Big Game Hunting in Newfoundland

A Newfoundland Hunting Experience – A Father & Son Re-bonding in a Newfoundland Hunting Trip

The following article was written by Peter Bercik. Peter’s accomplishments in life are many, from being a commercial pilot with over 13,000 flying hours to serving as CEO of a chain of technical institutes throughout the United States and Canada. A past that also involved a stint with nationally televised news and production. He has written many articles on education, produced TV motion pictures and audio visual productions.

Peter is an avid hunter who has hunted throughout the United States and Canada. At age 74 he looks back with the memories of 60 years of happy hunts.

A Father And Son … Re-bonding in a Newfoundland Hunt

Lief Erickson proclaimed it over 1,000 years ago a “New Found Land”. Home of the “Newfies”, thousands of moose, caribou, large coyotes, ptarmigan, geese, and featuring some of this hemisphere’s finest fishing for Arctic Char, Atlantic Salmon, lake and brook trout, halibut, herring, mackerel, smelt and capelin on the short list.

Lief Erickson had to have been one of the hardiest of pioneers, navigating his long boat through the ice burgs and treacherous waters of the North Atlantic, his anchorage points are still etched into the rocks of his initial landing at L’Anse au Meadows, the Northern most point of Newfoundland. There’s evidence that the Norsemen also traveled west through the waters of the Great Lakes all the way to Alexandria, Minnesota. This landmass of Newfoundland is the eastern most part of the North American Continent. The dawn of day breaks there in a time zone 2 ½ hours from New York City!

As human beings, we look back in self-examination with the wisdom of hindsight and lament over the would’ves, could’ves and should’ves, with the keen perspective of the 20/20 vision called hindsight. Now being a 74 year old, ex-businessman and still inebriated with a lifetime passion for hunting and fishing, my perspective for the sport is now better than a 20/20 vision. Without regrets, I reminisce with fondness, how my one son, Brian (now a middle aged 47 year old man), caught his first Blue Gill at aged six and continued that joyful sport well into his adulthood. I also fondly reminisce about my two sons, Brian and Mark, getting their first deer and the follow up yelps of joy and their ear-to-ear smiles. My then 17 year old son Brian took the spent cartridge from his 30-30 Winchester and had his “true love’ make him a pendant to proudly wear on his neck (he wore it so long, we got tired of looking at it). The thrill of their first kill is permanently etched into their neural circuitry and now they can enjoy it for a lifetime. The anti-gun and anti-hunting establishments are in an alien world of virtual reality.

Now back to Lief Erickson’s discovery, “New Found Land”. Why have I, in the autumn, sunset years of my life chose to become an avid fan of now what has become my “New Found Land”? Having been an outdoorsman since 12 years of age (1942), I can recollect with the keen vision of hindsight, the evolution of my life’s recreational passion (the good and the bad and how this “New Found Land” has re-ignited the passion of my youth).

My childhood environment was in a second-generation Slovak family in Donora, Pennsylvania (home of Stan Musial, Arnold Galiffa, Bimbo Ciconni, “ Deacon” Dan Towler, Richard and Bernard Bercik, all super champions who helped to rename Donora, Pennsylvania the “home of champions”). Being second generation Slovaks my family were basically from European peasant stock, strong, industrious, hard working, god fearing and a strong emphasis on family values.

But no one hunted, owned a gun or went fishing, no one played any type of music, wrote or read poetry, literature, etc. At age eight I wanted to learn to play the accordion and did so … well enough to play on the local radio station (Saturday Morning Slovak Hour) for several years. Being young, our favorite games were “hide and go seek”, “cowboys and Indians”, and “cops and robbers”. To play cowboys and Indians and cops and robbers we made our own guns, double action, wood guns with slices of inner tubes from truck tires. We even put a knot in the middle to give it a real wallop. The trigger was a flat stick held in place by two strong rubber bands wrapped completely around “the weapon” (Thank God Barbara Boxer, Diane Finestein, Sheila Jackson Lee, weren’t around to propose anti-rubber band guns in the hand of irresponsible pre-teenagers). My buddies even enjoyed making a double action wooden rifle that stretched the rubber “bullets” even longer. Wow! Did they sting … (now all is politically incorrect as government now legislates morality caloric intake, seat belts, helmets, and legislates God and the bible out of the classroom and our country).

