Magnum sized power in a non-magnum cartridge, without the heavy recoil. This sweet little round sits in the middle between 6.5 Creedmoor (6.8W being 22% heavier) and the 300 Winchester Magnum. This caliber was engineered for precision accuracy, flat trajectories, and hard long range knock down power for big North American Animals. The 6.5 Creedmoor loses energy down range, with some draw backs for lethality for bigger game at longer ranges like moose, elk, and brown bear. This is similar to a 270 bullet – but the new bullet weight and construction in the 6.8 Western is the 277caliber updated with 165-170GR offerings for better ballistic coefficient. Long Range energy like a magnum, but less recoil. Magnum energy, magnum weight bullet in a short action platform. Less Recoil with all the perks of a heavier hitter.
All I can say is, I can’t wait to chase spring bears and fall adventure with the new 6.8 Western on my back.
Buck Fever Theory has taken hold of my hunting interest. What makes a hunter shake uncontrollably, his heart explode through his chest, his head clear on purpose but lost in the fog. Moments when you are absolutely certain the target animal can hear your heart and feel your thoughts. How do you control this powerful feeling? I’m not exactly sure but that’s what I want to explore. For me this isn’t about shot process or beating target panic. This is about conquering my instinctual response to an intense situation. Specifically I’m examining my fight or flight response.
I listened to great audio book a friend recommended to me called “The Rise of Superman.” This book took aim at individuals who experience FLOW, a state in which you control the flow of adrenalin in near perfect decision making. The author spoke mostly on extreme athletes who completed stunts or feats such as free solo climbing, Olympic athletes performing runs with tricks that have exponentially grown in difficult over the past two decades, and jazz musicians performing music accustitcally in sync without knowing each other’s notes. The extreme athlete performing in near life or death performances, the do or die mentality. All of these extraordinary capabilities fascinate me, and I couldn’t help but apply them to my life. I’ve experienced a few life or death situations being born, raised, and living in the last frontier. In moments of dire circumstances, there was no buck fever, there was no hesitation, there was only do or die. Facing down charge bears, giant bull moose coming to call in deep rut, and climbing faces for sheep and goats that humans do not belong.
Growing up playing contact sports, my exposure to Adrenalin occurred daily. My flow of Adrenalin doesn’t exist from day to day as I grow older as I’m not impervious to pain as I thought I once was. Every decision I make is to minimize the impacts that ache the injury’s from a past athletic life. I throw myself into hunting and can’t help but feel like I’m applying all of the athletics and fullness I train for to the activity that makes me truly happy. Hunting makes me feel young. Buck fever is ever present in my life here in Alaska. But nothing rocks my world like a wild whitetail entering and leaving my life like dust in the wind. Whitetails from a tree stand with a compound or a rifle, I can keep her together until after the shot. But for some reason with a stick bow in my hand, my Adrenalin spikes beyond control and controlled breathing and focus on anything but making a good shot go right out the window.
I don’t know what it is that separates the weapon choice and the way the Wiley Whitetails effect on me. This year I decided I needed to hunt them in the ground. Every aspect of the hunt and out smarting these animals is critical. There is no other choice but to be damn near perfect to get under 20 on the ground with one of the most instinctually sharp animals on earth. I wanted to test my theory of Adrenalin flow that I experience with animals here in Alaska. I would try and flip my fight response versus my flight response to an animal encounter on the ground. If I could convince myself, it’s me or him much like the bears and moose I encounter in close quarters… then maybe just maybe I could get to full draw, pic a spot, and let that buck have it. I need the Adrenalin flow pegged out, the thought of life or death and the need for perfect decision making.
Now it’s hard to say that Whitetails will give you that “life or death” situation as they are extremely afraid of hunters, even if they are enraged with the rut. They generally snap to consciousness once they get a sniff of human odor. They still most likely will approach down wind to confirm their suspicion of human tampering. You can fool a few of there senses, but not their nose even if you do practice a scent free approach. I will say this, I had several encounters on the ground and my nerves were calmer than ever. Put me in a tree stand with a stick bow and my nerves fall apart. Eventually I will get the monkey off my back by taking a whitetail with traditional archery equipment. One thing is for certain, I feel more comfortable eye to eye with these beautiful beast than 20ft up watching them pick apart the scene like a forensic scientist. More on this theory as I analyze buck fever through traditional archery whitetail hunting. It will happen someday, just not this 2020. I can’t thanks Todd of Mission Kansas enough for all the time effort and energy he spent showing us the ropes in Kansas, I’m certain I’ll be back to Kansas.
“Story and pictures by Drew Kress about his adventure into hunting Alaska. Many view Alaska as a hunters paradise with abundant game and fish in the mountains and rivers. There’s some critters running around, but not around every drainage. Hunting the last frontier is tougher than buying a tag, booking a ticket, and jumping in a bush plane. Just like with any endeavour, there is a learning curve and Alaska’s is near vertical.” – Austin
No question that in some shape or form, the things we love to do were spawned from some type of inspiration. Some may argue that is engraved into our DNA, but I will argue the opposite. No matter what it may be, someone or something has given us a vision in our heads of what we want to set out to accomplish. Education, career, relationships or whatever it may be. I am here to talk about hunting. For most of us our fathers pointed us in the right direction to experience hunting and spark our ever-growing love for the outdoors. For others it could have come from friends, books or something we just can’t explain. Whatever it may be there was some type of learning curved involved. Some may climb the mountain of growth quick, but for some it may take years to figure out how to create personal growth and how to go about gaining the knowledge. Over the years, I have come to learn that the growth you accumulate all depends on how willing you are to put yourself out there and how you perceive the activity as a whole. This is my story of the learning curve.
