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THE ANNIVERSARY RAMS

KAMCHATKA PENINSULA, RUSSIA

WRANGLE ST. ELIAS MTNS., ALASKA

 

A Hunting Diary By Jeff Stohr

 

AUGUST, 2004

 

I have been looking forward to and preparing for this trip for the past two years. I booked the hunt through Russ Smith's Hunting Worldwide almost two years ago. I have been preparing myself physically for this hunt for the past year, as these hunts will be my 8th and 9th sheep hunts and I am very much aware of what will be required, both physically and mentally. F or the past 9 months I have been working out with Tony , at T & M fitness in Aberdeen, three times a week, in addition to running and biking on the off days. I think, or should I say, I hope, I am ready.

I plan to hunt the Kamchatka Snow Sheep in Russia and then stop off in Alaska on the way home to try for a Dall Sheep with Ultima Thule Outfitters. I hunted with them last year on a successful hunt and was very impressed with their operation.

When I booked this hunt the dates were not certain, I only knew that it would be in August or September of 2004. When the actual dates were finalized in early 2004, I had put myself in somewhat of a predicament. I was scheduled to depart on August 5th. The "PROBLEM" was that August 7th happens to be Faye's and my 35th Anniversary. As you can tell by now, I made the trip, and I have a "very understanding" wife.

 

AUGUST 5th and 6th

As I write this, I have once again, so to speak, arrived. I left Aberdeen at 1:30 on Thursday for Minneapolis, and then non-stop to Anchorage, Alaska. I met Russ Smith in Anchorage at the Marriot Courtyard Hotel for a very short night, and an early, 5:00 AM departure for Petropavlovsk, Russia, on Magadan Airlines. There is only one flight each week from Anchorage to Petro on Friday mornings. The check in and departure went pretty smooth as Russ has made the trip many times and knew exactly what to do. I had

my rifle checked by US Customs so that I would be able to bring it back into the country with no problems upon my return. I also paid a $140 fee to Magadan Airlines for the right to take my rifle to Russia. The four and one half hour flight was smooth and

uneventful. We crossed the International Date Line, therefore, I left Anchorage on Friday morning and arrived in Petro on Saturday Morning. There is only a 6 hour difference between Kamchatka and South Dakota, but a different day. I cleared Russian customs

with no problem, however the Customs Guy spent about S minutes looking at my passport, then at me, then talking on the phone, then punching his computer, etc.. Guess he had to make his job last awhile.

All my luggage made the trip, and I gathered it up and was sliding it into the lobby of the Airport, and looking for Russ, who had already disappeared, when I was approached by a young Russian girl who introduced herself as Natasha. She told me that she was my interpreter for the trip and would accompany me to the hunting camp. I also met Alexander Pantyashin, my guide and the owner of the concession that we were to hunt in Kamchatka. What happened next, was shades of my Kyrgystan trip. Two guys grabbed my stuff and headed out the door. I followed them, Russ was still nowhere in sight. We got to the parking lot and they were loading my bags in a 4x4 SUV type vehicle. About this time Russ walks up and says, "Have a good hunt, I'll see you in the spring." We shake hands and I say, "Great, thanks a lot". So I get in the front seat of the car, on the left side, as the steering wheel is on the right, Alex is driving and Natasha and Olga, our cook for the trip, are in the back seat. We then head out of town, and I know I am not going to make it to the mountains. Just like in Kyrgystan, driving is a free for all.

As I said earlier the steering wheel is on the right, but you also drive on the right side of the road, the same as in the states. That’s all fine, but I am sitting on the left, and when Alex pulls out to pass a car, he can't see down the road until he is completely into the passing lane. By that time, I am sure that I am dead, as the oncoming traffic is very apparent to me. Somehow we avoid the inevitable head on collisions and after awhile I get used to the whole process. The economy and living standards here appear to be very poor, as the buildings are run down and in very poor repair. We head up the road and are soon in the country .It reminds me a great deal of Alaska. We travel about 100 kilometers (approximately 65 miles) and stop for lunch at a roadside cafe. I have a Russian soup and a cold vegetable salad and a meat and pasta dish. On the way out, I inquire about a rest room, and am directed outside and around the back. Bad idea,-- Very Bad,-- the facility is unbelievable, to say the least. Anyway, back in the vehicle and we drive another 150K to the drop off point for our hunt. There are a couple of military type barracks, and here we meet up with Nicholai Yefremenkov, who will be my assistant guide on the hunt.

