Tough go for local deer hunters

For hunters across Northwest Ontario, last year’s brutal winter is still leaving its mark. Our whitetail deer population is in tough shape. It has been for a while but the deep snow and long, cold winter that we experienced last year was another big hit to our deer herd.

The non-hunters out there are probably reading this thinking what is he talking about? If you drive through most of the communities around the region, especially this time of year, it’s common to spot deer on every corner. Heck, it’s tough to have a garden in the summer, the deer eat everything. It’s a different story when you get out of town. Urban deer have much easier access to food throughout the winter and a lot fewer predators to deal with.

For years, I had a whitetail guiding business that was the most profitable thing that I did all year. When I started it back in 2005, we had some of the best whitetail deer hunting in North America. I had some basic knowledge about deer but they were everywhere, so if you got out there and put in some time scouting around you were often rewarded.

Eventually I started running some of my guests around on the water, where they wouldn’t see other hunters. The deer were relatively untouched and again, they were plentiful. It was a lot of fun. My guests all loved getting to drive to their hunting spots by boat and we’d usually mix in some fish catching along the way.

The World-class deer population lasted for seven or eight years and then we got hit with multiple brutal winters in a row. Because the deer numbers were so high, the wolf population increased significantly as well because they were being so well fed. Eventually, these, and other factors lead to a significant decline in our deer herd.

Today, it seems like the farther you get out of town or the more remote you get, the fewer deer there are. You can still put in some time and find deer to hunt but it’s a lot different that it was when we had it so good for all those years. The last guests that I had visit were in 2019. They were hunters from the U.S. who had come for 12 years in a row and had experienced the good times. Hopefully they’ll get back up to visit us again.

Regionally, there are plenty of hunters who are probably happy to see a lot fewer non-resident hunters visiting Sunset Country, but there has been a significant hit to our economy from this decline. Ten years ago, it was hard to find a hotel room in the fall. Resorts were able to stay open a month or two longer and restaurants had more action during a slower time of year. A lot of these hunters would come back in the spring to scout around or in the summer to go fishing.

I believe that the deer population will recover and come around again at some point but we need a few consecutive easy winters. Maybe our moose will make some kind of recovery. They don’t coexist all that well with deer so it may be an opportunity for them? There seems to be a few more sightings happening farther south across the region.

Even though the deer numbers are not good, I hope that everybody who enjoys deer hunting gets out in the woods this year because some of the best things about hunting are simply being out there before the sun comes up in the morning or sharing a hot lunch with friends or family. There are many aspects to hunting outside of actually pulling the trigger that are amazing and why we love it. If you get to punch your tag and fill your freezer with beautiful meat, it’s a bonus.