On September 25, 51-year-old Canadian sheep guide Alan Klassen killed his first-ever elk, which also happened to be one of the first animals taken during the Yukon's first-ever public elk hunt--and a specimen that ranks first on the short-but-growing list of trophy Yukon bulls. Hunting one of two introduced elk herds in the southwestern Yukon, Klassen called in and dropped an enormous 9x10 nontypical bull that unofficially gross-scores 451 inches. It is the largest elk ever taken in the Yukon--at least for now. Having never been seriously hunted, both herds contain a number of huge bulls and the inaugural season lasts into March. But until someone tops it, Klassen's is the territory's No. 1 bull.
The southern Yukon marks the very northern fringe of the American elk’s range, with fossil records dating to 1,500 years ago. In modern times, however, the Yukon has hosted only occasional migrants crossing the B.C. border–that is, until the early 1950s when Yukon managers began a series of re-introductions, primarily from Alberta’s Elk Island National Park. __ NOTE: This and several other photos in this gallery are courtesy of the Yukon Wildlife Preserve, a non-profit organization dedicated to maintaining a 750-acre preserve and its animals for the education and enjoyment of all.
Today, over 400 elk roam the mixed aspen-and-spruce forests and dry, open slopes of southwestern Yukon’s big mountain country in two herds–the Takhini Valley Herd and the Braeburn Herd–enough for the territory to host its first significant public elk hunt, offered to Yukon residents this fall.
Over 1,200 applicants vied for just 18 bull and 23 cow tags. “More than a few whoops went up when I saw my name on the list of hunters who drew tags,” says Klassen. “My buddies and I had a few rums to celebrate, and it was game on!”
A lifelong hunter, Klassen loves nothing more than to climb high and scan the slopes and valleys for game, by himself. . .
. . . or for clients.
Klassen lives in Whitehorse, on the southeastern edge of the elk’s range. But between mining jobs, he guides 300 miles north for Arctic Red River Outfitters, LTD (867-633-4934; arcticred-nwt.com), which offers fly-in, wilderness backpack hunts along the Yukon/Northwest Territories border. Here’s their base camp in the northern Mackenzie Mountains. . .
. . . where Klassen guides for Dall sheep. Over the years, he’s helped hunters take more than 100 rams.
And about as many caribou, as well. The minimum score to be entered in the all-time B&C book for mountain caribou is 390 inches; all of these bulls gross over 400 inches and the on our far left grossed 469. Arctic Red River Outfitters also offers world-class moose hunts (but not elk).
Back at home, in and around Whitehorse, Klassen frequently sees elk. “Over the years, friends and I have often commented on the size of some of the bulls, so I had a fair idea about where to start,” says Klassen. “Before the season, I did a little scouting, figured out the boundaries, and got written permission from the First Nations just in case I needed to go on settlement lands. I was happy to have everything figured out.”
“Once the season started, I hooked up with a couple guide friends, and we headed for a spot where there was a ton of rut sign and activity. At first shooting light, we gave a call and got an immediate answer. A couple more calls and the bull was coming in hard–screaming and trashing. Suddenly, there he was, looking for a fight. But he didn’t give me a shot and soon spotted us. He ran and stopped about 75 yards out in thick bush, but again there was no shot. Still, it was incredible to see an animal that size come in on a string.” “We all knew without a doubt that this was the bull we wanted, so we slowly followed. He’d chirp and I’d chirp back as he moved away. This cat-and-mouse game went on for most of the morning, until we eventually moved to some open hills ahead to try to get above him. There I gave a soft chirp and I instantly heard a chirp in response from behind a big spruce just 25 yards away.”
“It was him. He stepped out just enough that I could get a shot into his shoulder with my .270, 130-grain–you know, the old, Jack-O’Conner special,” Klassen laughs. “The bull spun and ran straight away, and I put another one into his spine.”
“I almost couldn’t believe it really happened. When I walked up on the bull, his antlers kept growing and growing, and this was my first elk, ever. I just felt so fortunate to get an opportunity at such an incredible animal.”
“The rest of the hunt was picture taking, fondling the horns, and mostly lost for words. But I was really happy to have friends along to share the experience–not to mention to help me debone the bull and get him out. I’ll tell you, I’ve been lucky enough to be a part of a lot of great hunts, but I’ve never had an experience quite like this. I’m not a big fan of scoring animals, to be honest, but I do think it is very cool that an elk like this can come out of the Yukon, of all places.”