After changing out of our travel clothes, Alex and Nick head out into the woods to get the vehicle that we will use to transport ourselves and our gear to the sheep camp. They come back with a military-type tracked vehicle. It is about 16 feet long and has large steel tracks with an area in the back for gear. They spend about an hour fixing one of the braking mechanisms for the tracks and we then 1oad all our gear, food, and supplies into the back end. Alex drives, Nick kneels on top of the cab, and Natasha, Olga and I climb up on top of all the gear, and we head out. We go cross country through the trees, tall grass, creeks, and hills. There is no road, no track, and I wonder how Alex knows where he is going. I think to myself, "This is part of why I do these hunts, you never know what is going to happen next." We duck trees, cross creeks, drive down the creeks, and a couple of hours later we arrive at our first camp. It is Alex's lower bear camp. It is quite rustic by most standards, but it will do fine. They are organizing camp as I write this. I have been up for about 20 hours, with only about 4 hours sleep in Anchorage the night before. I am ready to get some sleep before tomorrow's all day ride, about 60 K to our sheep camp. Hopefully we will hunt sheep the day after that. I have traveled about 6500 miles, and am once again in another world, with everyone talking Russian, and me just trying to figure out what the H is going on.

 

AUGUST 7TH

"HAPPY ANNIVERSARY FAYE” 35 YEARS TODAY. It doesn't say much for me, does it? If you hadn't been so understanding, I wouldn't be here. I promise I'll make it up. We were up at 7:00 AM, had breakfast, packed everything in the tracked vehicle, piled everybody on top and took off. We go about a half a mile and one of the tracks jumps off the drive sprocket. I think, "Great, broke down already." Nick smiles and says, "NO PROBLEM"! I find later that these are the only two English words he knows. Anyway they proceed to take the track apart, then beat on the sprocket with a sledge hammer to straighten the teeth, then hook the track back together and we are ready to go. "NO PROBLEM"! We travel over and through very beautiful country, and see three or four brown bears. We travel for about six hours, bouncing, diving and skidding around, under, through and right over the top of trees up to 4 or 5 inches thick. We cross rivers and creeks and go right up the bank on the other side. At times the vehicle is almost vertical before it goes over center and the front end comes back down to earth. Four or five feet of fast flowing water is "NO PROBLEM". As heavy as this machine is, it actually gets light and floats sideways when the water is deep.

We finally make it to sheep camp. It consists of a very small cabin, about 10 feet by 12. The temperature is about 80 degrees and hot here now. There is no wind and clear skies. There are also about 10 Zillion big mosquitoes and good old Northwest Airlines took my bug dope away in Aberdeen. (Like two small bottles of liquid insect repellant is going to harm a 757.) Anyway, Natasha has some OFF for me. I hope it lasts the two weeks.

We are camped on a nice creek in a very sheepy looking valley. There is snow in the valleys on the surrounding mountains. I wish I was up there, as it is hot down here. We have two small tents, one for me and one for Nick. Alex takes the chain saw and cuts a hole in the attic of the cabin and they throw mattress pads in on the rafters and that is where the women will sleep. Alex and Nick also build a table and benches with the chain saw and an axe. We now have a dining table. These two guys seem to know what they are doing, they can fix the land rover and seem to be very capable woodsmen. It reminds me of the Inuits, who also adapt well to their environment. I would like to help more, but the language barrier is somewhat of a problem. Natasha is trying, but it is difficult, as she doesn't catch everything I say and I have trouble understanding her. I have to remember not to use too many slang words. It is a bit frustrating for both of us. We will probably lie around the rest of the day. I will check the zero on my rifle and then will get a good nights rest. Tomorrow we hike, and that means work, but that is why I'm here and what I trained for. During the evening meal I had Natasha tell everyone that is was my 35th Anniversary. Alex came up with a bottle of Vodka and we toasted with a straight shot. Not exactly what I would have done, had I been home, but….

 

AUGUST 8th

I slept fairly well in the small tent next to the cook shack. I woke up during the night to rain on the tent. Great! After all the "travel" is done and we are ready to hunt, we can't see the mountains. I would expect that it will be a long day today. 1 go back to the tent and read. I only have three novels, so don't want to get too carried away yet. It's only the first hunting day, so there is lots of time left. I am a bit concerned that Alex and

Nick are not exactly sheep hunters. They are good woodsman and know the country, but I think they are more often bear hunters. Natasha told me that Alex has taken 1 sheep each year and that was for meat only. Not necessarily big rams. I don't know for sure if I ended up where I was intended to be or with whom I was intended to be.. I know that I am the first hunter that has been sent to Alex from Alexander Lisitsin of Russian Expeditions in Moscow. That is the way it works over here. I don't think the booking agents have much control. It is now 7 PM. I have basically lain around most of the day. Alex and Nick were setting up a small mountain tent and by questioning Natasha, it appears that we may be going to go into the mountains tomorrow with a spike camp. This will be good, as at least if I am fogged in up high, I will be where the sheep are. Down here, I have no chance. I have taken the afternoon to get myself organized. I have spike camped many times and know what I need and don't need. I also think that if I can just get up high, I will have a chance to spot a sheep.

 

AUGUST 9th

I slept fairly well but it rained again during the night. I stuck my head out this morning to low clouds again at 7:00 AM. It doesn't look good for today; the guys are just milling around and kicking their feet. Had breakfast: pasta and sausage and raw tomatoes and cucumbers. The food is OK, usually a soup or stew and a raw veggie salad. Last night we had fried cauliflower, different very sugary candies and always bread, cheese and tea. The language barrier is very difficult. Natasha just got up at 9:00 AM, so maybe I can find out what the plan is. Neither of my guides speaks any English. I also found out, that the bear season doesn't start until August l5th, so we can't even hunt bears. Guess I’ll just sit! Not really in my nature, but I have no choice.

