Werner has been involved with hunting since early childhood. He was mentored by his father and other family members, hunting the Austrian Alps for red deer, roe deer and chamois. He attended forestry college in Austria, studying management of forests and wildlife.
Working as a forester and guiding eventually led him to the Yukon, Canada and big game outfitting. Guiding at a hunting camp in the Yukon, Werner met Sunny Petersen. Werner, a forest engineer and Sunny, an agricultural engineer, operate South Nahanni Outfitters as a husband and wife team.
Based in the MacKenzie Mountains in the remote area of the Northwest Territories, Werner hunts for Dall sheep, Alaska/Yukon moose, mountain caribou, mountain goat, wolf, wolverine and black bear. During the summer, hunts are conducted from the Root River base camp. This wilderness land is accessible only by air.
South Nahanni’s hunting area is a concession on the southern MacKenzie Mountains bordering South Nahanni National Park to the south and west. Basecamp is 350 air miles from Whitehorse, Yukon. Mountain goats inhabit the far west toward the Yukon border. Sheep and caribou roam over the mountains, moose are in the valleys in between. After spending the summer of 2003 in South Nahanni, Werner and Sunny purchased the concession, which was formed in 1965.
Every outfitter has his or her own personality and way of outfitting that permeates the operation. Sonny lists the factors that she calls South Nahanni Outfitters “stand outs.” “Customer service – email and phone response in English, German and Spanish. Exhaustive, functioning website; taking clients on as part of the team when in South Nahanni. Precision organization, helicopter access into the actual hunting area. More sheep that we can ever logistically pursue. Fun and celebration when returning to base camp after a successful hunt.”
Werner comments on his firearm choice when afield. “It is a .300 Win. Mag. because it is suitable for any game we have in South Nahanni. This gun functions as dual purpose, taking marmots to grizzly bears and bullets are easy to find.”
Every hunt is an adventure, but some have pulse-pounding moments, providing special memories. Sunny reminisces about events during decades of outfitting. “One of Werner’s more rewarding experiences includes a Dall sheep hunter who had been out with one of our guides. On day one they got a nice billy and then relocated for sheep. Unfortunately, the map was left in the helicopter and they hiked off in the opposite direction from the one instructed. After striking off in the wrong direction, the hunter came down with severe diarrhea and had to be flown back to base camp to recover. We extended his hunt. Werner took him out and on the first day, five or six rams were spotted, including a beautiful old broomie. Approach was difficult, the only way forward was back down the slope, around the entire mountain and then back up. That brought them within 150 yards of the broomie and into a bad location for a kill shot. By now, the hunter wanted to shoot the free-standing full curl, but Werner said they would wait. The client was employing a volley of German swear words, but Werner was going to save the day, thinking like a ram. They advanced to the next vantage point and waited while Werner was sure the rams would appear. Three rams appeared, but the word was don’t shoot. Then the broomie stepped into their field of vision, broadside at 50 yards. Hunt over, happy client.”
Sunny continued. “Thinking like the animal is the secret to good guiding, well, really it is people skills first. On another occasion, Werner and a hunter shot a bull moose in thick, burnt over brush and saw the moose disappear into the valley into the same brush. Fighting their way down, snow and fog rolled in. It snowed during the night, obscuring everything, including dead animals. The hunter’s spirits lagged, thinking they would not find the moose. Following his moose instincts, Werner took the hunter on a path he was certain would be taken by a wounded or dying animal. Then he got a whiff of rutting moose and went directly to the moose covered in snow. At that moment, the hunter was the happiest man alive.”
In addition to hunting, South Nahanni outfitters offers various other activities. Heli-hiking trips, ranging from four to 14 days, cover South Nahanni and South Nahanni National Park in the Bell Longranger or Jetranger. Camping, including a remote cabin and hiking trips can be arranged. Photography, fossil hunting, scenery and wildlife viewing can be part of a client’s trip.
The NWT is truly remote. There is no constant interaction with the locals except Werner’s flying to donate meat to two small communities, Wrigley and Fort Simpson. Werner serves as secretary of AMMO, Assn. of McKenzie Outfitters, which provides student scholarships and is involved in various other support and advocating activities. Werner and Sunny have been outfitter members of SCI since 2003 and privately prior to that. They have donated Dall sheep hunts, some with the Michigan SCI chapter. Werner is an official SCI measurer, one of only two in the Yukon.