FAIRBANKS -- Most big-game hunters are lucky to bag a legal Dall sheep ram during the fall hunting season. They hike up and down mountains, fork out hundreds of dollars to fly in to remote hunting spots and spend hours sitting on mountain tops staring through binoculars and spotting scopes in hopes of spotting a legal ram, much less a trophy.
All of which makes the fact that someone dumped a whole, dead, trophy-class Dall sheep ram along the Old Nenana Highway south of Fairbanks last week somewhat peculiar.
"It's a really odd deal," said Sgt. Scott Quist with Alaska Wildlife Troopers in Fairbanks.
It didn't appear there was any attempt to salvage the meat or the horns of the sheep, though about half the animal had been stripped clean by scavengers, Quist said.
"Typically we'll find parts and pieces," the trooper said. "This is the first time I've ever seen a full sheep carcass." The Alaska Department of Fish and Game received a call from a resident in the area on Nov. 26 who had found the ram in a pull-out about 50 yards off the road, a mile from where the Old Nenana Highway connects with the Parks Highway at Mile 342.4.
"It was so odd that I didn't believe the report initially," said state wildlife biologist Don Young, who drove out to investigate the call last Saturday. "I thought it was going to be a domestic sheep."
Instead, Young found what appears to be a 10- or 11-year-old Dall sheep ram with a set of nearly full-curl horns. Rams must have either full-curl or broomed (broken) horns, or be at least 8 years old to be legal.
"It's a nice ram," Young said. "It's a trophy."
Where it came from is what troopers are hoping to find out. The sheep had obviously been shot, judging from an exit hole behind its left shoulder, Quist said. The ram's thick coat indicates it was probably killed in the last few weeks, the trooper said.
"It's a November sheep for sure," said Quist. "It's not like somebody killed it earlier and just decided to dump it now."
Given that the sheep was whole, the trooper speculates that somebody shot it along the road system, perhaps near Atigun Pass on the Dalton Highway north of Fairbanks or possibly in the Healy area off the Parks Highway. It could even have been shot near Turnagain Arm south of Anchorage.
Those are about the only places where someone might stumble upon a sheep near the road, Quist said.
"I'm convinced it was shot along the road and somebody got spooked and dumped it," he said. "If I had to guess, I would say Atigun Pass would be the most likely place."
Atigun Pass is near Mile 245 on the Dalton Highway, about 325 miles north of Fairbanks. It is the highest point on the road system and sheep can often be seen from the highway.
Dall sheep typically aren't found near the road, but this late in the season the ram could have come down out of the mountains because of snow. It could also have been looking for a mate.
"It is the rutting season and could have been a ram that was traveling," Young said.
Quist is hoping somebody who may have seen the ram near the Dalton Highway will recognize it and contact troopers.
"Maybe a trucker saw it near the road and (will) be able to give us a time frame and we can work from there," he said.
The horns of the sheep will go into the Department of Fish and Game's educational kit, though troopers will keep the sheep's head as evidence while working the case.
"It's too bad," Young said. "It's a real waste."