It is now 3:00 PM and the clouds are still low with intermittent rain. I have finished my first book, had lunch and had a fairly good interpreted conversation with Alex. I know that the weather is bad right now, but I am beginning to wonder somewhat about the organization of this trip. I went back in the tent about 3:-30PM to nap, and woke up to thunder and lightning and heavy rain till about 5:00. I came out to higher ceilings, could actually see the mountains and by 8:30 or so could actually see some blue sky. Alex got the Satellite Phone out again and found the U.S. code. So we finally were able to call out. I got Faye up at 3:00 AM her time. Talked for five or ten minutes before we lost the signal. We had a late supper then went to bed with a hope to hunt tomorrow.

 

AUGUST 10th

Up again at 7:00 AM, had heard no rain all night, but the temp was fairly warm in the tent, so I am concerned about the weather. Sure enough, it is overcast with low clouds again. Alex just shook his head when I said good morning. I'm afraid that today will be a repeat of yesterday and the day before, and end up being our third day stuck in camp. This is the part of sheep hunting that is by far the hardest with which to cope. If you can't find the sheep, you can't go after them and when you can't see, you can't find them. We had pasta and sliced bologna, leftover rolls and tea for breakfast. Alex just pointed at the mountains then at my watch and held up two fingers. I don't know whether that means we leave at two or that he thinks the weather will be better at two. Guess I'll try to get comfortable and start a new book.

We left camp at 2:00 PM. I don't know whether I am getting old or these guys are just trying to kill me the first day in the mountains. Leaving the women behind, we drove the tracked vehicle about 4 miles and parked it by a stream. We put on the packs and headed up the creek, and I mean up the creek through the water and slippery rocks. I used my glacier socks inside my plastic boots and they worked OK. We stayed in the creek for about a half a mile and then go up through the alders. Alders are small to medium sized trees or bushes that usually grow on steep slopes and hang down. They have many branches that are from one inch to four inches thick. I had forgotten how much I hate alders. They grab you, your pack, your gun etc. You stumble over them, crawl under them and fall through them. It was a very steep climb and the temperature was fairly warm, so it didn't take long to work up a sweat. In about an hour I was soaked, so I stripped down to just a T-shirt and stayed fairly cool. We climbed for about 6 hours and finally hit the top of the ridge at about 9:00 PM. We glassed for awhile through the clouds that were moving in and out and then Alex said "Camp". At least I think that is what he said. Anyway, we are at the very top and, he points down the other side to this big valley. I think, "No, don't give up all this altitude," but down he goes and it is way steeper on this side. It takes about another hour and we descend a good 2000 back down to the alders and bugs. They finally stop and set up a tent that looks big enough for one, but there are three of us???? They have a fire going, it is now 10:30PM, I am shot, and hungry and sore and haven't seen a sign of a sheep. Tony (my personal trainer) doesn't hold a candle to these guys as far as workouts go. Had supper-- the same-- pasta, bologna, potato stew, tea, bread and cheese. I got my socks sort of dry by the fire and finally got the tent situated. Alex and Nick just rolled out their bedrolls under a bush and said "goodnight". So I crawled in the tent by myself. The Thermarest pad felt real good and I got a decent night’s sleep.

 

AUGUST 11th

We're up again at 7:00AM to wind and cold. The clouds are still up around the peaks. Alex has a fire going, breakfast is left-over stew from last night. Stood around the fire for awhile and finally they start to pack stuff up. I thought maybe we would hunt up the mountain and then come back to this spot tonight, but I figure out that they intend to pack up everything, so I roll up the pad and sleeping bag and look forward to another day of carrying everything around. The twenty pound vest that I have been running with back home would be very welcome compared to this 50 pound pack and rifle and heavy boots.

Anyway we head back up the way we came down last night. We climb clear back to the top of the ridge --"agh"-- and we are in the clouds again. It is around noon by the time we get to the top. We lie on top for about an hour and can see only 20 yards. Finally Alex says "no hunt, camp" and points toward the valley. I think I don't really want to go back down, but he is the boss so we load up and head down. We drop about 1,000 feet or so and stop again to rest. As I write this, Alex and Nick have just come back with an armload of mushrooms. "I guess all is not lost". I am starting to have serious doubts about success as we haven’t seen any sheep ad very little sign of sheep. Alex made a big deal yesterday over a month-old sheep track. I did see two sow grizzlies yesterday, each with three yearling cubs. All eight bears were within 200 yards of me at the same time.

About 3:30 this afternoon, the clouds lifted and instead of heading farther down to camp, Alex says we will head back up instead. So back we go, up the same mountain we just came down. It is about 2000' vertical and takes about 3 hours and I am beat when at about 8:30 we hit the top and look into the next valley, very steep, nasty cliffs etc. I take one look at the steep slope and see sheep on the grass. I motion to Nick and he looks at me like "Who are you trying to kid?" Finally, I point them out to him and he gets all excited and calls to Alex who hasn’t seen them either. There turns out to be seven sheep, four rams, all young, the biggest is about a half curl.