But those were the days of WWII when our gallant men were trying to make the world “safe for democracy” and our gallant women did double duty as “Rosie the Riveter” and as W.A.F’s and W.A.C’s and W.A.V.E’s and as ferry pilots crossing the oceans to resupply our airmen with bombers. Ours was a nation in defense of a “world under siege”, determined that the axis powers would not prevail in their determined quest for world domination. America was determined, united and mobilized.

Now with the wisdom of hindsight, compare that to the Wahabbist, the Jihadists, and the wild-eyed Mullahs who want to destroy the entire western civilization, the Catholics, the Christians, and the Jews must all be eliminated in the name of Allah and Islam must be established as a world religion (what a scenario for WWIII). During the world conflict of WWII it was great that we as Americans had the right to own and possess guns, as our right guaranteed by the Constitution.

Looking back over the evolution of hunting and fishing as enjoyable sports for the budget minded masses from WWII, it’s sad to see the proliferation of no hunting signs, no trespassing signs, loss of habitat for game and the ever-decreasing acreage for any sporting purposes, even to run and train your dogs.

All this being compounded by the anti-everything activists and the legislative support to restrict and eliminate the sport. Thank God for the NRA and conservationists hunt clubs and associations that promote and protect the environment and our native animals and fishes from extinction. Our fisheries and wildlife agencies would stock the ponds and streams with pen reared fingerlings. Opening day was and still is a circus in so many areas, with sportsmen shoulder to shoulder to shoulder, tangling their lines trying to catch the tame fish that never took a lure. Opening day of hunting saw a red blaze every 100 yards or less “ready for the big one”.

I’ve gone through the trials and tribulations to get permission, even though we were experienced, safe and considerate hunters. It became harder and harder to find a quality hunting environment in the US. Now I read with dismay all the species of fish that are unfit to consume because of heavy metal and chemical pollution. From the small fish up to the top of the food chain, it’s a frightening scenario.

So where do we escape?? To “New Found Land”

Many will say, well there are plenty of good outfitters in the US and there are many; but like lawyers and doctors most laymen don’t have the time, money or ability to separate good from the bad. Most inexperienced hunters will put up the “do-re-me” and go out and try to get the big one that you have fantasized about for a year.

Trouble is that this old geezer has put together too many big game hunts throughout the US and Canada, and all too often have had egg on my face. Imagine putting together three to six hunters, full of anticipation and hopeful expectations, who have saved their hard earned money and shelled out anywhere from $3,000 up to $10,000 for a guided hunt, based on my recommendation. My experience has rewarded me with many successful hunts but the bad ones “pang my conscience”.

I’ve hunted Montana, Colorado, New Mexico, South Dakota, Wyoming, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Maryland, Ohio, Tennessee, North Carolina, and Canada from Manitoba to Nova Scotia… all fun hunts with varying success, but all enjoyable.

Six years ago I gave “New Found Land” a try and researched the outfitters; writing, calling, checking references and getting approved lists from the appropriate commissions. Laborious, to say the least, yet one outfitter seemed to stand out the most, “Sou’wester Outfitting” out of Corner Brook in Newfoundland (owners Dean and Bonnie Wheeler). Both young and energetic, but very conscientious in the prospective client follow-up. No fast hustle, no hype, nice literature, well put together, documented their record kills with black powder, archery and high power rifles. References checked out, no obvious coaching by the Wheelers… good satisfaction level and I was convinced.

My first group were all professionals, business executives, engineers and lawyers. Most outfitters like to brag and embellish their success rate. The Wheelers, however, were comfortable that 93% of their clientele were successful and published that statistic. As a life long businessman, I must confess that I looked at that statistic with a jaundiced eye, and had a “show me” attitude when I first arrived.

These are my observations as to why I have selected Sou’wester as one of Newfoundland’s premier outfitters.