The way I see it there are two types of “hunting” in north America. There’s “Western hunting” which involves a lot of walking, glassing and hiking to find your game. Practically east of the continental divide you have your whitetail and turkey hunting that involves a lot of sitting and waiting. Rather than covering lots of miles, terrain and spending time behind binoculars, you scout small and hidden chunks of land looking for game trials, deer sign, choke points, food and possibly water. The way you define “success” in this style of hunting comes in many ways. When I was growing up, harvesting any deer was an accomplishment to me. I went about it with either a gun or a bow and thoroughly enjoyed both. At a young age I immediately found it fascinating to go out into the woods, kill a deer and eat it. With that satisfaction erupting in me, I even took it upon myself to learn how to trap and hunt small game as well. To be able to do it at a young age sort of sparked a path that I continue to walk on to this day. That is to be able to go out, be self-sustaining and not have to buy meat at a grocery store. I ended up doing this from the time I was about twelve years old to when I left for the Army. What I enjoyed most was that every year I was getting better at it. I learned from my mistakes and applied it to the next time I hunted, or the next season. In my head I was set out to be a whitetail killer. When I turned eighteen, I had made the decision to join the Army to be an Airborne Infantrymen. Little did I know that this would pave a totally new path for me as a hunter and an outdoorsman. My first six months of the Army involved a lot of carrying around heavy packs, retraining your brain to ignore body pain and sleeping on ground in the woods. There was certainly a lot more involved, but I mention only those because it has trained me to become a better hunter. After I completed Airborne school, I was given papers that informed me I was being sent to Fort Richardson, Alaska to be a part of the Airborne Infantry brigade located in Anchorage. “I am the luckiest dude in the world” I said to myself, but little did I know the frustration and challenges I was about to undergo. My first year in Alaska was 2015. It was more than safe to say I had no idea what I was doing, and I didn’t even know where to start. Coming from my whitetail and tree stand hunting background, I was totally lacking the knowledge on what to do. The next two years I went on an embarrassing tangent of trying to hunt Alaska’s big game in the way I would hunt whitetail deer in Wisconsin. Apart of that reason was time off issues and also not having a clue of what to do. Looking back now I find my efforts hysterical. As you can guess no success came of those two years, and I honestly didn’t know any better. Insanity is in a way defined as doing the same thing over and over but expecting different results. It was safe to say I was going insane. It wasn’t until two years later when I had gone on a moose hunt South-east of Fairbanks that I had realized that it’s time to start going about things differently. “How do I go about things differently?” I asked myself over and over. The amount of failure I was experiencing was exhausting. I had tried to find mentors to show me the path to success in the field, but I was never able to find the help that I needed.
In 2017 my Brigade had received orders to deploy to Afghanistan to participate in the fight for Operation Freedom Sentential. We were set to leave in early September and return the end of May the following year. “Another year without meat and another year I wouldn’t nourish my souls in the wild lands” I thought to myself. Though I was excited to do great things, I was let down that another year of my passion is going to be put on hold. Throughout my time in Afghanistan I took it upon myself to reeducate my ways of hunting in Alaska. I wanted more than anything to close the gap and be able to become a knowledgeable hunter who understands the game he’s hunting, knows where to go and has the traits to make the experience in the back country enjoyable. So, I decided to order books, watch videos and listen to a lot of podcasts on DIY hunting in the west. By the time my deployment was over I had read over two dozen books, watched a crazy number of hours of Alaska hunting videos and likewise with hunting podcasts. I overall tried to retrain the way I thought about hunting. My old mindset was more focused on killing and getting meat rather than actually enjoying the activity of hunting and apricating its attributes that establish gratitude in you. I was fully invested and ready to tighten my bootstraps, hunt hard and enjoy Alaska’s back country. The months overseas went by and I finally got off the plane from the trip back across the world. I was hit in the face with fresh air and the smell of what seemed like freshly browsed willows. I wanted to cry I was so happy. It was mid-May and my plans were to make a spring bear trip happen. I had saved up a bunch of money and had time off to make it happen this time. A family friend in Glenn Allen had invited me out to put out some bear baits in the area. I spent the next two weeks with him learning how to go about bear baiting. I learned as much as I could from him by asking questions and taking a detailed note of everything he did. After a week and some change, we had bears coming into the bait consistently. After one sit in the stand we had a black bear come in. After all these years of trying, I had harvested my first big game animal in Alaska. I was excited for many reasons. My first black bear, getting meat in the freezer and finally over coming my years of nothing. After recovering the bear, my friend who was a lifelong Alaskan showed me his way of skinning the bear and how to break down an animal to haul it out on your back. This knowledge I gained from my buddy gave me more excitement than the pull of the trigger.
After finally accomplishing a successful big game harvest in Alaska, I wanted so much more. I had felt like I got the smallest crumb of the best and tastiest pie in the world. As the summer went by, I continued to train for my planned hunts this fall. I would go hike, shoot my rifle consistently, practice glassing, research my hunt areas and just about anything productive that came to mind. I know I wanted to be successful, but I also wanted to continue to change my definition and perspective on success. With everything moving along properly, I was growing more and more excited that fall was coming.
The August of 2018 had finally arrived. The pictures I painted in my head the last few years were finally presenting themselves and they were beautiful. As I usually do, I got lucky in Alaska’s lottery drawing and got a tag for a Caribou hunt and an any Bull Moose tag. With these two trips and another planned on Kodiak, I was ready to embrace everything that these adventures had been holding for me. Overall, my outlook was to peak and plateau on my learning curve of Alaska hunting that I had been walking on for a few years. If I could go out with a good attitude, be persistent and be ready to learn at every turn of the corner I knew I would be satisfied with myself.
The planned trips came quickly, and next thing I knew a buddy and I were hiking into the Alaska back country for my first Caribou hunt. This was my first backpack style hunt and thankfully I had somewhat quality gear to sustain myself. Due to a bad winter die off, the hunt was restricted to bull caribou only. The first day we walked along a creek till dark and set up our camp. The next few days we hiked, got soaking wet, covered lots of country but we were unable to turn up a bull. We floated down the river in our pack rafts back to the truck and reflected on our trip. I found myself complaining quite a bit and moaning about the lack of time we had for the hunt, the bull only rule and my gear that had failed me and my expectations. My hunting partner discussed the fun he had and positives he experienced on the trip. I ended up feeling very guilty later for adding negativity to our hunting trip. This ended up being the first time I really took a deep look at myself in the mirror and my attitude towards hunting adventures. It was the slap in the face that I needed.