Alex and Nick decide to walk around the top to check the next valley and motion for me to wait, so I do. Finally Nick comes back, but no Alex. He finally shows up at about 10:30 PM, the sun is down and it is almost dark. They jabber at each other for a while and finally Alex says "camp" and points in the direction of the main camp. It is a 4,500-foot decent vertical, and I don't know how many miles. I motion like I am driving the tracked vehicle and he nods "yes" and I just about die right on the spot. It is DARK, and I had enough trouble coming up the route that I now have to descend in the dark. Thank God I have my headlamp and fresh batteries. So down we go.

This has to be one of the most challenging things I have ever attempted. It is almost impossible to imagine what it is like. You have no idea where your foot is coming down, you just feel for the ground and hope it is where you think it is. Most of the time, it's not. Sometimes the grass is waste high, sometimes its rocks. Sometimes you are in the creek with water rushing over the rocks and your boots. And then the "ALDERS". They are enough to make you want to cry. When you are walking in the creek, you can't see the rocks because of the water and the undergrowth obstructing your vision. I keep track in my head and I only fall down hard 5 or 6 times. I don't keep track of the minor slips and slides. Many times I think of Tony, and wish I was running the bleachers at the NSU football field instead of being here. This is 20 times tougher and it lasts forever.

We finally hit somewhat level ground in head-high weeds and grass and Alex does a sudden left turn. He goes through 2 small creeks, up over a bank and there is the tracked vehicle. A minor miracle in my book! 1 look at my watch and it is 1:30 AM. We pile in and head cross country through the creeks and over the trees, etc. lam so beat, it is all I can do just to hang on. We finally get to camp and wake up Olga and Natasha. They heat up the stove and fix something to eat. Alex and Nick are like "Ho-Hum, another day," and I am thinking, "This is one of my toughest days ever." I have Natasha ask Alex how he could find his way so easily in the dark, and he answers that it wasn't so easy for the first 10 or 15 years. I am beginning to realize a new-found respect for these guys, if I can just keep up. The last thing I asked Natasha to ask Alex was, what time we were going to Hunt in the morning. The look on his face told me that he had not expected that, and that he also had found some respect for me.

I am not sure any sheep is worth all this, it is now 3:00 AM and I am 20 hours into this day. I have had it. I hope I will be up to whatever tomorrow brings. That is enough, "goodnight."

 

AUGUST 12TH

JOURNAL ENTRY -MIDNIGHT OF THE 12th

Now I lay me down to sleep. If should die before I wake, tell my wife that I promise never to go sheep hunting in Russia on our Anniversary ever again. It is just past midnight as I write this. If this morning when I got up at 9:00 AM you would have told me that I would be where I am now, I would not have believed it.

We had a light breakfast and I asked Natasha when we would head out. Alex said one hour and I gulp and start to pack my things. Alex, Nick and I, load into the tracked vehicle. We end up driving right up the middle of the river. We only throw the track once. I remember thinking, "This is crazy, what am I doing?" Then I think, "I am here, I have nothing else to do, so why not enjoy the moment. I am not about to let these guys think I can't keep up." Finally we pull over and then put on the packs and head back up the mountain, different ridge, same terrain as before.

I have changed my boots today and am now wearing my Meindel boots. It is very steep and there are ALDERS like I have never seen before. Alex literally chops his way through them with the axe. After about a half hour, I am soaked with sweat and the bugs are horrendous. We finally break through the alders at about 5:00 PM. We are back up about half way to where we were last night, but on the next ridge to the East.

We throw down our packs and Alex heads down again to get water. It takes him almost an hour. I try to get him to take my water bottle with him but the guides have decided that I should drink only tea, as water supposedly saps my "power". (Natasha told me this last night.) Nobody has told these guys that tea is a diuretic. So only tea for me! They boil up a pot and we have hot tea and rest.

It is almost 8:00 PM, so I figure we will set up camp here for the night. My legs are about shot anyway. But no, we load up and head up! Alex points up, way up, and over and around and I think," I don't know if I have that much left". I count 50 steps and pant,

50 steps and pant, all the way up. Finally we hit the top about 10:15 PM, then we walk all the way down the knife edge ridge to the saddle. It drops off straight down for about a thousand feet to our left as we descend on the sheep trail.

When we hit the saddle, I think we will camp here, but no, Alex bails off the side in the dark, he makes me drop my pack. At first I can't figure out why, but then I figure out that he intends to come back after it. We go down through the bushes about 1,000 feet, and finally find a flat spot about 10' square. I say to myself during the descent that they are trying to kill me again, as it is very unnerving descending in the dark and my light is in my pack. Anyway, Alex heads back up to get my pack and Nick and I clear a spot for the tent.

