I had just finished my first year in hunting camp as an elk and mule deer hunting guide and was eager to see what the hunting industry was all about. Although this was a sheep hunting convention there were lots of other exhibitors there, and to be quite honest, I didn’t understand what the big deal was about hunting sheep.
25 years later, the allure of hunting mountain sheep has taken me to places around the world and impacted my career, my family, and my lifestyle.
Wild sheep inhabit some of the most remote places in the world. They must survive tough winter conditions along with having keen senses to elude the many predators who target them. Mountain sheep hunting is the Major League of hunting anywhere in the world. Why is that? Is it the remote country they live in and the physical challenge of accessing the mountains? Is it the majestic appearance of a band of rams? Perhaps it’s the full force head butting during their hierarchy battles, or maybe the mass and length of their curly horns? The correct answer has to be all of the above!
Hunting sheep requires a special skill set of a hunter, and an even greater skill set as a guide. The challenges not only will test the most physically fit, but will also test one’s mental toughness. The steep slopes and rocky terrain don’t care who you are or how much money you have. The weather can be unpredictable and unforgiving, and the mountain sheep that we pursue have incredible natural instincts. Their eyesight is equivalent to 8x binoculars, they can detect movement at long distances, their nose can scent anything out of the ordinary, and they are always on the lookout. Rams run in bands (groups), making the approach even more difficult as there are always multiple sets of eyes. If they even start to sense danger, in the blink of an eye they ascend a few hundred meters to no-man’s land, or change zip codes to never be seen again. Overcoming these factors is why success is so sweet. It doesn’t happen to everyone, nor does it happen every day.
As a young man, I knew I wanted to guide in the big leagues, and sheep needed to be one of the animals I specialized in. So, I learned everything I could about sheep and sheep hunting and joined in on any sheep hunt that was available. I would basically work for free just so I could go on a sheep hunt. I continued to go to the North American Wild Sheep Convention and begged outfitters to allow me the opportunity to guide for them. I didn’t care what I had to do or where it was. I just wanted to get as much experience as possible. It was about this time I realized I had caught a consuming disease, “Sheep Fever.”
Before long, I was guiding for sheep in Idaho, Nevada, Arizona, Utah, Montana, Mexico, and Alaska. My sheep hunting style was that of a hard charger and it became obvious that my skill set was best suited for the rugged mountains of Alaska. I wanted to go where some of the biggest Dall sheep lived and hunt them in some of the toughest terrain that God ever created.
“The ATX 115 is awesome. A total game-changer. At low light the ATX 115 captures enough light so that 70x magnification has unbelievable clarity. At 30x magnification the field of view is large enough that you can use the scope to glass from distances at which you may otherwise miss something with your binoculars.”
In 2003, I founded a guide service in Alaska. One year later, I married my wife Nikki and we moved to Alaska full time. Our business specializes in extreme backpack-style Dall sheep hunts.
The Chugach Mountains provide the perfect habitat for my style of hunting. The intense difficulty of these hunts also provides a place for us to carve out a niche in the highly competitive guiding industry. Alaska’s coastal Chugach Mountains can be very demanding in terms of the weather, logistics, and physical requirements. However, the mental challenges of pushing day after day, and hunt after hunt challenged and developed my guiding skills.
Those skills were put to the test when my wife decided she wanted to see what all the sheep hunting stories were all about. She had seen first-hand the bonds that had been made between people on these hunts, and she liked the idea of a challenging sheep hunt. She had no idea of the physical and mental difficulties that were going to be thrown her way.
It began with an hour’s bush flight into some of the most remote terrain in Alaska. Once the hum of the bush plane faded away into the distance, it was time for us to embark on our mission. We started with an all-day hike into sheep country, then another full day of mountain climbing, patience, persistence, overcoming the sheep’s keen senses, and then when the time was right, making a one-shot kill. Smiles were larger than life, but the adventure and work were far from over.
A grizzly tried to get an easy meal during the photo session, and then an all-night pack-out back to the tent as the sun came up. All of this with a dead ram on our backs in grizzly country. An eight-hour nap was followed by another 20-kilometer (12-mile) hike back to the airstrip while packing a sheep, camp, and all our hunting equipment. There was very little talking as we were both just powering through the pain. Once at the airstrip my wife removed her boots to realize that she had torn all the skin off both her heels. Now she had her own story! My wife experienced a tremendous feeling of accomplishment, followed by physical pain, and relief that it was all over. There was also a sense of satisfaction of providing for her family with a pack full of sheep meat!
The timberline of this mountain range is at around 600 meters (2,000 feet) and its vegetation zones range from forest to alpine tundra mainly populated by hemlock, paper birch, sitka, and white spruce.
A few years have passed and now my wife only needs one more of the four North American sheep to complete her Grand Slam. A feat fewer than one hundred women have ever accomplished. With all of these sheep hunting stories circulating around our home, business, and friends, it is only fitting that my 14-year-old son is desperate to harvest his first sheep. He has gone on two different sheep hunts of his own, both unsuccessful. The disappointment of coming home empty handed can crush some hunters, but the hunter who understands the difficulty of the mission also has the burning desire to feel the thrill of success. This is how Sheep Fever starts.
As part of his successful hunting business,
Lance Kronberger shares his knowledge
and enthusiasm with hunters as he guides them
on challenging expeditions in the mountains.