Hunters were forced deeper into the bush to get to deer in the season that closed yesterday.
“There’s fewer deer. You had to work harder for them,” said Wayne Howard of Ross’ Camp, located near Emo.
“If you worked, you could get them. We got some nice ones,” he noted.
“You had to walk a lot more. I walked a lot more than I normally do,” Howard added. “You could do the same things you normally would have done and got them, but the bigger ones seemed to be back a little ways.
“Back farther off the roads and back into the timber more. Not coming out in the open as often.
“They stayed back. They seemed to, anyway.”
Howard chalked up the hesitance for deer to get out in the open to warmer fall temperatures as they’ve spread out now that the cold has hit.
“Through the hunt season, it was pretty warm compared to normal,” he noted. “I’m guessing, but I’d say 10, 12 degrees warmer than what we should normally get, and that kept them back.
“They’re moving out in the open now that it’s cold. There’s lots of them running around in the open, like, out in the open.
“That happened, probably four or five days ago, when it got really cold,” he added.
But Howard noted that despite the challenges, he still felt it was a pretty good year overall. Some other hunters he’s talked to, though, think this past season was tougher than seasons past.
“They had a real hard time finding any numbers of real good deer,” he said. “[In past years], they were spread over larger areas. For example, there might be six, eight deer, fawns and bucks of all different sizes.
“Six here, six here, six here.
“[Now], it’s more like there’s eight here, but there would only be one or two instead of another group of six.”
Howard said his impressions of the past season also was that the bigger bucks were hit hard by the winter, as well as hunting pressure, from the last season.
“The bucks seemed to be a lot smaller this year, both the horns and the body size,” he remarked. “I do think that the extra two to three weeks was just enough to take its toll on, say, a doe carrying a couple of fawns.”
Dave Saunders, enforcement supervisor for the Ministry of Natural Resources here, said it still was a good year for deer hunting despite the rough winter a year ago.
“As far as the deer hunt, we knew we had a bad winter last year, and we knew it affected the deer numbers, but we still saw a pretty good success rate,” he explained.
“Not as high as it’s been in the past, but still pretty good.”
Another negative factor, according to Tom Pearson of Camp Narrows Lodge on Rainy Lake, was that with wolf populations on the rise, deer populations were affected.
“I had hunters that saw more wolves than deer in a week,” Pearson said. “This is the highest I’ve ever seen the wolf population.
“My hunters heard wolves killing deer every night. Every single night. . . . They’d hear them howling and chasing down deer.
“It didn’t matter where . . . they could hear them ripping apart deer every night.”
Saunders also noticed that with a higher wolf population, the number of wolf hunters was up this year.
“We did notice an increase in the wolf population,” he remarked. “The deer population exploded a few years ago. The wolf population followed behind it.
“Now the deer population has gone down, but there’s still a pretty good wolf population out there.”
In terms of moose, Howard said they also were tough to find this year. He noted the moose were staying down by the water because of the warm fall instead of going into the bush.
“I’d been hunting in the bush, logging roads, calling them, and they didn’t respond really, really well this year as they have in the past,” recalled Howard, who added much of the time, he was hunting for bull moose but saw cows much more often.
Meanwhile, Saunders noted the bird population was “spotty” so hunting was good in some places but poor in others.
“You could go up some roads and not see anything, and go into other locations in the district and see all kinds,” he explained.
“It was kind of a hard one to figure out.
“We think we saw late broods this year. We think we saw birds that probably had broods in the latter part of June and ended up being kind of small,” he added.
“But at least they had broods.”
Pearson said duck populations didn’t come through the district in their usual numbers because high water levels on Rainy Lake meant wild rice wasn’t as abundant. As well, because of the warm weather, the ducks didn’t start moving until later in the year.
“Most of the people are moose hunting or deer hunting when most of the prime duck hunting is going on in mid-November,” noted Pearson.
“I think the duck population is still there. We just had a couple negative factors this year,” he reasoned.
Pearson also said bear populations were high, and that his hunters ran 100 percent on bears.
“They pass one up because they’re looking for a monster. . . .They still pass up 300-pounders because they’re looking for a bigger one.
“Bear hunting’s easy anywhere in Ontario.”
In terms of enforcement, Saunders said there were no new regulations—and that violations ran at about the same number as in past years.
“We always run into something every year,” he noted. “99 percent of the hunters are good.
“Some make mistakes we have to deal with, and then there’s that one percent that are always acting up and we end up chasing them around a lot.”
The MNR expects the results of this past season’s hunt to be available in late winter or early spring, and that resident hunters are encouraged to complete a postcard mail survey.
The surveys can be mailed or dropped off at any MNR office.