If I thought yesterday was bad, I think today topped it. I have no idea how my legs have held up. Looks like a cold supper, two hard boiled eggs and a couple slices of cold bologna. No water and I haven't had a drink since 5:00PM. It is now 12:45AM, and again we never saw a sheep. Lord only knows what tomorrow will hold.

PS. About 1:00AM, I figure out that Alex is planning to descend to get water. I ask him to take my water bottle. He does, but is reluctant. When he gets back, it is almost 2:00 AM. I take a long drink and nothing ever tasted so good. About this time, my left thigh muscle locks up in the worst cramp I ever remember having. I finally manage to get untangled from my sleeping bag and Alex pounds and massages my leg. It takes about 10 minutes to finally loosen it up. I get to sleep about 2:30 AM.

 

AUGUST 13TH

It is now 8:30 the next morning. Alex has gone for more water, again without my bottle. The language barrier on this trip is very difficult to say the least. Not only am I left out of all conversations, but I have no idea what is going on, what the plan is etc. I also have no voice in the decision making process. Like, do we descend in the dark or not? I didn't think I would ever say this, but I will be glad when this trip is over, ram or no ram. I would never let them send me by myself again. No English speaking voices for two weeks is almost too much.

I wrote the preceding at about 9:00AM this morning. I chose to leave it in the story only to prove a point about the highs and lows involved in sheep hunting.

We loaded up camp after a bologna and pasta breakfast and 4 cups of tea. No Water! They poured the rest of the tea in my water bottle and we headed back up the way we had come down the night before. It was even steeper than I described last night. We hit the saddle and rested. The saddle is between two huge peaks, the one we came over last night and one we haven't been up yet. Alex is worried about my leg, and I try to assure him that every thing is alright. He decides that Nick and I should sit for awhile and glass and that he will walk up the mountain to check the next valley. Alex indicates he will be gone for 2 or 3 hours.

About two hours pass and I happen to glass up the mountain and I see Alex way up high, waving his walking stick. So we grab the rifle and cameras and that is all. We leave the packs, and the water is all gone anyway! We head up the mountain to meet Alex. It takes us about a half hour to reach Alex, as he has descended to meet us. He says, "Four sheep, two trophies.” He motions that we go up. I have no idea where the sheep are located so just stay in Alex's tracks. It takes about another hour, and we finally top out on the mountain, the highest we have been yet.

Alex and I crawl out to the edge to glass. He says "sheep", but I don't see them. I finally get my binoculars and see a half curl ram laying about 500 yards below us. Alex says "two sheep," and I finally make out the horns of a full curl ram, but all I can see are his horns. Alex wants me to shoot, but I say "no," and indicate that we can get closer by going down the back side of the ridge and then descending to the sheep. I mark their position by a snow patch and we descend slowly toward their position.

Alex has sent Nick around the mountain to get below the rams and show himself in the hope that the rams will come up toward us. I don't really like the idea but again have no say in the matter. We have inched our way down to what I figure is about 80 yards above the rams, but they are over a small ridge and I cannot see them. So I elect to sit still and expect that when Nick shows himself, the rams will get up and walk into view. Alex and I are now about 25 feet apart from each other. We sit for about 15 minutes and Alex begins to look through his binoculars and wave at me and point down the mountain. I still cannot see the sheep, even though I am sure he can.

Alex gets more animated and points and begins to whisper loudly. "Shoooooot Sheeeep. Shoooot Sheeeep". All I can do is shrug at him because I still cannot see them. He motions for me to come to him, but I don't want to move. He gets more animated and says again "Shoooot Sheeep". By this time the rams have heard and seen enough from Alex and they head out. Instead of coming up, they go down and away to the right. The lead ram comes into my view at about 150 yards running flat out. I get him in the scope, go back to the second ram and he is smaller, so I figure the lead ram is usually the best. I go back to him, swing through and let one fly. He stumbles slightly but continues to run. I bolt another round and he stops just as he is about to go over the hill and out of my life. The crosshairs settle for an instant and I touch off another round. He collapses and falls over the edge.

I turn around and Alex is coming towards me. He is very angry and he grabs my shoulder and turns me toward where the sheep were located before they ran. He points, and is raking me over the coals in Russian. I don't think I want to know what he was saying. I think, "What did I do, shoot the wrong ram?"

I finally figure out that he thinks I have missed, as he has not seen the ram go down. I finally calm him down and point toward where I shot the ram and motion like I am shooting and indicated a falling motion. His eyes finally light up and he says "Shoot sheep?" And I say yes, "Shoot Sheep!" He grabs my hand and shakes it.

We then head down to where I last saw the sheep and we find him about 300 feet down the mountain. He is perfect and an excellent ram, full curl and very heavy at the bases of the horns. We age him at 11 or 12 years old. I couldn’t be happier. What a hunt! Talk about earning a sheep. This is my eight ram and I cannot recall five more grueling days in a row on any other hunt.

Nick finally shows up about 45 minutes later. We take pictures and skin the ram for a full body mount. They bury the meat in the snow. It is the middle of August, and there is a still lot of snow. I don't think it ever goes away at this elevation. Alex throws the ram up on his shoulders and heads up the mountain. All I have is my rifle and cameras, and it is all I can do to keep up. Talk about being in shape. Him, not necessarily me. We finally top out about sundown and descend to the saddle where we left the packs.

