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Dall Sheep Hunting in Alaska
Hunting Dall Sheep in the Tok Management Area
Hunting Dall sheep in the Tok Management Area (TMA) is a dream come true for many hunters. Each year about 2,500 people apply for a TMA permit, but only 100 to 120 are awarded. The chance of being drawn is less than 5 percent. The lucky TMA hunter will discover a beautiful and uncrowded corner of the Alaska Range that supports a moderate population of sheep including a high proportion of trophy rams.
The Tok Management Area (TMA) was created in 1974 with the goal of providing Dall sheep hunters the opportunity to harvest large-horned, trophy rams in an uncrowded setting. TMA rams exhibit the second greatest horn length and the fourth greatest horn mass qualities of rams inhabiting seven mountain ranges in Alaska. Rams harvested in the TMA average 36 to 37.5 inches. Between 3 and 9 rams per year are harvested with horns greater than 40 inches, representing 8-17 percent of the harvest. The TMA is the only sheep hunting area specifically established for trophy ram management in Alaska.
Four objectives have guided TMA management since its inception:
- Maintain a population capable of supporting an annual harvest of 30–45 rams;
- Maintain a mean horn length of 36–37 inches among harvested rams and a mean age of 8–9 years;
- Maintain the proportion of harvested rams with 40-inch horns or larger at 7–10 percent; and
- Prevent unacceptable increases in hunter concentration and maintain the existing aesthetically pleasing qualities associated with sheep hunting in the TMA.
Over the past five years these objectives have been met. During the winter of 1999–2000 a questionnaire regarding the objectives of the TMA hunt and standards for trophy rams was sent to 600 randomly drawn persons who had applied for the TMA between 1995 and 1999. Thanks to everyone who took the time to reply. Their insights will continue to influence TMA management.
TMA Sheep Population Trends
This may be surprising to many sheep hunters, but the density of sheep in the TMA is traditionally low to moderate. The reason why the TMA is a trophy area managed by a very restrictive permit system is the horn quality of TMA rams.
During the 2000 and 2001 hunting seasons, the number of legal rams was relatively low due to poor lamb survival in 1992 and 1993. Also, unfavorable weather during those past winters caused higher mortality of older sheep. The number of rams with horns 40 inches or larger still represents about 14 percent of the legal rams. This means hunters will continue to have a much higher chance of harvesting a 40-inch or larger ram in the TMA compared to most areas of the state.
Beginning in 2002, the number of legal rams should increase due to moderate to excellent lamb production and survival during the mid-1990s. Hunting success and the number of larger rams should increase in the TMA.
To ensure that harvest does not overly limit recovery, the number of TMA permits awarded was reduced in 2002 to 100. In the future we will base the number of permits issued on sheep population trends.
Between 1995 and 2001, annual harvests ranged from 60 (1995) to 41 (1997) to 33(2000) rams. Success rates ranged from 34% (2000, 2001) to 61% (1995). Average horn length was 37.2 inches in 1995 but has been 35.2 to 36.5 inches since 1996. Rams with horns 40 inches or larger comprised 7–13% of the harvest from 1995–2001.
Participation rates have increased, and each season from 1995 to 2001, 100 to 105 hunters hunted sheep in the TMA. Hunting pressure and harvest have been highest in the Tok River and East Fork of the Robertson River drainages. Traditionally most hunting pressure occurs during the first 10 days of the season. The second pulse of hunters occurs around Labor Day. Many hunters believe they need to be out the first week to have the best chance of getting that monster ram, but actually 40-50 percent of the rams 39 inches or larger are taken after August 20. Commonly, during the later part of the season, rams descend to lower elevations due to snow at high levels. To reduce the chance of seeing other hunters, plan your trip during late August or mid-September. Because the TMA is a drawing hunt, the hunting pressure is not high enough to drastically alter ram distribution or behavior. There is plenty of country and enough rams to meet the needs of every permitted hunter.
The beauty of the TMA is that it is accessible by foot, 4-wheel drive truck/ATV, or airplane. Drainages accessible from the Alaska and Glenn Highways lead to excellent sheep country and can be successfully used as trails. Some creeks are more difficult than others due to brush or distance. Yerrick and Clearwater Creeks are probably the most difficult but offer more diversity of hunting area due to their length. Large rocks in most of the creek bottoms prevent 4-wheelers or larger ATVs from being efficient modes of transportation. The Tok River country can be accessed by driving a 4-wheel drive truck or ATV along the riverbed. This is an efficient way to access a lot of sheep country. All the drainages leading into the Tok River support sheep along their upper reaches. There are strips and suitable ridge tops or gravel bars scattered throughout the TMA for people who want to fly into the area. People who are experienced driving rafts equipped with a jet unit can travel up the Robertson and Johnson Rivers. The success rates for hunters who walk in from the road, drive up the Tok, or fly in are about the same.
Having the right or wrong equipment can make or break a sheep hunt. Danny Grangaard and Frank Entsminger, two of the most experienced sheep hunters in the state, recommend the following equipment:
Gear Checklist for Sheep Hunters
- Harvest ticket/permit & license in ziplock baggie
- Spotting scope & stand
- Rifle & shells
- Knife (Muskrat)
- Bone saw
- Pocket diamond steel
- 50' light rope
- Lightweight sleeping bag (2 pounds) and pad
- Space blanket
- Map (USGS 1:60; 1:250 Tanacross, Mt.
Hayes & Nabesna maps cover the TMA)
- Lightweight stove
- Lightweight aluminum pot
- Lightweight cup
- Water jugs (at least 2 quarts)
- Toilet paper
- Dried food
- Candy bars/energy bars
- Instant drink mix (Crystal Light)
- Instant hot drink (coffee, tea, hot chocolate)
- Instant hot cereal (oatmeal)
- Synthetic clothing
- Lightweight hiking boots with heel
- 2 pairs socks
- 1 pair gloves
- 1 warm hat
- Lightweight coat: for August hunts
- Medium-weight coat: for September hunts
- Lightweight rain gear
- 4- to 5-pound tent with good 12" stakes
- Lightweight long johns
- Hooded sweat shirt
- Salt for drying to base camp
- Candle for warmth
The most important rule is keep your pack light. Any extra pounds will be quickly felt as the hill grows steeper and the day longer. Hopefully, you will also be packing 80 pounds of incredible meat plus the cape and horns of a trophy ram when you leave.
Good luck hunting sheep in the TMA. We trust it will be one of your hunting highlights for years to come. Remember when you are out there, one of the most important attributes of the TMA is uncrowded hunting. Respect other hunters if you see them in the field. There is plenty of real estate out there for everyone. Also, if you are flying during the hunting season be aware that hunters are on the ground and will not appreciate you buzzing around looking at sheep. Stay high until you get to the strip where you plan to land. Have fun and, if you want, stop by the Tok office after your hunt. We always appreciate TMA hunting stories and comments.
This webpage should help you prepare for your TMA hunt. We have structured this site based on the most frequently asked questions by past TMA hunters. If you need more information, please contact the Alaska Department of Fish & Game in Tok at (907) 883-2971 or Fairbanks at (907) 459-7213.
Good hunting from the Tok Fish & Game office.