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Hunting season bags big bucks

Yellowknife outfitters are getting ready for American game hunters this week

Thorunn Howatt
Northern News Services

Yellowknife (Aug 14/02) - Yellowknife's float-plane bases are bustling with this week.

Sport-hunt outfitters are loading up gear, getting ready for the first wave of American big game hunters.

"Last year, the season went really well. Most of the tags were utilized and everybody had a pretty successful season," said North Slave wildlife's Ernie Campbell. Outfitted caribou hunting season starts Aug. 15 and runs until the end of October.

During the off-season, outfitters toured sports shows and big-game hunting conventions, marketing their guided hunting businesses and securing customers. By May 15 the region's 10 outfitters sent in a client list to the NWT wildlife department.

Then they went through a system for buying caribou tags.

Non-resident hunters have to be guided by a licensed outfitter -- someone who supplies a guide, equipmentand shelter -- in order to bag caribou in the NWT.

"There are two different types of outfitters in the North Slave -- the HTA outfitters and the non-HTA outfitters, said Campbell.

HTA stands for Hunting and Trapping Association -- aboriginal groups that organize hunting. HTA affiliates have extra access to tags. Dene bands, like the Yellowknives Dene, have outfitting licenses and are considered HTAs.

"They don't actually outfit themselves. What they do is have contractors that are outfitting for them on their behalf but the communities hold the licence," said Campbell adding that there are seven non-HTA outfitters and three HTAs in the North Slave.

The tags don't all get used but, "The number of unused tags is getting smaller," said Campbell.

More hunters want to try their luck every year.

Caribou hunting has exploded in the NWT. It has grown into a $3 million industry in the North Slave alone. Tags cost American hunters only $50 but when the about 800 southerners come North they buy souvenirs, stay in hotels and pay between $3,000 to $7,000 for the guided trips. Outfitters and hunters paid about $962,000 in taxes last year, according to a report put out by the territorial government.

In 1982 outfitters benefited from changes made by a trophy hunting organization called the Boone and Crocket Club. It encouraged hunters to track caribou by adding caribou antlers to its list of trophies. The new interest in the Northern game created a niche for professional outfitters. In the '80s there were only 15 caribou tags available to sport-hunters. But now, more tags are available. Despite the increase in available tags, fewer are left unsold at the end of the year. Last year a little more than 1,200 of the possible 1,656 tags were purchased.

Stocking camps for incoming hunters

One of the North Slave region's 10 outfitters is Adventure Northwest. It has three different camps in the NWT Barrengrounds and gets 132 of its tags through Snare Lake, Wekweti. Yellowknife's Boyd Warner owns the company.

"We try to hire their people," said manager Morgan Minty.

Adventure Northwest employs about 22 people during the season.

Last weekend Minty was getting ready to stock the camps. They are made up of wall tents as well as a dining tent where cooks prepare camp meals. All of the food for the camps is bought in Yellowknife.

The meals often include caribou and freshly caught fish and always receive rave reviews.

"We have very good cooks. A couple of chefs from Edmonton are coming up this year. One has returned for five years now," said Minty.

The main reason why sportspeople like the caribou hunt so much though is because of the sport itself.

"With caribou hunting, you see so many. They are in a migration. In any one day you may see 1,000 caribou," said Minty. The trick for the hunters is to try to find the animal with the biggest horns -- that's the trophy.

"You've got this sea of horns out in front of you."