It is almost dark when we get there. We set up camp in the saddle. Alex goes down to a snow field and buries the cape and horns in the snow, and then fills up the water bottles with snow melt. Nick has brought out the brisket of the sheep, so we start a fire and begin to boil the meat, at midnight on top of the world.

It doesn't get any better than this. I hit the sleeping bag never having felt better or more tired. It is Friday, the 13th of August and the "Anniversary Ram" is in the book. He is "great", one of my best, if not the best.

 

AUGUST 14TH

We sleep in until about 8:00 AM, then heat up the rest of the ram stew for breakfast. I drink as much tea as I can stand and then we pack up for the walk out. This will not be easy, as we have to climb back up about 1500' and then side hill for about a half mile. It is very steep and very spooky. We finally hit the other ridge and then it is all down hill to the tracked vehicle. As we descend, the temperature continues to rise, and there will be no water until we reach the creek in about 5 hours. After about 4 hours through the alders, rocks and low bushes, my feet are killing me, and I would kill for a drink. We finally come to a very small spring coming out of the rocks and we all drop our packs and kneel down and suck up the water as fast as it comes out of the ground.

About an hour later we finally find the tracked vehicle and this part of the hunt is over. The ride back is uneventful, if you call driving right down the middle of a raging creek uneventful.

We get to camp and spend the rest of the afternoon relaxing, cleaning up and taking pictures. Alex and I can finally relate some of our thoughts, through Natasha, and it is great. It turns out that we were communicating better than I thought. Alex said we had a great hunt, and I agreed. He also said that this was a "real" hunt. No helicopters and no corners cut. Again, I agreed. If I didn't consider myself a sheep hunter before this hunt, I definitely consider myself qualified now.

I am sitting here in the sun writing this, the bugs are not even biting, and I have had a "wash", as Natasha puts it. I now have a few days to relax before the flight back to Anchorage.

 

AUGUST 15TH

Everybody slept in today until around 10:00 AM. We figured that we earned it, also, the celebration dragged on a bit long last night. Alex can really go up and down a mountain. He can also do a "very respectable job of celebrating the sheep". I did my best to keep up with him, just like on the mountain. Just as it happened on my last Russian trip, it wasn't long, and we were all speaking the same language. It's really funny how several straight shots of vodka can do that to a person. You just seem to get smarter and smarter as the night wears on.

We spent the rest of the morning cleaning up and getting ready to load the land rover for the trip out. We will go to the camp where we stayed the first night. The ride out is long and rough. We see four more bears during the trip. We make it to camp, have supper and rehash some more of the hunt. It turns out that both Alex and Nick though that I would quit after the first trip down the mountain in the dark. After that night, I guess they found a little respect for me the same as I did for them. They said that I did very well in the mountains. They have had several hunters quit them on trips into the area they took me.

 

AUGUST 16TH

It is raining this morning. It is 11:00 AM and I am waiting to see what the plan is. I assume we will go to Petro, but Natasha said something about waiting for the sun to come out so we can dry the hide of the Ram. At about 6:00PM, Alex decides that it is time to head for town. Why we waited this long escapes me. We load up the vehicle and once more head out cross country .It takes about 3 hours and we only throw the track off once. "NO PROBLEM" as Nick says. We load up Alex's SUV, say goodbye and "NO PROBLEM" to Nick and head for town. We get to the hotel about 1:00 AM and Natasha says that she and Alex will pick me up for a tour ofPetropavlovsk in the morning.

 

AUGUST 17TH

I met Natasha and Alex in the morning and went on a short tour of Petro. The city itself is not much to look at. It reminds me a lot of Bishkek in Krygyzstan. The buildings are run down and very much in need of repair. No one mows the grass and there are weeds growing everywhere. There are endless apartment buildings that I would classify as no better that a slum. The three of us have lunch at the hotel restaurant and Alex and Natasha leave. My flight doesn't leave until the 19th at about 10:00PM, so I guess I have a couple days to kill.

Around 3:00 PM I get a call from Natasha, and she wants to know if I would like to accompany her to her parents' weekend home to pick berries and have a BBQ. I think, "Great, anything to get out of the hotel." Natasha and Ivan (Alex's son) pick me up at around 7:00PM and we drive into the country. We finally pull into an area of small homes and gardens that are all situated together on a plot of about 20 acres. Natasha's parents have a weekend home here. It is an escape from the city. It is very nice. A small two story cabin built of wood. A much nicer place than the two room apartment that Natasha and her parents occupy during the week. They have every square foot of ground growing either flowers or vegetables. There is a small greenhouse for growing cucumbers and tomatoes, as the growing season is too short without it. They have potatoes, red currant, strawberries, squash, and many varieties of flowers. It is very comfortable and peaceful, compared to the city.

