I just returned from another amazing hunt at Arctic Red River Outfitters in the NWT in Canada. I hope you enjoy the photo essay I have put together from the trip.
As you will see in the photos, I am wearing a new camouflage pattern called Verde and some our 2013 line-up of gear. The new pattern was developed due to requests by customers for a green based pattern. I am REALLY excited about how it turned out. It is super versatile and going to work just about everywhere. And it looks great!
I will follow up this post soon with more details on Verde and the 2013 Gear including availability and when we will begin accepting pre-orders.
PLEASE NOTE***** VIAS WILL BE OFFERED IN THE 2013 GEAR.
All the photography is shot by Paul Bride. Paul shoots for Arcteryx, MSR, OR, Black Diamond and many other leading Outdoor Brands. Paul has been on location around the world shooting climbing and outdoor photographs. He has over 30 magazine cover photographs and has won numerous awards for his work. This was his 1st hunting shoot and he throughly enjoyed the experience. He is uber talented and fantastic to work with. Enjoy.
DAY 1, AUGUST 16th, 2012
We flew in from Norman Wells, NWT to Base Camp on a Twin Otter operated by North-Wright Air.
I had the pleasure of meeting our good customers and friends from Spain, Jose’ & Pedro Ampero who were on their way home from a successful hunt.
After landing at the Arctic Red Base Camp, we loaded up our gear and headed up to the lake above camp to catch the Bush Master floatplane to High Mountain Lake. High Mountain Lake is at the far Western end of the area,where Kent, my guide, was waiting for me.
Our plan was to hunt up through a high pass then drop down to the Big Star River where we will be picked up on a gravel bar strip that we would build 10-days later. After meeting Kent at the Lake we put our packs on and began our 3-day trek to the Big Star River.
We went about 9 hours up the drainage towards the high pass where we set camp on a tundra covered knob that gave us an incredible view down the valley and up a drainage to our west. Rams were feeding to the east and west of us, a big bull caribou to the north, all of it surrounded by a cathedral of cliffs, rock spires and high basins. The fall colors were beginning to show themselves enhancing the beauty of this setting.
Day 2- The Climb to Loan-pine Pass
We awoke to a beautiful clear morning and left camp to explore the drainage to our west where we spotted a young ram feeding the evening before. At the head of the drainage we found him with 3 other young rams bedded in a cliff band above us.
We hunted back to our tents, packed up and headed up the main drainage to Loan-pine Pass. It took us most of the day to reach the pass where we set camp that evening in a heavy down pour. There were 15 ewes and lambs and two young rams above us on a ridge of black shale. I climbed into my bag excited to see the Ram River tomorrow.
Day 3-Descending to the Big Star
Heavy rain on my tent fly woke me and made for a cold and soggy breaking of camp. We descended down the bottom of a narrow canyon with cliff bands and rock spires that held ewes and one young ram. After 3 hours of descending through the rocky bottom we finally reached the Big Star.
The Big Star River is a wide Glacial cut valley with rolling hills layered with spruce, willows and tundra surrounded by high peaks, cliffs, black shale basins painted with golden lichen and high mountain glaciers. It was breathtaking.
We set camp at 4 pm in drainage off the Ram called Al’s Cut, named after the legendary guide Al Klassen who has been guiding at Arctic Red for longer than anyone can remember. Kent’s plan was to spend two days hunting this area. Kent stressed we are “shopping”. I reminded him I am an impulse buyer!
Arctic Red River does not pre-scout for its clients. Tavis & Rebecca intimately know the area and keeps a detailed logbook of how many sheep and rams are harvested, passed up, their approximate age and location. They catalog this information to make educated decisions of where to send clients.
Hunters will not hunt an area previously hunted that season and most of the time not hunted in several seasons or in the case of my hunt last season, never been hunted. The client at Arctic Red is involved in the “process” of finding a ram and harvesting. It makes it for a much more rewarding hunt in my opinion. It may not be for everyone but if you appreciate a challenging experience and want a classic backpack sheep hunt Arctic Red is simply amazing. Come in shape and with the right gear.
We hunted up a narrow cut that was made up of lichen-covered ridges on the south side and cliff bands and vertical rock spires on the north. It was perfect ram habitat. We found only 3 young rams .
Day 4- Al’s Cut
We woke at 8 am, made coffee, ate granola and powdered milk packed out packs for a day hunt and hit the trail at 10 am. We had a long day ahead of us.
The day’s are still long in the middle of August. It stays light until 11:30pm and sunrise is at 5am. The best hunting is in the evening after 7:30pm. So you always get in late and to bed after mid-night. It is important to get your sleep. We walked 12 to 14 hours a day for 9 straight days. None of it flat or easy terrain and most of it with a heavy pack. We experienced hot days, cold days, windy, wet, rain, fog and frost.
We spotted 2 rams on a distant ridge up and wanted to take a closer look.
After hiking up through a narrow cut to find the 2 rams, we found this hidden basin covered with sheep trails and tracks.
We found an old ram bedded under a rock outcropping.
