Frank Noska is one of the most dedicated bowhunters I have had the pleasure to meet. He is so passionate about bowhunting that at 33 years old moved to Alaska to maximize his opportunities. As a professional pilot, Frank has the ability to research and access remote areas that have allowed him to take some amazing animals. As you will see in his interview he will spend over 140 days a year in the field, which is truly amazing.
I moved to Alaska 10 years ago precisely for more bow hunting opportunities. I grew up in Texas and learned how to bow hunt there, giving the Whitetail deer, Turkey, and Javelina a “difficult time”. As I got older I started venturing out west and learned how to outsmart Elk, Pronghorn, Mule deer, Shiras moose, etc. I continued to broaden my bow hunting horizons and targeted different species of North American big game every chance I got. When I had the opportunity to move to Alaska I never looked back. I participate in several bow hunts every year here in Alaska, Mexico, and the lower 48. I am 43 years old and have been bow hunting with a passion for 27 years. I live, breath, eat and sleep bow hunting. I have been blessed with good health, great friends and family, a good job, and lots of good luck. I completed my Archery North America Super slam last year, along with my Archery Grand Slam of sheep. I just arrowed my 70th Pope and Young Club animal on a Black bear hunt in May 2010. I am an official measurer for both The Boone and Crockett Club and The Pope and Young Club. I am a life member of the NRA, SCI, Grand Slam Club/Ovis, Wild Sheep Foundation, and the Alaska Bow hunters Association. I am a member of the PSE hunting pro staff and when I am not in the outdoors on some wild adventure, I am an airline pilot, flying the world to pay for these adventures.
What species do you hunt each season?
I bow hunt several species of big game every year. In Alaska, I bow hunt a lot of bear; Black, Grizzly, and Brown bear. I also bow hunt Dall sheep, Mountain goat, and Barren Ground caribou. Some years I plan hunts for Sitka Blacktail deer, Alaska moose, and Muskox. For the last several years, I’ve travelled down to the Midwest in November to bow hunt Whitetail deer. In December, January, and February I have been spending a lot of time down in Mexico bow hunting Coues and Mule deer.
How many days total do you hunt a year?
My answer, 140 days or so. My girlfriend Millie’s answer, entirely too many.
What is your favorite animal to hunt? Why?
I really like bow hunting bear, sheep and goats. I never seem to get enough of the adrenaline rush of being close to bear with a bow. The difficulty of bow hunting sheep and goats along with the indescribable scenery, make these animals a favorite. Everything about bow hunting sheep and goats is difficult, extreme, and intense; the terrain, mountains, backpacking, stalking, etc. Just finding an animal to pursue can be tough. When you overcome all the difficulties that you face and are successful, the personal satisfaction and feeling of accomplishment is incredible.
Minimalism; What is your approach to this concept for hunting sheep?
My approach is to be as LIGHT as possible when backpacking on a sheep or goat hunt. Over the last few years, I have decreased my pack weight and it includes only the bare necessities.
What is your daily menu and calorie intake?
On a backpack hunt I take items such as: instant Oatmeal, Mountain House freeze dried meals, smoked salmon or tuna fish, jerky, a piece of block cheese, tortilla’s, peanut butter, trail mix, granola bars, chocolate bars, coffee, tea, hot cocoa, drink additives (Crystal Light or Tang), and hard candy.
What pack are you using & why?
I have been using a GoLight pack on my backpack hunts. This pack is extremely lightweight. It may not last me a lifetime, but it gets me into sheep country and has packed out several animals for me. I am really excited to try out the new light Kuiu backpack!
What is your loaded pack weight?
It really depends on the specific hunt and duration of the hunt. Generally, it is less than 40 pounds. What really adds to the pack weight is archery gear; bow and arrows, binos, rangefinder, possibly a spotting scope, tripod, camera, GPS, etc.
Do you typically hunt with all your gear everyday or do you set up a base camp?
This also depends on the specific hunt. If I am in search of an animal, I take all my gear with me. As I hunt, I do not know where I will be at the end of the day. If I am in “sheep country” and close to a ram, I set up my camp and hunt with only what I need to arrow the ram. I go back to my back pack camp at night.
What makes good sheep habitat?
Sheep are wherever you find them. A REALLY big ram, which I haven’t arrowed yet, is oftentimes found where there are low sheep numbers. Low sheep numbers equal low hunter numbers, so rams can live longer in these regions. Personally, I look for sheep in a habitat that is conducive to bow hunting.
How do you like to set up a stalk on a ram?
Everything has to be right to get in close and arrow a ram. You have to be able to stalk in on a ram without him seeing, hearing, or smelling you. Patience and time are probably the most important keys to success with a bow. Making the final stalk from above the sheep is always better if the situation presents itself. With each experience, I learn more about hunting.
When you are hunting sheep do you cover a lot of terrain or focus on a specific area?
I start out covering a lot of terrain. This includes research from home before the season. I continue to narrow down areas until I feel confident. In the end, when I have the knowledge that a good ram is in a certain area, I focus on that specific area.
