Young Guns in the Yukon

young-guns-glassing-mountains-051816Many hunters today have bucket lists that include animals they would like to harvest. I remember a few years ago walking into my office and my two young sons, Walker and Wyatt were on our computer typing a list. I thought to myself, “That is interesting, I wonder what is on their list?” As I started reading, I noticed a list of animals they had taken, and a list of animals they would like to hunt. They had my SCI Record Book on the desk making their wish list. Little did they know that a few years later they would be able to make one of their dreams a reality.

As television hosts and national seminar speakers, my wife Marsha and I have had the opportunity to speak in many venues. One of our favorite things to do is to speak at Prayer Breakfasts such as the annual Prayer Breakfast at the SCI Convention. It is an opportunity for our family to share our faith and how God has blessed us working in His creation. Through these events, we meet some of the finest people in the industry. One such event, we met the Wilkinson family of Ceaser Lake Outfitters located in the Yukon. After the breakfast, Terry, Ruth and their son, Joel, invited us to stop by their booth and talk about filming a hunt with the boys someday.

Young-guns-pack-trainThe Wilkinson family have been outfitting in the Yukon for more than 30 years. Terry (veteran guide of 42 years and former SCI North American Professional Hunter of the Year) and Ruth started the business, and now Joel, who grew up in their hunting camps, operates it. Their area is 13,000 square miles, which is larger than the state of Maryland. It has only one year-round resident, and is home to some of the finest hunting in the North. Looking through your binoculars, you’re apt to see anything from moose, Dall sheep, mountain goat, caribou, grizzly, wolf and more. With such a large area, the Wilkinson’s rotate the areas they hunt every other year and only take a very limited number of animals out of each to ensure the highest of quality.   They boast populations of more than 5,000 moose and growing, and there are six different mountain caribou herds. Another unique way that they operate is that they also have a north and a south area, and they rotate between them every other year so that no area ever gets hunted two years in a row.

After much planning and preparation, the day had finally arrived for us to make the northward trek to the Yukon. Being from north-central Montana, it was a 28-hour drive eventually joining the Alaskan Highway for part of the journey. With the four of us and our camera gear, it made sense for us to drive to where we would fly into camp. Upon arriving in Watson Lake, we were able to speak in the Wilkinson’s church that Sunday and meet some very fine people in the Yukon. Ruth and Joel were our tour guides and hosts as Terry was already in camp waiting for our arrival.

After a 100-mile float plane ride to camp, flying through some of the most majestic scenery, we arrived on a lake that sat several hundred yards below camp. The adventure immediately began as we loaded the packhorses with all of our gear for the main camp where we would re-pack and prepare to go to another spike camp the next day.

Walker and Wyatt discuss the hunt.
Walker and Wyatt discuss the hunt.

Walker and Wyatt were all smiles as they love being in the backcountry where you are about as remote as a person can get.   Marsha and I would be running camera for the boys on this trip, as they had tags for several different types of animals and we would go after whatever opportunity arose.

Mountain goats were definitely high on Walker’s list, but if he saw a grizzly, that would be top priority. I think Marsha was praying our 13-year-old son would see a mountain goat before a grizzly. My youngest son, Wyatt said he would love the chance at a caribou or moose.

As we traveled mile after mile by horseback to spike camp we saw several animals on high mountainous peaks–mainly sheep and goats and the boys’ anticipation was building. The Ceaser Lake camps are always positioned in great viewing areas so you can glass right from camp. We set up spotting scopes and binos and started to pick apart this vast mountainous area. It wasn’t long before we spotted caribou and sheep feeding on the steep terrain. After dinner that night, Terry spotted a lone mountain goat several miles from camp. He said, “The goat is alone, so odds are that it is a billy. We need to check it out in the morning,” he explained.

Glassing from camp.
Glassing from camp.

The next morning Terry, Walker, Wyatt, a wrangler and I headed out toward the area where we saw the goat the night before. Marsha was unable to go on the stalk as the ride in was more than her knees could handle. As we rode closer to the area where the goat was located, the terrain became steeper and steeper. We finally had to tie the horses up and start climbing the rugged terrain. Walker was up first and he carefully followed Terry watching each of his steps so to not slip off of a cliff. As they peaked around the large bolder they spotted the mountain goat. It was a beautiful billy laid out on a rock ledge. Terry carefully explained to Walker where to aim and reminded him that goats are very tough animals and that when he hit the goat, if the goat started moving to shoot again anchoring him so he didn’t roll of the large cliffs.

Walker and Terry crawled out to the edge of a huge drop-off and settled in for a shot. The report from the rifle echoed in the canyon and the shot connected. The billy was going down. Terry said, “Anchor him.” Walker did just that, and he was smiles from ear to ear.

It seemed like an eternity getting to Walker’s goat. After tagging, photos, skinning and packing meat, we were on our way back to camp. The next day was filled with hide preparation, salting and meat hanging, along with some grayling fishing with off and on glassing from camp. We saw animals, but nothing we wanted to saddle everything up and go after.

Walker with his Yukon goat.
Walker with his Yukon goat.

Wyatt as he was up next and there was an area up the canyon known to hold several caribou and some good bulls. As we set up to glass this particular area, it wasn’t long before we spotted a beautiful bull caribou and a cow a few miles away. You could see his velvet antlers glistening in the morning sunlight. “What do you think,” asked Terry?

Wyatt was raring to go. As we mounted our horses, we rode up the long switchbacks gaining altitude to get to the canyon the caribou were feeding in. As we rode closer, we paid attention to landmarks and pine trees that were not too far from the caribou. The willows being so tall that if you took your eyes off the animals you could easily loose sight of them.

We were soon close enough to stalk. In the Yukon, they require each hunter to have a guide so with both boys hunting we had two guides. However, with Walker filling his tag, both Terry and Donn were working with Wyatt. We slipped closer to the caribou as Marsha, Walker and the wrangler glassed from the horses.

As we were getting into range, the caribou disappeared into a small draw across from us and Terry decided to slip up above to get a better look. He came back quickly and looked at Wyatt and said, “I know we are going after caribou, but which would you rather shoot, moose or caribou?” Wyatt’s eyes got as big as silver dollars and he said, “Moose if I have a choice.” Terry explained that he had just spotted a nice bull moose working up a draw and he felt we could try and get into range.

Terry, Donn, Wyatt and I made our way to where he had last seen the moose. He explained to Wyatt how keen a moose’s hearing is and that we would have to be very quiet. The willows were tall and there were no trails so we carefully picked our way up the mountain. Terry put us on a point with Donn and we set up in case the moose started to move.

Wyatt with his moose. The largest animal he had ever shot.
Wyatt with his moose. The largest animal he had ever shot.

As Terry moved to get a better vantage point, the bull started moving toward us. Wyatt pulled up the Bergara .300 Win. Mag. and as the bull started trotting up hill broadside at less than 30 yards, he fired. The shot hit its mark and he shot again as the bull was still standing. One more shot and the bull dropped. All three shots could have been covered by the size of an orange.

Wyatt at age 12 had just taken his biggest animal ever. The incredible thing was that Marsha and Walker got to watch everything unfold from across the canyon on the horses. As Marsha and Walker made their way over to us, we were all smiles at the excitement that just taken place. As they arrived at the moose we thanked the Lord for His blessings, for the animal we had just harvested, and for the meat it would provide for months to come.–Chad Schearer

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