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SORE KNEES? - QUAD STRENGTH IS THE SOLUTION

STRETCHING - 7 POINTS TO REMEMBER

TO STRETCH OR NOT TO STRETCH

RENE'S RAM

OUTFITTING YOUR FEET FOR THE OUTDOORS

SHEEP HUNTERS ARE A PECULIAR LOT

EKLUTNA LAKE REGULATIONS

LAST-MINUTE RAM

SORE KNEES?  QUAD STRENGTH IS THE SOLUTION

Remember those pesky sore knees you always seem to get on a sheep hunt. This soreness follows steep downhill sessions–often not manifesting itself until the following morning. Don’t just wait for it to happen this year, prepare yourself.

Even the fittest among us, who train year-round for sheep season can suffer from this affliction. This is partly because even tough mountain training doesn’t work those "downhill" muscles–the eccentric phase of muscle flexion enough. Most of us think of working muscles in the flexion or concentric phase; that phase when the muscle shortens. Examples are curling your arm toward your shoulder or straightening your leg–as you do as you climb a mountain or a stairway. Trouble is, we also have to go down the mountain or the stairway. This is when our lack of a thorough training program can show up in sore muscles and knee joints.

The sore muscles aren’t as much a problem as the sore joints. A few days and the muscles—the soft tissue—will adapt and return to normal; no harm done. Actually you will probably be in better shape and have more strength afterward. However, the sore knees can be a problem. Sore knee joints means you have damaged the cartilage or bone slightly. And we all know that cartilage and bone heal very slowly, or not at all. If you are very young, or older and very lucky, sore knees have not yet been a problem. I say not yet because it is as inevitable as the night that if you continue to climb mountains you will eventually suffer from sore knees. And this damage to cartilage and bone is cumulative–it accumulates during your lifetime. This is why you need to avoid this type of pain and accompanying damage as much as possible during your entire life.

One way to avoid this type of damage is to maintain strong muscles around the knee joint; these muscles are collectively referred to as the quadraceps–quads for short. By training your quads for downhill, eccentric movement you can minimize knee pain and damage. Any movement that entails the quads working to slow the bending of the knee will work. But you have to also watch how much you bend the knee. Too much bend in the knee joint tends to cause pain in us older hunters and corresponding damage. To get a good workout for the quads all you really need is a ten to fifteen degree bend in the knee.

One simple way to work the quads in an eccentric mode is to stand up straight, shift your weight to one leg, then sloooowly bend your weighted knee to lower your body about four to six inches; how much you should lower your body depends on your height and how old or damaged your knees are already. My knees hurt a little and I am about five-ten so I only go down about four inches. When you have gone down to your low point, then just straighten the leg so you are upright again. Repeat the sloooow bending of the knee and coming back up—take two to three seconds on the lowering phase and one second to come back up—for ten repetitions. Switch legs and do the same for that leg. Depending on your conditioning, you can do as many sets as it takes until your legs are burning and you need to stop. This exercise only takes a few minutes to perform. Just doing it every other day or every day if you can will improve your quad strength for lowering your body. Then those steep downhills this fall will not be nearly as painful either in your muscles or joints. Even more important, by maintaining this type of strength all year you will probably increase the length of time your knees will work for you in the long run.

Another good exercise to develop your eccentric strength in your quads is using step ups. Except emphasize the step-down part. Go at normal speed as you step up on a box or short chair, then slooowly step back down to work the quads on the lowering phase–just as you will when you are coming down those mountains this fall.

Another way to work on your quad strength in the eccentric mode is by coming down hills with your legs bent the entire time. Instead of throwing your legs downhill with locked knees, keep the knee bent and slow down slightly. Your bent knee means your quads will already be slightly flexed and better able to absorbed the shock when your foot hits the slope and your body weight is suddenly transferred from the uphill foot to the downhill foot. This will be harder on your muscles for sure. The first time this I tried this my legs were shaking by the time I had descended Boddenburg Butte–a mere 800-foot drop. But my muscles got a much better workout and my knees and hips were spared unnecessary pounding–both good things. This technique for your summer training runs and the one-leg squats will mean more endurance and less pain and damage on your fall hunts.

Stretching – 7 Points to Remember
When Trying to Increase the Longevity of Old Sheep Hunters’ Legs.

Although the title of this article may be misleading because stretching is important to legs, and other body parts, of any age–not just old ones–the purpose is plain. We need to stretch for several reasons: 1) to prevent injuries 2) to reduce joint pain 3) to increase mobility 4) and to relax and reduce stress.

Whether you are a weekend athlete or a once-a-year sheep hunter, there are 7 important points to remember when stretching. By ALWAYS remembering these 7 points whenever you think of stretching, you can prevent needless injuries. Injuries that may just keep you from pursuing and catching that big ram you have always dreamed of.

•ALWAYS MOVE SLOWLY WHENEVER STRETCHING, QUICK MOVEMENTS ARE INVITATIONS TO MUSCLE, LIGAMENT AND JOINT INJURIES.

•WARM UP BEFORE ANY SERIOUS STRETCHING SESSION.

•YOU CAN INTERSPERSE STRETCHING DURING AN EXERCISE SESSION (LIKE WHEN YOU ARE CLIMBING A MOUNTAIN) OR STRETCH AFTER YOU ARE DONE EXERCISING, BUT BEFORE YOUR MUSCLES AND JOINTS COOL DOWN.