Day One: We arrive at Deer Lake Airport and are greeted by the outfitter himself; who cheerfully helped to load us up into his van. A short ride takes us to a small village called Little Rapids to one of the most beautiful, clean and hospitable “Bed and Breakfast” in the area (the Adams House – Carla and Nelson Adams Proprietors). Their huge claw foot porcelain bathtub felt so good after the long air flight (need to relax those tense muscles caused by the excitement of anticipation and the fatigue of the trip).

After the soaking bath the Adams had prepared a nice dinner and even joined us as we shared some Johnny Walker Red Label. A fitting libation to help lull us into a pre-slumber mode.

This was to be our last taste of civilization as tomorrow we would be off to the deep tundra and would have to “rough it” with no hot water, no radio, make our own meals and trail lunches. Remember, this was my first time here and I was escort to three more clients and I desperately wanted a quality hunt and not egg on my face. Surprise, surprise… our outfitter personally drove us out to “Peter Strides” (a small lake, surrounded by an assortment of small cabins, campers, pop-ups, and truck campers supporting the hunting industry of this section of Newfoundland.

Our plane looked like a trustworthy Cessna, proudly sitting atop its floats. Wow! These bush pilots really know how to maximize their loads. Yes, the outfitter himself, the CEO of Sou’wester Outfitting helped to load the plane, helped with the heavy cans of gas and helped us aboard the Cessna floatplane (the first time ride for my friends, their apprehensions were allayed by my calmness, since I have flown all my life, owned planes and even flew the Lake Amphibian and the Grumman Goose among dozens os aircrafts of all types).

The takeoff in a floatplane is an exhilarating experience, at least for me, and off into the air and under the low overcast went our plane on the appropriate heading to Loon Lake, the main camp of Sou’wester Outfitting approximately 100 miles away.

Of course I had the typical stereotype impression of a tundra hunt…a ramshackle camp, wooden cots, cast iron stove, cans of water, hanging lanterns and some local guides with scraggly beards, long oily hair, chewing tobacco. How wrong I was…surprise, surprise!

Upon landing at Loon Lake, we were greeted by four camp guides, all eager to safely moor the plane and protect those expensive floats; the smiling hunters from the previous week were there to greet us and were anxiously awaiting to show off their trophy antlers and carefully wrapped meat and to get on their way home.

The guides were all professional in appearance and had the look of folks that were happy with their duties, helping folks like us fulfill their ambitions and fantasies of big game hunting in Newfoundland. The floatplane was fully packed and it was obvious that all three hunters were successful at 100%; it just doesn’t get any better than that! Everyone had at least one animal “in the bag”. They couldn’t wait to get home and to develop their photos.

Well let’s mosey over and check out the accommodations. Wow! My stereotype impression was completely shattered, as the photo will testify. Dean Wheeler went to time and trouble (plus the money) to have every bit of new construction material air lifted by helicopter to deep in the tundra location at Loon Lake. During the winter months, they even used snowmobiles to drag more materials and even their rugged home built boats over the frozen landmass, its many ponds, lakes, bogs and marshes.

Having being built in the mid 1990’s the cabin featured all the comforts of home, even to the beautiful knotty pine paneling, hot and cold running water, shower, flush toilet, bed with mattress, nice pillows with comfortable blankets and comforters. Yes everything was first rate and I would give the camp a four star rating. What a surprise it was to be introduced to Ray Batt the camp chef, a well educated person with a bachelor’s degree in psychology…but oh could he cook. Just the aroma of his Newfoundland style cooking made you salivate. Every meal was a delight … nutritious, well balanced and home cooked. We looked forward to his home baked breads, muffins, biscuits, and little cakes dotted with a variety of fresh picked berries that grew (crack berries, partridge berries, blue berries and that old standby, raisins).

Newfoundland has such a unique history and culture that one must be there to appreciate and to enjoy it. The books of Newfoundland style cooking reflect the stalwart makeup of its citizens. I can sum it up in one phrase; they are “can do” people who know how to survive and live off the land.

