In more than 60 years of hunting, Squamish resident Sonny Van Horlick never had the opportunity to stare down a Roosevelt elk from the barrel of his gun.
But all that changed when the 77-year-old won a limited-entry random draw back in August.
Van Horlick's name was chosen from among almost 400 hunters from all over the province and he became the first person to ever legally kill the beast in Squamish.
“I'm an old veteran hunter,” he said. “I won draws before for moose and goats when I lived in the Kootenays, but this time they picked my name — I came up on top.”
The elk was legally shot and killed by Van Horlick on Nov. 2 and he told The Chief that his decades of experience in the local wilderness aided him in his journey.
“I know the valley like the back of my hand,” he said, chuckling. “Being born and brought up out here, I knew exactly where the elk hang out and where the goats and deer are. I've always done hunting throughout my whole life, my whole family was hunters and trappers so I grew up like that.”
Van Horlick said he first hunted at the tender age of 14 and bagged his first moose at 15. He was so passionate about hunting that he and a friend were close to starting their own guiding outfit in the Kootenays, but road construction through the planned location's valley destroyed his dreams.
He said he was amazed by the size of the five-spiked bull he killed with two shots from his seven Remington magnum.
“We got him later in the afternoon but I needed help to get it out,” he said. “I had my hunting partner with me and thank Christ for that, because I needed help. These Roosevelt elk are really big, he's as big as a moose — close to 1,000 pounds I'd say. I've killed lots of moose and elk in my life and this Roosevelt was up there. He's big.”
Van Horlick's partner on the hunt was his friend Cory Peters. The duo have been hunting together for several decades.
“He started to hunt with me when he was a kid,” he recalled. “Now he's 40 or 45 years old. We've been hunting together for a while.”
The elk was so big that it actually took four people to retrieve it. Eric Frappier, who now lives in Powell River, said it was quite a haul.
“Me and a few other guys went and helped,” he said, noting that the elk was located near the Squamish River around Mile 33. “We helped cut it all up but we had to watch for grizzlies and wolves because there were some tracks close to it. Luckily they were eating salmon.”
Frappier said it was a nice reward for Van Horlick, who is well known in the local hunting community.
“He's been hunting here forever,” he said. “He was a machine operator for a logging company and every year he went moose hunting and wanted to take time off work. Well, they didn't want to give him time off so he'd quit and then they'd always re-hire him.”
Van Horlick plans to use all the meat on the animal and will be bringing some for Christmas dinners.
“It's all cut and wrapped now,” he said. “I have a friend from Chilliwack who helps butcher for me. He comes up here and we have a couple of beers. But this one was a busy one for us — not too much time for beer.”
He will be heading to Vancouver Island over the holidays and plans to bring elk meat for both his sister and daughter. He noted that they might like the change of pace as he usually brings moose or deer.
Eight elk were transported into the Squamish Valley on Dec. 29, 2011 after a similar relocation in 2006, and Van Horlick said it's great to see the species thrive.
“The herd here is doing good,” he said. “They got lots of feed and our winters aren't too harsh for them. Other than cougars and wolves killing off the calves and cows, I think they're doing well.”
He said it was a thrill to win the draw and said he will cherish the memory.
“I think for an old vet like me to win the draw was very nice,” he said. “It was very exciting for me to get the draw. I appreciated it. It won’t happen again. It was a once-in-a-lifetime thing.”