Yukon hunters know the feeling: sitting hundreds of kilometres away from the nearest paved road, binos up, watching and waiting. Bliss.
With our awe-inducing landscape, a wide variety of large game, and a small human population, many Outside hunters can only dream of going on a wilderness expedition in search of the perfect animal. However, this wild and remote topography can make for some challenging hunting trips, and knowing how to navigate it can make or break the trip.
Road hunting is a popular choice for those not wanting or not able to get deep into the bush. Hunters of any age or mobility level can take advantage of backcountry lanes and old mining roads.
“Just drive along slowly and keep your eyes open,” says Larry Leigh, a long-time hunter and a former hunter education coordinator with the Yukon government for 17 years. Depending on the condition of the road you can take most regular vehicles, but old mining roads will probably require a truck with higher clearance, says Leigh. “A person who’s careful can still get into lots of places without having to use a four-wheeler.”
Moose hunting lends itself particularly well to this method, and the best time to aim for is the latter half of September to early October when the moose are in rut. “The bulls have lost all their wariness because they’re only interested in mating during that period of time,” Leigh says.
Road hunting still requires some stalking skills, however, as Yukon hunting regulations say you can’t shoot from the road. “You have to stop your vehicle, get out… and walk well off the travel portion of the road,” Leigh says. Stopping the vehicle and opening and closing doors could easily be enough to spell the end the hunt. “The animal quite often isn’t going to stand around while you’re doing all this moving around,” he says.
While back roads make hunting easily accessible, that very quality also makes it possibly less fruitful in recent years. “Moose and caribou near the road are somewhat depleted; there’s a need to get farther off the road,” says veteran hunter and former bear biologist Barney Smith.
Smith’s preferred method to get further out?
“River hunting is really fun,” he says. “It’s quiet, there’s lovely camps, lots of firewood… and you’re a long way from roads.” The Yukon’s former highway system - our abundant spiderweb of rivers and waterways - offers relatively easy access to country that’s a bit more wild and off the beaten track.
River hunting either by canoe or by boat is great for getting out and having an easy way of traversing what could otherwise be tough terrain. But make sure you know your river, says Smith. Being able to accurately judge distances can help you get to the right spot at the right time.
Canoes can offer a quiet trip, even if it does require a bit more elbow grease. When loading up for the voyage, always save some space for the meat you’ll (hopefully) be bringing back. Smith recommends using a large canoe, or even tying two together for stability when loaded up after making the kill. “You don’t want to be overloaded, especially if there are rapids,” he says.
A motorized trip is great if paddling isn’t your forte, and when managed correctly, the sound of the motor doesn’t have to be a guaranteed game repellant. “It’s almost as if they’re accustomed to the noise of planes flying over,” says Smith. “So they’ll stay very stationary.”
However, as soon as the noise of the motor changes, the animal gets tipped off that danger is approaching, Leigh says. “If you change the sound of the motor - even slowing down, which makes it better for you to make your shot - quite often the moose will get scared and just tromp out of the water.”
“You need to get as close as you can without changing the sound of the motor.”
Arguably the most strenuous of all the hunts, sheep hunting requires a lot of traipsing through extremely difficult terrain. ATVs, horseback, and air travel can only get you so far, and eventually the hunt will need to be done on foot. Getting into remote places has the distinct advantage of separating you from many other hunters.
“You end up in a place where 90 per cent of the people in the world could never get to and would never even want to because it’s too much work,” Leigh says. “There’s no such thing as an easy sheep hunt.”
Carrying 30 kilos of camping and hunting gear up a mountain can be difficult enough, but if you end up getting that full-curl sheep, coming down can be even more treacherous. In addition to an extra 40 kilos of meat to bring down (possibly requiring multiple trips), gravity can become a real adversary. “It’s very easy to hurt yourself,” says Leigh. “More people fall coming down than they do going up.”
And it’s not just rocky mountainsides that make the hunt difficult. The elements are a fierce adversary that make being prepared a necessity. The wind, cold, and rain can pile onto the already-existing discomforts of exhaustion and hunger.
“There probably are many sheep hunters out there that every year say to themselves at some point in the hunt, ‘I’m never doing this again as long as I live,’” Leigh says. “But as soon as you get back to camp and you get rested up and stuff like that, you realize what an absolute joy it is to be where you are.”
To really get out there, to find places far removed from any trace of humans, a flight may be in order. Some of the world’s best bush pilots call the Yukon home, and are extremely skilled in getting avid hunters into the best locations.
While upwards of a thousand dollars may seem like a pretty penny at first, a fly-in hunt can be the trip of a lifetime and success rates are substantially higher, says Smith. Pilots are able to fly into many areas that would be otherwise inaccessible by traditional means. Landing on a lake at 5,000 feet brings you already to the borders of sheep country.
But just because you’ve invested a lot doesn’t mean it’s a sure-fire win, says Smith. “There are some years where you fly to a lake that has been a real producer for you, but you get there and all you hear are wolves.”
Contact Joel Krahn at