. Pasta. Ready-to-Eat Foods. Drinks. Wild Foods. Supplements. Packaging.
Chapter 7... SHEEP BEHAVIOR 117 Population Dynamics. Social Behavior Patterns. Defenses. Feeding Habits. Resting Habits. Seasonal Movements. Lifetime Habits, Movements.
Chapter 8... HUNTING STRATEGIES 137 Basics for the Hunter. Basics of the Hunt. The Approach–From Above or Below? Trojan Sheep. Bowhunting. Timing of the Hunt. Transportation.
Chapter 9... CARE OF MEAT AND TROPHIES 163 Skinning. Meat and Horns. Quality Care. Preserving the Trophy.
Chapter 10... A TROPHY SHEEP 171 Legal Rams. Record-Book Rams. Field Judging.
Chapter 11... WHERE TO HUNT 185 Information Sources. FNAWS. Dall Sheep
Management in Alaska. Brooks Range. Alaska Range. Tanana/Yukon Uplands.
Kenai Mts. Talkeetna Mts. Chugach Mts. Wrangell Mts. What do YOU Want?
Chapter 12... MEMORABLE SHEEP HUNTS 199 World Record Ram. Trojan Sheep Hunt. To the Limit...and Beyond. The Five-Hunt Ram. Her First Hunt. My Number Came Up–Again.
REFLECTIONS ON HUNTING... 239
Boone and Crockett Sheep Scoring Form.
Range of Dall Sheep in Alaska. Gear Checklist.
Alaskan Art. Other titles from Northern Publishing.
WORLD RECORD RAM
Vanished! Dall sheep had done this to me before and now it happened again. The only difference this time was that I was carrying a bow instead of a rifle. After spotting a legal 7/8 curl Dall ram an hour ago I stalked up one ridge to the peak and down another ridge on a route that should have put me 20 yards uphill from the ram. Instead of preparing for my expected 20 yard shot I was now staring at two miles of barren rocky ridges with no ram in sight. I then spent the next hour searching in vain for my ghostly white quarry before admitting defeat. As darkness and the rain fell around me I headed down to camp and pondered my fate.
I was new to this bowhunting. I had taken up a bow at the urging of a friend, Bill Parker, who also tutored me in the skills I needed to be a successful bowhunter. Bill was a successful bowhunter, but I had doubts that I had learned enough in the past six months to take an animal with a bow. And Dall sheep were supposed to be one of the hardest animals for bowhunters to bag because of the open country in which they live. I had taken several Dall rams previously with a rifle so I had some knowledge of their habits and how to hunt them. However, I had not been successful on my first two attempts to get within bow range of legal rams and now I wondered if I was meant to be a bowhunter.
I had met Bill while teaching science at Wasilla High School in Alaska’s Matanuska Valley. After Bill convinced me to try bowhunting, we had applied and were drawn for sheep permits in Alaska’s Chugach State Park. The archery permit season ran from October first through October tenth and immediately followed the seven-week gun season. So Bill and I set out on Friday afternoon, before the opening Saturday on our hike into sheep country.
The Chugach Mountains of Alaska are very impressive any time of the year, but in fall when the multi-colored leaves are falling and the rugged peaks are capped with the first pure white snows of winter they are at their finest. This type of scenery and the crisp clean air of fall are what lure hunters like Bill and myself each year to hunt the magnificent Dall sheep. As Bill and I hiked up the trail that first evening our senses tasted these splendors of the season. That night we camped below a band of Dall rams and planned our stalk.
When the sun rose on opening morning, Bill and I had already climbed and crawled 1000 vertical feet up a steep mountainside choked with alders as we attempted to sneak up on the band of rams. After several more hours of climbing, we reached the hanging valley where we had spotted the rams–only to find out that they had moved. We did get a farewell look through my spotting scope though. There were several legal rams (7/8 curl or better) in the group and one which had larger horns than any living sheep I had seen. With no chance for a stalk we simply enjoyed watching these splendid creatures as they traveled out of sight. We descended to camp just as darkness arrived.
Sunday morning was rainy. We didn’t spot any sheep near camp and because Bill had to be back at work Monday morning, he bid farewell and headed down the trail. I moved my camp several more miles up the trail near a side valley I wanted to hunt.
