By Jason Mitchell
There are many well-known big buck destinations scattered across North America. Regions like Pike County, Illinois and the famed “Golden Triangle” come to mind. Buffalo County, Wisconsin is another spot on the map that has that fabled reputation. Of course, there are other hotbeds like Texas and Alberta. I am probably typical of many hunters who travel to other states or provinces to hunt. I have good hunting at home, but I also enjoy traveling to other states or provinces to hunt. By traveling to other regions, I can hunt new or different terrain and can hopefully see or have more opportunities at big deer. Of course, the biggest challenge to planning any type of a hunt is the mere fact that so many windows and seasons overlap and happen at the same time.
I have hunted deer in several states and to be honest, some camps or outfitters are simply disappointing. I have come to realize that regions or counties that have the big buck reputation aren’t necessarily the best hunting camps. The reason is simple economics. In the more coveted areas, an outfitter might have to shell out ten thousand green backs to lease one single farm that might be five hundred acres. Maybe the number is more, maybe less but you get the general idea… you must run several hunters through a camp in order to make an outfitting business work. Because of the dollars involved, you are realistically hunting in a stand that other hunters have hunted through the season. When I am hunting at home, I know to quit hunting a stand when the deer start patterning me. As a result, I don’t have deer looking up into the tree where I am at because I won’t hunt a stand that hard. I am also diligent on wind, if the wind isn’t perfect, I don’t hunt. I am careful with scent control and how I get in and out of a stand when I am hunting my own property.
When you hunt another state with an outfitter, you have no control over how somebody hunted a stand before you ever get there. The other game many outfitters play is setting up in a blind on a field edge where you overlook large fields of soybeans, corn or some other desirable crop. This is done so that there is no human intrusion beyond the field edge. This is a great way to see a lot of deer, but the reality is that most of the mature bucks won’t walk out into the wide-open during daylight until the rut. Because of so many variables, most outfitters rely solely on the rut in order to harvest mature bucks. There are of course great outfitters and some not so great outfitters, but I have come to realize that many of the most renowned regions in the country for producing big deer aren’t always what you hope for.
If there is a region however that continues to impress me for opportunities at seeing big deer, I would give the nod to some of the parkland regions of Manitoba and Saskatchewan. Manitoba in particular is a real sleeper and doesn’t get a lot of accolades for producing big, mature whitetails but there is serious potential and the sheer size of most outfitter concessions is a real advantage because there is simply so much area that you are often encountering deer that either don’t know there is a hunting season or haven’t been patterning hunters. The reality is that deer are going to pattern you long before you pattern them if a farm or stand gets too much pressure.
The prairie provinces are different because of the sheer massiveness of woods, bog and swamp that is often crown land. While this land is technically public and open to Canadian residents for hunting, there is often very little pressure because there just aren’t enough residents on this landscape. The very best areas often lie right on the edge of the boreal forest where agriculture begins to thin and stop. This northern edge where farm fields give way to dense woods and swamp produces some phenomenal whitetail hunting and offers a great opportunity for all the right reasons.
There is potential all through Manitoba but one of the very best areas lies in the interlake Region of Manitoba that is a large geographical area between Lake Winnipeg and Lake Manitoba. Harry Walker has been an outfitter and operated Sandy River Outfitters in this region for several years. Walker primarily outfits in zones 20 and 21. What makes this region so special is that there are many remote areas with very limited pressure. Access into many of these areas is difficult. “They key to producing big deer is simply letting them live long enough to mature, there is good genetics all through the province but in this particular area, deer can simply live a long time because there just isn’t much hunting pressure,” stresses Walker.
Sandy River Outfitters hunts on both public and private property in the region. Much of the private property is near agriculture whereas the public land is often dense forest and swamp. Some of the biggest bucks each year come off the public crown land. According to Walker, you often see fewer deer as you get further back into the swamps and forest away from the agriculture, but you often see some of the biggest deer in these remote locations. The area produces a lot of dark heavy horned nontypical racks. Deer between 140 to 150 inches are common but some bruisers are shot each season between 160-180 inches.
All hunting is done from sixteen-foot-high stands that are enclosed and heated for all day sits. Walker focuses the stands on classic pinch points and funnels often moving off the field edges about a quarter of a mile into the woods. Hot locations can vary depending on how wet the fall is. Swamps can often funnel deer movement onto higher ground. By setting stands back into the remote woods and swamp edges, hunters can often see good deer movement all through the day. Lunch time can often see better deer movement than the last hour of daylight. More information can be found at www.sandyriveroutfitters.com
Further west, Ledoux’s T and T Outfitting operates just outside of the Riding Mountain National Park and hunts a large area known as the McCreary Flatlands. This is another classic mix of farmland and boreal forest creating the classic edge habitat that whitetails love. This region also offers great genetics with many deer that range between 140 and 160 inches. Bucks grow big because of the protection and sanctuary that the Riding Mountain Park provides but these deer often leave the park during the rut. Hunters hunt all day out of fourteen-foot-high box blinds that offer propane heat and flip down windows. Many of the bucks have the classic dark chocolate nontypical racks. Very affordable hunting packages at $3,000.00 USD that includes lodging and great home cooked meals.
The deer hunting opportunities in Manitoba are especially appealing to myself because they are so close to where I live in North Dakota. I can literally get to these camps within a four-hour drive from my doorstep. These hunts are gaining popularity from many rifle hunters in this region because it has become so difficult to draw a North Dakota buck rifle tag over the past ten years. If you are unsure if you will draw a tag as a North Dakota resident hunter, you can guarantee you will be hunting this fall by simply driving north. For hunters traveling from further distances, you can fly into Winnipeg or fly into Grand Forks, North Dakota and drive across the border, depending on how you want to handle the logistics of customs and border crossing.
Sandy River Outfitter does offer transportation to and from the Winnipeg Airport as part of their six-day hunting package. Also note that Manitoba requires nonresidents to hunt with an outfitter and all licenses are allocated through an outfitter. When you factor the license, meals and lodging however, these hunts are really a bargain. Both outfitters mentioned above also offer fall bear hunting options. Manitoba offers an early archery season that offers a chance to harvest bucks still in velvet. There is also an October muzzleloader season and the classic November rifle season. More Manitoba whitetail deer outfitters can also be found through www.huntfishmanitoba.ca.