Alberta: Mecca for the Trophy Hunter
by T.J. Schwanky
A quick look through the annals of Boone and Crockett or Pope and Young will give you a pretty good indication of what a Mecca Alberta is for serious trophy hunters. With eight species of big game available to the visiting hunter and terrain that varies from the vast grass-covered prairies of the south, to the boreal forests of the north to the majestic Rocky Mountains of the west, there is something to please everyone. And, Alberta is one of those destinations that does not rely on a reputation from days gone by. The good old days are happening right now and your chances of taking a record-book animal are as good as they’ve ever been.
Take Guinn Crousen’s 2000 bighorn ram for example. It eclipsed the previous world record bighorn, which by the way was also from Alberta, by 2/8 of an inch and took its place among five other Alberta rams in Boone and Crockett’s top 10. But, it hasn’t ended there. In 2007, Chad Meropoulis took at ram that has been officially scored 206 points, placing it in the top 10 rams ever taken in North America. While Alberta did see a couple tough winters in the Rockies in 1996 and 1997, the sheep have had it pretty easy since then and this year promises to be one of the best in decades both for numbers and quality. The number of 190 to 200 class rams that Alberta been producing over the past few years is sure to continue.
Visiting hunters are not required to draw a bighorn permit in Alberta either. Alberta’s outfitters are issued allocations annually which their hunters may utilize without having to go through the draw process, so you can book your hunt when you want to go, not when the luck of the draw dictates. These allocations apply to all big game species in Alberta, making booking a hunt here a simple matter. While most bighorn hunts are conducted in September and October, there is a special archery hunt in November near the Town of Canmore that definitely represents North America’s best opportunity for an archer to get their name in the record books.
Alberta’s domination of the trophy books doesn’t end with bighorn sheep. You can also find the fair province’s name beside the number-one non-typical mule deer, the much heralded Broder Buck. At a score of 355 2/8, this buck eclipses the number-two contender by 16 inches and may well be the one trophy that will never be dethroned. Alberta undertook some very aggressive management strategies for mule deer about 20 years ago and the deer responded quickly, allowing Alberta to quickly rise to the top of trophy mule deer destinations in North America. In a province where 180-class mule deer where rare two decades ago, they are becoming commonplace and each year typicals in excess of 200 points are taken and Alberta continues to produce some monster non-typicals, including another half dozen that score over 250 points.
While at one time the southern prairies of Alberta ruled when it came to trophy mule deer, that’s not necessarily the case anymore, big bucks can be found literally anywhere in Alberta. Mule deer seasons are long in Alberta, beginning in late August and running through until the end of November and there are plenty of opportunities for both rifle hunters and archers.
Whitetails are another keystone species in Alberta and for hunters looking for a fair-chase opportunity at a record-book buck, this is definitely the place to come. Alberta has had more than its share of contenders for the title of number-one typical whitetail over recent years. The most recent was a whitetail killed by Wayne Zaft in 2001 that was originally scored at 206 7/8, making it the number-one archery kill in the world and number two over-all in Boone and Crockett. Unfortunately, the Pope and Young panel disagreed with the score and Zaft pulled the buck from the record books but there is no denying that this massive whitetail is one of the biggest ever killed in North America. Another monster bow kill was that of Steve Garvey in 1991. His buck measured a whopping 199 5/8 typical. The number of 190-plus typicals killed in the past15 years is truly astounding.
Alberta is no slouch when it comes to non-typical whitetails either. Helgie Eymundson confirmed this in 2007 with his incredible 276 1/8 buck. While it was without question the biggest buck most hunters have ever seen, it was unable to eclipse Neil Morin’s 1991 monster that stretched the tape to 279 6/8. Alberta has an impressive eight non-typical whitetails in Boone and Crockett that score in excess of 250 points and over half of them have been taken in the past 17 years. Whitetails are found throughout the province of Alberta and to pinpoint a hotspot would be impossible. The next world record could be waiting right around the corner on your next Alberta hunt. Rifle hunts in Alberta run from mid September to the end of November and there are some excellent archery opportunities, including the archery-only areas around Calgary and Edmonton that begin in late August.
Bruce Hale’s 418 inch typical elk undoubtedly put Alberta on the radar for trophy elk hunters across North America and then when Clarence Brown followed up six years later with a 419 5/8 inch giant, Alberta became a definite must visit for serious elk hunters. While not as well known for trophy elk as states in the southwest U.S.A., Alberta can boast five typical bulls in Boone and Crockett with a score greater than 400 and a monster 444 4/8 inch top-10 non-typical taken by John Almberg in 1999.