•BREATHE DEEPLY AND SLOWLY DURING THE STRETCH TO GET THE MOST OUT OF EACH MOVEMENT.

•AS YOU MOVE INTO A STRETCH, PAY CLOSE ATTENTION TO THE MUSCLE(S) INVOLVED; WHEN YOU FEEL A SLIGHT PULL, STOP, AND WAIT FOR THE MUSCLE TO RELAX BEFORE TRYING TO GO FURTHER.

•YOU SHOULD NEVER FEEL REAL PAIN DURING A STRETCH.

•AN EFFECTIVE STRETCH CAN BE TO THE COUNT OF BETWEEN 2 AND 100, IT DEPENDS ON YOUR PURPOSE AND THE AMOUNT OF TIME AVAILABLE. EVEN TWO SECONDS CAN HELP, ALTHOUGH 6 SECONDS IS A PRACTICAL MINIMUM FOR MOST PEOPLE USING STANDARD STRETCHING METHODS.

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TO STRETCH OR NOT TO STRETCH

Stretching is not the same as warming up for exercise or a workout. Experts say that to warm up properly, you should do light aerobic exercise for five to ten minutes prior to any rigorous workout. Easy jogging, walking or stationary cycling all qualify as light aerobic exercise. By getting your blood pumping, you will loosen up your muscles and make them more pliable and less likely to tear or stretch in a bad way. After this warm-up, you can then stretch if desired, before proceeding with a full workout.

Most people think of stretching as the first thing to do before a workout, but this often leads to injuries to cold, stiff tissues. In fact, stretching is probably more useful as a post-workout activity. After a workout, muscles and joints are warm, pliable and able to accommodate the greater range of motion you are trying to achieve by stretching. By stretching after a workout, you are more likely to achieve greater flexibility which will prevent the likelihood and severity of future injuries.

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RENE'S RAM

I wondered, "Can I still hit what I’m aiming at? I certainly don’t want to wound a ram." We had just stopped on the top of a 5,000 ft. ridge to catch our breath before continuing our stalk up the ridge to the ram. My husband, Tony, decided to quickly check the zero on my new rifle by bore-sighting on a distant rock. He wasn’t happy when the scope wasn’t pointing at the same spot as the barrel, so he adjusted the scope. With the ram only 600 yards up the ridge, my confidence in the rifle plummeted.

Our last visit to the shooting range had been five days before our hunt. My first shot was dead on at 200 yards. But the next two shots were five inches off the mark. This happened with each three-shot group–the first shot was good, but the second and third shots were off by several inches. We were waitting at least a full minute between shots, but with this thin-barrelled rifle, maybe that was not enough cooling time. My confidence in my gun was fading when we left the range, but I still felt comfortable I could hit a ram inside 200 yards. However, after this ridgetop field adjustment to my scope settings, I wasn’t too sure I could perform at the moment of truth. Short of turning back, I didn’t have much choice. We would just have to get as close as possible and I would have to make the first shot count.

We continued up the ridge, looking carefully to locate the ram. He had been bedded when we began our stalk about noon, but he seemed edgy and there was no telling where he would be now. As we approached his last location we spotted him up and moving. We crouched to stay out of sight and monitor his movements.

Our concentration was broken when a caribou came running down the ridge straight at us. We stood up and waved our arms to get its attention and divert it away from the ram. We didn’t want this foolish caribou to ruin our stalk. The caribou came within 30 yards before noticing us with a wild-eyed stare. After two seconds of holding our breath, the caribou turned 90 degrees and ran down the opposite side of the ridge from where my ram lay. We breathed a sigh of relief and again focused on the wandering ram.

The ram found a ledge and began to paw out a bed. We silently encouraged him to lie down so we could finish the stalk and I could collect my first ram. He settled into his new bed and we continued up the ridge. When we were just short of being directly above the ram we stopped to talk over our next move.

The ram lie about 400 yards away. He was below us and up the valley slightly. If we went any farther up the ridge the ram would be hidden by a rock outcropping above him. At this point, we thought our best strategy was to descend the valley wall to get within my comfortable shooting range. I told Tony my comfortable shooting range was now "as close as possible."

We chose the nearest gulley to the ram where we could stay hidden. We carefully picked our way downhill. Tony was twenty feet below me, using his experience to choose the best route. As I concentrated on not falling down the steep slope, I inadvertently kicked a football-sized rock loose. I immediately hissed at Tony, who caught the rock before it hit him and/or made enough noise to alert the ram.

When we had descended as far as the terrain would allow, we dropped our packs and carefully edged over toward the ram’s last position. I thought to myself, "Will he still be there?" We crawled up to a vantage point and peeked over to locate the ram. There he was, still bedded on a small, grassy ledge–ideal for a perfect photo of my first ram.

Tony’s rangefinder read 187 yards. The distance was a little more than I hoped for, but it would have to do. The ram was bedded with his head toward me. Because he was also slightly below me, I picked a spot at the top of his near shoulder and steadied the crosshairs. After a few relaxing breaths, and a quick prayer, I squeezed the trigger. At the shot, the ram immediately stood up, but his head stayed low. Tony said, "It’s a good hit. You don’t have to shoot again."

As quickly as he had stood up, the ram laid back down in his bed. He was done and I was thinking, "Stay right there." I was hoping he wouldn’t roll off the ledge so I could get perfect photos without any excess blood or dirt from a downhill tumble.

