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Alaska Dall Sheep Hunting: Part 3 - Landing A Ram

By the fifth day of the hunt, you’ve spent hours scouring the landscape, with no sight of your quarry. The elusive Dall sheep lives up to its reputation.

Everywhere you turn: rocks, snow, a tuft of vegetation... no sheep. Each time you pause to rub your eyes, blinking with a disbelief that’s hardly resignation. You keep the sheep in your mind’s eye, maintain your focus. You persevere. You know your quarry lurks somewhere amid these infinite shadows. You intend to find him. You intend to win.

Legs weak and back aching, you return to base camp unfortunately unencumbered by the weight of a claimed trophy. Weary, you make a fire and eat bland, brown food from a pouch. Cold winds blow through the camp, spurring you to tighten your boots, cinch the hood of your hunting jacket a bit tighter and thank yourself for coming prepared with high performance base layers. You retreat to your tent and settle in for the night. Closing your eyes, you try to imagine what the Dall will look like through your scope as you drift off into the sounds of wind and crackling fire.

The next morning’s rain, coming down hard as ever, is a formidable test of your resolve. Once again you suit up and get in the game. Covered in the finest hunting clothing available, you emerge from your tent confident that you can withstand anything Alaska will try to throw between you and your quarry. While five days of fruitless hunting would send most hunters into a spiral of despair, you remain committed. You get to work. You are a nomad. You pursue your prey until you prevail.

Making your way even further into the wild, you glass another half-dozen hillsides, identifying rocks, shadows and snow. Then, in a brief moment that you’ll remember forever, you notice a sudden change among the monotony. A patch of off-white that doesn’t fit. No, that can’t be snow. It’s the Dall. It’s got to be. You’ve found him. You let a smile show on your face but manage to suppress the urge to cry out.

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The brief moment of celebration passes as you lock in on your prey. Within a few seconds, the dynamic of the hunt has changed completely. Hide-and-seek is over. The new game hinges upon contemplation, forethought and skill. In this game, you’ve got the upper hand. Squinting through the scope, you painstakingly note the Dall’s every detail. You track his every move and begin to anticipate his every step.

Inching forward, you slide into position. Fingering the trigger, you realize that this will be an unforgettable moment. You’re full of energy and focus. If your aim is true, you’ll have accomplished your goal and formed a memory that will last a lifetime. Miss, and you’ll forever dream of what could have been. Your senses are heightened and numbed at once—tunneling in on your target, blocking out everything else.

Sighting the ram, you measure your breaths. The Dall twitches. He can feel the bead on him. No time to waste. You initiate the same sequence you’ve practiced a thousand times before. But this shot is different, maybe the most important of your life. You take it.

Inhale, hold, exhale, squeeze.

Your brain records the next second or two in exquisite, beautiful detail: the acrid odor of combusted gunpowder, a thousand echoes resounding your shot, a puff of red-tinged fur exploding into the air as your Dall stumbles, paces, falls. After days of failure, days of emptiness, you can hardly believe what’s happened. Collecting what poise you can muster, you make your way to the beast to pay your respects. You thank him for the life he lived, for sharing his land with you, for the sustenance he will provide, for the trophy he will become and, most importantly, for being the noble opponent he was.

A short while later, you begin dragging your dressed and tagged prize to camp, though its virtually weightless, floating on the joy of a successful hunt. You feel no cold, fatigue or despair along the way—only victory and the sweet relief of success. Your companions greet you with a hero’s welcome, and you finally have a chance to catch your breath, to really enjoy the moment. Sitting around the fire, hundreds of miles from the comforts of civilization, you treat your team to the freshest meat they’ll ever eat, skewered on a spruce spit and charred to medium-rare perfection.

Whether the fire is a little hotter tonight or the delicious meats and celebratory spirits in your stomach have filled you with a sense of fulfillment, one thing is for sure: this night is not as cold as the several before. Trying to take everything in, you allow your eyes to drift up with the floating embers, rising above the dark Douglas-firs and fading into the indigo sky. Your smile returns. This is why you’ve become a Nomad.