Interestingly, elk were once confined to the highest reaches of the Rockies in Alberta but their numbers and range have been expanding greatly during the past two decades and they are quite literally found province wide now and while the mountains are still producing some great bulls, so too is the farm country previously dominated only by whitetails and mule deer. Seasons are liberal in Alberta and run from late August until the end of November and there are plenty of opportunities for both archery and rifle hunters.
Moose are another species that has seen some rapid expansion across the province. While once confined to the far north, moose are now quite at home in the mountains, parkland and even prairie regions of Alberta.
Many new opportunities have opened up in the past few years and hunters are being treated to some big bulls. There have been hundreds of bulls taken in the province that score in excess of 200 points, with Tim Harbridge’s monster 226 7/8 inch bull leading the pack. At 63 1/8 inches wide, it truly is a spectacular specimen. Boone and Crockett classifies all Alberta moose as Canada moose but Safari Club International recognizes the population in the south-western corner of the province as Shiras moose.
One of the unique aspects of hunting moose in Alberta is that they can be combined with virtually any other species in the province and hunts range from comfortable lodges to fly-in seclusion or a remote mountain camp. The season begins in late August and runs to the end of November in many parts of Alberta. Whether you are an archer or rifle hunter, there is a moose hunting package to fit your needs and the opportunity at a 50-inch-plus bull is as good as it’s ever been and there are certainly enough 60-inch bulls to keep you motivated.
Antelope, or pronghorn as they are more properly known, are found at the extreme northern end of their range in Alberta but a decade of mild winters on the prairies and some exceptional moisture during the summers have allowed the herd to flourish. The Alberta record for pronghorn has fallen twice in the past five years, with Fred Streleoff’s 88 4/8 inch monster currently holding top honours. For a province that could only boast a handful of Boone and Crockett antelope two decades ago, Alberta has been thrust into the limelight recently by producing not only a large number of book bucks but several scoring in excess of 85 inches. Alberta’s pronghorns are extremely heavy compared to their southern counterparts, with bases often exceeding seven inches. They make for a truly spectacular trophy. Hunts are limited to the south-eastern portion of the province and are conducted in September and October.
Alberta also offers spring and fall seasons for black bears, with both baited and spot-and-stalk hunts being offered. Most visiting hunters targeting only black bears concentrate on the spring season but these big bears make a great add on to many fall hunts. Alberta is synonymous with big bears. A quick look through the record books confirms that Alberta is the place to head for a Boone and Crockett bear. Jason Johansson’s 22 9/16 bear taken in 1997 is testament to just how big the bears get here and if you are looking for a coloured bear, certain regions of Alberta offer a better than average opportunity at one. Not only do Alberta bears boast big heads, they can grow to massive proportions, often tipping the scales at 500 pounds or more. While the spring season starts in early April, most hunts take place in May and June, once the warm spring sun has aroused these sleeping giants from their dens. Most hunts take place in the northern reaches of the province in the boreal forest and farmland fringe areas but there are some unique spot-and-stalk mountain hunts offered as well.
Alberta’s most elusive big game animal is the cougar or, as it is known in many locales, the mountain lion. While the number of tags in the province is limited, they are available without drawing through outfitters with allocations. If you want a big cat, Alberta is definitely the place to be and Joe Gore proved this in 2005 with an unbelievable 16 2/16 inch cat. No province or state other than Alberta can boast two cougars that score 16 inches or more. Of the top five cats in Alberta, three have been taken in the past 10 years and the number of Boone and Crockett cougars taken in the past 10 years is staggering. All cougar hunts in Alberta are conducted during the winter months with the use of hounds and are confined to the mountain and foothill regions.
As you can see, Alberta is Mecca for the trophy hunter and things only seem to be getting better every year. With innovative management by the Government and an outfitting industry that is second to none, visiting hunters are sure to be treated to the experience of lifetime. While there are no guarantees of success with the type of fair-chase hunts offered in Alberta, there is a guarantee that you’ll receive a great hunt with any of the APOS members and you will be walking in the footsteps of some of North America’s most heralded hunters. Who knows, it could be your name at the top of the page in the next edition of the record book.