When I got back from that trip, I truly realized that I needed to change my wilderness attitude. A few months went by, and in October my four and a half years in the Army had come to an end. My biggest intention was to leave the military and find a job that would allow me to spend an ample amount of time hunting throughout the year. To celebrate my life change, I invited my father and two brothers up for a hunting and fishing extravaganza on the Kodiak Archipelago. We were going to target mountain goat and Sitka black tail deer. Being the only one with experience hunting in Alaska I was the “leader” of our group. Setting the example and making the decisions on an adventure reminded me of how to lead troops in the Army. It’s important to have a good attitude, to look after each other and help out in any way possible. I ended up helping out a lot by carrying some of my father’s gear and also being the brush busting man and blazing a trail up the mountain to the goats. Through the hike up we hit plenty of physical and mental obstacles. Physical fatigue, your mind telling you to turn around and go back down, not finding goats where you expected and all the other small hiccups that add doubt to your mind. There were some moments I was the only reason they stayed on the mountain to continue the trip.
A few hours before dark we set up spike camp on the alpine and racked out. It was a very cold night in early November and the shivering cold added a lot of fatigue to all of us. Right before day light, I crawled out of my frozen sleeping bag, put on my frozen boots and hiked around with my little brother to find the Goats. It didn’t take long and I found the group hanging out on the mountain side a quarter mile from camp. I woke up my dad and brother, then we hiked up toward the goats, snuck into rifle range and each harvested a goat. After a long and very heavy pack down I had felt that I had made a significant improvement to my self motivation and persistence on a hunting trip. Maybe it was because I required myself to be the example, or maybe some things just finally clicked. Even though I got my first Billy Goat, I was more excited about how the trip had went as a whole and how I had bettered myself as a hunter and a person.
Since my trip on Kodiak, I have developed a new perspective on how I measure success as an Outdoorsman. I used to spend so much time trying to skip the middle pieces of hunting in Alaska, but when I walked the whole path required, I found the feelings I had been missing. I sometimes blame my old perspective on the culture of hunting where I grew up, rather than measuring the hunt based on your enjoyment and the knowledge you gained, it was measured on the size of antler and how quickly you could be done hunting. Before the self-realization on hunting perspective, I never felt or found fulfillment out in nature. Rather than going out just to kill, I have now learned to focus more on going out into nature to truly enjoy myself, relax, gain knowledge and hone my idea on the activity of hunting. Since I’ve been going about it this way, I have learned more about hunting in the last year than I’ve learned my whole life. My process of figuring out how to hunt in Alaska was really just based off of my own perspective of success. I no longer go out there with only the intention to kill. I’m out there for the pure challenge, the connection to the land, finding peace in its roots, feeling the greatness of success and even the crippling despair. They’re the highest level of emotions I feel in life and it drives me to do well in everything I can. My friendships, relationships, school, work and everything else I do feel totally different to me and in a great way. It’s safe to say that a change in your perspective can make your life better in a lot of ways. It’s a learning curve that you just can’t quit.
The leaves are growing in Alaska much like the moose and their antlers. Spring turns to summer and fall quickly approaches, the smell of deciduous trees and yellow leaves will soon follow…MOOSE Season(will soon be here). Here are 8 tips and tactics to help bring home that monster Alaska Bull moose you’ve always dreamed of.
1) Physical and Mental Fitness This is the most underrated portion of any hunt in Alaska. The physical aspect of lugging around 90 -120 pounds of dead weight in the backcountry is incredibly tough. Not only do you have to be physically strong, but mentally fit as well. The weather, the bugs, and the terrain will push anyone to their breaking point. This is where the mental toughness/fitness kicks in, just cause you have the strength doesn’t mean you’ll have the mental tenacity to deal with the elements. Digging deep is an individual decision to persevere, and overcome. That being said, a moose hunt will test your physical and mental fitness before you pull the trigger. Here is a 6 week strength and training program provided by Nate Svedin(Physical Strength and Mental Toughness Guro) that focuses on core weight lifting to get you strong for the hunt of a lifetime. As Nate says, “Be Savage. Stay Savage.”
2) First 10 Last 10 Rule: A wise old moose hunter once told me that if you’re not prepared to stay overnight with your moose in the field, your not prepared to kill a moose. Ok, this grizzled old dude was hardcore by most standards hunting with an osage orange stickbow, so you have to imagine this guy was tuff – that’s right – t-u-f-f – heavy on the F. I have shot moose at all times of the day, but most of them have occurred in the first 10 minutes and the last 10 minutes of the day. This is critical, you have to find yourself in that juicey little swamp at dark in both the morning and the evening. Back strap over an open fire will prepare you for a cozy evening under a blue tarp. Having the right gear in your pockets at all times helps. Talk about building mental toughness!
3) Gear – What to have in your pockets at all times. The moose love the peanut butter. No, not the food but more so a description of where they live. The alder and willow choked banks on Alaska’s rivers and swamps are thicker than a bowl of oatmeal. The moose can hide in plain site right off the edge of the river and you won’t see them. Carrying a back pack through the alder jungle gym can be a pain. So, I like to leave the pack frame in the boat and go light bringing just the essentials. Chest Waiters – Rain Jacket – Rifle (12 rounds of ammo some for the moose others for bear protection and some extra just to be safe) – binoculars – bic lighter (fire starters) – sharp knife – knife sharpener – head lamp – 100ft of 550 paracord – and three tree climbing screws to get you in a tree above the swamps.
4) Knowing how to Judge moose Spend time on Alaska Department of Fish and Games Website. They have so much information on moose hunting it will make your head spin. Point is, many people come back from the hunt of a lifetime with a similar story. “We had a big bull come into camp, but I couldn’t tell if he was 50 inches wide or not.” The more moose you look at, the easier snap judging one in the field will be. Follow the hashtag #moosehunting to get an idea of what big bulls look like. Check out these links for more information.