Simultaneous with my thought, Tony whispered aloud, "Roll. Roll." He was concerned about cleaning the ram on the small, downward-sloped ledge and wanted him to roll to a safer position. My thoughts won the battle and the ram soon expired in his bed.

After congratulations from Tony, we started picking our way toward the ram. More than an hour later we were finally standing twenty feet directly below the ram, still lying on his grassy ledge. The approach to the ledge was so steep, Tony wouldn’t let me go any farther–which was fine with me. I handed him the camera so he could take photos of my first ram. Tony managed to reach the ram, take a few photos, and tie a rope to his horns. He tried to lower the ram off the ledge with a rope, but with his poor footing and a short, thin rope the ram was too much to hold. I watched helplessly as my ram rolled past me and continued 100 feet down the rocky chute before coming to a stop. The pictures weren’t entirely bloodless, but they were still perfect because they were of my first ram, along with my favorite hunting partner.

We had to descend a steep, unstable, boulder-filled chute where we both fell more than once. I thought, "This is crazy. Sheep hunters are crazy. My feet hurt with every step, I am frightened for my life, and I want off this mountain. From now on, I’ll stick to taking photos of sheep and leaving them on the mountain." At this point, I had pretty much decided this ram (my first) would be my last. We made it safely to the bottom and trekked the final miles back to camp in the failing light. I didn’t even want to think of what still lie ahead–tomorrow’s hike with all our gear plus the sheep back to the airstrip. Yes, I was definitely done with this sheep hunting gig.

Morning dawned and my feet still hurt. We packed up and eased on back to the airstrip where I dropped my pack with a great sigh of relief. Tony had to make one more hike to our alternate strip for extra gear and food we stashed, so I took the opportunity to take a nap. Two hours later, he woke me with a welcome gift–my camp shoes. Now I didn’t have to wear those dang boots anymore and I could get into my comfy shoes. My feet and I were very thankful.

We called our pilot on our Satellite phone and told him not to come in for a couple days. We had sheep backstrap and blueberry cheesecake to eat. For the next two days, that’s what we did. We ate Teriyaki sheep over the fire and had fresh-blueberry-filled cheesecake. Wonderful.

After the second night of this, Tony commented, "You know, pretty much everyone tells me they are done sheep hunting after they finish the hard pack out, but they often forget the pain and suffering and are ready to go again within a week of returning from this year’s hunt."

I replied, "Okay, I’ll go again. Be sure and put me in for those Chugach permits. I want a bigger one next time."

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Outfitting Your Feet for the Outdoors

Proper footwear selection for outdoor activities can be a difficult task. In fact, proper footwear selection for any purpose can be a difficult task. This is partly due to the fact that each person’s feet have a unique shape–no two people have identical feet. Add this fact to the ever-increasing selection of footwear, and it is no wonder we have a difficult time choosing which boots to buy. No matter how much good advice we hear from others, we still have to try on lots of boots to find a good match for our feet. And since we would like to use our feet for their intended purpose — walking — for the rest of our lives, it is imperative that we find the right boots. One of the best ways to help your feet function faithfully now and in the future is by spending time, and money, to choose quality, appropriate footwear.

When you begin the selection process, first establish what this pair of footwear will be used for. No pair of shoes, boots, slippers, sandals, or galoshes will serve every purpose. The more specific the purpose, the better you can select the right footwear. But remember that most of us have limited closet space and limited budgets. Having an unlimited arsenal of outdoor footwear is just not feasible.

hoosing a pair of boots for summer, day hikes on developed trails is a wise choice. Then choosing a sturdier pair for backcountry, off-trail adventures while carrying at least an overnight pack is a good second choice for most of us Alaskans. These two pair will get us where we want to go for least three seasons of the year without undue wear and tear on our feet or a significant drain on our wallets.

Next, you must understand how different boot characteristics affect their function. Soles are a good place to start. In general, the stiffer the sole, the rougher the terrain it is intended for. Relatively stiff soles protect your feet (bottoms and edges), bite into slopes or loose rocks, and are (usually) heavier than soft soles. But on relatively flat terrain, stiff soles are harder to use in our normal heel -to-toe walking gait. This makes us tire a little quicker than softer soled boots would. Plus, our knees take more punishment because the stiff soles cause slight jerking motion as our foot rolls from heel-to-toe. Softer soles accommodate this motion more and produce a smoother heel-to-toe transition.

The edges of boot soles are just as important as their overall stiffness. Sharp toe, heel and side edges will help you climb, descend, and traverse steep hillsides. Rounded edges will tend to slip on slopes. In combination with the shape of the sole, the stiffness also affects how well you deal with slopes. Very pliable (soft) soles are not meant for steep slopes because they bend when only one edge is in contact with a sloped surface. The result is the well-known foot "roll." Stiffer soles are meant to maintain their shape if only one edge (toe, heel or side) is in contact with a steep surface. But softer soles are much easier to use on relatively flat ground, where their ability to "roll" over the surface is an advantage.

The softness of a sole’s surface is also important. Softer material sticks better on slick surfaces. Harder sole materials will bite better when just the edges are used. So your hard, stiff mountain boots will tend to slide on any slick, flat surface – like wet rocks or ice. The softer soles of trail boots are better on slick surfaces. I have found out the hard way that my hard-soled mountain boots are not good for winter walking in my neighborhood. Even with carbide screws embedded in the soles, I still slip on icy roads. I have found that my winter snow-pacs, with their wide, soft rubber soles are great for icy roads – something I should have figured out by reading, and not having to fall several times on the ice.