Their vegetable staples are primarily root crops, with wild game and fish as their protein. What I noticed when shopping in St. John’s and Corner Brook was the lack of obesity among the locals, the cleanliness of the streets and the friendliness of the clerks. What a contrast to the lower 48… and the females had beauty in their heartfelt radiance. No tattoos or fat waddling rumps! These Newfies knew how to survive in what could be a harsh climate. Preserve and protect your edibles for the long winter.

First day at Loon Lake … a polite briefing and map reading (topographical) of the local area, gun safety tips, a sighting in range and then some scouting and scoping the landscape. Hunting Woodland Caribou is a “spot and stalk” type of hunt requiring the human body to be in reasonably good shape. Walking 2-8 miles over the tundra can be compared to walking on a mattress. The low growing lichen and tuckamore bushes, juniper and spruce are punctuated by the caribou trails that make for a challenging hike.

But oh, to pass over a massive bog to get to a wooded hillock, required you to test the knee-high rubber boots and your stamina!!

As you trudge along in this new and strange environment, you sink into the bogs at varying depths, depending on the color of the bog (watch out for the dark areas, try and gingerly step as brisk as possible while you are fresh and strong). Squish, squish, squash, squash, slurp, slurp, oops, I just sank down to my knees and water came into my boot. Now to extricate my legs, it seems to be “stuck in a glue pot”. Tug, Tug and it comes out. Thank God, I did not utter any expletives… especially since this is truly “God’s country”.

Why? You may ask? Remember opening day of hunting in the lower 48. Wall to wall orange blaze, no hunting signs everywhere, game wardens everywhere looking for that poor hapless hunter not wearing enough blaze, junk piles, litter in so many places ect. ect..

Well in Newfoundland, it is the pleasure of “quiet”, just you and your guide, no one else in sight, no need for blaze orange, just trudge along the small hills, rocks, bogs and marshes, stopping frequently to glass the surrounding slopes and woodloks.

The beauty of the tundra is its pristine purity, everyone here pitches in to protect the natural beauty of this environment. In my six years, I have never even seen so much as a chewing gum wrapper, let alone a beer can in the bush. On one hunt involving a eight mile trek, a small band aid on my left hand came off. After realizing the loss, I had a guilty feeling. Later on however one of the guides proudly gave it back to me… now that’s environmental dedication… up in Newfoundland it’s “Earth, we care”.

Big game hunting for non-locals in Newfoundland is a protected industry since non-residents must book their hunt with a licensed outfitter. Local residents can get their tag individually. This rule gives the outfitters an opportunity to recoup their investment and to concentrate their attention on building a satisfied client base, especially for repeat business and referrals. Hunting Woodland Caribou requires you to adjust your senses to longer distances, and to distinguish between the numerous round rocks (relics of the ice age) that look like the body of a resting caribou. For me it took several days to adjust to noticing the difference at 200-500 yards plus. Thank God for my guide Austin (a career cod fisherman, life long hunter and master boat builder) with his help and my new “Bushnell Legend” binoculars and his patience, I got the drift, and got up to speed.

After hunting Newfoundland for three years, I decided to ask my then 47 year old son Brian, if he would like to join his dad for a “hunt of a lifetime” in Newfoundland. Being a single bachelor, no family encumbrances, he could easily accompany me; after all, we hadn’t hunted together for over 25 years, as he established his own life style.

“Yeah dad sounds great! How much will it cost me?” I gave him the prices for a complete guided hunt for a caribou and/or moose. The cost to me is reasonable compared to similar hunts in British Columbia, Alaska, Maine, ect. He chose a single animal hunt – the Woodland Caribou.

“Yeah dad but isn’t that like shooting fish in a barrel? I saw on the OLC (Outdoor Life Channel) that those migrating caribou were just like shooting fish in a barrel. Just take your pick and shoot!!”

It took some explaining on my part, to compare the difference between a Woodland Caribou and the Barren Ground type. Woodland Caribou are more solitary during their open season and you hunt them on a “spot and stalk” method. You better be in pretty good physical shape to withstand the rigors of that type of hunt. There is absolutely no comparison between the two. This is the more challenging hunt.

