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A NIGHT IN THE ROCKIES
Yukon Adventure - Mike Opitz

Yukon Adventure - Mike Opitz

Yukon Adventure - Mike Opitz
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Collect Hunts Not Trophies

The Yukon Territory.  The destination of many during the gold rush of 1898, a destination today for hunters from around the world.  I hunted the Ruby Range near Kluane Lake in 2013 for Dall Sheep with my great friend and hunting partner Mark Streissguth.  We had an amazing hunt on which we both killed excellent Rams and even rebooked our 2015 return before we left camp. 

This year I flew into Whitehorse on the 12th of September, linked up with Mark, picked up a few last minute supplies, and prepared to head back into the Ruby Range.  The following day we flew in via Beaver on floats and landed on Gladstone Lake.  Our outfitter, Ross Elliott, owner of Ruby Range Outfitters has one of several camps on Gladstone.  We got settled into the hunter's cabin while Ross and his son Dustin tended to the 17 mountain horses they had in camp.  The excitement level was high for Mark and me as we carried several tags between us.  We each had tags for Dall Sheep, Mountain Caribou, and Alaskan Yukon Moose.  I was lucky enough to also have a bonus tag for a Tundra Grizzly.  Despite having numerous tags in hand, what gripped us most was the adventure, the hunt itself, we were about to embark upon.

The next day we all saddled up together and headed north out of camp on what would be a two hour ride into caribou country.  It wasn't long before we spotted our first herd of about 50 animals.  There were 4 bulls in the herd.  











One was decent, but none were over the top.  Mark, in his usual gracious way, told me I should make a move to get a better look at the good bull.  He killed a whooper bull in the Ogilvie Mountains several years earlier and knew I had never bagged a Mountain Caribou.  Having four tags to fill and knowing we were not going to be in caribou country very long, I jumped at the opportunity.  Dustin and I began our stalk and, over about an hour's time, crept to a 260 yard shooting position.  Shortly after getting into position the two biggest bulls in the herd started sparring and Dustin said “he's the one on the right.”   
With my new Red Rock Precision 28 Nosler in hand I lined up for the shot.  "Dustin, you ready?" "Yep."  I let one fly and heard the 180 grain Berger VLD impact.  The bull didn't move.  I shot again, heard the hit again yet the bull still stood there.  I thought about shooting a third shot but decided to watch for a second.  We couldn't believe it.  He just tipped over.  I safed out my gun and we ran down the hill to check him out.  Day one and one tag already filled.  After skinning, quartering, and caping the bull we rode back to the Gladstone camp.  
   
On day two of our hunt Mark headed down to the lake to hunt another creek drainage while Ross, Dustin, and I returned with pack horses to retrieve the caribou meat, antlers, and cape.  We spotted a small grizzly about a mile out who surely would have been on the kill site later that day.  We loaded the caribou and headed back to camp. The evening of the second day of this hunt will forever be embedded in my mind.  Mark and I had a great meal with our guides and outfitter and settled into the hunter’s cabin, excited about the following day.  A few hours later, around midnight, we were both jolted from a sound sleep to what felt like an earthquake and sounded like a deep clasp of thunder.  Mark yelled “what the *!.#@*$# was that?!”  He jumped up, looked out the back window and found himself face to face with a Yukon Tundra Grizzly.  He yelled again “bear!”  

We both grabbed our head lamps and rifles while the bruin was ripping plywood off the side of our cabin.  We made a quick plan and busted out the door.  Mark went right and I went left, only to catch a glimpse of the Griz disappearing into the darkness.  The bear came back at 4:00 AM and busted into the cook shack of our camp, but again escaped when we pursued. The next morning we saddled our horses and headed out to find this guy.  It wasn't long before Dustin spotted him on a ridge across the lake.  The problem was, it was a long shot with no means of getting closer.  We decided to take the shot, only because of the conditions: no wind, no elevation change, a perfect prone shooting position, and time to shoot.  A clean shot resulted in a quick kill.  He's a 7'2" mountain Grizzly with a 22" skull.  This bear had destroyed three of my outfitters camps in the previous weeks.  Needless to say, we were all thrilled at the outcome of this amazing day in the Yukon.
On day 4, Mark decided to stay in the Gladstone camp where the potential for finding caribou was best.  I headed down the lake toward Ross’ Swanson Creek camp in route to an alpine basin where Dustin had spotted a number of good rams during his previous hunt.  We rode for around three hours, crossed the river, and arrived to find the Swanson Creek cook shack in shambles from menacing grizzly.  After about three hours of repairing the cabin and cleaning up debris, we got in a few hours of glassing above Gladstone Creek.  We spotted a beautiful black bear, got some great photos, and headed back to camp.