The height and construction of the upper part of a boot mainly aids the function of the sole, although these also influence how much protection your feet get. Low-cut boots usually have soft soles, and the combination suits trail walking. Forces are mainly straight down and somewhat forward and backward, but the walking motion is mainly accomplished by swinging our legs and not by pushing with tremendous force – like when climbing.

For climbing, stiff soles are more appropriate to give us a better traction. Stiff soles should be paired with stiff, higher uppers, or sometimes, with very stiff, medium-height uppers. This is because a stiff sole that bites into steep, loose hillside well should be aided by uppers that spread the resulting force from your foot to at least above your ankle, and better yet to mid-calf. A stiff, all-leather ten-inch boot with a stiff sole lets you bite into slopes and spread the applied force from the bottom of your foot to ten inches up your calf. A four-inch upper would spread the same force only four inches up and would tire you out sooner, likely cause more slippage and blisters, and be more likely to result in losing your footing. There are some six to eight-inch boots made of hard, synthetic polymer materials (similar to plastic) which make up for their shorter height by being very stiff. Some of these boots are even less likely to let your foot "roll" on steep hillsides than ten-inch, all-leather boots because they are so stiff. Serious mountain climbers use the stiffest of these boot types for obvious reasons. In the past fifteen years or so, numerous softer versions of these boots have been designed for use by less demanding outdoor enthusiasts. The basic rules for uppers are: 1) The steeper, more off-trail the route, and the more weight you will carry, the more you need a higher and/or a stiffer boot upper. 2) The more on-trail and flatter the ground, and the less weight you will carry, the shorter and softer the boot uppers you can by with.

The other considerations when choosing boots are their weight, insulation, material, water-resistance and fit. Heavier boots will tire you out faster and can adversely affect joints – like your knees. For all but the most serious mountain climbers, off-trail boots that can adequately climb the steepest slopes where ropes aren’t needed should not weight more than two pounds each. Trail boots meant for day-only hikes on established trails, even some pretty steep ones, should weigh in at under 22 ounces, or less than three pounds per pair. Any new boots you select should meet these maximums unless they have some other great feature that makes up for the added weight.

Insulation is up to you and your feet. The newer insulating materials are all pretty much nonabsorptive and dry quickly. I have cold feet and they don’t sweat much. Still, I often choose less insulation because then the boot is lighter and dries faster. I buy my boots large enough to add extra socks in colder weather and still not feel too tight. The boot upper material affects how fast they dry, how heavy they are, and how stiff they are. Plastics are heavy, stiffer and dry immediately. All-leather uppers also tend to be heavy, they can be moderately stiff or very stiff, and tend to dry slow. Part-leather and part synthetic (often Cordura®) uppers are lighter, softer, and dry quicker than all-leather. All-synthetic cloth uppers are even lighter, usually softer, and dry even quicker. Except for the all-plastic uppers, the addition of a waterproof-yet-breathable under-layer adds just an ounce or two, but will keep your feet much drier than the same boots without this "waterproof" layer. I always go for this type of layer for all my hiking boots.

The last detail to consider for your footwear is the most important. Notice I didn’t say might be, or could be – this is the most important. Fit is the most crucial element of footwear. The best boots at the best price are worthless to me if they don’t fit right. You can only travel as far as your feet will take you. Once they are sore, you will enjoy any activity less and travel less efficiently. Feet that are mis-fitted to footwear over time will change – for the worse. I want to walk—without pain—as long as possible. Therefore I take care of my feet, and money spent on high-quality, good-fitting footwear is money well-spent in my mind. Never buy any boots or other footwear from a catalog unless you have tried on that exact model and size first. All brands—and even models—are built on a unique mold–"last" is what it’s called in the footwear world. And since our feet are as unique as our fingerprints, you have to match feet to footwear by actually trying them on.

My feet are "EE" width. I finally realized that after about 35 years of painful shoes. No shoe salesperson ever discovered that. I thought my boots and shoes just fit "snugly’ as they were supposed to. In my mid-twenties I started wearing footwear one size larger because they were also wider. So "D" width felt better because the longer shoe was also wider. Now I don’t even consider footwear that doesn’t come in wide sizes. My wife’s foot is just the opposite of mine – long and narrow. She often had a hard time finding women’s footwear in size 11, so she would sometimes buy men’s footwear. But a women’s 11 comes standard in "B" width, while men’s shoes come standard in "D" width – which are too wide for her. So her feet would slip in normal width (D) men’s footwear. We had a difficult time finding women’s hiking boots in size 11, and although men’s size 9 fit her fine, they do not come in "B" width. So her feet slip in men’s 9 and she gets blisters. We finally discovered that Irish Setter® boots come in women’s sizes (in "B" width) up to 12. Now that we can match her narrow feet to footwear with the right length and width, her feet are much happier.

Choosing footwear wisely is an important part of enjoying the outdoors. The expertise needed to make wise choices is not really that difficult to acquire. This article contains most of what you need. The other components are learning what is available and learning the characteristics of your feet, and you should know—or want to learn—those. Once you go through the process of choosing one well-fitting pair of boots, you should be able to do it again and again with minimal effort. Understanding, and remembering, the relationship between sole stiffness and how much bite your feet get on a steep hillside is not hard. Nor is understanding that sharp edges are better than rounded edges for steep slopes. Learn what to look for, then choose wisely. The happiness of your feet is not only very important to the pleasure of your hiking trips, it will also affect how well they will serve you in future years. Spend as much time and money on your feet as is necessary to make them happy. You, and they, will be glad you did.