Ivan starts a wood fire to make coals for the BBQ and Natasha takes me on a walking tour of the area. There are many different homes and cabins of different styles. All are hand built by the owners. We have a pork shish kabob with vegetables, along with breads and cheese. Natasha's mother even comes up with a bottle of champagne. We dine out in the yard under the trees and it is very comfortable. I tell Natasha and her mother that this is much better that the city and they agree. Natasha's mother works in Petro as a records secretary for the Government, and her father is a fisherman on a large fishing trawler. He is gone for up to 5 months at a time. They take me back to the hotel at about 11:00, after a very enjoyable evening.

 

AUGUST l8th

It is 4:00 PM and I have done pretty much nothing today. I was able to locate a computer in the business office of the hotel and got on the internet and checked my e-mails. I made a couple phone calls -to the bank and to Faye. Also called my brother Kim in Anchorage to let him know my arrival time on Friday morning. I hope to find another hunter with which to have dinner. I am tired of no one to talk to.

 

AUGUST 19th & 20th

These two days kind of run together as we again cross international date lines etc. I took a walking tour of Petro for about 3 hours in the morning. I was also able to get in touch with Donna Claus of Ultima Thule Outfitters and arrange my Dall Sheep hunt with them.. I met Alex and Natasha about 11:30AM and went downtown to buy some caviar. We then had lunch at the hotel restaurant. While we were having lunch I met up with Dennis Campbell of Grand Slam Club Ovis. He had also been sheep hunting and was going out on the same flight as I. I got together with Dennis and Mark Jackson and Joe Crawford in the afternoon. They had all been sheep hunting and were all successful. We had a couple beers and talked and compared notes on our hunts until time to go to the airport.

Natasha and Alex picked me up about 7:00PM to go to the airport. We got checked in, then sat and talked for awhile. Finally it was time to say goodbye to Natasha and Alex. Natasha was having a hard time saying goodbye.

We finally took off about an hour late, and flew all night. Getting my baggage and clearing customs and Fish and Game in Anchorage was a nightmare. I finally got everything cleared and met Kim. He had been waiting about an hour and a half. I went with Kim to his office and waited there for Donna Claus to pick me up and take me to Ultima Thule for my Dall sheep hunt. Talked with Kim and his son Matt until Donna showed up at about 11: 30AM.

We loaded up the pickup and drove North out of Anchorage, about 5 hours, to Chitna. Paul (Donna's husband), flew in with the Otter and took us back to Ultima Thule. It was nice to be back here again. Everything looks the same as last year. They have a very nice lodge and it is very relaxing compared to Russia. Also, everybody speaks English, even the couple from Germany at dinner!

I have only had about two hours sleep in the last 48 hours, so the bed will feel real good tonight.

 

AUGUST 21ST

I slept in until 10:00 AM and felt well rested. I had lunch and sorted out my clothes and checked the zero on my rifle again. I am now ready to "hunt" again. My guide for this hunt, Johnny Coolidge, is still out on the mountain with another hunter, so I probably will not go out today. Oh well, another day of rest won't hurt.

 

AUGUST 22nd

I spent most of today again just resting up. We finally loaded up the Super Cub at about 7:00 PM and headed for the mountains. We saw two really good rams on the flight in to our spike camp. They are way below our camp on a very steep and rugged cliff. Johnny and I will try for them tomorrow. There is nothing to do now but organize the tent and sack out.

 

AUGUST 23rd

It was a long and tiring day today. We dropped off toward the river in hopes of finding the sheep we saw from the air last night. We walked way down to the steep bluffs through a very dense cover of brush. Again I am back in the "alders" and there are small spruce trees thrown in for good measure. We spent the whole day looking, but could not locate the sheep. It was very warm and very difficult hunting, as we could not see very far. At around 6:30PM we decided to head back up to the tent. We had left the tent at 6:00AM and the day was already long. It took us about 4 hours to climb the 2000 feet back to the tent. The freeze dried meal tasted good, and the sleeping bag felt great. This first day of the second hunt took a lot out of these old legs.

 

AUGUST 24th

We got up again at 5:00 AM and headed out at 6:00 AM. We went east and down another long bench to try to locate the rams. We found one ram about noon. He was legal, (full curl), but not what we were looking for, so we passed on him. We glassed most of the day and then headed for camp at around 4:30PM. We wanted to be at the tent when Paul flew over to check on us. Paul landed about 6:30PM and Johnny and Paul took off to scout for sheep. Paul came back about 45 minutes later to get me, as they had located more sheep. He then moved me to the exact campsite I was at last year when I shot my ram. We had supper and turned in.

 

AUGUST 25TH

It rained several times during the night, and when we looked out at 5:00AM we could see only 20 yards. It may be a long day if the clouds don't go away. About I 7:00AM the clouds finally begin to lift and we decide to head out. We load our packs and take plenty of water. We go west of where Mike and I were last year and head down the very steep slopes. We drop off several benches and then come to a large amphitheater with sheer cliffs at the top. We side hill around the top and find a sheep trail along the underside of the cliff. Sheep trails are worn into these cliffs and side hills over many years by the sheep's hooves. Without the sheep trail you would slide over 1500 feet to the bottom, not a good thing.

