On the afternoon of Tuesday, September 13th, 2005 I was driving towards Cooper Landing. I had a permit for a full curl ram on Round Mountain and was going sheep hunting with my ten-year-old son Travis. Travis and I have gone on countless fishing trips but our hunting has been somewhat limited due to a variety of things that are often times out of our control. His involvement with sports of all kinds is one of those things that limit hunting opportunities from time to time. Also hunting in Alaska can be very difficult as well as very expensive depending on just when or where the hunt is actually taking place.
I have also been a firm believer in not taking someone out into the wilderness who cannot defend or take care of themselves in the event that something happened to you. Could your small child survive and be able to safely make it back home if you were seriously injured or even died? Can he handle and shoot a gun big enough to protect himself and you from a charging grizzly? Does he have the proper clothing and boots to survive a trip if the weather gets bad? Imagine a fairly routine trip down Swanson river with your five year old son and you fall and break a leg.......Your in the middle of the trip, miles from the end and too far to go back. Your cell phone doesn’t work out there, would your son know what to do in this situation? Or are you putting him in a very unfair and dangerous situation just because you want so desperately to be a good dad and take him along?
As we grew closer to the Fuller Lakes Trail I asked myself many questions that I could not honestly answer. Was my son physically prepared to go hunting in the mountains? Would he be able to keep up wearing a pack in the mountains for the first time? Would he be warm enough or dry enough? Could he get out by himself if something happened to me? Would my knee injury hamper my efforts in getting up the mountains and back out?
We strapped on our packs and began our climb towards Round Mountain on a bright and sunny fall afternoon. We met a group of five other hunters coming out with a nice moose with antlers that were close to 60 inches wide. Between gasps of air and beads of sweat running down their faces they also told me the exact location of a legal ram! I thanked them and with renewed excitement we headed on down the trail.
We arrived at the first lake and tried to catch a few grayling however they showed no interest in the spinners or flies I had with us. After a short discussion about which way to go from the first lake Travis got me straightened out and headed in the right direction. I watched my young son cross the beaver dam trying desperately to keep the water from going over his low top sneakers as I stood there in my $200 Danner waterproof boots. In my $250 pack there was also felt and expensive fleece hunting clothes while my son wore a $4.50 pair of Salvation Army sweat pants.....Travis wore a pack that was given to us by a family friend. And yet he never once complained and worked diligently in getting by with what he had to fullfill his dream of hunting in the mountains with his father. After expressing my concerns about not having the proper gear and working around Pop Warner football, Travis made the comment to mom “I don’t think Dad wants me to go with him!” Well those words hit me like a truckload of bricks, and I knew that no matter what we had to make this trip, somehow some way!
As we worked our way up the trail I spotted a nice black bear feeding in the mountains on berries and gave some thought on trying to get Travis close enough for a shot. However since we had only a short time before dark and we needed to set up camp I decided against it. Besides it would be at least a 350-yard shot for him. I hoped we could find a bear closer later in the hunt and hopefully it would be at a time when it would not disturb our sheep hunting.
As we got near our camp sight I heard Travis groan behind me and I turned around to see him lying partly in a mud puddle almost headfirst! He reminded me of those cartoons as a kid where the cartoon character jumps off a diving board into a bucket of water. Travis again got back up and despite being partly covered in mud limped on down the trail. He never once complained but did say on one occasion “Sheep hunting can be pretty hard work!”
We set up camp and after eating a meal of Mountain house dried food we went to bed. I woke Travis at 7:30AM and we headed up the mountain to where the big ram was said to be hiding. I spotted the ram before we were even on top and in the skyline he looked huge but too far away to make sure he was full curl. I watched him go over the top of the mountain with another smaller ram and since he never looked back I was convinced he had not seen us. We finally got to the top of the mountain and the rams were not there! Finally we spotted them on the backside looking away from us towards another mountain.
They were about 100 yards from us and I asked Travis if he felt he could make that shot with my 338 Winchester Magnum? He replied, “I don’t know dad.” “Well, the bases are bigger than the full curl I shot in Tok do you want to just go ahead and shoot it? He replied, “No dad I have to make sure it is legal and I can’t see from this angle!” After a brief discussion Travis felt I should shoot if it was legal. Well, when I finally startled the ram and he jumped up he was about four inches from being legal! So we ended our first ever-hunting trip in the mountains, but even though we were unsuccessful in shooting a sheep, I was rewarded in ways far more special than I can ever tell you. The determined look on my son’s face while climbing the mountain and special effort he made was the biggest prize of all for me, more special in fact than shooting the biggest ram on earth..... Travis proved to be a wise hunting partner and a good sportsman and that made me proud of him..... See you next week!
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