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SHEEP HUNTERS ARE A PECULIAR LOT

Alaskans who claim to be sheep hunters have some peculiar traits. These interesting individuals are often seen toting heavy packs while marching through residential areas or ascending local trails. They can also be spotted at local sporting goods shops zealously searching for the lightest gear known to man, and cost is no object. Although all Alaskan hunters anxiously await the results of the annual permit hunt drawings, this yearly lottery for a coveted hunting permit can determine a sheep hunter’s actual will to live. As sheep season approaches, these hunters devote more and more time in preparation for the ten days that make the whole year worth living – “the hunt.”

  I have been accused of being one of these fanatical sheep hunters, so I understand what lures them to great lengths in pursuit of this magnificent creature. Unfortunately, I have never read an exposition that accurately portrays the lure which sheep hunting holds. Words alone cannot vindicate this addiction, it must be experienced to be understood. Although I cannot explain the lure of sheep hunting, I do have some advice for those hunters who are willing to risk becoming addicted like the rest of us.

  Almost all sheep hunters in Alaska use the spot and stalk method of hunting. Because sheep live in open country and have extremely good eyesight, this method produces the best results in the great majority of hunting situations. Basically, hunters must see the sheep before the sheep see them. Although Dall sheep do smell and hear quite well, typical sheep habitat makes these senses poor defenses against hunters. Constant swirling winds, variable up- and down drafts, and rough, uneven terrain prevent scent from being a reliable indication of approaching hunters. Noise isn’t reliable either, because the sound of falling rock is common in sheep habitat, and this disguises accidental sounds of nearby hunters. Thus, the number one priority when sheep hunting is to avoid being seen by your quarry.

  Guidelines to avoid visual detection by sheep can be divided into two categories, whether you are:

1) beyond two miles from the sheep:

bullet Remain out of sight whenever possible at any distance. This includes setting up camp. Don’t take any unnecessary risk that sheep may spot you. Just because you haven’t spotted sheep in a drainage doesn’t mean a ram won’t suddenly come over a ridge. Always place your tent behind cover just in case.
bullet Stay low whenever part of you may be in sight. The vertical lines of humans are unmistakable danger signals to sheep.
bullet Move directly at or away from any visible sheep when you have to be in sight, because lateral movement is easier for sheep to detect than the change in size as something moves directly toward or away from them.
bullet Use partial cover or background cover when possible. Background cover is what you travel over. Good background cover would be a field of variable-size rocks and boulders; bad background cover would be a uniform field of short green grass. Sheep would have a hard time picking you out of the boulder field at three miles, but they would easily see you in the field of grass.
bullet Do not travel on the skyline because the sky is a very poor background for camouflaging you. Drop ten or twenty feet below ridgelines to travel and periodically ease up to the ridge and peek over to look for sheep or keep track of those you are stalking.
bullet Your face and hands are shiny and stand out much better than your (hopefully) camouflaged clothing. Don’t move either face or hands more than necessary and cover them with a facemask and gloves when appropriate.
bullet Watch for telltale signs that sheep have spotted you. These include staring in your direction, ending a feeding session, getting up suddenly from bedding, general nervousness, and lining up single file and traveling away from you. In every case except when the sheep are actually traveling away, if you will immediately move away and quickly get out of sight, the sheep will usually relax – although this may take up to an hour or more.

2) within two miles of the sheep:

bullet Always stay completely out of sight unless wearing a white suit and using it properly. Of course, there are many times when you could relax this rule and get away with it, but the risk of even one sheep out of ten seeing you is too high if you expect to be successful when that one ram of a lifetime appears.
bullet When wearing a white suit, hunters should always be at least bent over from the waist and should really be on their hands and knees if they want this ruse to work with rams. This strategy is working less and less as more people are using it.

 

Another basic axiom of sheep hunters is to approach them from above whenever possible. This is because sheep don’t look up nearly as much as they look down, sheep tend to go uphill when spooked, and hunters can cut off moving sheep easier from above. One major drawback to hunting from above is not being able to see the sheep when looking down a steep, convex slope. In these cases, it may be a better strategy to first spot the sheep from below. Often, a direct, undetected approach can still be made from below with just a slight detour near the finish as the hunter goes up a ravine adjacent to the sheep, but still out of sight. By going up the ravine a little higher than the nearby sheep, the hunter can then side hill to reach a position above the sheep. This is a strategy I often use to take advantage of having a better view from below, but still having the advantages of a final approach from above.