5) Pack Raft and Water Sources Throw a small raft in your kit such as an Alpacka Pack Raft. Having a light weight raft will extend the viable range of the dreaded pack out. I’ve used rafts to cut a 2 mile pack out into a half mile pack out, using water sources such as beaver dams and slow moving creeks. Save your back and use water to your advantage.
6) Rifle and Ammunition Selection 300 Calibers are a preferred using nothing less than a 180GR solid bullet. I have been using a 300WSM XPR with 190r Expedition Big Game Long Range the last few season with great success. You can get a way with less gun and less bullet, but in all reality there won’t be much meat loss from larger caliber rifles on an Alaskan Yukon Moose. Knock down power and reliable expansion is what you need, tracking moose through swamps and thick cover can be about as hard as tracking a hog in a brush row. Shoot till you watch the moose go down. I’ve seen moose eat up a 200 grain bullet, fall down, and pop up minutes later headed for the Canadian border.
7) Technology and Research Knowing where you are is critical, with modern topographic and satellite technology getting lost in Alaska is becoming more difficult. OnxMaps offline feature allows you to save maps to prevent using all your cell phone battery. Know where you’re at, increase your odds. Real hot tip…. Check out Alaska’s Moose Management Reports and see what harvest objectives are for the area you are hunting, this will give you a good idea of moose abundance in the area your hunting.
8) Calling Techniques I’m a big believer in not trying to be as quite as you can. Moose have satellite dishes that carry sound into their giant ears. When they hear silence and creeping, they think predator. Walk hard and act like a bull moose, I act like a teenager moose that just started lifting weights. Threatening enough, but small enough for a bigger bull to want to lay down the law and show him who’s boss. Scraping – raking. The entire season scraping works and it’s a technique that doesn’t involve moaning like you have kidney stones and a hernia. Save your self some money on the fancy calls and make a birch bark call in the field, or use an old milk jug with the bottom cut out. When the moose are ready to come in, trust me they come.
The only way to bag a bullwinkle is to find yourself with a tag in your pocket, plenty of OTC opportunity for a wild man adventure in Alaska’s back country. Good luck and hunt hard.
As we closed in on the beach all I could see was boiling brown. It looked like there we deer everywhere on the beach. The first thing I remember about hunting was Dad telling me “keep the barrel in a safe direction and follow me”…. Couldn’t believe he trusted me with a rifle at 8 years old and to hold it on my own. Respect was given at an early age. He looked me in the face and told me, “shoot the biggest one you see.” I nodded, put the cross hairs on the buck and let that 6mm get vocal.
That moment changed my life forever, at first I was a fishermen, then immediately became a hunter, its only now that I’ve realized what being a true sportsman is. 20 years later I find myself sitting on a plane en-route to Kodiak, a famous Sitka blacktail deer location known for it’s big bears and buff beach dwelling bucks. Jumping on the bush plane at the seaside docks I knew I was in for a treat. Late season hunting can produce some of the best bucks on Kodiak aka “The Rock”. Winter weather and colder temps bring on the rut, snow fall covers herbaceous alpine food and forces the deer into lower country concentrating them to elevations more suitable for day trips from base camp.
This year I decided to target the later portion of the season post rut/end of the rut/secondary rut. Big bucks tend to be lower right at the snow line eating as much food as possible and keeping an eye and their nose towards any of the last receptive does (mainly young deer and fawns) that may come into estrus. With a shorter light cycle, deer will move all day long. Getting light around 9:30am and complete darkness around 4pm presents logistical challenges of harvesting and getting your deer back to base camp. Later season also provides a better chance at not losing your buck overnight to a hungry bear as some of the bruins have called it quits for the winter and head into hibernation. Although last year, my wife and I saw quite of a few big bears at our kill sights around Thanksgiving day.
This year I only spotted one bear from the air, he was feeding on a nearby salmon stream and had no concern for the Dehavilland Beaver we were flying in. Never spotted that big boy on the ground but we knew he was there. I tagged two bucks within the first two hours of the hunt and then spent most of the next day glassing from base camp, slicing and dicing my bucks, and looking for a nice mature deer to “tag out” on. On the third day, I was up and out of the tent well into dark, not that tough to get out of the tent at 800am though. Basically sleeping in and waking up to blacktail cruising the hill side all around the tent. I noticed a rather large “big fork” with in striking distance of camp. He appeared to be the biggest bodied most mature deer within glassing distance of camp. There were a few other smaller forkies and a couple of branched bucks, but none of them looked as big as this bad boy. I figured I’ll let the other ones grow and come back next year for a 4×4 jumbo buck of my dreams.
The chase was on, getting the wind right was my first priority, second only to moving slowly and appearing “non-threatening”. You have to remember these deer seldom see people and the only major predator they look for is monster volkswagon size bears that can’t move as quickly as themselves. I’ve found moving slowly, very slowly, you can almost walk directly up to deer within that 150-250 yard rifle shooting range. Well that game plan didn’t work so well on this mature buck, guess he knew better than to sit there and watch a Kuiu clad hunter walk right up to him and poke him with a bullet. He was with a doe but still looking for danger, go figure. The new game plan would be to circle up mid mountain above tree-line and descend on the unknowing buck. An hour later I spotted him sneaking into an alder patch. The rolling mountainous terrain allowed me to close the distance in a hurry, trotting down mountain to the last place I saw him before he slipped into the small alder patch.
I laid my pack down and looked for movement. Like a ghost I caught him slipping through the brush. He stopped in an opening and stared straight at me. I ranged the brush line at 250 yards and knew my 270 Win topped with a 3×9 Vortex scope could make the shot without having to do any fancy bullet drop compensation formulas. I squeezed off the trigger and thuuuuwaaap, he dropped in his tracks. I was more than pumped to say the least shaking and experience buck fever after the shot. Didn’t understand what happened to me with this deer versus the first two I shot. Was it the body size? Was it the big fork? Was it the thrill of the chase? When I dropped down into the alder infested bottom and laid my hands on the buck I knew immediately why….. all of the above.