In Monday morning’s rain I again crawled through the alder jungle and clawed my way up the mountainside to cover my approach and get above my quarry. After selecting a ram to try for and blowing the stalk as I related when I began my story, my optimism waned as I headed down to camp.
My spirits were boosted when I was greeted by two other bowhunters camped next to my tent. As we sat under tarps out of the rain and enjoyed their campfire, they told me of their hunt.
Their story was about an attempt to get into a distant hanging valley and a fall which disabled their bowhunting gear–typical of sheep hunting. Inaccessible places often hold large rams because they don’t get hunted. My approach has always been to look for ways to get into such places. As their story unfolded I planned my attempt to reach this remote valley.
On Tuesday morning the two hunters headed down the return trail. I sat through heavy rain the rest of the day and tried to dry out some of my gear. Wednesday started with more rain so I packed up a spike camp and headed for the remote valley.
I spent most of the day picking my way up the mountainside in the fog searching for access to the valley. Finally choosing a possible route I managed to scale a short rocky face and pull myself up with the help of overhanging alders. Memorizing my route so I would be able to return safely along the cliffs, I climbed the last 1000 ft. into the valley.
I was rewarded with the sight of 16 rams spread out along the valley walls. The inclement weather and the late season had brought the rams down and out from their usual craggy homes. Though they were still on or near rocky outcroppings, I had a better chance of an approach on the gentler slopes on which they now grazed.
The driving rain coming down the valley kept my scent from the rams, but also blurred my spotting scope immediately–making it difficult to judge the rams. Most of the rams were at least legal and two were exceptional. While I watched that night, the two large rams refused to leave the safety of the cliffs–a characteristic which no doubt helped them attain their outstanding size by avoiding the risk of falling prey to hunters and other predators. The other rams fed down the gentle slopes below where the grass was greener.
After four days of rain my gear was getting very wet so I frequently had to leave my spotting scope to perform jumping jacks or other calisthenics to keep from shivering. I retired early that night as I planned an early morning stalk under the cover of darkness. I was thankful I had taken every precaution to keep my sleeping bag dry, as I knew this was prime hypothermia weather. My bag was the only part of my gear that seemed to be dry.
The rain changed to freezing rain and then snow that night. I awoke to six inches of heavy snow over a crust of ice. My bow and quiver were covered with ice so I hurriedly chipped and scraped off most of the ice in the morning half-light. I drew my bow once to check it and loosen up before heading across the valley only to have the bow make a loud popping sound and go slack. Staring in disbelief, I could not accept that my hunt was over. I cleaned off more ice and realized a cable had come off a wheel, but after replacing it another draw of the bow produced the same results. At that point I was so desperate that I briefly considered if the l5 lb. draw weight of the bow was enough to kill a ram–if I got real close. I reluctantly gave up that idea. Accepting my fate, I set off across the valley anyway to at least get a close up look at those rams.
As the light improved slowly in the heavy snowfall I noticed a layer of ice on one of the wheels on my bow. Removing the ice and replacing the cable once again I was ecstatic when the bow again flexed smoothly when I repeatedly drew it. With renewed vigor I continued across the valley and quickly reached the base of the slope which held the rams.
The light improved slowly and I was able to make out eight legal rams above me within 300 yards. There was no opportunity for a stalk as there was no cover. I waited. Two hours later the cold was getting to me and I was ready to try something. As if on cue, one of the large rams I had seen the night before came into view as he passed below the other rams and fed out onto a knoll. The inclement weather must have convinced him that there would be no predators in his vicinity. After briefly considering my options, I crawled out in the open.
Before I had gone twenty feet the ram focused on me. Dressed in my white suit, I acted as much like the other sheep as I could. I pawed the six inches of snow and buried my face in the depression to feed as the other rams had been doing all morning. Lifting my head after several seconds and peering out from under my hood I was elated–and surprised. The ram had returned to feeding and was unconcerned about my presence at 150 yards. I used this ruse several more times as I wandered toward the ram.