How long will sheep stay in an area? Are they on the move constantly? If you find them they will stay put unless pushed?
Dall sheep will not normally move too far. Once you find them, you can usually relocate them fairly easily. They like to occupy areas which contains everything they need, i.e. feed, water, bedding area, escape cover, etc. They get into a pattern and routine of feeding and bedding that is fairly predictable. As the weather seasons progress, they will move down to lower elevations as the days get shorter, colder, and snow accumulates. Dall sheep act uniquely in the different mountain ranges too. Sheep in certain mountain ranges move further and are more sensitive to hunter pressure than sheep in other ranges.
If unpressured what is typical sheep habitat?
Unpressured sheep here in Alaska occupy areas where they have everything they need. This includes good vegetation on the mountain, good bedding areas, rugged escape terrain and cover nearby, water, maybe a mineral/salt lick, etc.
Are sheep smart?
Sometimes, I think they are genius. Other times they don’t appear too smart. Often, they act like Whitetail deer and seem to possess that sixth sense. They definitely have the advantage over a bow hunter with all their keen senses and on their own turf.
How much noise can you get away with on a stalk? How sensitive are big rams to this?
You can get away with some noise on a stalk. In favor, Sheep make a lot of noise in addition to the sounds of a mountain environment. There are rocks falling and sliding naturally all the time. When on the final stalk however, making the least amount of noise is crucial. You do not want a ram alerted of your final approach. This is where going slow, slow, slow is important. At this point, I generally take off my boots. Over the years, I have taken off my boots, stalked in my socks, and arrowed many animals. You can be A LOT quieter in your socks than in a pair of big, clumsy leather or plastic boots with hard soles.
If a ram catches movement will they immediately blow out or will they stare trying to figure out what it was that caught their attention?
Last year, the ram I arrowed did just that, stared. I had located this ram and knew he was in the general area. I climbed up the mountain and found him bedded at the head of a big open valley about mid day. There was nothing I could do but wait for him to make the next move. For several hours I waited just over the ridge out of sight. I would peek up and “check” on the ram every so often. One time I peeked over and the ram was gone! I could not find him anywhere, so I figured he had to be below me. I started slowly inching over the top of the mountain looking. All of a sudden I saw horns at 20 yards. I quickly dropped down out of sight and got an arrow on the string. I came to full draw and slowly started easing over the top again. The ram had moved very little and was still at 20 yards, broadside, staring right at me. Wow, what a rush! I was just about to release my arrow when I hesitated and raised up just a bit more to make sure the arrow would clear the rocks. The arrow passed through both lungs and the ram went only 15 or 20 yards before going down. That ram just stood and stared because he did not know what I was. I did not have “sheep whites” on either.
Are big rams usually alone or with a bachelor group? high or low on the mountain?
All of the above. I have seen big rams alone, with bachelor groups, and with lambs and ewes. In the beginning of the season they are usually higher on the mountain. Later in the season, they are usually lower on the mountain.
What is a good archery shot distance for you on a ram?
A good archery shot for me on any animal is the closer the better. In all of my bow hunting, I have always strived to get close to animals. Proportionally, more can go wrong the longer the shot. I do practice at longer distances and my effective range continues to increase. Last year my sheep shot was 20 yards. The year before, I shot my ram 45 yards. Personally, I am better at getting close to animals that I am at shooting them at longer distances.
What is the most challenging part of hunting sheep?
The backpacking, minimalist living, strenuous terrain, difficult weather, short range effectiveness of archery equipment, is all very challenging.
Mental & Physical:
How many days will you spend hunting sheep each season?
Here in Alaska, the sheep season is from August 10 through September 20. I would say I usually get 20-30 days in the field hunting sheep.
How do you mentally prepare for spending so many days solo in sheep country?
All the backpack bow hunting and camping I did down in the lower 48, before I moved to Alaska, prepared me I guess. Experience is the key. All the experiences, adventures, and hunting a person does along the way prepare them for the challenges of solo backpack bow hunting sheep.
What is the best advice for staying in the game mentally for so many days?
Mentally it can be tough sometimes. Everything is so extreme and intense. The country is enormous and here you are trying to first find a ram, and then get close enough to get an arrow in him. It can test your mental and physical toughness for sure! The best advice I can think of is to stay positive. Know in your mind that you can accomplish it and NEVER give up. On my Stone sheep hunt, I spent 35 days away from home before I arrowed my ram. That was one mentally and physically tough bow hunt.
General advice for sheep hunting?
Hunting sheep with a bow is not rocket science. Sometimes things work well and it can be rather easy. Other times, it can evolve into a tough, difficult, and long proposition. My advice would be confident and proficient with your bow. Do your research and get the best backpacking and hunting gear you can. Be in the best physical condition possible. However, I think the most important concept is to stay positive and to be mentally tough. Have a “never give up” attitude. In your mind KNOW that you are going to get your ram, and then go out and do it.