For many outsoorsmen, Alaska is seen as one of the last great unexplored wildernesses. But for Tyler Freel, Alaska is home sweet home.
The 25-year-old Fairbanks resident moved from Colorado to Alaska when he was 16. He went on his first sheep hunt when he was 18 and he’s never looked back since.
“I’ve never looked back … Alaska is a paradise for me.” Tyler’s buddy with a sheep shot in the Brooks Range.
Being an Alaskan resident, Freel can buy a sheep license over the counter and hike or fly into some of the wildest country in the world.
Freel with his ram and his hunting partner’s ram, ready to hike back out to civilization.
Almost every year he goes on unguided hunts that most people pay thousands of dollars to go on through an outfitter.
But getting a tag and gaining access is only a minute hurdle when compared to the hardships of sheep hunting in Alaska.
Most sheep excursions involve a painful amount of hiking, glassing, climbing and packing.
Many hunters consider an unguided sheep hunt one of the toughest hunts in the world.
But Freel has grown to embrace the challenge. Since he was 18 he’s killed five sheep.
“I could almost careless about any other kind of hunting at this point. I mean I’ll go and it’s fun, but … sheep hunting is the best,” Freel says.
Standing 6 feet 3 inches tall and weighing in at 230 pounds, Freel is one big Alaskan.
His last hunt was a solo excursion. His friend flew him into the backcountry in a bush plane, and after he shot his ram, Freel hiked his way out.
“Most other hunting you just get up early go out and hunt, but with sheep you’re out there for 10 days. You’re really immersed in it,” Freel says. “It’s the most rewarding kind of hunting I’ve ever done.”
Perhaps one of the best parts about hunting Alaska is the view.
This is Freel’s dad, who introduced him to hunting. Freel’s uncles also live in Alaska and helped admit him into the sheep hunting fraternity.
Freel’s toughest hunt unfolded a few year’s back with his college buddy.
They both got their ram, but being young and excited they shot two rams 10 miles away from their ATVs.
With estimated 160-pound packs, they hoofed it back toward home.
But with a heavy fog rolling in, Freel and his buddy became disoriented when they couldn’t see their ATVs at the bottom of the ridge.
“We got to the top of this little peak and couldn’t see to the bottom. There was about an hour where we thought we might have to sit there for a day or two and wait out the fog,” Freel says.
But they decided to trust their GPS and head down the ridge through the fog. Luckily, the GPS wasn’t lying and they made it out exhausted, beat up, but happy.
“That hunt almost killed us,” Freel says
“We each lost between 15 and 20 pounds in the eight days we were out. I could hardly walk for two weeks and couldn’t sleep on my back because my pack frame had dug into my lower back,” Freel later wrote about the hunt.
Freel has also hunted bears, caribou, blacktail deer and moose.
On this trip they flew in a small rubber raft to cross a river that was too high to ford on foot.
They also wisely packed life jackets.
But immediately after ferrying all of their gear across the river, Freel and his hunting partner spotted sheep back on the other side of the river. They quickly shuttled all of their gear back.
So goes the life of a sheep hunter.
Freel has only hunted Dall Sheep, which for him are the easiest sheep to access. As is the case for most hunters, he’d love to go after the other sheep species, but is deterred by the ever-rising cost of sheep hunts.
“I’d love to go after stone sheep, but [sheep hunting] has become a rich man’s game,” Freel says.
Another photo from the Brooks Range, a rugged line of mountains that stretches from west to east across northern Alaska into the Yukon Territories.
The Brooks Range is estimated to be 126 million years old and is home to grizzlies, caribou and dall sheep.
Tyler Freel lives in the ultimate sportsman’s paradise: Alaska. Check out this photo gallery documenting some of the most extreme hunts from our new Live Hunt host.