Slicing the buck up and putting him on my back I had a mile or two trek back to camp, giving me ample time to reflect on the adventure, exploring new country, and making memories that will last me another 20 years or so. I thought back to all the hunts I’ve been apart of on the Alaska’s biggest Island. I remembered my first buck with my dad, my wife’s first buck, and all the beautiful deer I was fortunate enough to harvest on the trip. This place is overwhelming, and I know with all my heart I’ll be back sooner than later. Who knows, maybe next year I’ll track down that buck of lifetime. One thing is for sure, the adventure never ends.
Hunters List: 3-9 Vortex Rifle Scope, 10×42 Razor Bino Alaska Guide Creation Bino Harness 270 Win Kuiu Camo and 7200 icon Pro Pack Caribou Game Backs Hilleburg Tent – Namjat Work Sharp Sharpener Skeleton Optic Sunglass
“Oh no!” I tell my wife as I spot two hunters who appeared to be pursuing the same caribou bulls we were stalking. I think and hope to myself that they’re chasing the group of sub-legal sheep that were feeding above the caribou. We continue our stalk and run into the other hunters on the leigh side of the ridge that led down to the sheep and caribou. We asked the couple what they are hunting and they replied “We’re chasing sheep!” in a defeated tone as we all watch the group of rams crest over the next ridge. They continued marching onward towards the rams and bid us good luck. An unsaid understanding as fellow weekend warriors to another, we’re all looking to notch our tags and fill our freezers.
I look at my wife and say, “well, we’re back on the stalk!” We closed the distance on the two bulls we spotted from the opposite side of the mountain. We slipped and dipped into the direction we last saw the bulls bedded. We scooted down the mountain on our booties until we could only see the bulls’ branched antlers sticking out of the low laying willow brush. The two bulls were both unaware of us and happily sleeping. Jordan decided to wait for the larger of the bulls to stand up before she took her 150 yard shot downhill. Minutes turned to hours as we waited patiently for a standing broad side shot. The mid morning mountain thermals shifted and both the bulls stood up. Jordan made a perfectly placed shot through the vitals and down went her first caribou. We hugged. We smiled. We admired the beautiful bull caribou laying just down the mountain from us.
The party had really just begun as our camp was up-mountain 5 miles and we had a long pack out ahead of us. They say all the fun stops and the work begins when you pull the trigger, and I partially agree yet I’ve learned to love and savor the “suck factor”. The heavy load is a right of passage and an honor. It’s part of the experience. I smiled and told my wife “It’s not your’s unless you pack it out.” She ponied up making two trips to the kill site packing meat. The first trip she took a shoulder, the last trip she packed out the skull and cape. She earned the soreness and blisters that came with the bounty of meat and bone. If it was as easy as shooting the animal and driving a four wheeler up to the kill site, then everyone would do it.
ATV access across Alaska has grown exponentially since the 1980s. Although many hunters luck out each year and shoot game just off ATV trails, I have found there is greater opportunity for hunting success off the beaten path. For this hunt, we relied on the quads God gave us to haul the caribou back to the ATV accessible area and made one heck of a memory in doing so.
Jordan’s father, Vince was also with us on the hunt, he hung back during the stalk and watched things unfold from the ridge above. He then joined us to help field dress and pack out the bou. After we got home from the hunt, the three of us enjoyed reminiscing on all the details from the adventure. One of the things we laughed about was our night of siwashing – an old military term for sleeping out in the elements while not being fully prepared. In other words we packed light to cover some ground to find animals but found ourselves a little too far away from base camp to return for the night. We all slept huddled up together under a tarp held up by our trekking poles. When we weren’t shivering, we were busy doing jumping jacks and push ups to keep warm.
Vince brought up the point that the hunters we encountered on the stalk weren’t visible from our initial vantage point. Vince thought it was cool that Jordy and I didn’t interrupt the other groups stalk on the sheep and/or the caribou. We had waited patiently until they came back up the ridge to the packs they left behind. I told him, “that’s the only way to be an ethical sportsman.” You must wait your turn.
Road system hunting has became increasingly competitive in the state of Alaska, it seems like the majority of the “legal” animals has someone chasing after them. From long range shooting, to bigger badder boats and ATVS, to the most spruced up airplanes, it seems Alaska hunting has been taken to a whole new level. Guided hunts versus unguided resident hunts, territorial disputes, land access issues, regulation changes etc. The information that can be found on the internet and hunting articles bread a whole new hunter, a hunter with a radio GPS, someone with satellite texting and calling capabilities, who has no fear of being too deep in the wilderness. As Alaska’s population of hunters grows and technology changes, its always important to remember the basics of competitive hunting and being a sportsman.
No matter how you do it, make it safe and ethical, and feel great for all of those involved and those who may become involved on the hunt. Make and share memories that will last a lifetime, make someone else feel good they made the decision to get off their couch and get into the field. I know that my wife will cherish her first caribou that’s in our freezer and on our wall. I know my father felt happy to see his daughter and son carry the flame of the next generation of sportsman. I feel remarkably happy for my family and the opportunities we still have to chase wild animals in the state we call home.
Dall Sheep photography in Alaska can require as much effort as it takes to harvest a full curl Ram during the Sheep Season or be as pleasant as driving down the road and finding them close enough to shoot from the comfort of your vehicle with a smaller telephoto zoom lens.
While not for everyone, the Dall Sheep is an important animal to add to any Alaska photographers portfolio and if you’re a true sheep nut at heart, it’s also a good way to keep track of population trends and horn growth if you spend enough time in a certain area.
If you’re already a mountain hunter, you’ve probably already collected most of the outdoor gear necessary to hit the mountains and start looking for sheep, minus a camera and/or lenses. If you aren’t, you’ll want quality gear and clothing to help keep you warm and safe on a outing in the mountains.
Dressing in appropriate layers for warmth and and quality raingear is a necessity in the mountains, along with trekking poles and quality hiking boots designed for alpine walking. Dress for the season and dress in layers. You can shed or put back on multiple lighter layers and control your body temperature better than wearing only one bulky set of insulated pants and jacket. The more active you are, the more layers you can shed and when you stop to photograph for longer periods you can put those extra layers back on to stay warm.
