What a ram! I thought with envy, the heavy head of Dale that Jerry Lees, a longtime Fairbanks-based sheep hunter, had taken here in Alaska this fall. It’s a really special ram, and in my 19 years of hunting sheep myself, I’ve never seen anything close to its hoof counterpart. The ram is 12 years old and its unbroken right horn is 46 5/8 inches long. It’s meant to easily make the Boone and Crockett log book – a very difficult standard to reach with Dall’s sheep.
There has been a lot of doom and gloom around Dall sheep hunting in Alaska lately, and especially this year. Exceptionally harsh winter conditions across the state in 2019, 2020 and 2021 led to a dramatic winter death of some flocks of sheep and an overall decline in numbers in many areas. The current position of many sheep hunters is less than optimistic, and some fear that the future of Dall sheep hunting in Alaska is uncertain. A glimmer of hope (and an indication that Alaska still produces big rams) is a handful of monster rams captured this season.
Giant rams such as those taken by Lees are rare, and it is not easy for them to grow to this size. It takes not only good genetics, but the right environmental conditions for a giant Dall ram to reach its true potential.
Says Lis, who has been hunting Dall’s sheep and watching it grow for 43 years. He explains that to become a super ram, a ram must have the right genes, avoid predators, experience good winter conditions at the right times, and avoid the watchful eyes of hunters.
After decades of targeting exceptionally large sheep, Liz has developed a model of self-regulation when it comes to killing some rams and allowing others to reach their full potential.
“I’m only interested in killing rams that are at least 10 years old and more than 40 inches long, or genetically inferior,” says Liz.
This is because once the ram reaches the age of 10, its horn has essentially stopped growing, and it has had enough time to spread its genes. Natural mortality increases dramatically after rams reach the age of 8, and once they reach the age of 10 they are nearing the end of their life expectancy.
If there is a lesson to be learned from this ram, according to Lis, perseverance pays off. In the end.
“If you persevere and keep coming out, eventually something really good will happen. You should also be prepared to take advantage of an opportunity like this as well,” Liz tells me.
Lees has taken a number of rams that would make most sheep hunters weaker in the knees. However, looking at all of those, he says that this is not only his tall ram, but the only true giant he had never seen before his hunt. Lees and his hunting partner found a ram with another ram – both 12 years old – and were able to profit from both rams. The other ram is equally impressive in its own way, with broken horns that hold exceptional mass.
“I haven’t been enthusiastic about lamb in many years,” Liz told me.
I’ve never come across a ram like him, but I can vouch for the fact that persistence pays off in many hunting situations. On more than one occasion, when almost all time and hope ran out, the opportunity appeared in an instant because I kept searching. It doesn’t always work – it rarely works – but that’s why it’s called perseverance. In the end it will.
Gleam of hope
Sheep hunting in Alaska will be more difficult for a while, and it’s easy to get frustrated. Some areas of the state are being battered by commercial operators and outfitters, and a series of bad winters has affected certain herds. On top of all this, millions of acres of publicly available sheep country have been eroded since the 1980s, and we are still losing land. There is a lot to worry about for a sheep hunter.
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However, it was a figment to see that despite all the negative focal points, there were still rams and monsters that no one knew about. Giant rams often don’t keep secrets for long once someone discovers them, a hint of a berserk in this mountain range or that drainage often brings a wave of sheep hunters fed by avgas searching for them with mismatched hysteria.
Personally, I find some hope in knowing that there are still exceptionally amazing and special rams out there. I know that if I keep moving forward, I might one day peek at the ridgeline and see one for myself.
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