Outfitting on the rise
Sport hunting numbers increasing

Glen Korstrom
Northern News Services

NNSL (Oct 04/99) - Lifelong Northerner Jamie Chambers remembers his skittishness when he landed at his first outfitters camp outside Norman Wells.

The Resources, Wildlife and Economic Development renewable resources officer took a helicopter to the outfitting camp.

Once there, he wound his way past some horses to get to the outfitter and hunters to check tags and licenses and ensure there was the required electric fence around the camp to keep grizzly bears away.

"The horses were just walking around loose getting in the way and, growing up in the North, I didn't have the opportunity to be around horses," said Chambers, who grew up in Yellowknife before heading to Coral Harbour for two years and then on to his current home of Norman Wells four years ago.

"I didn't realize that there were horses being used in the Mackenzie Mountains."

In the Mackenzie Mountains of the Sahtu region, eight outfitters operate from mid-July to early October with most using horses and some using pack dogs.

"Eighty to 90 per cent of the hunters who hunt in the Mackenzie Mountains are Americans," Chambers said.

"The outfitters offer guided hunts for Dall's sheep, woodland caribou, moose, mountain goat, wolf and wolverine."

Chambers said the numbers have been pretty constant with about 370 non-Northerners heading out to bag about 200 Dall's sheep, 170 woodland caribou and 50 moose.

Those numbers are less than in the North Slave area, where there are seven private outfitters as well as two community owned operations.

In the North Slave, RWED wildlife officer Gerd Fricke quoted figures from 1995, when 373 sport hunters went out and took 651 tags for caribou. In 1999, 600 hunters went out and took 1100 tags.

Fricke said the outfitting business does not have the awareness it deserves, given its impact on the area economy.

He estimates about $3.3 million is injected into the North Slave economy since each hunter drops about $55,000 during the stay and there are 600 hunters a year.

And the hunters usually leave happy.

"I've hunted on every major continent in the world and I've never had a better hunting experience," said American Wes Hixon, from Georgia, who was back from a 12 day hunt in the Mackenzie Mountains Sept. 30.

"It was very refreshing to be able to come to a place in North America to spend 12 days in the wilderness and not see another person."

In Nunavut, the outfitting season has not yet started.

Kugluktuk's Wildlife and Fisheries officer Andy McMullen said outfitters in the region will start caribou and musk ox hunts in the next couple weeks on Victoria Island.

"In the eastern Arctic, they don't do much caribou, they're mainly into walrus and polar bear hunts.

The majority of the polar bear hunts won't start until after Christmas and many don't happen until springtime," he said.

"Our sport hunting opportunities are more diverse than in the North Slave area."

McMullen said sport hunting has improved during the past few years and the reason could be the strength of the American dollar.

"The vast majority of sport hunters come out of the States, so when the American economy is doing well and people have money to burn, our outfitters do well."