A good set of binoculars ranging from 8×32 up through 10×42 are more than sufficient to help with spotting Sheep from a distance and analyzing their behavior.
Sheep are like any other wild animal and are constantly aware of their surroundings and anything not natural to the terrain. At the same time each Sheep is an individual animal and certain animals tolerate a photographer getting into position for a shot more than others. It’s all in how you approach to get within range of the lens you’re using. I would recommend learning Dall Sheep behavior from a biological and conservationist standpoint before trying to spend a lot of time climbing and trying to get within photo range of sheep. Learning animal behavior before heading into the field will help prepare you to get the photo you’re looking for. Many resources are available with some internet searching from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, US Fish & Wildlife Service and reading up on what professional photographers have published and made available in books or online.
Approach to mountain animals such as sheep requires time, patience and being physically capable of climbing to where the animals will be. It’s no small feat and the trip to and from your location to shoot may require most of your day just to get there and back leaving as little as a few hours to collect images.
Any camera is capable of collecting an image nowadays, even the camera in your smart phone but much of the basic camera gear available might require you to get too close to the animals and just pushing them out of the country totally. You’ll be left sitting watching sheep running for the next mountain over and just spending the rest of the day hiking down a mountain with nothing to show for all your effort and climbing.
Getting serious about photographing mountain animals such as sheep or goats or any animal that lives above treeline often requires more specialized camera gear. Quality camera gear is often expensive but, you can often find big telephoto lenses used and substantially cheaper than their newer counterparts.
I shoot on a Canon camera and lenses but it comes down to personal preference and ease of use for the individual. Many people get wrapped around the axles on high end photography gear for wildlife photography and having the latest and greatest gear (sound familiar with you sheep hunting nuts out there?). For example, with some time spent on a internet search or occasionally checking the local camera shop, you might find a used 100-400mm zoom lens and a quality DSLR body for under $2,000.00. That along with a small tripod for stability, a high speed SD memory card and a few extra batteries and you’ve got a reasonably good walk-about wildlife photography kit that will cover most of what you’ll want to shoot and allow you to stay reasonably safe distances from the wildlife you’re trying to photograph.
More advanced gear may consist of a kit comprised of a 500mm or 600mm supertelephoto prime lens, large carbon fiber tripod and extended battery grip to allow for longer sessions before changing batteries. The larger lenses are heavy, and photo gear can quickly weigh as much as what you might take for a week long expedition hike in the mountains.
If you already have a handle on basic digital photography, understanding of exposure, aperture and light, I could suggest some camera gear based on experiences in the field. I won’t dive into specifics on each brand for now, but Nikon and Canon are two of the more well known manufacturers.
Keep in mind that each company produces entry level lenses and higher end lenses that are specific to entry level camera bodies,mid-range and pro-grade camera bodies. Do your research before you buy and ensure that the lens you’re getting is compatible with the camera body you’re buying it for.
This list isn’t exclusive and some lenses have been left out. Some popular wildlife lenses for collecting longer range images are;
Canon 70-200mm f4 zoom
Canon 70-300mm f4-f5.6 zoom
Canon 100-400mm f4.5-f5.6 zoom
Canon 400mm f4 prime
Canon 400mm f5.6 prime
Canon 500mm f4 prime
Canon 600mm f4 prime
Nikon 70-200mm f4 zoom
Nikon 70-300mm f4.5-f5.6 zoom
Nikon 80-400mm f4.5-f5.6 zoom
Nikon 200-500mm f5.6 zoom
Nikon 400mm f2.8 prime
Nikon 500mm f5.6 prime
Nikon 600mm f4 prime
Sigma 150-600mm f5-f6.3 zoom (produced by Sigma for both Canon and Nikon)
Tamron 150-600mm f5-f6.3 zoom (produced by Tamron for both Canon and Nikon)
With the zoom lenses you’ll be able to have a greater range and style of images to collect versus a large heavy prime lens glass. The prime lenses are big, cumbersome and not something most people are going to want to carry for several miles of hiking, especially in uneven and up and down terrain you’ll find hiking along steep slopes and hillsides on the mountains. Add a tripod large enough to support a ten pound prime lens and DSLR body and it becomes very cumbersome very quickly. A zoom lens will allow for a lot of versatility and allow for portrait style shots as well as collecting a landscape style environmental shot with an animal. With the large prime lenses you’re relegated to having to walking closer to, or further away, from your subject to frame the image properly for the shot. Just a few things to think about when you are deciding on if which wildlife lense you’re going to buy. Some people will prefer versatility of the zoom lens while others might be more confortable with the prime lenses and shooting from a tripod further away from the subject they are photographing.
Tripods- Tripods will help you get a more stable shot with no operator introduced camera shake. The modern zoom lenses have amazing image stabilization built in but you wont be able to hold the camera and lens as steady as if you would be shooting from a tripod to support your kit. I would recommend a carbon fiber tripod with a rating to hold the weight of your camera body and lens kit. The last thing you’ll want is a tripod too light for the kit you’re using and not being stable enough to prevent minor vibrations that might affect your image quality. Some quality tripods are produced by Gitzo, Manfrotto, Pro Media Gear, Sirui and Really Right Stuff. Whatever tripod you buy, I would recommend one that allows you to fold the legs out flat so you can allow yourself to lay down prone on the ground and photography from a low position of you need to. Mountain terrain is uneven and you might set up a tripod for taking a photo from a standing, kneeling or laying down position.
Tripod Heads- There are many heads available for mounting the camera or lens to your tripod. Some are designed more specifically for wildlife such as gimbal heads, that allow you to more easily track and move with the wildlife subject. Ball heads can work just as well but may not track a moving subject as easily, but are often times less cumbersome than the gimbal head. Like with the cameras and lenses, it comes down to personal preference and ease of use.
If you find yourself in a roadside situation and photographing from your vehicle, you might consider a photography bean bag to rest your camera on while setting your lens out your window. It will allow you to have a stable and even rest for your lens.
