WHAT REALLY MATTERS... by Jason Franklin
I wanted a challenge like I’d never taken on before
Many of you I have known for years, if not my whole life. Others I have recently met through travels and associations in Alaska. I came to Alaska not having any real idea of what to expect or the opportunity to come.
This hunt I wanted a challenge like I’d never taken on before, a new experience that challenged every aspect of being a human predator and self reliance.
Carrying a backpack full of hard earned meat through the thick and brushy heart of bear country will give you a new respect and perspective of the daily fight for life and survival these animals spend their lives living. The summers are short and the winters are merciless in the arctic mountains. How these animals often thrive in such country seems to almost defy nature; It’s nothing but a true testament of their will to survive, and adaptability to the environment. If we take the time to observe, absorb and reflect, Mother Nature will always continue to be our greatest teacher.
I have been guided myself with the help of many of you and continuing support in all forms. I don’t know how to ever repay anyone other than continue to challenge myself, make mistakes and grow from these experiences along the way.
This particular “hunt” is far more about the people in my life that have made me who I am, given me confidence, trust, love and opportunity. It’s also about the Dall Sheep. I have yet to lay eyes on a more beautiful and stoic animal, who calls home to the most stunningly ominous country in North America.
When you leave the truck and head off into all of the possible variables that may be encountered during a sheep hunt, Its about as real as life it gets.
The finest moose country I've seen
I left my truck roughly 10 PM on a thursday night and returned the following monday morning, soaked to the bone, with bloody feet and 70+/- lbs of perfectly cared for sheep meet.
The first night I camped a few miles in and the following day was a big push up and back down into a valley of timber to reach a massive climb to get on top of a ridge line that was the approach to the pocket of mountains I was targeting. Throughout the days travels I spotted several groups of lambs and ewes in the mountains to the south, a grizzly I had to push up and out of a valley I needed to get through and came across two massive moose sheds. This was some of the finest moose country I’ve seen yet. The amount of big wildlife in the surrounding area was astounding.
With exhausted legs, I reached a point about 16 miles in that would suffice for a spike camp that night, quite relieved to be above tree line and glassing the mountains Id be in the next day looking for a full curl.
That night I spotted 15 sheep or so with several sub legal rams. One, from a couple miles away looked to have promise of a legal ram but hard to tell from that distance. My plan at that point was to get up early, glass the hills again and head to the back side if there wasn’t a full curl on my side in the AM. Thats exactly what happened.
This is what it looked like glassing the “front side” from camp.
I left camp early that morning heading to the backside looking for the possible full curl I thought I had seen sky lined the previous night. Within hours I had that all to familiar thought and slightly terrifying feeling Ive heard many other sheep hunters refer to… “what in the fuck am I doing up here.” Scaling across the backside of the mountain at 5300’ elev with extreme exposure is not a good position to be in and I knew I’d have to go back a different route but this was the only way to wrap around and check every nook and cranny for rams. Towards the middle of the day I spotted a group of three rams bedded 2/3 of the way down in a valley.
My approach and final stalk took close to 2 hours to position for a 230 yard shot on the bedded ram deep in the valley.
The ram never got up from his bed and was dead before the sound of the shot had stopped reverberating off the mountain walls.
I remember with vivid clarity and reverence.
Its impossible not to succumb to the the rush of emotion in these short lived moments. There is no urgency during this period. Its deathly silent and time seems to stop. Nothing else matters. A life has literally ceased and its a time for gratitude and raw emotion. I have never felt more alive as an active participant in the natural world.
I have taken the lives of many wild animals, all of which I remember with vivid clarity and reverence.
Absolutely nothing has had an impact on me like that of watching the life expire in a Dall Sheep.
It would be a dishonor to the essence of the animal not to put my own existence on the line in the pursuit of.
Looking North from camp
The mountains in the background of the picture above are what I packed him up and out of to get back to the “front side.” Crossing two more deep drainages along the way, I found myself back at camp about midnight, to find where a grizzly had dug up the hillside just several hundred yards below my tent while I was gone.
Looking North from camp after returning with the ram that night.
19 miles from the road
Below are two google images of my route. I killed the ram 19 miles from the road. My route back was slightly different to try and avoid some of the elevation gains and losses. If Ive learned one thing hunting in Alaska, especially sheep, its that nothing comes free. To avoid the ups and downs means brush country… There is no easy route, pick your poison. It proceeded to start raining over night and continue through the next two days. I was off the face of the mountain at that point and heading for the truck fightin through the timbered valleys and miles of unrelenting head high willows.
What really matters right now is what’s inside of my pack
The ruthless simplicity of a backcountry hunt with nothing but your pack is its own beast. Every ounce matters. Every detail matters. Experience matters, much of which I’ve gained from those who have already experienced such hardships in both sheep hunting and in life. This hunt was a mental and spiritual exercise which I never would have been able to take part of without those who have guided me in all avenues and helped me grow from the mistakes Ive made along the way.
As I stared at my loaded pack weighing between 125 and 130 lbs, ready to leave my ridge top and drop down thousands of feet into a wet misery, several things were on my mind. I carried a magnificent life that once was; Now trimmed out and packed into game bags. My pack still carried life. It was literally covered with blood, sweat and tears. It carried a moment of time forever burned into the essence of my human makeup. For thousands of years, people before me have had this same moment. Lets make god damn sure, for generations to come we have this same opportunity to be so human.
I don’t have to do this to survive. I need to do this, to keep my soul alive. To keep my body strong and my mind true. To push the limits of what I thought I was capable of. To be a part of, not just the top of the food chain.
What really matters right now is what’s inside of my pack. I have a job to do and that’s get it back to the truck. There is no easy way… Funny how life seems to work the same – I’ve learned this myself, through hunting.