  Like many pursuits in life, successful sheep hunting relies on good preparation. Since the challenge of sheep hunting is 70% physical, it follows that hunters should condition their bodies for this most arduous of hunts. All the experienced sheep hunters I know recognize the need to be at their best physically -- if they want to be successful. Many of them, like me, use their addiction as an excuse to exercise all year long. As “the hunt” approaches, our training just becomes more visible. This is when many of us can be seen toting our increasingly heavy loads on roads and trails to prepare our bodies for the endurance test called sheep hunting. We don’t think of ourselves as peculiar, just dedicated

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EKLUTNA LAKE REGULATIONS

The Eklutna Lake drainages within Chugach State Park, Game Management Unit 14C are very popularamong FNAWS members for several reasons: the Eklutna Lake area is only minutes away from a large portion of our members; it has one of the most accessible and successful sheep-viewing areas available; it contains one of the salt-licks used for ADF&G spring sheep counts; it is the only archery-only sheep hunting area in the state; it contains one of the most sought-after sheep permit areas in the state (East Fork); and we (our FNAWS chapter members) have agreed to provide regular maintenance to the Twin Peaks trail at the west end of Eklutna Lake. Less FNAWS-specific reasons that this area is also attractive to our members are: it is open to archery-only hunting for moose, black bear and small game; it has a backcountry bicycle trail with great scenery; it presents a very scenic canoe/kayak/motorboat option within Chugach State Park; and it has some great berry-picking opportunities (something I started doing over thirty years ago in this area).

With so many reasons that this area satisfies our members’ recreational needs, it it vital that we understand and follow all the Park regulations pertaining to this area as well as help non-members do the same to ensure this area is available in the future. There are state hunting regulations, general park regulations, specific Eklutna Lake regulations, and general state laws which all have to be followed when using the Eklutna Lake recreational area within Chugach State Park. There are also private lands near the lower end of the lake which must be respected. Although all the relevant regulations and land ownership details are too numerous to list here, users should be aware that all these exist and learn about those which affect them. The State Hunting Regulations booklet is a good place to start for hunters. The ADF&G also has maps which outline the areas open to hunting by species. The general park regulations can be obtained from the Chugach State Park Headquarters, the Eagle River Nature Center or the Eklutna Ranger Station. For Eklutna-specific information it is best to contact the Eklutna Ranger Station.

Dan Amyot, the Park Ranger in charge of the northern third of the park–including the Eklutna drainages, pointed out the most common violations and how to avoid them. First, hunters should know all the hunting regulations in detail. This includes the exact area open to hunting each species – moose and black bear hunting is permitted in a greater area than sheep hunting. Obtaining and then carefully examining current ADF&G maps will prevent hunting outside of legal areas. Target practice is not permitted within Chugach State Park, and this pertains to rifle hunters as well as archers. Safety is the main reason for this rule. The most common violation in the Eklutna drainage is using the lakeside trail with motorized vehicles on days reserved for non-motorized use. Currently, motorized ATV’s can use the trail from Sunday through Wednesday and cannot use it from Thursday through Saturday. These restrictions apply to the entire 12-mile length of the trail from mile 0 to the east end near the glacier. A common violation which park personnel have to deal with is ATV’s using the upper end of the trail during off days–often this is hunters moving around as they hunt. Hunters are also prone to not wait until a permissable day and try to come out whenever they are done hunting. Even a return trip on the lakeside is not permissable on non-motorized days. The only allowable use by ATV’s on non-motorized days is in the case of emergencies or with specific permission of park personnel. Hunters should plan ahead and use bicycles, watercraft or even carry a bicycle if they want the option of returning early from a hunt along Eklutna Lake. We currently get to use motorized ATV’s on four of the seven days, which is a great option for us. By learning to work within the regulations and passing along this information to uninformed users, we can preserve this privilege.

Eklutna Lake is a great recreational area for us as hunters and outdoor recreationalists. But, as with most privileges, continued use requires a little discipline on our part. Take a little time to find out all the regulations when venturing into Eklutna or any area of Chugach State Park and help pass along this habit to any users you meet. It is part of being a responsible user of this great resource.

Addresses

Chugach State Park, HC 52 Box 8999, Indian, AK  99540

Chugach State Park Headquarters, Potter Section House (south end of Potter marsh), 907-345-5014
E-Mail: Chugach_State_Park@dnr.state.ak.ns
Recorded message: 269-8400 (push 1)

Eklutna Lake Ranger Station: 907-688-0908

Eagle River Ranger Station: 907-694-1074

Alaska Department of Fish and Game, Division of Wildlife Conservation, 333 Raspberry Road, Anchorage, AK 99518-1599, 907-267-2347

LAST-MINUTE RAM

G. Fred Asbell is an experienced longbow hunter. He is also an excellent shot with this ancient weapon. Both of these facts became apparent to me during our ten day hunt which began in the Chugach Mountains and culminated in the Talkeetna Mountains. Brief hunts can be satisfying when a ram is taken quickly and we are filled with the euphoria of a successful hunt. Yet, extended hunts which last a week or more are often much more gratifying and educational. This was just such a hunt.

Fred and I started our sheep hunt on a glacier in the Chugach Mountains north of Palmer. We had several rams spotted and no one else was in the area. It was the first of the season and the rams seemed relaxed. We found a gravel-covered spot to place our tent tight to the base of the slopes above where we would be hidden from the majority of the sheep. Still, we would have to exercise caution when exiting the tent or moving about. The long glacial valley we were in had steep sides and a gradual curve to it which helped keep us hidden from the rams we were after.

On the first day of the hunt, we decided to go down the glacier a couple miles. We wanted to get a better view of any rams which might be hidden by the steep spines and deep gullies which made up the sides of this valley. Narrow valleys like ours often hide much of the terrain directly above sheep hunters. Finding rams is the first prerequisite to hunting them successfully.

The glacier was anything but smooth, so the going was slow. Plus, we had to stop every few feet to check for sheep which may have just come into view as we traveled down the river of ice. After a few hours of walking and looking, we finally spotted a legal ram. It was grazing in a high bowl with one sublegal ram. Fred had never hunted Dall sheep and was looking for any good representative animal. This 35" ram looked like just what he needed. The question was how to get to him.