Quality gear can cost as much or as little as you want to spend depending on if you’re buying it new or used. Don’t be afraid to buy used camera gear since many people are often upgrading gear as soon as the next new model camera body or lens is released and the savings is passed on to you when you buy used. Most photographers take reasonably good care of their gear and you might find a diamond in the rough if you take some time searching for gear and doing your homework.The accessory gear is also often found used and reasonable priced. Some internet searching can come up with quality used tripods and tripod heads for wildlife photography.
I won’t be able to give specific locations on where to go, but most of the mountain ranges in Alaska hold Dall Sheep and with a some hiking and climbing you can get to some amazing places you may not have seen otherwise. The landscape alone and the views you’ll see is just as amazing as seeing the grand animals of the mountains. There’s a lot of Alaska out there to experience.
Last year I found a primo goat hunting spot. This spot however, was incredibly difficult to access. I typically hunt with a partner and especially love introducing them to species they’ve never personally harvested. Last year resulted in the hard earned harvest of two big Billy’s and two happy hunters therefore I knew that I wanted to return to this special spot this season in pursuit of my own mountain goat. Only this year, I elected to go solo. Letting go of a good hunting spot is hard to do. Being a selfless hunter is also difficult. I neglected both these things for this year’s hunt.
Every hunt becomes a story and adds perspective on life. Hunting solo provides nourishment for my soul and time to really self reflect. On this adventure I had thoughts of turning back and going home to my wife and newborn son. I contemplated what’s really important to me in life; another dead mountain goat? Time spent with my family? Producing content? I asked myself, why am I doing this? Why did I wake up at dark and pursue this wild animal in arduous terrain? Why am I clinging to the cliffs and climbing up with no support from a hunting partner? I’m still trying to answer some of these questions but I did come away with a few answers. I’m feeding my family. I’m feeding my soul. I’m renewing my identity amongst God’s country. I’m finding out what I’m really made of.
Solo hunting isn’t for everyone and after this hunt, I understand why. In my mind I had many questions I was trying to answer and decisions I was trying to make. Both in regards to the hunt and in life. The only person I had to bounce those questions off of was myself. The thought of turning back was prevalent. I kept thinking that I would have to come back down “all this stuff” with a very heavy pack. I knew there would only be one trip in and one trip out. With that in mind, I kept thinking of the possibility of failure. Failure could be an unsuccessful hunt with no harvest of goat. Failure could also be choosing the wrong route up or down, resulting in serious injury, or even fatality. Once I spotted goat, all questions and thoughts of turning back ended abruptly. I knew I could close the distance.
Making it above tree line in goat country is tough. Maneuvering through the mess of alders makes every step of the climb difficult. Mountain goats like wind swept faces where they are high above the bugs and secure in perfect escape terrain. From my past experience in this area, I had an idea of where these goats would be but I knew that getting there would not be easy. I planned out the stalk in my mind and executed that game plan when I got above tree line. Everything was going exactly as planned, no goats in sight but I knew where they would be hiding. Attempting to gain a vantage point is difficult in this country due to prominent boulder fields that can easily hide a goat. I decided to put on my “Winchester Whites” and close the distance to a flat bench below a china walled basin. The bleach white trade-show dress shirt was a little too white, I stood out on the side of the mountain like a road flare at night. I rounded a boulder field and then spotted a goat laying down on the ledge below the basin.
Goats have incredible eye sight and a great sense of smell. This goat was facing away with his back to the wind and face up toward the valley. I dropped in from above and angled toward the wind. The billy was quickly coming into shooting range. I donned the whites as a fail safe in case he spotted me. I slid down a grass chute on my rear and went from 500 yards away to 400 yards away in a hurry. Ten minutes later a bleach white nanny squirted out of nowhere, about 200 yards below me. She carefully and deliberately walked toward the gnarliest rocks she could find to serve has her escape route. Did she see me? Did she smell me? It didn’t matter at that point. The billy then stood up at 400 yards, spun around and looked directly at me. He took several steps toward the nanny, who had joined up with another goat that appeared suddenly, almost like a magic trick. They all looked directly at me like they knew I was there the whole time. I wondered how many hunters those eyes have seen. I dropped my pack and slowly unbuckled my 300WSM XPR.
I crawled to boulder as the goat took several steps and stopped to stare right at me. I rested the rifle on a rock and negotiated a prone position facing almost straight down the mountain. Curiosity of the billy got the best of him and I was able to take a shot. The 190 grain bullet hit right behind his elbow before he took several steps on the flat bench and collapsed. He was in the perfect place for recovery; a flat bench at the bottom of a large gulch. I’ve heard from many goat hunters that shooting a goat isn’t the tough part, it’s waiting for the goat to be in a recoverable location that won’t damage the animal from the fall. This billy was in the perfect place and I’m thankful for his life. What a truly magnificent animal – the “Mountain Goat.”
Breaking him down took what seemed like forever. I had to nearly flesh the cape to keep him light as possible to hike back over the mountain where I came from. One rule in goat country I find crucial – no blind descents, meaning always go down the same place you came up. That being said I had to hike up over the mountain to get back to where I started from. Deboning the billy and trimming as much fat as possible took time but more time trimming meant less weight to pack out. I arranged my pack with clothes at the bottom, meat in the middle, and the hide at the top. I strapped my rifle, sleeping bag and bivy sack on the exterior of the pack. Shouldering the nearly 200 pound pack took the breath right out of me. I hiked well into dark before I set up camp at the top of the mountain. The following morning I hiked down to my Alpacka pack raft and floated back to my ATV. I was happy to be in the home stretch.
Going on an adventure like this is a bit selfish, I must admit. I realized this upon returning and fleshing out the experience in my mind. Mountain hunting is my addiction. The adrenalin flooding through my system is the high. Summiting that mountain on my own two feet and harvesting my target animal was an immense moment for me. I am grateful for the time spent solo in the mountains. The hike was painful and pushed me to my limits which is what I was looking for. I felt my heart pounding in my chest and felt the sweat drip from my brow. I was surrounded in gorgeous scenery. I felt truly alive. As I sat on a moss covered log at the base of the mountain, I experienced that mountain epiphany, that…”yeaaah” this is why I do this. I couldn’t wait to return home to my wife and newborn son to share the story with them. I also look forward to the day where I get to share this primo spot with my son. #MAK #missionalaska
This is what I love about Alaska, you can see when someone needs help by a simple glance. Remote travel and risky endeavors are a part of the Alaskan life. The further away you get from “society” the more people are willing to give you the shirt off their back, the beer out their cooler, and the strong back to get you home safely. Reading stories like these warms the heart, you never know when your the one who needs a hand in the backcountry.
