The Hallowed Ground
For many hunters British Columbia represents the premiere North American hunting destination, and for good reason. With an embarrassment of riches in terms of big game species available to hunt and almost 90% of the human population distributed across the southern third of the province, BC remains one of the wildest hunting destinations for those looking for high game populations and true adventure. Alaska may have staked claim to the title The Last Frontier, but for the dedicated big game hunter, as our license plates used to suggest, BC is The Best Place on Earth.
Stone sheep, Rocky Mountain bighorns, California bighorns, Fannin and Dall sheep, mountain caribou, Rocky Mountain elk, Roosevelt elk, Rocky Mountain goats, Canadian moose, mountain and coastal grizzlies, black bears, cougars, lynx, bobcats, mule deer, Columbia blacktail deer, and whitetail deer all call this incredible province home. In some areas of the province you can and often will encounter nearly half that list in one trip. This is why there are a number of areas in BC vying for the title of the Serengeti of North America!
For the average non-resident, be that a Canadian from another province or an American from the Lower 48, a trip to BC will be one of the biggest adventures of their lives regardless of what and where they hunt. Having lived in BC for over a decade, I can proudly and confidently say the options are nearly endless and depending on budget, time and quarry pursued, an epic hunting experience can be found virtually anywhere in the province. Wild is a relative term after all. I can promise you that if you’re coming from an urban or suburban centre, you don’t need to travel for days into the high north of BC to enjoy a fairly wild adventure.
BUT…if you’re eyeing up a once-in-a-lifetime trip or looking to chip away at your bucket list there are certain areas that are better than others. Despite BC’s unbelievable game diversity, and a long history of producing true trophy class animals across a number of species this is not necessarily the place to come for every animal listed above. If your goal is to come home with a mature, world class representative of a number of mountain game animals however, BC should be at the top of your list.
There are countless articles, books and other media sources that have chronicled the incredible hunting opportunities in BC but it can be hard to determine on an objective basis where you should devote your precious time and resources for that hunt of your dreams. Like every industry the hunting and hunting media world runs on personal connections, networking and highly subjective (and sometimes paid) opinions. This is just human nature and part of the game. That’s not to suggest that many of these sources don’t provide valid and valuable insights into where to hunt, just a statement of the facts. But there is one source we can rely on for truly objective data. The Boone & Crockett record book.
Boone & Crockett Club’s phenomenal online tool Trophy Search is an invaluable resource. Using their records data that date back over 100 years I researched BC’s most sought after game species and compiled a summary of the top trophy producing areas for a variety of games species. As we all know, past performance is not necessarily a predictor of future results but in the animal kingdom genetics, and quality of feed and habitat tend to be relatively constant from year to year. It should also be noted that BC is a HUGE province and access into many parts of the province is still limited and in many cases very costly. There are sure to be areas that are not represented in the record books that hold trophy class animals. And last, there are many animals taken each and every year that hunters never bother to enter into the Boone & Crockett records. This is an unfortunate reality but reality nonetheless. That said, from the standpoint of objective data the Boone & Crockett records are without question our best resource for researching trophy class animals and the areas they’ve come from. To keep this article manageable, I focused on the B&C records as opposed to the Pope & Young Club or SCI database but these are also, obviously, great resources to utilize in your research endeavours. Let’s dive into the data.
BC is the undisputed Holy Grail of Stone sheep hunting. Breathtaking scenery, true wilderness and an adventure you’ll remember for the rest of your life are virtual guarantees if you’re lucky enough to experience this hunt before you hang up your boots. I can personally attest to the fact that wherever you decide to hunt Stone sheep, you’ll feel like you’ve stepped back in time and, in fact, other than your gear and your weapon the experience won’t be that far off what the mountain hunting pioneers experienced decades ago.
As many people will tell you, any (legal) sheep is a trophy but there are areas that have historically produced some of the most awe inspiring rams the hunting world has ever seen. Stone’s are distributed across most of the northern third of the province so the prospective hunter has the choice of hunting a variety of environments, ranges and climactic zones.
R. Terrell McCombs’ 2007 BC Stone Sheep #71 All-Time – Cassiar Mountains
The northeastern Stone sheep ranges, the real Northern Rockies (sorry Montana and Idaho), offer the easiest access and the most guide-outfitter selection but also the highest resident pressure by a long shot. Some of the hardest mountain hunters you’ll ever meet call this province home and many hunt the Northern Rockies each and every year. The weather patterns in the northeast also tend to be a little more stable so the likelihood of losing multiple hunting days to weather is slightly lower than in the other areas.