The only way we could get to the ram was straight up the middle of this shallow-bottomed side drainage. Ice surrounded all sides and the upper end of the bowl he occupied. Of course, the ram had a great view of everything below him for at least a mile. For the next two hours Fred and I watched the ram and proposed scenarios in which he could approach within the effective range of his chosen weapon.

As often happens when hunting sheep, the ram helped us decide our next move. He started moving down the drainage toward us. As we were two miles and two thousand feet below the ram, we didn’t think he would come right to us. But, the situation looked better with each step he took in our direction.

We decided to climb on top of the lower end of the ridge on one side of the drainage. We took a guess that the ram was headed toward this side and hoped for the best. After an hour of climbing during which we couldn’t keep the ram in sight, we reached the flattened top of the ridge. Now we could see the bowl, but the ram was not in view. There was really no place for the ram to have gone except downward, unless he decided to climb the ice above him-but that didn’t seem likely. The ridge top was about 100 yards across and curved, so we started moving upward toward the ram’s last position and periodically peering over the side. As we moved up the ridge, less and less of the drainage below us was hidden from view. When we had climbed far enough to see most of the drainage, the only possibility was the ram was on the slope right below us.

Realizing this, I told Fred to be ready in case the ram suddenly appeared on the ridge above us. I finally peered over the edge and spotted the ram 150 yards away coming up the slope toward us. I urgently whispered to Fred to move ahead of me and get into position for an ambush. The flattened ridge top was about 50 yards across at this point and covered with four to five-foot boulders, which made perfect cover. And the side of the ridge the ram was climbing was bordered by a ridge of rock several feet high, with jus a few openings. Fred and I quickly agreed on the most likely opening for the ram to come through and hoped we were right.

The ram came up so suddenly Fred was still fifteen yards short of peering over the edge of the ridge. As I watched Fred from fifty yards away, he suddenly crouched down behind a convenient boulder. As I stared at the nearest gap in the rocks, I saw the ram’s nose appear and Fred prepare for the shot. I was already anticipating a shot when the ram stopped and stood still. I mentally urged the ram to take just one more step so Fred could loose an arrow. It never happened. The wind swirled, the ram whirled, and he was gone. After a few minutes of anxious waiting and hoping for a reappearance of the ram, we moved to the edge of the ridge and peered over. The ram must have gotten a snoot full of human scent. He was 800 yards away and still running. We watched in silence as the ram returned to his high bowl and climbed even higher. Then we joked about how many days or weeks would pass before this ram would poke his nose over the top of this ridge again. We then enjoyed talking about how close we had come and how exciting it had been to be so close to the ram and so close to success. One of the main attractions to using a short-range weapon like a bow is getting so near your quarry many times before the hunt is over. The adrenaline rush is euphoric and reliving these feelings–as Fred and I now were–can be almost as enjoyable as the actual situation.

We decided to make our camp on the top of the ridge that night and use it for a vantage point to look for sheep. Unfortunately, the weather didn’t cooperate. We awoke to sleet, snow and fog the next morning. By evening the weather had only gotten worse and the temperature dropped. The next two days were more of the same so we dropped off the ridge and even went downstream on the glacier to escape the cold , wet weather. When the weather cleared the next day, no rams were visible in any direction. Later that day we were picked up by our pilot to find a more promising hunting location.

We next went to a location in the Talkeetna Mountains with much gentler slopes, numerous green pastures and no ice. The airstrip we landed on was occupied by a guide and client who had just finished a ten day hunt without success. They claimed there were no legal sheep in the area as proven by the many miles they had covered looking for rams. We thanked them and took off for a distant hill where we had spotted a good ram. The going was much easier here than our previous spot in the Chugach Mountains so we made good time. Four hours later we set up camp just out of sight of the ram.

The next morning, we planned our approach to the ram and took off. We were able to get above the ram and descend toward him. We waited until he was bedded and then moved in to get within bow range.

The ram was bedded halfway down a vast slide of loose, shale material. At about 200 yards the cover diminished, so I sent Fred alone toward the ram. Although Fred was within easy rifle (or long-range pistol) range of the ram, there was a lot of work to do for a decent longbow shot. Bowhunters know all too well that even when you do get within bow range of a sheep, you are only about 50% sure of even getting a good shot off. Drawing the bow and then rising up to get a clear view of your quarry can be as difficult as everything prior which goes into getting within bow range.

In this case, there was a monumental hurdle preventing Fred from making a successful stalk. The slide consisted of what Fred described as "dinner-plate-like material which moved and clattered with every step." As good of a stalker as he was, Fred could not move quietly to within bow range of the ram. The ram kept looking around for the source of the noise as Fred approached. Finally, the ram stood up and looked uphill, immediately spotting Fred. There was a temporary standoff as Fred froze in a crouched position and the ram assessed the situation. Although the ram instinctively wanted to go straight uphill to escape this danger, Fred was directly in his path. After about ten seconds the ram made his decision, running across the hillside for a couple hundred yards before heading uphill to escape Fred. Fred and I watched the ram climb uphill two thousand feet and disappear over the top. We headed back to camp with feelings of both frustration and some satisfaction at how close Fred had come to getting a ram. Bowhunting for sheep ain’t easy, and we both knew that. Bowhunters have to be feel some success at just getting close, even though no animal is taken. The thrill has to be partly in the chase, and not just a trophy taken.