I reached the base of the knoll that held the ram as the snow became even heavier. I had to continually chip and melt away at the freezing snow to keep my bow and arrows as clean as possible during this entire stalk as the temperature hovered around the freezing mark. I circled the knoll within 40 yards of the ram’s position, intensely aware of all my surroundings. At any time the ram might peek over the knoll and spot me or anyone of the other rams might appear anywhere around me as visibility was less than 50 yards at times. Thus, I was extremely tense when I flushed a flock of snowy white ptarmigan halfway around the knoll. Continuing on, I finished my half-circle of the knoll and hoped for the best.
One last step took me in view of two large rams less than 20 yards away. I stood in awe for several seconds as I watched these two magnificent animals feed. I could see their snow-covered, winter-length hair and the long underwool as the wind blew aside the longer outer hair. Their heads were buried in the snow as they fed so I couldn’t judge their horns immediately. I had to wait until one ram lifted his head and gazed over my shoulder–never picking out my all white form or half-closed eyes in the limited visibility and pure white background. His heavy, full-curl horns were snow-encrusted and dwarfed by his huge snowy body.
When he lowered his head to feed again I raised my bow. As I had mentally practiced for the past week I aimed, held, released and followed through very methodically. Moving my bow aside to look I saw the ram looking the other way and the arrow protruding from his shoulder. I quickly nocked another arrow and looked up in time to see him collapse and roll on his side. At that point I raised my arms and expressed my exhuberance as loudly as I could. The other ram simply stared and then walked off as I approached my ram.
He was a magnificent creature and I scarcely noticed the cold as I caped and dressed him in the continuing snowfall. Finally removing the horns, I noticed their unusual mass and briefly wondered just how big they were. I say briefly because my mind quickly returned to the more immediate concern I had for my well-being.
That night I was forced to camp at the face of a glacier as darkness caught me without a working flashlight. As the howling winds flattened my tent around me, I hardly cared as visions of huge, white rams in a snowstorm filled my dreams.
The grueling pack out the next day was punctuated by frequent pauses when I would raise my arms and vocally rejoice in my success. When the ram was green-scored I was elated to have finally taken a forty-incher (42 4/8") and surprised that he topped the present Pope and Young record for Dall sheep. The ram was panel-judged at the 1989 P & Y Convention in Boise, Idaho and the final score was 171 pts. This places it at the top of the entries for Dall sheep at this time.
The first broadhead I released at an animal accomplished not only my first bowkill, but also my first 40 inch ram and a place in the P & Y record book. But more important than even these accomplishments was the experience of being really close to animals like those rams. That experience is why I will continue to bowhunt and (I think) why most bowhunters love the sport. The memories I have will be with me forever and I will relive that moment when I gazed at two rams at 17 yards over and over again.
I am continuing to learn about bowhunting and I am also intrigued by the challenge it offers to get truly close to an animal. I don’t know if I will ever take such a magnificent animal again or have such a fantastic ending to a memorable hunt, but I intend to try.
**This hunt occurred in 1988.
"I just finished your book ..... was blown away at all the information you packed into 250+ pages! It was a great reading experience, that did nothing but intensify my desire to hunt Dall in Alaska . .... I truly enjoyed and learned so much from your book."
Keller, Texas - February 2006
- UPDATED -"It is a must have for any sheep hunter ... If you have any new books on the market, please let me know. as I am a grateful and loyal reader!" - August 2009
"...for nearly the past four years you have been a true inspiration to me. Your penmanship, artwork, and the fact you have hurdled the leaps and bounds associated with sheep hunting leave me in awe. At only 26 years old, I only hope I have a fraction of the success you have had over the years."
"I received my Winter 2002 RAM magazine yesterday and saw your ad for your up and coming books. Although I think you need very little luck, I do wish you the best with them. I cannot wait to get my copies."
-Jim Urban - 2002
"Your book was short, incisive, and to the point."
"...terrific common sense and easy to read, too."
" ...I have read your book twice, and am thrilled at the wealth of experience and information that you have so freely shared. Thanks!"
"Without your book, it [my hunt] had the potential to be a disaster. Thank you for taking the time and effort to share your knowledge and for emphasizing safety. I’m sure many others have benefited as I have."
