No Rams on a Shorter-Than-Promised Alberta Bighorn Hunt

Tim Jones, Editor

Subscriber Peter Spear is not at all happy with a bighorn sheep hunt he took in Alberta, Canada, last fall with Andre Van Hilten’s Willow Creek Outfitters (WCO). He has two complaints about the hunt. First, he tells us, “No legal rams were sighted during my hunt or by any of the other three sheep hunters who hunted with WCO in 2017.” (Editor’s note: we spoke with another of WCO’s 2017 hunters who confirmed this.)

More importantly, Spear tells us he did not get the hunting effort he had been promised. “I had been on six previous bighorn sheep hunts totaling 69 days afield over 20-plus years. This was to be my Grand Slam ram. I was introduced to Mr. Van Hilten at the Grand Slam Club/Ovis convention. Van Hilten suggested the later hunt would be better, because we could stay longer if it became necessary to hunt beyond the scheduled 14-day hunt. I have been snowed out of late mountain hunts before and was cautious about booking a late hunt, but Van Hilten assured me this was the best time to come, because there were no other hunters coming after me and he would be able to devote his full attention to me if the hunt were lengthened. Further, he specifically agreed to guide me personally.

“After I’d paid his required $17,500 deposit, he told me he thought it would be better to hire a guide for me, which would free him up to scout for rams while the guide and I hunted elsewhere. He also told me he would not be able to hunt through the end of the season, saying that he had to stop by Oct. 16, which was then handwritten into the contract.

“When I arrived at the pickup town of Grande Prairie, Van Hilten said that he could not hunt beyond Oct. 10, 2017. I didn’t like it and told him so, but he would not relent. After a two-day horse ride, we arrived in base camp, and I met my guide. We rode into high sheep camp the next day. We were snowed in several days, at which time I learned that he could not hunt beyond Oct. 3, 2017.

“The only reason I booked the late season hunt was to have the option, if needed, to continue hunting. I cleared my schedule through the end of Oct. I fully expected to be able to hunt through Oct. 16 if necessary.

“When we rode out of base camp on Oct. 3, 2017, I literally begged Van Hilten to keep me in there and hunt. I still had 13 days on the contract, which he accepted by cashing my check. At best, Van Hilten was beaten by the lack of rams. At worst, he lied to me the whole time. Imagine a 68-year-old man (with tears in his eyes and crushed dreams) who does not want to quit and a younger, tougher outfitter who will not meet his contractual or moral obligations. The trail out was on a beautiful bluebird day. I can only imagine what the sheep were doing up high. Van Hilten quit when I wouldn’t.”

When we submitted Spear’s report to Van Hilten, he replied: “In response to Peter Spear’s hunt report, I dispute some of his statements that are false and there is important factual information that was not included in his report. Spreading slanderous reports to multiple organizations before the facts from both sides have been heard and an unbiased outcome achieved is defamation of character. This is the first negative hunt report I have received from the 500-plus hunters I have outfitted during the past 17 years. As a board member of APOS (Alberta Professional Outfitters Society), I direct Peter to properly deal with his complaint with APOS’s ESC (Ethics and Standards Committee), which is a separate committee that deals specifically with these kinds of issues. I will be more than willing to deal with Peter’s complaint through this process.”

In his rebuttal, Spear told us, “I’ve also filed complaints about Mr. Van Hilten with APOS and the Wild Sheep Foundation. He’s somehow deluded that the only organization to whom he’s responsible is APOS. I note that he is on the board of directors of APOS, and in my ethics complaint to them, I requested that he and any cronies recuse themselves from deliberations on the complaint.

“WSF bought the same hunt as mine for the winner of its free “one-more-for-four” raffle winner, and he was not happy with his hunt.”

Postscript: We reached out to WSF and received this response from Darryl Williams, the recording secretary: “Thank you for your inquiry into the negative hunt report regarding Willow Creek Outfitters and Andre Van Hilten. Wild Sheep Foundation cannot comment on this matter as there is an active complaint investigation in progress.”

Immediately after forwarding Spear’s complaint to Van Hilten, we received two positive hunt reports from nonsubscribers. The 2015 hunter) took a sheep; the 2016 hunter did not. We’d like to hear from our subscribers about their recent experiences with Van Hilten and WCO. Specifically, did you receive the hunt and services you contracted for? Did you take a ram? How many legal rams did you see on your hunt? The more information we have about this outfitter, the clearer the picture will become. In the meantime, we are reaching out to APOS to find out when Spear’s complaint will be heard and how it will be handled. Stay tuned.