The following day Dustin and I loaded the horses and headed further down Gladstone Creek in route to sheep country.  Not long after crossing the creek, we spotted a huge bull moose across the valley.  He had great fronts, many points, and had to be mid 60’s in width.  He was on the move just above timber line, also headed down stream.  He was a definite shooter.  He was headed for the low country down near Kluane Lake.  At the time we thought he must be getting out of Dodge because of oncoming weather, or that he is just on the move looking for cows because the rut was on.  We spent the rest of the day on horseback attempting to get in front of him so we could cross to his side and possibly cut him off.  He, however, was moving too fast and we eventually lost him in the timber.  By this time it was too late and our alpine basin spike camp would have to wait another day.  We had just enough time to locate a spot with enough grass for the horses to pitch our tents before darkness.  I went to sleep that night listening to the bells on our hobbled horses and dreaming of a heavy broomed off Dall Ram.


Spike Camp at Dusk

Spike Camp at sunrise
We woke the next morning to a great surprise; eighteen inches of fresh snow.  We were stunned.  I started a big campfire and we sat there for two hours drinking coffee contemplating our next move.  Making our way into the higher sheep country, where there was inevitably even more snow, was not in the cards.  We decided to feed our remaining oats to the horses and head to Kluane Lake in an area Dustin knew to hold great moose.  Seven hours on horseback and a sore you-know-what later we arrived at The Ruby Range Cove camp on the lake.

Our first day at the Cove, we rode about an hour to a ridge overlooking the lake.  We glassed for moose, spotting 11 throughout the day.  Just before dark we found a great bull that we would definitely try to get the following morning.  Well, we spent the next two days covering miles of country in two feet of snow attempting to relocate him.  This was not to be, he had moved on, apparently to find more cows.

By this time Mark had joined us at the Cove and we all decided to head out in the Outfitters boat to look for sheep along the peaks surrounding Kluane Lake.  The snow had definitely pushed some of these Dall down, as we saw 150 sheep in an afternoon.  The crazy thing was, they were all ewes and lambs and there was not one ram amongst them.  Dustin decided to land the boat where we could start a fire, have lunch, and continue to glass, in hopes of finding a Ram.  I still couldn’t get my mind off the big bull moose and, after scanning intently for sheep, I turned my scope to the hills above the Cove where we had spotted him several days earlier.  It must have been five miles away but because of the snow I was able to make out some movement across my view.  Yes it was a bull moose.  Was it him?  I had no idea.  Dustin turned his scope on him and confirmed a bull and he looked good. 

So there began our stalk.  In a boat we had to first cross Kluane Lake.  Back at the Cove, we saddled the horses and headed up.  It was about an hour ride to get us in a position 1,000 yards from where we last saw the brute.  Scopes out, searching intently, we located three cows but no bull.  My excitement dwindled over the next hour.  It was right about the time we were beginning to pack up, Dustin said “wait, I got something.”  He studied his scope for what seemed an eternity and finally said “I got him.”  The bull had bedded in a clove of willows and Dustin found one visible tine from a 1,000 yards out.  I love my guide.

We planned our stalk to a snowy knoll we believed would put us at 200 yards.  Leaving the horses, we moved out, wind right to left.  Half way to the knoll, now out of site of the moose, the wind turned against us.  I thought for sure we were busted, for it was right at our backs. 
 We hustled through the deep snow, dripping sweat at 10 degrees, hoping our scent had not pushed the bull out of range.  Just before we topped out I chambered a round, reminded Dustin to call out the range, and mentally prepared for the shot.  We peaked over the bank and the bull was standing, looking directly at us. The cows had already fled and it was obvious we had only seconds before the bull would move out too.  Dustin had already called out 157 yards and, before he finished saying “he’s a shooter,” my bullet was on the way.  He was hit, took only a few steps, and crashed into the willows.   I can’t explain our emotions at that moment.  We had hunted this moose for four days and began this stalk from five miles away.  We approached and were overjoyed at the magnificent bull we laid our eyes on.  I was blown away.


We did what we could that evening and spent the next two days tending to the moose.  All meat, cape, and antlers were salvaged.  The tenderloins were fabulous and enjoyed by all back at the Cove. We spent our final days of the hunt on Kluane Lake in search of Dall rams.  We did find a few smaller legal rams, but chose not to pursue in hopes they too would someday grow into the beautiful trophies found throughout the Ruby Range.
Over the years Mark and I have hunted together many times.  From Sonora to the Yukon we’ve chased big game all over North America.  On one of these hunts long ago he said something to me I will never forget; “Mike, collect hunts, not trophies.”  His message struck home.  Although he and I together took some amazing animals on this trip to the Yukon, it is the scenery, the adventure, the comradery, the beauty of the Yukon - the hunt with my great friend that I will carry with me always.

Mike Opitz



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Yukon Memories!What an amazing adventure, glad you got that bear! Thanks for sharing! Written by Kelly Cox on Sun 11 Oct 2015 10:35:03 PM GMT
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