"Between the covers lies as much sound information as you will ever find in a sheep hunting book. ...He [Tony Russ] is well versed on hunting techniques and the latest in equipment. If you are, or hope to be, a Dall sheep hunter this title is a must. This book with 12 chapters is filled with information for the beginner and expert alike."
"As for more feedback, what I liked about your "Sheep Hunting in Alaska" book was the depth that you went into in the topics you never read about in magazines, but plays such an important part of hunting. Examples would be your discussion of exercise and nutrition. I also like the way you describe what you look for in clothes, packs or tents, and then list the brands you have found work for you. This is the reason I ordered the Alaska Clothing book and your Successful Hunting book this morning. I read the excerpts on your web page, and it looked like these book were written in a similar format with the same attention to detail. Let's face if, if a person is going to invest the time and money to torture their body in the attempt to get within shooting range of a sheep, they must be dedicated and detail oriented. And this information not readily available to those of us in the Lower 48. I have read your book so many times in the past month you would not believe me if I told you. And I liked the Wilson sheep book I bought from you as well. It was not a "how to", but it was a very interesting read and I loved the history aspect of the Alaskan sheep hunting industry. I am eagerly awaiting your books on moose and bear hunting in Alaska.
...Anyway, this letter is in THANKS for your book (Sheep Hunting in Alaska) which I have nearly worn the covers off from. I truly appreciate the time and effort you've put into it, and for someone like me, its, a bible. We went from 10" and snow to 50' and everything in between and the clothing and prep work you suggested worked great. I did have a head start physically because I'm a timber feller but it seemed like everything else just fell into place. People like you who share their knowledge are a grace to those who seek it! Thank you so very much. -Wayne Blagden
"There’s no question about which book covers the topic the best: Tony Russ’s book Sheep Hunting in Alaska (2nd Edition) is the bible on the topic. Make sure you buy the second edition. This is a must-have book for hunting Dall Sheep." - Bruce L. "Buck" Nelson
Your book has been a great source of information for me and I appreciate your thorough response to my e-mail. I’ll let you know how it all goes and what I think of the gear I’ve used from your suggestions in the book."
- Don Ledbetter 3/2005
"Just wanted to say I read and re-read your sheep hunting 2nd edition book prior to/during my first sheep hunt last August in the Brooks Range. Can't begin to tell you how valuable3 the book was and has been, from planning the hunt up to and during the hunt...left some food behind and packed the book in 10 miles! Got a fine ram! Then gave the book to another hunter heading out from Fork Yukon. Just and excellent resource and read. I can't wait to get another copy of it. Am heading back to the Brooks Range again this year...it's in the blood now. Only wish I'd started when I was 20.
- Greg Killinger
- Howard Delo - January 1, 2006 - Mat-Su Valley Frontiersman - Outdoors in Alaska
..... asked if I could recommend some good books about hunting in Alaska and about living here. Several of the books which came to mind have a little about both, so I started mentioning some authors and titles...... a couple of these books I have reviewed in previous columns and Casey Ressler, the Frontiersman Valley Life editor, has reviewed a couple others.
I started out by mentioning Tony Russ, his books, and his publishing company located in Wasilla. The first Tony Russ book I read, The Manual for Successful Hunters, is the best pure Alaska hunting how-to book I have ever seen. He provides tips and suggestions based on his own hunting experiences and writes in a very easy-to-read style. I mentioned his Sheep Hunting in Alaska (get the second edition), and his Bear Hunting in Alaska books also. I have read the sheep hunting books (both editions) and have the bear hunting book as the next one on my books-to-be-read pile. I also mentioned Rich Hackenberg's book Moose Hunting in Alaska, also published by Russ.
For summer 2002 issue of WILD SHEEP submitted May 27, 2002
by Duncan Gilchrist
Tony Russ has completely rewritten and expanded his classic Dall sheep hunting book SHEEP HUNTING IN ALASKA. This 6x9 format book has been expanded to 256 pages with a most impressive collection of black and white photographs. Tony has spent a lifetime as a serious Dall sheep hunter and guide. Tony holds the distinction of having killed the World's Record Number One Dall ram with a bow. His expert advice is valuable for the experienced hunter as well as for the beginning Dall sheep hunter.