Finally we get to the ridge that goes down and we keep descending for about an hour. We soon break through the brush and are looking over a sheer cliff. It is kind of spooky, as we are walking through the brush and then "boom"- there is no more ground, only air!

We scout along the cliffs and soon locate the sheep. Theyare about 400 yards away and laying on the cliffs. We can do nothing but watch, as they are in an un-huntable position. We watch and wait for about 3 hours until they move down off the rocks to the grass and trees below and begin to feed.

All morning, the clouds have been moving in and out and restricting our visibility. Now they turn out to be our friend, as we are able to find a route down to where the sheep are while the clouds hide our descent.

We descend the cliff we are on and reach a spot right below where the sheep were laying all morning. We peek over the ridge and see 3 sheep feeding in the trees about l00 yards below. One is good and the other 2 are small. There were 6 sheep originally on the cliffs and we figured that 2 were shooters. We are not sure which sheep we are looking at. We watch for about 15 minutes before a small ram senses our presence and decides to move out. The big ram that has been lying down immediately gets to his feet to follow. I tell Johnny that we need to make a decision and fast. We both agree that the second ram is good and decide to take him. At under 100 yards from a solid rest, I think "NO PROBLEM" and touch one off. The ram doesn't even react, then runs about 20 yards and stops with 2 others. I confirm with Johnny that the lead ram is the one I shot at and shoot again. He collapses and begins to slide down the very steep shale slide. He goes out of our sight and we think," this is not good, because it is a "long" way to the bottom."

We retrieve our packs and then begin the descent. It is a very steep slide and you take one step and slide 3 or 4. We find the ram about 500 feet down, his horns have hung up on a small tree along side the chute. Lucky us!

He is well over full curl, about a curl and a quarter- a very pretty ram. When we roll the ram over, I find two bullet holes, approximately 3 inches apart. I make sure I point this out to Johnny, as it was mentioned that I "may" have missed that first shot. We take pictures, and then cape the ram for a shoulder mount and bone out the meat. It is 5:00 PM as we load the packs and look back up the mountain. We both have doubts about making the tent before dark. However the adrenaline is flowing and after a couple of sheep hunts each, our legs are getting used to the hard climbs. We make very good time and about 7:30 PM, Paul flies over and Johnny talks to him on the radio. Paul figures that we are about a half hour from camp and decides to land and help. We finally top out on the ridge and Paul meets us about a quarter mile from the camp. He offers to take my pack,(I have all my gear and the horns and cape). I say," No thanks, I carried him this far, I'll finish the job." Johnny says the same. We pack up the camp and Paul flies us to the main lodge. What started out to be a bad day weather wise, turned out very well. Again, I am beat, but it is a good beat. I have a very nice ram and the second "Anniversary Ram" is in the book.

 

AUGUST 26TH

Paul's father John Claus flies Johnny and me to Chitna and we drive to Anchorage. I am now at Kim's house. I have until Sunday the 29th before my flight leaves for home. I am ready, as I have been gone for 21 days already.

 

AUGUST 27TH, 28TH, & 29TH

Johnny picked me up at Kim's house Friday morning. We went and got pictures developed and then met Kim & his daughter Adrienne for lunch. I spent the afternoon cleaning and packaging sheep meat. Johnny came over to Kim's house for supper and we cooked sheep tenderloin. Johnny and I figured that we had earned it. Kim and I spent Saturday around the house and then doing a little shopping. Kim's wife Jeanne came in from her trip to the lower 48 at around 7:30PM. We had a nice supper and talked until quite late. Sunday morning was spent packing and getting ready to go to the airport. Said goodbye to Kim and Jeanne and then Matt took me to the plane. I had a great connection, with only an hour in Minneapolis, and was in Aberdeen by 11:30PM.

 

CONCLUSION

I realize that this story got a little long. This was one of my longer hunts. If you are still reading, "congratulations".

As I mentioned at the beginning of the story, I booked this hunt through Russ Smith's Hunting Worldwide almost two years ago. Russ is in partnership with Alexander Lisitsin of Russian Expeditions based in Moscow. Both have been in the International Hunting Business for many years and are very well versed on the complexities involved with a successful hunt in Russia. Brian Kadrmas of Dakota Taxidermy in Bismarck, ND, also assisted me in the process of arranging this hunt. Brian is an award winning, world class taxidermist and prepares all of my mounts, as he will these. Travel and visa applications were arranged through Freedom Travel in Montana, "Thanks Kathy".

At the beginning of this story I also mentioned that I worked out with Tony Arampatzis of TM Fitness in Aberdeen. With his help, I was in the best condition I was ever in for a sheep hunt. I probably would not have made that third and fourth day in Russia without the specialized conditioning we went through all summer. "Thanks Tony."

This was a great trip and two great hunts. They are once again flfl1lly implanted in my memory banks along with all the rest.

As I said last time, you take three hunts in your life. Your first, your last, and your next one. Until "NEXT" time. -

JEFF STOHR.



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