We crawled into this saddle to get a closer look at this old ram.
Kent and I close the distance on the ram bedded in the rocks on the far mountain in the background. We think he is the “one”.
A ram we did not see bedded on a different ridge, busted us and began to head up hill. We got up against this shale slide for cover and see if the old ram was alerted.
Disappointment. The young ram spooked the old ram and he headed up over the top of the mountain ending our chances.
Day-5 Moving Day
Kent wants to move camp up the ram to look in a couple of drainages has shot some big rams in the past years. We spend most of the day hunting up the Big Star River. The plan is to hunt here a couple of days and see what we can find. We are seeing from 10 to 20 rams a day, so it becomes a game of finding “the” ram.
We set camp and headed up to glass 2 drainages.
We found 13 different rams but none of them quite what we were looking for.
Day – 6 Wolf
Loading up my pack at my tent for our day hunt, Kent calmly and softly tells me to slowly grab my rifle. A wolf just appeared on the ridge across from camp. I could not get a good rest to make a steady shot. Fortunately my Tri-pod was sitting next to my tent and gave me the steadiness I needed to make a 274 yard shot on this large and old male wolf. It all happend so fast it I did not have time to get excited which made it a much easier shot.
Kent skinned and salted the hide and we headed up the ram to look for sheep.
Day 7- Air Drop and Grinding
Tavis flew in to check on us and do the traditional mid-hunt air drop of pie, bread, cookies and meat loaf. A welcome site after of living on bars and freeze dried for a week.
We hunted up a narrow cut with cliffs, slides and vertical ridges. The cut held several rams and we found one bedded up high that had some potential. He was quartering away and the side we could see looked promising, a nice flaring tipped horn and 10 1/2 years old. We watched him for a couple of hours waiting to see the off side horn. He finally got up to reposition in his bed and he was broomed off. Kent stressed that we were getting low on days to shoot a ram and a Caribou. If I wanted both he suggested we try and shoot this ram. I decided to pass and just focus on sheep for our last few days of the hunt.
Day-7 Old Bull
After covering a ton of country on Day-6, looking over a lot of sheep and not finding “the” ram, we decided to move camp back to Al’s cut and see if we could find the ram we stalked on day 4. It took us most of the day to get back there and set up camp. Around 5 pm we headed out of camp and up Al’s cut. Just out of camp we spotted a bachelor group of big bulls. Kent said “do not even think bout it” we need to preserve the days to find a ram. There was one bull that was palmated and heavy and I instantly fell in love! I told Kent not to worry and that I wanted to close the distance to just get a better look at them for fun.
I closed the distance down to 215 yards and could not resist.
I pulled the Boswell .300 WSM out of my pack laid it across the Icon and shot the bull behind the shoulder.
Kent’s reaction was priceless. He could not believe I shot this bull so far from the strip and late on our 7th day. I told him it would all work out, do not worry.
He is a slug of a bull. Old, palmated, grey with scars on his face and flanks from fighting and wolves. An old warrior. I was so excited to take such a great animal.
We skinned and quartered the old bull. While Kent was caping I headed up to a small ridge above us to look into a narrow cut. I sat down to glass and found a beautiful tipped ram at the far end of the cut heading down. 3 minutes later he disappeared. I knew this was my ram!! Had I not shot the bull we never would have found this ram. The mountains were being very generous to me!
Kent spotted the ram in the cut from camp. He fed over a small ridge, pretty low in the cut and did not come out from behind it. We knew he bedded and was low enough to shoot from the bottom of the canyon. The stalk was on.
We staked the ram up through a narrow boulder filled canyon. We knew we were getting close, Kent went around a corner in front of me then came right back, looked at me very seriously, said grab your rifle. The ram is 175 yards above above us. He just saw me and is up.
I grabbed my rifle and tri-pod and came around the corner, the ram was on the move, heading straight up away from us now at 350 yards and not stopping. I struggled with my tri-pod to get a steady rest, I knew the shot had to count so I waited until I settled down and the ram stopped. At 374 yards almost straight up he finally gave me a quartering away angle. I was on him, shooting for 300 yards due to the steep upward angle. The gun went off. The hit was perfect and the ram was down! I was speechless!
He is a beautiful 8 1/2 year old ram, I was thrilled beyond words. What a hunt! I could not believe how it all came together so quickly in just a few hours. My gut told me last night that it would all work out.
Day 9- Sufferfest
Kent and I loaded up camp, the ram hide and meat, the caribou meat, horns and cape and the wolf hide and skull and headed to the Big Star River to find and build an air strip. 120 + pound load in the Icon and it performed flawlessly.
4 hours later we stumbled onto a gravel bar that was long enough to build an airstrip for Tavis to come pick us up.
We flew back to base camp and arrived just in time for a HUGE dinner and a stories with all of the rest of the hunters who were back in from their hunts. It was a very fun evening.
The hardest part of The Arctic Red River is leaving! I want to give a well deserved thank you to Tavis & Rebecca who run such a professional operation and their area is so spectacular. If you like backpack hunting this is as close to paradise as I think you can get.