Fred and I had been watching one ram across the drainage from our camp and trying to decide if he was worth a better look. The hunting duo we met at the airstrip claimed this was not a legal sheep, although they also had noticed the ram and looked it over. It was living in a gorge and daily would come out to feed on the surrounding, flat pastures. I thought he deserved a closer look and since we only had one day left and no other rams in sight, we headed that way the next day.

We first had to cross a two-hundred foot gorge in the center of the main drainage. After an hour of searching, we found a likely looking spot where a side creek intersected the main river. We had to carefully pick our way across the thigh-deep current, but we both made it safely across.

As we made our way to the gorge where we had seen the ram, we wondered if he would still be there and if he was legal. We hadn’t seen the ram for about 24 hours, but we both knew it was our last hope so we silently wished for good luck today.We arrived at the ravine and started carefully peeking over in strategic places. We traveled uphill along the edge of the ravine. We reached the top of the without spotting the ram. We both were a little dejected at that point, but I immediately said "Well, he must be in the lower section because he has to be here." Hoping I was right and not wanting Fred to realize I was only hoping for some luck, we started back down along the edge. We no sooner had started back down when I spotted the ram bedded right in the bottom, under an overhang which had blocked our view. The ram was only visible from one spot on the edge due to the overhang. If we would have passed up this one spot, as we had on the way up the ravine, we would have concluded the ram was gone.

I was quietly battling my hopes and fears about whether the ram was legal as I quickly setting up the spotting scope. The ram’s position under the overhang placed him out of direct sunlight. He was also at about a 25 degree angle below us. Even though he was only 250 yards away, I still wasn’t positive his horns were legal size in the poor light at the steep angle. I kept my eyes glued to the sheep so anytime he shifted his head, I could get a different look at the horns. As the minutes turned to hours, I’m sure Fred was losing hope that he would get to take a trophy home with him, since today was to be the last day of the hunt.

As time passed, I was also worried I had made a bad choice by using our last day to check out this ram. I even started to look at annual rings to see if he might be eight years old. I knew counting age rings was not often possible on an eight or nine year old ram–in fact, I had never been able to do it conclusively in the field. Just when I was starting to glass the surrounding hills in a last-ditch effort to find more sheep, the ram turned his horns exactly right to give me a good look at the last few growth rings. I had already counted seven rings for sure, but there was only about two and one-half inches between ring number seven and the base; and I didn’t think that was enough room for another ring on such a young sheep. But there it was–I could unmistakably see the eighth ring!

I immediately told Fred to get ready to travel. We quickly backed off the edge and traveled downhill to a spot I guessed would be right above the ram, even though we wouldn’t be able to see him under the overhang. I planned on simply having Fred ease down the side of the ravine until he could get a shot at the bedded ram. However, when we peered over, the ram was feeding just across the creek on the bottom of the ravine. I told Fred "I’m sure he will come up this side, so we will just wait for him to get within range and collect your ram." Of course, the ram decided to go up the other side, even after spending the past three hours on our side of the creek.

All was not lost though, because the ravine was very narrow and I felt Fred could shoot across the creek if we found the right spot. Even though there was little cover, we managed to scoot down the steep, mossy slopes without the ram seeing us. He was so intent on feeding that he never picked up his head to look for possible danger.

When we reached the closest position to the sheep we could, I told Fred to shoot. It didn’t matter what the exact yardage was, since Fred shot instinctively. Archers who use this shooting method just have to aim using the experience of thousands of practice shots–sort of like when throwing a baseball. The ram was still unaware of our presence as Fred stood up to shoot. After a few moments of staring and mentally assessing the shot, he drew his bow to full draw, hesitated for a fraction of a second and released–as I had seen him do dozens of times during the past ten days to maintain his skill level for the shot he now took. The arrow arched beautifully in direct line with the ram’s vitals. I waited expectantly, but the arrow took longer to strike than I anticipated. Then it struck exactly in line with where Fred aimed, but below the ram, and stuck in the hillside.

I fully expected the ram to suddenly run and be gone from our grasp. Instead, his ears just flickered and he continued walking and feeding across the slope below us. I whispered the point of impact of the first arrow to Fred while he knocked another shaft. Again, he made a mental calculation, using the added information from the first arrow’s impact, and once again drew, anchored briefly, and released an arrow in as smooth a motion as I have seen any archer do.

This second arrow flew in an almost identical path to the first, directly in line with the ram’s vital area and slowly arched toward the ram. Then there was the unmistakable sound of animal hair being cut by a broadhead. The ram’s ears again flickered, he lifted his head and hesitantly took a couple unsure steps forward. The second arrow was visible sticking in the tundra where the ram had just been. The ram moved again a few unsure steps and then stopped. Then, he collapsed and rolled a few feet into the creek below. Fred and I shared a few moments of silence as we convinced ourselves he was done and then we looked at each other and smiled. A good hunt was basically over and Fred had met the incredible challenge of taking a Dall sheep with a longbow. The pack out was difficult and a little dangerous; the weather kept as waiting at the airstrip an extra three days while we ate some of the most delicious sheep I’ve ever had; and the ram was not of outstanding size or shape. However, Fred was successful in meeting the challenge and took home a great trophy and even greater memories. And I got to see it all.

Thanks, Fred. ~

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