I just returned from a winter cougar hunt in British Columbia where I checked out a lead from Phil Soucy (406-293-9192), arguably the world’s best cat taxidermist and my “expert” on cougars. After telling him that I wanted to fulfill a lifetime dream of killing a monster tom, he gave me several options. The one that interested me most was actually a longshot. You see, none of Soucy’s clients had ever killed a cat in the area he told me about because the outfitter there had only tagged two or three lions in more than 10 years of hunting! Why was I interested? Well, Soucy reminded me that toms must get old to get big, and the toms in this area had plenty of time to get old. He also told me that the World Record and Number Two cougars in Boone & Crockett had been killed within a few miles of this area. What’s more, an outfitter with extensive experience chasing lions recently purchased the hunt area.
I contacted the new owner, Scott Odgers of Fraser Valley Outfitters (403-350-6493; firstname.lastname@example.org), but I couldn’t schedule my hunt until late February. When I arrived in camp, I saw pictures of two B & C toms killed by Odgers’ clients on his earlier hunts, and a third mature tom that just missed making book. There is something special about a mature 170- to 180-pound tom, validating why it is at the top of North America’s wilderness food chain. While you hear stories of 200-pound cougars, I have talked to outfitters who have hunted for decades in areas known for huge cats and who have killed hundreds, but they have only seen one or two honest 200-pound lions. Suffice it to say, two of the toms Odgers’ hunters took this year were just about as big as they get and were firsthand evidence of this area’s potential.
Unfortunately, my hunt saw me fighting crotch-deep snow and wind-chill factors approaching minus 40 degrees. When the weather broke, a chinook produced bare ground on the south-facing slopes and freezing/thawing conditions that ruined tracking. We still managed to find 14 fresh sets of tracks. One tom we tracked traveled out of Odgers’ guiding area, but he was big enough that we spent most of my hunt looking for him to return. I’m already booked again for next December, when conditions should be more favorable.
Although BC’s allocated guide areas worked against me on my hunt, it was just bad luck that the biggest fresh track we found was crossing the boundary of Odgers’ outfitting area. His area is huge, covering over 1,700 square miles. It is partially bordered on the east and south by the Fraser and Chilcotin rivers, and includes both California bighorn and mule deer winter ranges, which attract lions late in the season. The north and central portions of this area are prime moose and deer habitats and where Odgers found many cats before the snow got so deep. It’s also where he saw the biggest track that he has ever seen, much bigger than even the book toms his clients took earlier. Of course, we also tried to find that tom, but the snow was just too deep, and everything but the moose had already left for the lower winter ranges.
Odgers charges $6,000 US for a seven-day, BC cougar hunt. These are 1 x 1 guided hunts, but normally include several houndsmen to help. The $180 hunting license (all licenses and permit fees are in Canadian dollars) and cougar permit ($230) are extra. He also offers a combo cougar/lynx/bobcat hunt for the same duration for $7,500. Unfortunately, the lynx and bobcat seasons were closed when I was there, but I saw enough of the smaller cat tracks to convince me that this option should be seriously considered. Permits for these cats cost another $40 each. If you select a late November cougar hunt, you can also add a mule deer for $1,500, plus the $125 permit. Expect to see 160-class bucks or slightly better, although this area has produced bigger bucks in the past. Clients fly into Williams Lake, only a 30-minute drive from the base camp where we stayed. Food and accommodations are more than adequate, and the camp is located near some of Odgers’ best hunting areas.
While I am covering his BC hunts, I should mention Odgers’ black bear opportunities. Several ranchers I spoke with in his area talked up their spring black bears (including color phases). They raved about the number of bears seen on their hay fields at that time of the year, and several commented that some of these bears are big. Odgers is offering a few hunts this May at a cost of $2,200 each for a 2 x 1, five-day hunt, or $2,700 if you want a 1 x 1 hunt. I’m sure that this attractive pricing and new hunting opportunity will interest his past clients, so you need to contact him soon to get a slot. He plans to use either spot-and-stalk hunting or dogs, depending on where they find the bears. Odgers is also offering a seven-day, 1 x 1, moose/black bear/wolf fall hunt for $6,500. From what I saw, there is no shortage of moose, and he told me that you can expect to see 45-inch bulls. One real advantage for his clients is that this area is a limited draw for residents, so hunting pressure is at a minimum. Further, Odgers has exclusive access on most of the private ranches in his area.
Odgers has also hunted lions near his home in Alberta for many years and has produced a 100 percent hunter success there over the last four years. His Alberta toms average 150-160 pounds, with an occasional book cat. Alberta does not allocate guide areas but instead issues quotas for each of its Wildlife Management Units (WMU), so an outfitter can cross WMU boundaries if the cat is traveling, as the one on my hunt did. Odgers’ price for his Alberta cougar hunt is $4,500 for seven days, guided 1 x 1. You can see many of the cougars he has taken in Alberta by visiting his web site at http://www.fraservalleyoutfitters.com/.
Odgers also has a real sleeper hunting opportunity for Rocky Mountain bighorn for you sheep fanatics. He hunts sheep under his original outfit, Coral Creek Outfitters, in Alberta’s WMU 432. This area is bordered partially by two National Parks - Banff on the west and Jasper on the north. Although last season was his first official year outfitting for sheep, he has guided there for years and helped others kill rams scoring into the mid-170s. Last season, his four hunters killed three sheep — two scoring in the mid-160s and one scoring in the high 150s. His fourth hunter is returning after turning down legal rams. Odgers has one permit left for a hunt he considers the best chance to kill a trophy ram. This late hunt starts October 1 and offers the promise of rams migrating from the adjoining parks, although admittedly the weather can be an issue. Because of this last-minute opportunity, Odgers has discounted this hunt for Hunting Report subscribers to a cost of only $25,000 (with no trophy fee) for the 1 x 1, 14-day hunt, but you need to remind him of this offer, if you are interested. This is a real pack train hunt complete with wall tents, a wrangler and all the amenities — an old-time sheep hunting experience. Odgers tells me that he packs back into country that never gets hunted by others, and he sets up his camps the month before the season starts to maximize hunting time.
Odgers is what I would describe as a young, aggressive outfitter with enough hunting experience behind him and good equipment to make your hunt successful. He is building his business, and I suspect that you will be hearing a good deal more about him as his areas prove themselves. You should contact him soon, since his repeat clients are certainly booking multiple hunts and he only has a few openings left for this year. . . Life is too short – go hunting! - Lance Stapleton.