In August of this past year Brendan Burns and I were able to hunt Dall Sheep and Mountain Caribou in the Southern Mackenzie Mountains of Northwest Territories with Nahanni Butte Outfitters.
What made this adventure special was the finality of this opportunity in the particular area we would be hunting.
In 2009, Parks Canada passed an act to expand the existing Nahanni National Park Reserve from about 4,700 square kilometers to over 30,000 square kilometers encompassing the entire greater Nahanni River watershed.
The unfortunate casualty of the park expansion was a significant portion of Nahanni Butte Outfitters hunting concession would no longer be available for hunting. Although they would be retaining some of their top Dall Sheep hunting ranges for future operation, approximately 80% of Nahanni Butte’s area would now be off limits to hunting forever.
Nahanni Butte was the most significantly affected operation, but they weren’t the only ones. Several of the surrounding outfitters, including South Nahanni Outfitters, Ram Head Outfitters, and NWT Outfitters also lost large portions of their hunting areas. In the end, the park expansion had nothing to do with Dall sheep, outfitting, or the careful use of the resource by hunters over the last 40 years. It was a broad, sweeping decision that left some of those with the deepest roots to the area the most affected.
These remote areas encompass some of the most historic and iconic Dall sheep hunting grounds in North America. Since the inception of outfitting in these concessions, more than two thousand hunters have successfully harvested Dall rams. The “who’s who” of sheep hunting have put down boot leather chasing sheep in these mountains.
Nahanni Butte Outfitters and their new sister operation NWT Outfitters is operated by Jim Lancaster and Clay Lancaster. They have been hunting the NWT for the past 19 seasons. In that time, they have helped clients take more than 600 Dall rams, along with countless mountain goat, mountain caribou, and moose.
We had planned this hunt several years ago when we found out the park expansion was final. It created a sense of urgency to see the area before it was gone. Since booking the hunt we had discussed being the last hunters in one of their favorite areas. As the clock ticked closer, this hunt took on a deeper sense of anticipation than most. We were grateful to be able to hunt it, and sad to know it would be the only time.
Our guides on this hunt were Jeff Baher and Brady Lough. Jeff had been working at NBO since he was a teenager, and Brady for the last 3 years. You could not ask for better guys to spend time with chasing sheep.
Photographer Paul Bride and Videographer Justin Majeczky came along to document this great adventure.
In the end we were able to take two great old rams on a hunt neither of us will ever forget.
We hope you enjoy this glimpse into a beautiful and cherished area that will never again be hunted.