In the world of big game, bagging Dall sheep is considered a highlight of the hunting experience. Juneau hunters Mark Kasberg, 41, and Mark Petz, 50, recently found this to be true.
Over the summer Kasberg and Petz traveled north to start their sheep-hunting adventure. It was Kasberg's second Dall sheep hunt and Petz' first. The trip was a winner and Kasberg dropped a 34-inch ram while Petz shot a 38-inch ram. In the realm of rams, measurement is marked by horn length.
Dall sheep live in the state's mountain ranges, although not near Juneau. Kim Titus of the state Division of Wildlife Conservation said the closest sheep are just across the Canadian border on the Klondike Highway north of Skagway.
The division's research shows the sheep typically are found in fairly dry country and hang around a grouping of open alpine ridges, meadows and steep slopes for feeding and resting, with tremendously rugged terrain nearby to use as a quick access to escape from danger.
That makes them hard to get to.
"All the books we read said that we needed to be in good physical condition," Kasberg said. "But for us it turned out to be a relatively easy hunt."
While Dall sheep hunting is physically challenging, a far greater difficulty can be landing a permit. Each year only 4 to 5 percent of those who apply are awarded one. Guided hunting is also available, and those interested in hunting Dall sheep are advised to check with Fish and Game to determine what will work best.
Kasberg, who has lived in Alaska since 1983, has been applying for a permit since 1984. One day he was playing racquetball with Petz, who having scored some difficult-to-get hunting permits in Oregon, mentioned he was lucky in the permit-getting arena. So the pair agreed to apply for what is known as a party hunt. If either name was drawn, they would both receive permits.
Petz' luck played out, and the men received a permit. In August the two packed up and drove to Tok, where 40 Mile Air Service whisked them up to the Alaska Range and dropped them off in alpine country at 5,200 feet.
Their hunt began the next day. Some of the challenges Dall sheep hunters face, according to Kasberg, are the terrain and visibility.
"You are out in the open, but you need good optics," he said. "The ram's horns have to be full curl before they can be harvested, but it's hard to see the sheep, because they are generally a long way off."
However, Petz' permit-landing luck lapped over to this leg of the adventure. On the first day of their hunt, just about 1 1/2 miles, or two hours, from their camp, both Petz and Kasberg shot a sheep. A few hours later they had lugged their rams back to where their camp.
The return rendezvous with 40 Mile Air was scheduled for six days later. But this is the 21st century, and technology reigns. By using a satellite phone they had handy, the men were able to arrange for pickup the following day.
Kasberg and Petz are lifetime hunters. Petz, who has lived here for more than five years, has experience hunting moose, brown bear and deer. He once scored an elk permit in Oregon, but didn't get the chance to use it. Petz loves being in the outdoors more than anything. He holds a state archery certificate and is looking forward to goat hunting this fall in an archery-only area if time allows.
Kasberg has hunted caribou, black bear, brown bear, moose and deer. Among the array of game they have hunted, both men agree they enjoyed hunting Dall sheep the best.
"It's in our blood now," Kasberg said.
What they both like best about Dall sheep hunting is the challenge, but the men also like to eat the meat.
"It's one of the favorites of the wild game I've had," Kasberg said.
"It's the best," Pertz added. "It has a fine texture, it's sweet and it's tender."
One of the meals the Petz family has concocted with sheep meat is curry.
This Dall sheep hunt was the first time Petz and Kasberg have been able to hunt together, and they had a blast.
"I'd like to do any kind of hunting with Mark," said Petz.
"Good company, good scenery and good weather," Kasberg agreed. "The whole trip was great."
Catherine Parmelee is a free-lance writer living in Juneau. For more on Dall sheep, check www.state.ak.us/local/akpages/FISH.GAME/notebook/biggame/dallshee.htm.