Photographing Dall Sheep In Alaska By Jerry Herrod

dall sheep, hunting, Hunting Alaska, photography

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. 

Twister

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. 

Hierarchy

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. 

Keeping one eye open always

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. 

Gravitas – Solo Mountain Goat Hunting Alaska

alaska, DIY hunting, Hunting Alaska, Mountain Goat
Solo Mountain Goat Hunting Alaska

Solo Brolo Yolo

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.

Gaining Perspective on Mental Toughness

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.

Saving weight and sleeping in a bivy sack

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.

Busted – Now or Never Moment

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.

Show Time

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.”

Big Ole Billy
Big Ole Billy
Slice and Dice Champ
Solo Dice
Standing up is difficult when you have – Film Gear, Camp Gear, Full Hide, Full Boned out Goat meat on your back.

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.

Alpacka Rafts = Whole New Ball Game
Made the push to the wheeler…

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

Made it back to Keeper – Pickle – Crixus & Jordan “My Wife took the photo lol”

The Alaskan Way – “Lonely Boat on a Dark River” A story of endless care for others in Nowhere, AK – Nathaniel Grimes

alaska, Hunting Alaska, Hunting Culture, moose, public land

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.

Fire = Warm
Fire = Warm

“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

Winchester’s Expedition Big Game & EXBGLR

alaska, alaska hunting expedition, Blacktail Deer, caribou, Deer Hunting, grizzly brown bear, Hunting Alaska, moose, Mountain Goat, pack rafting, Winchester

“One Round. One Rifle. One Alaska Hunting Season.” I set out with Winchester’s 300WSM XPR and Expedition Big Game Long Range across Alaska over the 2017-2018 hunting season. Moose, Sheep, Mountain Goat, Blacktail Deer, Black Bear, and Caribou all fall to this lethal combination. Alaska tested, Alaska tough. Here’s a link to my review on Winchester’s Expedition Big Game and EXBGLR ammunition. ->READ MORE

Expedition Big Game Long Range Put to the Test in Alaska

https://winchester.com/Blog/2019/05/Expedition-Big-Game-Long-Range-Put-to-the-Test-in-Alaska

“Addicted to the Ascent” Presented by Winchester

alaska, DIY hunting, Hunting Alaska, Mountain Goat, Winchester


Late season mountain goat hunting is a dangerous endeavor. Wind blown knife ridges attract the hardest of critters, high risk…high reward. Why are we drawn towards risky behaviors? In some circumstances they can be healthy, well sort of. On this adventure, Austin and Brian climb towards the goal of notching a late season goat tag.