feature By: Doug and Sara Turnbull | May, 19
For my sheep hunt in 2016, I went to the Brooks Range with Erik Salitan from Wiseman, Alaska. Erik grew up about 20 miles south of me in Upstate New York, but moved to Alaska, attended college and has been there ever since. He took many guiding jobs until he was able to get his outfitter’s license and open Bushwhack Alaska with his wife, Martha Mae. They hunt sheep, moose and grizzly bear in the Brooks Range. I had come to their camp to fill my tag, and I knew that I wouldn’t be disappointed.
But we all know the hunt starts long before we get to camp. I had booked my trip back in 2015. Erik asked me what firearm I planned on using for the hunt. Of course, I said my .475 Turnbull 1886. He looked at me a bit skeptically, not convinced I had chosen a good long-range rifle. I said I understood, but that was what I was going to use. He shrugged and said, “Okay, see you in August, then.”
Now that I had my hunt booked, it was time to get ready: drop 20 pounds off the waist; break-in my shoes; get clothes together; order a backpack from Frontier of Alaska in Anchorage and enroll in “boot camp” at a local gym. Pounds were coming off, strength was increasing. When summer arrived, I started hiking with my pack filled with water bottles. Hiking up and down the hills, I worked up to 70 pounds in my pack and twenty-minute miles. I was ready.
Once I had the rest of my gear ready to go, I needed to get my .475 sighted in so I could hit my target. Using my elevator sights, I shot the rifle out to 300 yards. I wrote down the minute of angle (MOA) and at what distance each notch on the elevator was good for, which I then taped to the barrel of the rifle. My Leica Geovid rangefinding binocular helped precisely establish the yardage of each target.
It was finally the first day in camp. I meet up with Erik, Martha Mae and my guide Johnny in the main camp. We got our plan together and prepared to fly out to a gravel bar some 30 miles away. Once we landed, we organized everything and headed off up the valley to our “home.” There we pitched our small two-man tents to sleep in and spread out. We made a small fire and heated up water for dinner. While eating, we glassed the area and could see some sheep way off in the distance.
The next morning, we woke up to the sound of rain. It rained on and off for two days, keeping us in the tents nearly the entire time. Good thing I brought a good book to read!
Finally, on the third day the weather broke. We found a few sheep that we wanted a better look at, so we packed light (food, rain gear, warm clothes) and headed out. We hiked up the valley, crossing many small streams, to a point where we had to start climbing. There was the area – up and up and up – where Johnny had glassed sheep in previous years. We climbed up slippery rocks, gravel that just wouldn’t hold, and slid down a little with each step. Finally, we reached the ridgeline and rested just under the ledge for a while. Johnny took a look up at the other valley. About a mile away he saw some sheep. He pulled out the spotting scope and decided there were a few that needed a closer look. We walked, crawled and slid along the back side of the ridge to a point about 800 yards from the sheep.
Johnny could tell that there were two legal rams among the seven sheep we could see. There was very little cover to block them from spotting us on the stalk. Luckily, we had camouflage that matched the foliage running down to them. We made our plan: put on our camouflage, find a spot farther down with the most cover, and work our way slowly and quietly toward them to see how close we could get.
We set off down the slope on our butts, foot by foot, slowly and carefully down toward the sheep. Oblivious to our presence, all the sheep bedded down to rest. We kept moving toward them: 200 yards, 300 yards, 400 yards, 450 yards closer. Still they were lying down; we remained unnoticed as we descended on the sheep.
Now almost 500 yards down the hill, we had closed the distance to 325 yards. Still too far; I had to be within 300 yards to be able to accurately use my sights and measurements. Down we went. The sheep stood back up and started grazing. Still we were undetected. We finally got to just under 300 yards. Between us and the sheep was a wide-open area with no cover and lots of noisy rocks.
Now the decision: What to do? I knew the range. I had practiced all summer shooting at longer ranges than this and hitting the mark. I knew the yardage and had my “cheat sheet.” With a solid rock rest, I put my sights on the fifth notch and knew where the bullet would hit. There was no wind to deal with. We were almost at the bottom of a great big open bowl. This was the place, and now it was the time.
I held my sights on the largest ram – full curl on one side, broomed on the other. Legal. I carefully took aim and squeezed the trigger. BOOM! I had made a solid hit with the first round. The ram walked around a bit and lay down about 20 yards from where he was standing, just out of our sight. The rest of the sheep just stood where they were, not knowing what happened or where the shot came from.
We left the ram laying there for 15 minutes before I finally got up and stalked down toward it. As I got to about 100 yards away from the flock (standing, watching), I reached a point where I could see my ram. He saw me and stood up, broadside. I shot again, and down he went. The rest of the sheep finally moved off slowly without a sound. I had my ram!
We took pictures and then got down to the task at hand. We skinned the ram out, quartered and packed up the meat, and off we went for our four-mile hike back to camp. About a mile out, I stepped on a rock and heard the sound of steel on granite. I thought to myself, Damn! That left a mark. Later I noticed the mark on the barrel near the muzzle. Now when I’m hunting with this rifle, I look at the mark and smile, bringing back the memories of my sheep hunt in the Brooks Range.