The northcentral ranges immediately to the west of the Rocky Mountain Trench are the most difficult to access, mostly due to sheer distance from any fly-out base but if you have the time this region is worth it. If you’re looking for the kind of area that sees minimal resident pressure and is home to some solid sheep genetics this area is a good bet.
The northwestern sheep areas offer incredible history, scenery and opportunities but the sheep tend to be more pocketed than in the northeast. You’ll likely see fewer sheep on a trip to this part of the province but also contend with fewer hunters. The weather in this part of the province tends to be the most problematic as it’s closer to the coast so if you’re eyeing up a trip to this region set aside as much time as you possibly can.
When we look at the records data there are a few areas that clearly stand out. The Northern Rockies, the mountains east of the Rocky Mountain Trench, dominate the entries by a wide margin. The tributaries and mountains around the Prophet, Muskwa and Toad rivers produce an unbelievable number of trophy class animals, 95 entries into the record books from these three areas alone. The Cassiar Mountains represent the second highest producing area with 37 entries. The Kechika Range, a subrange of the Cassiars themselves, has also produced a high proportion of record book entries. The mountain ranges around Dease Lake and Telegraph Creek also deserve a notable mention with 25 entries collectively to date.
Rocky Mountain Goats
BC is home to more than half of the world’s mountain goat population and this is a hunt that you can make as wild and adventurous as you want it to be. Or, if you’re on a budget and short on time you can make it as efficient and affordable as you need it to be. Because mountain goats are so widely distributed in the province, it’s easy to plan a hunt that minimizes your travel time between leaving home and actually hunting. This can’t be said for many of BC’s other highly prized game species.
Regardless of where you hunt and for how long, a BC mountain goat hunt will test you in ways few hunts will. As the saying goes, if you’re hunting sheep and see goats…look down. These incredible beasts are called cragmasters for a reason.
If, however, you’re looking for a world class billy you’ll need and want to set aside enough time, and money, to make that happen. Finding goats isn’t necessarily the tough part. Judging sex and trophy quality and then getting to within shooting distance and retrieving your animal all make these hunts incredibly challenging. An experienced guide or hunter host (if you’re a fellow Canadian) is essential in achieving your goal of taking a book worth billy.
G. Wober & L. Michalchuk’s 1999 BC Billy #2 All-Time – Coast Mountains
Nearly 70% of the all-time top 50 goats were taken in BC but this is one species that shows just how fortunate BC residents are when it comes to their goat hunting. Mature, world class billies have been pulled from all over the province so the argument could be made that your chances of finding yet another book billy are decent no matter where you choose to hunt. That said, there’s no question certain regions, watersheds and mountain ranges hold the best genetics and produce a disproportionately high number of record book quality animals.
If you’re looking for a trophy class animal, and a true wilderness adventure with minimal resident hunter pressure then your best bets are going to be the Cassiar Mountains and the mountains around Telegraph Creek. The mountains and tributaries of the Stikine and Skeena rivers see a little more resident pressure but always produce big billies if you’re selective and the outfitters that hunt these areas are some of, if not the, best goat hunting outfitters operating today.
Yet again, BC reigns supreme. If you’re looking for a big, gnarly mountain caribou BC is without question the destination to focus on. There isn’t a single entry in the top 50 that doesn’t come from BC. Although, like sheep, they can be found across most of the northern third of the province there’s no question the northcentral and northwestern ranges dominate this species category.
G. Beaubiens 1976 BC Mountain Caribou #3 All-Time – Cassiar Mountains
Some very notable animals have been taken in the Kechika Range (a subrange of the Cassiars) just west of the Rocky Mountain trench including a 444, 4th All-Time monster. But the Cassiars and the mountains around Atlin, BC have produced the most bulls that made the top 50. Within the Cassiar Mountains themselves there is one area specifically that, in my opinion, every mountain hunter should experience at some point in their lives and that’s the Spatsizi Plateau Wilderness. Having personally hunted this beautiful and historic part of the province I can attest to the fact you will not be disappointed with a mountain caribou hunt here.
Next month we’ll dig into the data on moose, grizzlies, black bears, and bighorn sheep!