Women Hunting Dall Sheep in the Brooks Range, Alaska
|Firearms - Rifles/Guns|
For the past 3 years my friends and I have been hunting sheep in the Brooks Range in Northern Alaska. Experiencing these remote wilderness trips has changed my perspective of life. When I am in the midst of these lovely wild mountains and long flowing rivers, I realize that I am quite small yet magically blessed with being a part of the natural order.
The natural order demands that death is necessary to sustain life. Some plant or animal must die for me to eat and live. Hunting is the process of stalking, killing, and surviving and this requires an acute awareness and presence. When I am hunting I feel most alive. I feel what it means to be a human, raw and exposed, without the cushion of society.
I enjoy both the planning process and the product of our hunts. I plan the gear and my friend, Kimberley, plans the food. Marianne and Kay have the same system. Everyone is responsible for providing 3 days of food for the group. The food theme for 2009 was Thai and for 2010 pasta. We always carry wine. We avoid duplicating gear. We only need one spotting scope, one stove. The weight limit for us and gear is 1200 lbs and we take 1199!
After a few hours we pull off on a sandbar and make a comfortable camp with a fire and tasty food. Our party consists of two hunters and two hikers. The days are active but at night we share conversation while sipping wine by the fire. We stay in one area for several days and see sheep, caribou, and wolverine then move on to another site for a few more days. Every day we see rams by the river.
The River is high and fast. Marianne and Kay have a hard time stopping their kayak when they see a trophy ram hanging out with ewes on a rock cliff close to the river. In the end they manage and Marianne shoots him from 350 yards. We continue down and find a camp in an area with ram potential.I hike up a creek bed at 5 am while the others stay back to work on the cape. I love those early morning solo hikes where each bend reveals some new discovery. I pass plenty of sheep and a few rams along the way. Five large rams come into view several miles up the creek bed. At times I walk along the creek but often cliffs force me to back track, searching for a path where I may climb up the mountain side. The rain and even a thunderstorm come and pass. After several miles, I pull out my scope. The stalking begins. I must get closer to those rams. I use the creek bed for cover and hike beyond them. I cross the creek and find a ravine to climb. I am now above them. They did not see me and the wind is in my favor. It is 2 pm. I leave my pack at the top of the ravine at the base of a rock wall. I slowly lower myself down a steep rock hill with my back against the rocks. It is too steep to safely crawl head first on my stomach. Periodically I lift my head just high enough to see one noble ram lying in on his perch and watching the world below him. I am not sure if the other rams are grazing and I assume they are below this ram. As I watch and approach, a thought penetrates my focus, “This stalk is so thrilling, I’m satisfied with the experience even if the ram runs and lives. He is so beautiful.” I am 30 yards away. He lifts his head, scents me and jumps to his feet. I stay still, hardly breathing. Three rams are 45 yards from me. I look at them and they at me for 45 seconds. They are legal game, but they are facing me and I can’t see the full curl. The double-broomed one locks his eyes with mine. I slowly sit up, raise my gun and shoot. One ram runs. The other stands next to his dead buddy. He looks into my eyes with dismay and sadness and I look into his eyes with remorse and great respect. After 7-10 minutes, he trots and then gallops away. I stand, look down at the valley, out across the mountains and take a deep breath and thank God and the world for my life and the sheep’s life. I field dress the ram, put him on my back and slowly descend. My pack is too heavy. I leave much of the meat and head on through some brush above a small creek . After leaving my scent to deter the bears I hike back to arrive at camp at 11 pm. Marianne and I hike back the following day. Together we pack the sheep out.
All animals experience life for a brief time. We both kill to survive; I kill the sheep and the sheep kills part of the vegetation. Eventually we all become food for someone. Before that last breath, we strive to experience life. We try to understand. We connect with others and find a way to contribute something.
I wonder what drives these noble sheep. Perhaps for the sheep it is enough to be here, graze, chew, and take in these incredible views. I learn from them.
Dr. Julia Heinz
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