The only negative comment that can be made about the first edition is his lack of mentioning specific brands of equipment. The 2nd edition gets right down to the nitty gritty of 'hat to buy.
The following are reviews from the Amazon website:
SHEEP HUNTING IN ALASKA 2ND EDITION
Sheep Hunting in Alaska: The Dall Sheep Hunters Guide, March 9, 2003
Reviewer: Clyde A. Bullion
Never having hunted before I moved to Alaska, I sought information from guides and shooters on whom to read for the best information on hunting Alaska. Everyone I spoke to agreed: read Tony Russ first, last, always. From how to dress ("cotton kills"), to what to carry, he covers it in an easily readable style. Having read his books before each hunt helped refine my techniques, and helped me to secure my prey on every one of my hunts. This book should be required reading of every hunter on his or her way to Alaska.
Sheep Hunting in Alaska (2nd Edition, January 16, 2003
Reviewer: George A. McCoy (Girdwood, Ak United States)
A great manual for anyone who plans to hunt dall sheep. many tricks that I am sure most quides don't use. Clear and well written it is enteraining as well as informative. I wish I had read it years ago. Tricks on using camoflage to sneak up on sheep. I am an experienced sheep hunter and I learned more from this book than I expected.
Leave The Treestand And The Beer Belly At Home!, March 16, 2006
Reviewer: Thomas M. Basch, MD (Grand Rapids, MI)
This is an outstanding book for anyone, but particularly bowhunters, planning to hunt the mountains in Alaska or northern Canada. One can get by with eastern whitetail gear on a moose hunt or caribou hunt, but in the northern mountains, it is a different game. I have hunted extensively in Alaska and Canada, so Russ' book struck home with me. Mountain hunting tactics can of course be debated endlessly, but physical preparation and gear issues for the high country are open to less discussion. There ARE do's and don'ts when it comes to outfitting oneself for sheep, goats, northern mule deer, etc. The sheer remoteness and harshness of the lands where such hunts take place demand that the bowhunter carry tested, tried, and true equipment into such environs. Tony Russ gives the hunter an exhaustively tested gear list, tells the hunter how to prepare physically, and in turn lets him or her head out with confidence.
I read this book three or four times before my first alpine hunt. I combined its information with that from a DVD on preparing to climb Mt. Rainier as well as with a few books on alpine mountaineering. I obtained much of my equipment from Barney's Outdoor Chalet in Anchorage (Barney's specializes in outfitting sheep hunters and they do ship worldwide), but also ordered from high-end military tactical suppliers (Crye Precision was my supplier for an outstanding tactical vest) and mountaineering stores, both local and on line. I used Russ' advice as a starting point, and then questioned retailers on what they stocked that fit those recommendations. In doing so, I was not disappointed. I left prepared, and returned with my tags filled.
My one caveat regarding Russ' recommendations would be to consider the plastic boots he discusses only if you cannot find a pair of Lowa or similar leather boots that fit well. The plastic boots can place extreme strain on knees and hips over days and weeks, as they lack the "give" that even stiff leather boots offer. For me, Lowa boots combined with a Gortex liner sock for use when the boot became wet worked very well. With a sheep hunt costing as much as it did, having a pair of Lowa boots wear out before a pair of plastic boots would have worn out was of little consequence.
Marc Taylor--Author, Hunting Hard...In Alaska!, December 28, 2002
Marcus A. Taylor
Anchorage, AK United States
Tony lets us have it all -- holding nothing back!
A hunter of Dall sheep can easily refer to this book to avoid dangerous and costly mistakes made from relying on improper equipment. Just follow the easy-to-read gear guidelines and make note of Tony's favorites when making your own purchasing/packing list.
This book is packed with information on sheep habitat and habits, giving you the knowledge necessary to be successful in pursuit of the most sought-after trophy in Alaska -- The Dall sheep!
A must for all Sheep hunters !!,
November 25, 2002
Reviewer: Carl E Brent (Wasilla Alaska)
This is a must read for all sheep hunters be they novices, experienced sheep hunters, or folks thinking of trying sheep hunting for the first time.
It's one of those books that after you read it, you'll recommend it to your friends, and buy copies for your buddies.