Time to adjust non-resident deer hunting regulations

Back in the early 2000s, Northwestern Ontario emerged as one of the top deer-hunting destinations in North America.
At the north end of the whitetail deer range, several favourable factors contributed to an explosion in the deer population. Multiple winters without major snow, low hunting pressure, and a surplus of quality forage created the perfect storm for whitetails.
Figuring I knew enough about deer hunting to help a few hunters get one, I had my first guests visit me in November, 2005 to go. One of the guys on that first trip tagged the largest buck that any of my guests had ever seen–a 17 point buck that scored over 190 inches (a monster).
Guiding seemed like an easy way to stay busy in the fall and make a few bucks.
Looking back, had I known what I know now about deer hunting, it would have been incredible. Most folks who lived here had no idea how good the deer hunting actually was and how many deer were in our woods.
There were so many trophy bucks taken by hunters, it blows my mind now. And as word spread about the great deer hunting across Northwestern Ontario, we started to attract many more hunters from other parts of Canada and the U.S.
As a big proponent of tourism, specifically for outdoor activities across Sunset Country, I promoted hunting in our region though social media, word of mouth with my friends, and through writing columns.
The deer hunting certainly has helped a lot of folks in the tourism industry over the past decade. Unfortunately, there are some problems with the way the non-resident regulations are here in Northwest Ontario, especially in the Kenora area.
From 2005-12, it was almost impossible to get a hotel room in the Kenora area through the first couple of weeks of November (that many hunters were visiting the region to hunt).
The problem was, this is one of the only places in Canada where non-resident hunters can hunt on their own without an outfitter or a guide.
I’ve never had a big issue with it, although I’ve never been able to understand the reasoning behind the regulations. I have several American friends who have hunted the Kenora area for years and have taught me a lot about deer hunting.
These guys love coming to this area and have a great time in our woods.
What ended up happening was that a lot of these hunters were coming here and leaving little economic impact on our region–all the while they were hammering our deer population.
While there were (and still are) a lot of hunters staying at our area resorts and hiring guides, a lot were doing their own thing, bringing all of their groceries and hunting gear from home, spending little money while they were here.
It was not the hunters’ fault, they were allowed to do what they were doing. Rather, it was a result of poor regulations on our end. Over time, all of these hunters took their toll on the deer population.
Then the wolf numbers seemed to really take off and, when combined with a couple of really tough winters in 2011 and 2013, the deer populations took a hard hit, especially in remote areas away from our communities and roads.
In the Fort Frances and Rainy River regions, non-resident hunters must hunt with an outfitter or guide. But for some reason, that regulation is not spread across the entire region.
Yes, there have been issues with non-resident hunters poaching and hunting on private property, but there are resident hunters caught doing those things every year, as well, so I’m not saying that is an issue non-residents should take the blame for.
As someone who does some guiding for deer hunters, I am biased in wanting to see the regulations changed but it only would benefit our region in the long run. There would be less hunters visiting us but as long as the deer hunting opportunities were good, then hunters will visit our tourist outfits to hunt.
It is proven that we have the genetics and habitat to have some of the best deer hunting in North America, so it turns into a quality over quantity thing for us.
Though the deer numbers still are down outside of our communities, they are starting to rebound slightly in some areas and the hunting has been better this year than in the past few. In time, hopefully the regulations for non-resident hunters can be adjusted.
The non-resident season ends on Nov. 15 in the Kenora and Fort Frances regions.