When my son arrived, I was stunned to see his “abominable adominable”. Gosh, he went from a slim 148 lb man to over 200 lbs (we had not gotten together for a number of years). Would he be up to the rigors? He’s now middle aged and not a spring chicken.

After two days of hunting I was resting (FOB – flat on back) when my guide came in and excitedly exclaimed, “Come on “Pop”, two big bulls across the lake up on a hill. Let’s jump in the boat, cross the lake and get them.”
Lickety split, and off I hauled my geriatric bones to the boat along with my son to “get the big ones”. A 15 minute ride and I get out the Bushnell Legends and spot the animals about 200 yards inland. Pleading with my geriatric bones and muscles to get a move on, I skidooed up a small stream and threw myself on to the junipers for a prone shot. “Bang” and one bull dropped onto its front legs, rear legs still standing like a camel getting down. Not knowing where the first shot hit, I quickly adjusted my Browning 300 Winchester Mag for a high neck shot and put the caribou down. My first shot was unfortunately too far forward and low, going through the brisket. With the high neck shot there was no loss of meat and no suffering by the animal.

My son however, froze in his tracks and for some reason would not take the other bull. “Shoot, shoot”! I exclaimed, but no reaction. Coming up to me at the prostate animal I said “Brian I hope that you can do this when you are 74 years old”. Brian said nothing … later on I regretted this, because I feared that my comment was a “put-down”! The guide, wise and experienced stated that your son probably was afraid that he might miss and be embarrassed in front of his dad. Maybe, I thought! Could be!

The next day I asked the guide to take him out and really hunt his butt off. I’ll stay in camp. About 1:00 pm the next day my son exited the bush, soaked and wet from perspiration, but smiling from ear to ear. “Well dad I got one, and the guide is bringing him out.

“Wow, Brian that’s great” … I gave him a bear hug and kissed him on both checks, I was so happy for him.

One of the guides remarked, “Gee, it’s great to see da fadder, hug da son after da kill”.

Who can explain the ecstasy of the moment of a father and son re-bonding after 25 years, through the experience of hunting together.

Brian being exhausted, I suggested he take a nice hot shower at camp, I again went FOB and Brian came into my room and said “Dad, I want you to listen to this CD, while I take a shower.”

“But Brian I’m too tired and too hard of hearing (too many years of flying airplanes).”

“Don’t worry dad, the headphones will help you”

“What do you want me to hear?” I asked.

“Hear dad just put the headset on and listen while I take my shower”.

A beautiful country and western song sung by an artist called “George Strait,” I’m not up to speed on country and western music but the lyrics came through loud and clear. “A father’s love is to the end, a father’s love will never end”. What a beautiful song – I cried.

Fatherhood again became worthwhile, all because of the re-bonding experience … hunting in Newfoundland.

There are many fine outfitters in Newfoundland and I know many of them. I chose Sou’wester Outfitting because of my greater familiarity and a 7 year experience factor.

In addition to their clean, up to date base camp, in such a remote area, they have invested the necessary capital for separate guide quarters; two spike camps within 4-5 miles of the main camp (as the crow flies) along with refrigerated coolers and freezers to protect your game.

They use the aircraft appropriate to the load, from Cessnas up to the reliable Beaver workhorse. As needed, the outfitter charters a helicopter to haul extra provisions or to haul out a heavy moose that may have been in the way of a high-powered bullet.

I’d say that everything is first class and deserves my endorsement.

The quality of an outfitter’s camp can be judged by their clientele. Sou’wester Outfitting has in their client list business executives, industrialists, bankers, educators, union presidents, airline pilots and police chiefs.

Booking with Sou’wester Outfitting will keep the conversation lively, the camaraderie highly energized and will provide you the memories of a lifetime.

When in Newfoundland I’ve yet to meet a “deeze and dozer” type person, devoid of personality, non-conversant, and who are speechless if they had the four-letter expletive removed from their vocabulary.

You can’t beat the stimulation of being with successful people. Life is not a dress rehearsal, go for it!

Peter Bercik.