Story by Nathaniel Grimes.
“Lonely Boat on a Dark River”
It goes without saying that every season and every hunting trip yields some pretty interesting experiences (both good and bad) to talk about around the campfire with a cold beer and good friends.
This one is no different. For me, the moose season has always frustrated me. Every year I spend hours upon hours at the range with countless rounds of my choice ammunition, practicing shots from different positions and various distances. I put a lot of work into making sure I am ready to make a clean shot on the fly IF the opportunity presented itself.
But as always, the dreaded thought of coming up empty handed once again lingers in the back of my mind. You tell yourself it’ll be different this year and the hope of success, and the thought of finally getting to take that first picture with your first moose comes back up and seems to push all that doubt out of your noggin.
The day for the river trip finally arrived. I had the gear and boat all packed up and my two friends were ready to get on the river. We had no specific place along the Tanana river we wanted to set up camp, or where we would even start for that matter. We just wanted to get out there and make it happen. After a few hours on the river we find a pretty nice little flat spot just before the mouth of the Wood River. We had heard quite a few success stories coming out of that river so we decided to give it a shot. Filled with optimism and false hope we pitched out tents and settled in. Tomorrow was finally opening day.
It’s 5am and we are all up, sipping coffee and waiting for first light. After breakfast we hit the river. We spend most of the day going up and down the Tanana to see what areas look the best for our first sit. We eventually find a spot we figured was as good as any and set up. Hours go by and that hope quickly starts to fade. Faced with sheer boredom and a tiny bit of depression due to the lack of instant gratification, we head back to camp and start making food. A few hours go by and now it’s dark as crap. While having a beer with “the boys” we hear an owl across the river hooting quite loudly. “You should shine a light over there and try to see the eyes reflect”, my buddy says. Also curious, my other friend pulls his light out and turns it on….Not what we thought to find. As soon as he turns the light on we see, in the river not 20 yards from us a boat, silently floating past us. “What the @#&*?!” was the chosen response from all three of us. While holding all of our flashlights on the boat, we yell out to the boat incase there was anyone simply just broke down and floating back to Nenana. No response.
This is where it gets interesting. “Someone fell out of the boat!” One friend yells. “Not likely” I replied, “If someone fell out, the boat would more than likely still be running and spinning clockwise. I bet you it floated away from someone’s camp.” We jump in my boat and head out after the lonely boat. We catch up to it and I hop in the driver’s seat. Inside was a beautiful 300WinMag, 2-30 gallon tanks of gas and 4 or 5 lifejackets. I turned the key and it started right up. “Let’s take this back to camp and call the Troopers.” I suggested. Well see now we’re in a bad spot. We are in the middle of the Tanana River, in the middle of the night and it’s pitch black. If a sweeper or sandbar hand been in front of us we wouldn’t have been able to do anything. I tell one friend to drive my boat behind me and the other friend to sit on the bow of the boat and shine a light on the river for me. While driving the found boat I notice I have to fight the steering wheel to keep it from making a hard right turn. As we get closer to the camp I see more of the river and don’t see any sweepers in front of us so I give the throttle a little push. Bad idea. The boat violently kicks hard right and we shoot out into the middle of the river. After a few expletives are shouted, we look up and see a small light in the distance. Couldn’t have been any bigger than a shop light, waiving back and forth about 2 miles up the river. We slow down to let Jimmy, my friend that is driving my boat catch up. While idling our boats next to each other we decide that these could be the people that this boat belongs to. “Screw it man let’s go there and see if they know anything.” Jimmy said. So here we go, 3 young guys, in 2 boats, in the middle of the river with practically no light to navigate with. About 45 minutes nervous driving and 1 or two close calls with some sandbars we were around 15 yards from these guys who are waiving their headlamps and shop light while yelling hooting and hollering.
“You guys lose a boat?” I said with a comedic and slightly smug tone. Immediately we see the look of sheer amazement and disbelief rush over everyone of their faces. “Holy $%^& you found our $%@(>,% boat!! Oh my God!!!” They’re all yelling. As we step up on their mini dock they begin opening their wallets and shoving rather large wads of cash along with a few beers in our faces.
We politely decline to accept the money and tell them we didn’t do it for money, we did this because “Alaskans take care of each other”. The boat owner stepped up and said, “Well let me pay you guys back by showing you my best moose hunting spot in the morning. I’ve hunted this area my entire life and I own almost 200 acres here. You boys are welcome to stay here anytime and hunt on my land as you please!” The next morning we wake up and get our gear in the boat. The boats owner drives up to our camp and says, “let me ride in your boat and I’ll show you my best spots today as well as give you an extra 30 gallons of fuel.” We agree and off we went. Unfortunately, after all the spots he lead us to, we still did not see any sign of a bull moose. 3 days later, we pack up our camp and head home. Even though unsuccessful, we were extremely happy. We saved a group of people on the river and made friends with them. We had a super fun 3 days getting to know them all and getting more experience with the surrounding sloughs and creeks. All in all, this was an experience of a lifetime and I wouldn’t take it back for anything. This is what it is all about. Alaskans coming together, helping each other, sharing knowledge, lending a helping hand with no strings attached…It’s just what we as Alaskans do. I hope you all enjoyed this story and hope it inspires you to continue to be there for one another in any way you can. Good luck to you all this year!!!
Well guys, we can all learn something from this story… you never know when you’re going to need a hand. It pays dividends to treat people in the field like your life depends on it, because it really could. I’ve rescued, self rescued, and been rescued…. and to all those reading this. Thank you. Nate, good luck shooting the biggest bull of your life this year. “May the karma come back, and the bulls be big.” – Austin