I’ve never seen so much meat in my life. The buffet table in the hallway of Whitehorse’s Kwanlin Dün Cultural Centre seems to go on forever. Apart from a few placeholder salads and a bowl of buns, there’s wild game en masse. There’s everything from the seemingly basic moose meatloaf and bison meatballs to absolutely decadent mushroom and wine marinated sheep, Thai goat curry and apricot brandy moose ribs.
I briefly consider asking if there’s a vegetarian entrée but since I already feel like an imposter at the Yukon Outfitters Association Ball, I keep the joke to myself. Following the example of the people ahead of me, I take a bun, a small portion of greens and start piling my plate high with meat.
The woman next to me is adding a cabbage roll to her stock when another woman walks by with a heaping plate of food and touches her arm gently—“Don’t waste yourself on that, there’s much better stuff ahead.” As I return to my table with more meat on my plate than I typically eat in a year, I wish I had heeded the woman’s advice and saved more room for the roast sheep with balsamic glaze.
This is the Yukon Outfitters Association’s biggest fundraiser of the year. Every spring, it gives a wild game “wish-list” to outfitters, in preparation for the fully-catered December event. The ball isn’t advertised because it doesn’t need to be. Every year it sells out.
“Oh my god, I get phone calls before I’ve even ordered the tickets,” says Brenda Stehelin, who works in the association’s office.
In addition to those directly tied to the outfitting industry, the event attracts recreational hunters and curious plus-ones like myself. My friend Sydney van Loon sold me on the dinner and every time she introduces me to someone, I feel the need to confess that I’m not actually a hunter. “I just heard this was a good time,” I say. No one seems offended by this admission but I still carry on the conversation with questions about what animals they have stored in their freezer (a moose in the fall means meat all year) and their favourite type of hunt. Sheep-hunting, I learn, may not reap the same quantity of meat as a buck, but all the climbing involved adds a challenge for those who really want to push themselves.
Back at the table, a couple of teenage boys walk around with guns–not loaded of course, with muzzles pointed at the ceiling. Would we like to buy a ticket for the gun raffle? “No, thank you,” I smile politely at the kids, while my pal Alex Morrison empties a bunch of cash from her wallet, practically drooling over the guns.
In between dinner and dessert, Alex and I peruse the silent auction. She bids on a snowmobile helmet and flight lessons, while I check out the chainsaw, a voucher for cords of wood, a bear trap and limited edition YOA belt buckles on offer. I don’t put in any bids.
Country music carries us through the rest of the evening, with those who can two-step (most people in attendance, by the looks of it) filling the dance floor. The camouflage, so ubiquitous with hunting, is mostly absent here. Women twirl around in heels and fancy dresses while the men make do with jeans and plaid shirts. Maybe a pair of cowboy boots here and there. Only when the band takes a break and “Sweet Home Alabama” blasts from the speakers do those of us non- two-steppers get up and dance. Despite the pounds of wild game in our bellies—and a few ounces of the mostly decorative sides—the dance floor fills up before the end of the song.
As the night winds down, I realize I haven’t taken a single picture. But I’m not alone in this. I didn’t see a selfie or photo taken the whole night. I guess this just ain’t that kind of crowd.