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September 14, 2010
Every Yukon sheep hunter gets a special pin before the hunt begins. When outfitter Alan Young gave me mine, he said, "At least you'll get one ram on this trip." I couldn't know how profound his foreshadowing would be.
This is part one of a three part series. Check back next week for the rest of the story and more photos.
I'd be hunting with Midnight Sun Outfitting, one of the territory's top outfits. They start hunting in July for sheep and continue through October for moose, caribou and interior grizzly bears.
Every leg of the trip involves an incrementally smaller plane. Here, we load guns and horse feed on a twin-engine Islander.
Our first stop in the Yukon's interior is Midnight Sun's base camp. This gorgeous lodge overlooks Hart Lake and a killer view of the Wernecke Mountains, some of the most remote country in North America.
Drew and I say farewell. I'll be hunting for 10 days in a totally different direction from him. I'm headed on a float plane to Three Barrel Lake.
My first view of Three Barrel. The cabin where my hunt will begin is at the far end of the lake.
Three Barrel cabin. The week before I arrived here, a grizzly bear had torn the entire back wall off the cabin and ransacked the interior. It was a mess, but the bear was well-enough behaved to leave the way he entered. Alan Young asked me to please kill the bear if I saw it. I told him I'd be happy to do him the favor.
Yukoners are a fiercely independent bunch, but even though they're not a full-fledged province, they proudly fly their territorial flag, even at this most remote outpost in the back country.
The sign is self-explanatory.
Fireweed is the official flower of the Yukon. Bees love it.
No matter how far you travel, there's always a cowboy near by. This is the roping dummy for one of the sheep guides who just can't seem to stop lassoing things. I asked if the cowboy had built it. "No," said Ryan. "All the rest of us did. We were getting tired of getting roped all the time."
After an uneasy sleep -- remember, the bear was still at large -- it's time to pack the horses for a 20-mile trail ride to our next camp. Ryan starts cinching on the pack saddles.
And loading the panniers. Everything comes with us: grain for the horses, all our camping gear, my hunting gear, cooking pots and food for the next 10 days. We saddle 3 riding horses and pack another 4 ponies.
This is the land of the giant Yukon moose. This is a puny shed, but we see plenty of shed antlers for moose that would stretch 70 inches and more. I want to come back for a big, surly Yukon bull.
The ground along our route is littered with sheds. We saw plenty of caribou antlers, like this one, and dozens of moose antlers, from smaller 20-inch sheds to some giant sheds going nearly 35 inches.
One of dozens of stream crossings in our long day in the saddle. NEXT WEEK: More photos from McKean's first week in sheep country.
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