Hunters explore grandeur above Arctic Circle
When it’s dog days August in Arkansas, it’s fall weather and hunting time in Alaska where area hunters head on a quest for big game.
Grand scenery above the Arctic Circle and the challenge of a rugged hunt drew Dayne Galyen of Gateway and Fred Sutton of the War Eagle community to the 49th state in mid-August. While temperatures were sweat-breaking hot at home, the two camped in sub-freezing weather at night and hunted on crisp 40 degree days.
The men flew home two weeks later with cameras full of stunning pictures, a couple hundred pounds of delicious meat and memories of an Alaska big game hunt they’ll forever cherish.
Galyen, 55, bagged a fine, heavy-antlered caribou. Sutton, also 55, killed a caribou and also the animal they traveled to Alaska specifically to hunt, a Dall sheep ram.
They hunted in Alaska’s Brooks Range, in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, guided by an outfitting company with a permit to hunt a section of the refuge. Law requires nonresidents to hunt with guides from an outfitter for much of the hunting in Alaska, Sutton noted.
“August is fall up there,” he said. “The leaves are showing their color and it’s getting cold. It snowed several times. We saw four or five different arctic grizzly bears, a wolf, moose and musk ox.”
The hunting trip was their second Alaska adventure. Galyen is Sutton’s brother-in-law, and both went on a caribou hunt in 2017. They decided to raise the bar and tackle a more arduous sheep hunt this time.
“It’s the most physically demanding hunt I’ve ever done,” Sutton said.
The two started planning in May 2018. Tasks of travel arrangements, booking an outfitter, researching gear and more take time. So does getting physically fit for a rugged hunt.
Sutton started hiking almost every day, mostly at Hobbs State Park-Conservation Area where he’s a ranger. Four months before the hunt, he started adding weight to his pack. They had to be ready to hike with up to 100 pounds on their backs if they shot an animal and had to pack out the meat.
A commercial flight took them from Anchorage to Deadhorse in far north Alaska near Prudhoe Bay. Smaller aircraft took them to their outfitter’s remote base camp. From there, bush planes flew the two to a smaller spike camp deep in the treeless Alaska tundra. Scrub brush, rock and rivers are part of the mountainous landscape.
Galyen and Sutton backpacked even farther into remoteness with with their guides from their spike camp. Each hunter and guide trekked to a different area. They carried their rifles and sufficient supplies to camp a night or two in the back country if needed.
When a shot hits its mark on these big game hunts, the hunter and guide hike with their gear and meat back to the spike camp. A bush pilot flies in, picks up the meat and takes it to a freezer at the outfitter’s base camp. Getting the frozen meat home to Northwest Arkansas isn’t a problem, Sutton said. It’s in bags or containers and checked like luggage. There’s some slight thawing on the flight home, but not much, he added.
Exercise proved to be priceless for the two on their quest for a Dall sheep ram.
“The terrain is unbelievably tough to walk on. Sometimes it’s a boulder field. Sometimes it’s slate,” Sutton said. “Imagine walking on every size of ball you can think of. Everything wants to slip, slide and move.”
Sutton and his guide backpacked eight to 10 miles on the lookout for sheep. They saw some, including a ram that wasn’t of legal size to shoot. Farther along, there on a mountain side, they spotted a ram of epic proportions. For Sutton, the moment of truth had arrived.
“There’s a minute of chaos where you’re taking off your backpack and rifle and getting in position to shoot. It all happened so fast. I didn’t have time to get nervous. I just remember thinking, ‘I can’t miss this. We’ve come all this way.'”
The 220-yard uphill shot thundered. The ram went down, and Sutton just lay on the ground with no sound but his breathing and beating heart.
He and his guide decided to pack all the meat and the ram’s horns out all in one trip. Each carried 100-plus pounds on their backs. The trek back to camp was about three miles, not 10. They were able to follow a drainage that led straight back to camp.
“The hunting part of it was really fun,” Sutton recalled, ” but flying in the bush planes and being where people rarely go was cool.”
At base camp, they met and talked with hunters from several states.
Hunters pondering their own Alaska big game hunt should start preparations 18 months in advance, Sutton recommends. It’s wise to be in decent physical shape at the beginning, Sutton added, then ramp up the exercise as departure date nears — especially if sheep is the name of the game.
Big country Alaska
Alaska offers a variety of hunting opportunities, many of them world class. Options include hunting grouse or hare, or hunts for bear, caribou, moose and more.
Information: Alaska Department of Fish and Game, adfg.alaska.gov. Big Game Backcountry Guides, email@example.com, 541-531-7211.